Ah, the 4th of July… When I was a kid, we’d travel down to southeast Kansas to visit my grandparents. Outside of town, there was a rock quarry or the remnants of a coal strip-mining site with a huge piles of rocks. It was like a desolate alien landscape from a bad sci-fi movie. We’d climb the rock hills and throw firecrackers off the top. Well, my grandfather wouldn’t throw the fireworks, he’d light them with his Camel filterless, and drop it at his feet. When the firecracker went off, he’d shrug his shoulders as if to say, “that’s all you’ve got?” He really was part of the greatest generation… but I digress. We were like any other American family – on 4th of July – we blew shit up. It’s what you do. It’s like drinking tequila on Cinco De Mayo.
When I finally, at a later age than most, found myself in a family with the Rock Chick and my stepdaughter, I carried the tradition of 4th of July pyrotechnics with me. We’d pile in the car, drive south of the city, stop at a fireworks stand (that Missouri is so famous for) and load up with explosive goodies. The Rock Chick, I was soon to find out, loves fireworks. If I truly consider her penchant for books and TV shows about murder and mayhem along with her hysterical laughter while lighting fire works, I might start to become anxious about the length of my existence, but that’s for me to worry about. We’d drive out into the country, to my sister-in-law’s farmhouse and by the time we were done, her back porch looked like a scorched battle site. The husks of burned out rockets and smoke bombs littered the yard. We’d cap the day, as the sun faded, sitting on the roof of the farmhouse, which was on small hill. From the roof we could see each fireworks display from every small town between us and Kansas City. The sky was a a panorama of bright, multi-colored sparks. The rocket’s red glare, as the saying goes…
Being an American is a complicated thing. It means a lot of different things to different people. We’re the freest nation on earth yet we were founded by Puritans. For every good time, there’s someone to guilt us about it. It’s quite a party… To me, I just love my country. I’m not some sort of neo-nationalist. I’m the classic American mutt. In the words of Bill Murray in ‘Stripes,’ “my ancestors were kicked out of every other descent country on the planet.”
In all seriousness, my great-grandfather left his home in Modena, Italy and traveled all the way across the world to southeast Kansas. I groused about having to move to Arkansas when I graduated from college… I kind of feel guilty about that when I think about what he must have gone through. He came to America at a time when Irish and Italian immigrants were flocking to the U.S. for work. This didn’t sit well with a lot of the current inhabitants of America at the time because the Irish and the Italians were Catholic. Southern Europeans weren’t exactly welcome. And yet my great-grandfather managed to travel here, get a job in a coal mining outfit and thrive. When it was time for him to get married, he went back to Italy, found a bride and brought her back over here.
My grandfather, who was a mechanical genius, never went to college but could overhaul a car by the age of thirteen. He spent most of his life working as a clerk in an auto-parts store. Eventually the owner offered to sell him the store. He bought it and then opened another. I often wonder, where else in the world could the son of an immigrant with an Italian surname, rise from relative obscurity to a solid member of the middle class. He even joined the Rotary. He made enough money to send my father and his two siblings to college.
My father paid that forward for me… That’s why I love this country. That’s why I load up the car every year, head out to the country and light off fireworks. I do it to honor my immigrant past. There’s a lot of debate about who should and who shouldn’t be allowed to move to the U.S. these days. Since we’re a nation of immigrants, and I include myself in that number, I figure it’s best to make room for the next bunch of folks who are traveling here, looking for a better life. I know that scares some people, but fear is not what the Founding Fathers built this nation on. I choose to believe in the best parts of ol’ U.S.A.
As I was thinking about all of this, I began to consider all the great, conflicted rock music that’s been written about America. As I’m blowing things up this year, in the midst of the mayhem, I realized I needed some rock and roll. So here is my take on a 4th of July, Independence Day playlist. There’s nothing like a little guitar to go along with the sound of exploding stuff. This is a classic rock blog, so you’re not going to find any of that jingoistic Toby Keith crap here… I know I will have left some songs off, so please recommend additions in the comments. Also, some of these songs may rankle you, but spirited debate is always a critical thing in a democracy. So, as Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler says on the great live album, “Live Bootleg,” at a show on Independence Day, “Happy Birthday Everybody!” I tend to shuffle this playlist, but I always start with the first track… it’s essential to do that, it’s only right…the rest is all just random.
