Thursday, July 4, 2013

Playlists Posts #2: Songs for America's Birthday

I've written about music before in this space, and those posts have proven to be among the most popular.  As of this week, my post on guitar solos has received over 230 hits, my post on songs about the radio has over 380 hits, and my post on the album Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs has been viewed over 1250 times.  Based on this success, I am returning with a timely post for today: songs  with titles that have something to do with America's birthday.  The songs below are not necessarily "patriotic" and they do not necessarily relate to the United States, but their titles make them perfect for listening to today.  Let me know if I've missed any of your favorite tunes in the comments.  Happy listening, and Happy Birthday America!


#1: "Fourth of July"--Dave Alvin

The first song on this list is by one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Dave Alvin.  Alvin, who is almost invariably referred to as "Dave Alvin, formerly of the Blasters", even though he hasn't been part of that group for decades, released this song on his first solo record, Romeo's Escape in 1987.  The lyrics paint the picture of a relationship falling apart, and the singer is grasping at whatever he can to salvage things:
She gives me her cheek
When I want her lips
And I don't have the strength to go.
On the lost side of town, in a dark apartment
We gave up trying so long ago. 
On the steps I smoke a cigarette alone
The Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below.
Hey baby, it's the Fourth of July
Hey baby, it's the Fourth of July. 
Whatever happened I apologize
So dry your tears and baby walk outside
It's the Fourth of July.

This video comes from a performance on Austin City Limits, and features some nice solos from Alvin and steel guitar wizard Greg Leisz:

#2: "Fourth of July"--Pete Droge

This song by alternative rocker  Pete Droge has a pretty melody but the message is pretty heavy, as the singer is talking to a friend who committed suicide on Independence Day.  He is saddened and disappointed by the friend's decision to take his own life, and the bittersweet refrain reveals some of his mixed emotions:

On the Fourth of July
You see the sparks in the sky
When your sick of the trying
And you're tired of the crying
Then the Fourth of July is a good day to die.
They'll celebrate each year 
Your independence from here. 

I can't find a video of the song, but you can listen to the song on Spotify:

#3: "Fourth of July"--Brian McKnight

Brian McKnight is a super talented, do-it-all musician who has written and recorded all types of music. This piece of lightweight pop music is very sweet, and the chorus is one that anyone who is in love can relate to:

When we kiss it's like Christmas
I still feel butterflies
Every time we're together
Like the fourth of July
Here is the official video on Vevo:

#4: "Fourth of July Rodeos"--Chris LeDoux

The late rodeo riding country singer Chris LeDoux put out this fun little honky-tonker on his 1975 record "Rodeo and Living Free". In the song LeDoux sings about riding in a rodeo on Independence Day, and wanting to be home with his wife.
It's the Fourth of July on the rodeo trail
And it'll drive you insane.
My wife's worried home by the telephone
I'm on the road again. 
It's the Fourth of July on the rodeo trail
If I ever make it home I swear
I'm gonna hang up my hat
Put up my rigging sack
And for a month I'm gonna stay right there.

Here is the link on Spotify:

#5: "One More Fourth of July"--Jackson Rohm

This sprightly number from country/pop songster Jackson Rohm (who looks remarkably like former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell) is a song of regret for the "one that got away".  It's pretty catchy!

#6: "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)"--Bruce Springsteen

No playlist of songs about America would be complete without the Boss, so the next two songs give us a double shot of songs from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  The first tune, "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)", comes from his second album, The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle.  It is a beautiful, though somewhat wistful song.  To me, it has always had a bit of a humorous aspect, as it seems like the more the singer tells Sandy about what a loser he is, the less likely it is that she will "unsnap her jeans" for him.  Here is a live clip from the 1970's:

#7: "Independence Day"--Bruce Springsteen

This song, off Springsteen's double album The River, is part of Springsteen's series of songs that relate to the father-son conflict he experienced growing up (think of songs like "Factory" from Darkness on the Edge of Town).  In this song, the son recognizes that he and his dad will never agree, and that it is time to move out of the house.  As someone who often had trouble getting along with his father, I find this song to be very moving, especially the following lines:

'Cause the darkness of this house has got the best of us
There's a darkness in this town that's got us too
But they can't touch me now
And you can't touch me now
They ain't gonna do to me
What I watched them do to you 
So say goodbye it's Independence Day
It's Independence Day all down the line
Just say goodbye it's Independence Day
It's Independence Day this time.

#8: "Independence Day"--Ellis Paul

This number by Boston singer-songwriter Ellis Paul is another one that combines freedom from a bad relationship with the national holiday. When he learns that his woman has been unfaithful, the hypocrisy of their life together causes a breakup:
I'll shed some light on the mystery
Of why I kicked her out on Independence Day
With the fireworks burning I found myself learning
Couldn't lay in my bed the same way

#9: "Independence Day"--Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith and I were contemporaries at Hampshire College in the late 1980's.  This song is a good example of how he could blend lovely melodies with inscrutable lyrics.  I recently spoke with author William Todd Schultz about what life was like at Hampshire in those days, to provide some background information for his upcoming new book "Torment Saint: The Life of Elliott Smith".

#10:"Independence Day"--Ani Difranco

Ani DiFranco's songs are often heartbreaking, and this one is no exception.  The haunting chords combine with the lyrics and the tortured vocal to describe the sadness of someone who knows that the one she loves doesn't feel the same.  The words are very evocative, especially the introduction:

We drove the car to the top of the parking ramp on the 4th of July
We sat out on the hood with a couple of warm beers
And watched the fireworks explode in the sky
And there was an exodus of birds from the trees
But they didn't know we were only pretending

#11:"Independence Day"--Martina McBride

This is an outstanding song which once again combines the national holiday of Independence Day with that of an abused woman who gains her independence from her husband by killing him.  The song is told through the eyes of the woman's daughter, who is looking back to when she was a child.  It is a great song to listen to, and the words really make you think.  On the one hand, the eight year-old narrator loses both of her parents (her mother is arrested) and is sent to to "the county home", but on the other hand, while she "ain't saying if it's right or it's wrong", she seems to think that her father deserved it.  The video below is fraught with extra meaning, as it was shot at Farm Aid in 2001, just a couple of weeks after 9/11.  One can discern a little bit of the pride and determination that Americans displayed back then when Martina McBride sings "let freedom ring".

#12:"Happy Birthday America"--the Soul Survivors

Well after all of these grim, gloomy songs, we might as well end on a positive, upbeat note.  This song, written for the 1976 Bicentennial celebration, is a great example of Philly soul and you can't argue with the lyrics.  Happy Birthday America, it's party time in the USA!!!