Some musical suggestions for your Fourth of July
It’s the Fourth of July, and while the weeping skies may prevent you from firing up the grill, I hope you plan on enjoying your holiday anyway.
If you’re as musically obsessive as I am, you’ve probably had a few patriotic songs running through your head for the past few days — “Stars and Stripes Forever,” if you’re a classical sort of individual; Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” if you’re a rock ‘n’ roll sort who, like Ronald Reagan, mistakes the fist-pumping chorus for one of pride.
That’s the thing about some songs — they may sound like they’re rah-rah, God-and-country, flag-waving pieces of Americana, but you need to listen closer. “Born in the USA,” for example, is a glimpse at the failed dreams of and broken promises to a Vietnam veteran. Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” is an incendiary indictment of America’s military might while people go hungry in our streets and babies are discarded in garbage cans.
Those aren’t exactly songs of celebration. And if you have the day off and want to entertain family and friends, that’s what you need: celebratory songs. Songs that aren’t political, that don’t have an agenda, that simply set the stage for good times on a good day in the land of the free and the home of the brave. And so, to help you out in that department, I present to you ... the Weekend Fourth of July playlist! Go find these songs and cue them up while you’re celebrating your Independence Day in whatever way you choose. Enjoy, and happy Fourth of July ...
• “Fourth of July,” by Dave Alvin: Singer-songwriter Dave Alvin originally wrote this for the punk band X; it appeared on their 1987 album “See How We Are,” but I prefer the acoustic version on Alvin’s 1994 record, “King of California.” It’s a wistful, melancholy song about a couple who “gave up trying so long ago” but find themselves pulled out of their tailspin by a group of kids setting off fireworks. “Whatever happened, I apologize / so dry your tears and baby walk outside / it’s the Fourth of July” — it’s simple, beautiful and a lovely little song about how the most taken-for-granted of celebrations can take meaningful hold in our lives at just the right time.
• “4th of July,” by Shooter Jennings: Waylon’s boy paints a beautiful picture of “just the road and its majesty,” two lovers upon it roaring toward an unknown destination on Independence Day. They sing along to the stereo until the rock gets to be too much; they switch over to George Jones and sing along, supposedly happily ever after. Great road song and a reminder that country music isn’t dead as long as guys like Shooter are there to hold its feet to the fire.
• “Coming to America,” Neil Diamond: My parents had “The Jazz Singer” on vinyl, and this song sounds as much like the American flag snapping in the breeze on Ellis Island as the real thing. Those strings announce a grandiose song that I used to love to turn up as loud as our old turntable could go. I didn’t understand it at the time, but it’s a prescient song still today given the debate over immigration.
• “American Land,” by Bruce Springsteen: Now this is “The Boss” being earnest. This one’s an outtake from last year’s “Wrecking Ball” album, filled with pipes and horns and Celtic flair celebrating the possibilities of landing in the promised land of the United States: “Over there women wear silk and satin to their knees / and children, they have sweets I hear growing on the trees / coal comes rushing outta the rivers straight into your hands / when you make your home in the American land ...”
• “American Girl,” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Restlessness and young people go hand in hand, and nowhere is that documented more beautifully than in the life of the young lady in this song who longs to get out of small town America and find something exciting in the big city. It’s an ambiguous ending, and this song probably has very little to do with July Fourth, but it’s a classic rock ‘n’ roll song and sounds really good when you’ve got it turned up and you’re dancing around your grill flipping hamburgers.
• “Ashes of American Flags,” by Wilco: Jeff Tweedy, like Michael Stipe of R.E.M., writes some confoundingly cryptic lyrics, and this song is a prime example. It’s a beautiful tune, however, and I love the line, “I would like to salute / the ashes of American flags ...” It just sounds patriotic, and like the right thing to do.
• “All Summer Long,” by Kid Rock. This song was overplayed during the summer of 2008, but I hereby declare it’s time to resurrect it. Besides, how can anybody knock a song that samples both “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Werewolves of London?” And you’ve got to give it the Kid: Few songs capture the beauty and innocence and abandon of being young and celebrating summer like this tune. It’s a beauty.
• “America the Beautiful,” by Neil Young: In 2006, Young — a Canadian, ironically enough — put out “Living With War,” an incendiary statement on the Iraq War and the Bush administration. As much as I loved the politics of it and agreed with the sentiment, I loved that he included this song — recorded with the Fisk University Jubilee Choir — as the final song on it. It’s a rousing, heart-stirring version of this song, and it says more than anything else that despite our politics and our disagreements, we are one people living in one land, and therefore we are brothers and sisters.
Got any songs you want to add to this playlist? Suggest them to me at (email@example.com)
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.