- Jimi Hendrix, “The Star Spangled Banner” – You’ve gotta kick off the party with some Hendrix from Woodstock.
- John Mellencamp, “R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A.” – Cheesy, perhaps, but this song just explodes out of the speakers like, well, a firecracker.
- Steve Miller Band, “Livin’ In The USA” – Groovy late 60s/early 70s blues.
- Chuck Berry, “Back In The USA” – Believe it or not, Linda Rondstadt does a nice little version of this too, if you prefer. I prefer Chuck, always.
- The Clash, “I’m So Bored With the U.S.A.” – I don’t think anybody is bored with us these days…
- Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, “Ah, Mary” – Wait to the end… it’ll make sense. With my thanks to my pal Doug for this one…
- U2, “Bullet the Blue Sky” – Perfect soundtrack for exploding fireworks.
- David Bowie, “I’m Afraid of Americans” – Well, technically I’m only afraid of half of them… well, really only 35% of them.
- Bruce Springsteen, “Born In the U.S.A.” – Well, this one is just obvious. The story of a Vietnam vet, left behind economically by his country, still crying out his allegiance… It still brings goosebumps, all these years later.
- The Runaways, “American Nights” – Bad girls Joan Jett and Lita Ford’s early band celebrating American bad girls.
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “American Plan B” – We all need a plan B right now…
- Bruce Springsteen, “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” – An epic song for an epic holiday.
- John Mellencamp, “Justice and Independence ’85” – I generally hate allegory but this song rocks and swings all at the same time. I still don’t know what Mellencamp’s trying to say here.
- Jackson Browne, “For America” – One of my favorite from Jackson.
- Paul McCartney, “Freedom” – Written in the aftermath of 9/11, I hated this song when I first heard it, but it’s actually really catchy. There’s a great little guitar solo at the end.
- John Mellencamp, “Pink Houses” – “Ain’t that America…” And, yes, I’ll admit there’s a lot of Mellencamp here, but the guy has a ton of songs about our country. There are several I left off. The guy’s obsessed with America, what can I say.
- Lenny Kravitz, “Black And White America” – Great title track from one of my favorite overlooked LPs from Lenny.
- The Guess Who, “American Woman” – Dedicate one to the ladies…
- Randy Newman, “Political Science” – “No one likes us, I don’t know why, we may not be perfect, but heaven knows we try…” The man is a genius and this song is funny.
- David Bowie, “Young Americans” – “She wants the young American…”
- Bruce Springsteen, “Land of Hope And Dreams” – America certainly was this for my family…
- Elton John, “Philadelphia Freedom” – Cheesy, yeah, it is, but I couldn’t resist.
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “American Girl” – Another one for the ladies…
- Eurythmics, “King and Queen of America” – I just love this song.
- Dave Matthews Band, “American Baby” – A quiet, understated ballad from Dave and the guys…
- The Cult, “American Horse” – Some hard rock, yes please!
- The Kinks, “Help Me Now I’m Falling” – Ray Davies images America as Captain America on a bad day… More relevant now than ever.
- The Cult, “Wake Up Time For Freedom” – It certainly is a wake up time…
- Green Day, “American Idiot” – A Bush era chestnut that resonates more now.
- Sammy Hagar, “Eagles Fly” – Sammy goes solo and hoists the flag.
- Little Steven, “I Am A Patriot” – I think I put this on every playlist I do…
- U2, “The Hands That Built America” – Great soundtrack cut from U2.
- Jimi Hendrix, “Freedom” – That’s what its’ all about.
- Neil Young, “Rockin’ In The Free World” – One of Neil’s greatest rock tunes.
- Ray Charles, “America The Beautiful” – Who doesn’t enjoy hearing Brother Ray put some true soul and love into this patriotic standard…it’s the perfect end.
Happy 4th of July everyone. Be careful out there… Don’t blow off any fingers or get burned. We don’t want another Jean Pierre-Paul on our hands… Drink something strong, only after you’re done blowing shit up, pause and reflect on the principles this country was founded on. We need true patriots right now… Enjoy!
p.s. This playlist can now be found on Spotify under BourbonAndViny.net 4th of July