I opened the newsletter tonight thinking I'd do a snarky ranking of songs titled "Independence Day," only to realize there are a lot more than I realized. I was going to rank Bruce Springsteen, Martina McBride, and Elliott Smith and call it a day, but this is why I don't write about music.
Anyway, I expanded the category to include songs titled "Fourth of July," because while Independence Day hasn't inspired a lot of great TV (for hopefully obvious reasons) and not a ton of great films (for slightly less obvious reasons), boy has it inspired a bunch of great songs, including one where Sufjan Stevens sings, "We're all gonna die." Included are Spotify links, because I use Spotify, even though I know it has problems.
One of the emotional highpoints off Stevens' 2015 masterpiece Carrie & Lowell, a deeply, deeply sad album that I can barely listen to all the way through, is this tune, which contrasts the gorgeous spontaneity of the titular holiday (known, after all, for fireworks that burn out quickly) with the eternal nature of death. That's the kind of fun spirit this country was founded upon!
The ringing chimes that hop in on the chorus take this from a solid '90s country entry to epic. Also, this is about a woman killing her husband, told from the point-of-view of the woman's daughter. You'll notice that most songs about "Independence Day" are about, like, murdering somebody or fighting your dad to a stalemate. Again, America!
A lot of songs called "Fourth of July" sound like spending a long, too-hot, kinda cranky summer day at the beach. Of that subgenre, this is one of my favorites. It's got that lazy, rollicking beat where you can feel the tension building, even if it never quite bubbles over. When you get home, you and your beach companion are going to kill each other. But right now, the sun is warm, the hot dogs are on the grill, and the waves are salty delicious.
My first Fourth of July not at home was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and my wife and I just spent the day bumming around a town that was brimming with a kind of old-school Americana, bunting and everything. We saw a couple of movies and wandered down toward the beaches of Lake Michigan for the fireworks. Anyway, I listened to this song a lot that day, so it's become largely divorced from whatever meaning it has in my mind, to be about that day.
There was a period when basically every song U2 wrote could be included on a mixtape called, "Fuck Yeah, The Sky, Motherfuckers!" This instrumental track is pretty much that in a nutshell.
When I was in college, I spent a few summers working for the college's summer stock theater program. I loved it, even though the pay was shit, and every summer, my friends and I spent long nights out at a local lake, which was mostly notable as a breeding ground for green algae. Anyway, this song makes me think of that, and the girl who would show up with her guitar and play lots of singer-songwriter type tracks. I don't get nostalgic for much about my college theater days, but I do get nostalgic for those summer nights.
"And on Butterfly's next track, 'Fourth of July,' Carey proves her voice is the real firecracker!" -- me, if I were a music critic in the early '90s, probably.
Ol' Bruce had some issues with his dad, but he turned those issues into some beautiful songs, including this one, which is both gloriously sad and unexpectedly uplifting. (He also recorded a song called "4th of July," which is disqualified for also having the words "Asbury Park (Sandy)" in its title. TRY HARDER, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN.) Clarence Clemons' sax solo is just the right touch here to attain liftoff. This is one of two songs I listen to every Fourth of July. The other is...
The best, loneliest 4th of July song of them all. Used beautifully in The Sopranos. Capable of making me say, "Hey, baby, it's the Fourth of July!" every year around July 4 without a trace of irony. If you've never heard this one before, listen now. If you have heard it before, listen again. Happy summer, everyone. Happy Independence Day, Americans. And to all a good night.
Our Friday mailbag feature is a lot of fun! Please email me your questions over the course of the week, and I'll pick a few to answer. I'll always answer at least three per week, unless I just don't have the material. For ease of inbox search, please put "mailbag" somewhere in the subject line of your email. Thanks!
Episodes is published three-ish times per week, and more if I feel like it. It is mostly about television, except when it's not. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox
Read more posts like this in your inbox
Subscribe to the newsletter