Happy July 4th!For this shuffle, I made a special curated playlist of songs about freedom and America, for your listening pleasure.
Note that the links (click on song titles) now go to YouTube rather than Amazon. Three reasons: YouTube gives you the full track, not just a sample; none of you ever buy the Amazon tracks so I'm not getting any revenues anyway; and my Best Food Writing book is now being published by a Hachette subsidiary that potentially may get screwed by Amazon. So until YouTube turns out to be a tool of the corporate machine (any day now...)
Because this is what it means to live in America today -- figuring out whether Facebook, Amazon, Google, or Apple is The Man. (Disclaimer: It's definitely not Google because I love Google....)
1. "Time I Took A Holiday" / Nick Lowe
From Dig My Mood (1998)
Oh, yes, let's start things off slouchy and mellow. (Note: loads of chat before they get to the song, but ohmigod do we not love Daryl Hall too?) "It's time I took a holiday / Before I blow my top / I've got to kick my shoes off / Before I drop..." Nick's vocals make it clear he's not relaxed yet (dig the unresolved chords building up urgency), but he's gonna be very soon. "I gotta get some attention / In my baby's arms...." Volunteering for duty, Mr. Lowe!
2. "America" / Simon & Garfunkel
From Bookends (1968)
A seminal song from my angsty teen years -- as I explain here. And while we're on the subject -- is this the same Kathy's as in "Kathy's Song"? Was she pissed off when Carrie Fisher entered the picture?
3. "Fourth of July" / Dave Alvin
From King of California (1994)
America as most folks know it. "Hey, baby, it's the Fourth of July," Dave implores her, adding (a telling detail), "Whatever happened, I apologize." Dammit, it's supposed to be a holiday -- why can't they get in a happy place? I love how he sets this all-too-real scene: "On the stairs I smoke a cigarette alone / Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below." Been there.
4. "The Only Living Boy In New York" / Simon & Garfunkel
From Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970)
On a day devoted to independence, here's a song about breaking free. "Tom, get your plane right on time.." What a lonely, existential song this is, and yet how full of hope. "I know that you've been eager to shine now." Bio notes: Tom was Art Garfunkel's name in the early S&G iteration Tom and Jerry, and while he was off in Mexico making a movie (Catch-22) Paul Simon was back in NYC, writing wistful songs about their impending break-up. Maybe it's those plush background ah's, all full of spacey cloud-surfing promise, but somehow I get the idea that Tom's gonna make it out okay. Even though quite possibly Jerry had all the talent....
5. "Summertime" / DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince
But hey, July 4th isn't just a holiday -- it's shorthand for THE summer holiday, height of the sizzle and shizzizzle, and let's sample this early rap classic, full of urban heat and real-time celebration. WAY before Will Smith jumped the shark. Fire hydrants shall be opened -- let the tar roof barbecues begin.
6. "Political Science" / Randy Newman
From Sail Away (1972)
Lest you be feeling patriotic on this most American holiday, here's our national Snarkmaster, laying on us a political treatise with seven delicious layers of irony. Really, when Randy Newman gets in gear, he takes no prisoners. "They all hate us anyhow / Let's drop the big one now." This calls for a roundtable of pundits to discuss amongst themselves.
7. "Livin' in America" / Black 47
From Fire of Freedom (1993)
If America is truly a nation of immigrants -- a piety seldom remembered on July 4th -- then let's have a very ambiguous Irish take on what it feels like to live on the edge of American affluence. "In the cold daylight / I feel like shite" -- telling it like it is. Riding subways, minding other people's children, laboring like a navvy -- "Oh, mammy dear, we're all mad over here / Livin' in America."
8. "Disney's America" / Graham Parker
From 12 Haunted Episodes (1993)
It takes a transplanted Englishman like Graham Parker to see America clearly and whole. I can just imagine GP and his wife taking the kids to Williamsburg and having this brilliant vision of how the whole thing went down. Please, if you listen to nothing else, listen to every word of this brilliant song.
9. "Gotta Be Free" / The Kinks
From Lola V Powerman and the Moneygoround Part 1 (1970)
This Americana-tinged track (a hint of Muswell Hillbillies to come?) from Lola V Powerman, Ray Davies' lament about how the music industry had screwed his band. All quite true, of course, but as a listener this is my take-away: Freedom at any price. It was 1970, after all, and whether or not we were legit hippies, we all wanted to be free. And isn't that what Independence Day is all about?
10. "Live Free or Die" / Hayes Carll
From Flowers and Liquor (2007)
While we're in a country frame of mind...a little sneaky satire from Hayes Carll, about a prison inmate's view on freedom. Mayhap you have never thought about why being in a New Hampshire prison is especially tough: "Live free or die / Oh Lord tell me why/ Can't they say "Seat belts fastened" or "Oklahoma is OK"? / "Vacationland" sounds mighty great / Wouldn't mind stamping out "The Garden State." Because we can't all be free, even on July 4th.