Friday, July 04, 2014

An Independence Day Shuffle

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.


David Gomien said...

Very fine list, Holly. Disney's America is one of GP's finest songs. Thanks for including it in your list.

SqueezingOutColumbus said...

Well done Holly!!

Love Disney's America.

Plus that Dave Alvin tune is one of the saddest ever written.

"...we stopped trying so long ago.."

Plus the lyric you quote

The way I see it, the characters are so absorbed in their own misery that they do not even realize it's the fourth of July until "the Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below".

Have tickets in another week to see Dave and Phil! It's going to be a Barn Burner!

NickS said...

It takes a transplanted Englishman like Graham Parker to see America clearly and whole.

Heh. Without having listened to the song this made me think of Ralph Steadman's America. I came across it in a used book store when I was in High School and immediately treasured it.

Listening to the song it is gorgeous, but I'll need to live with it a bit, to decide how much I like it. Listening to it, I found myself thinking about, "American Ride" -- with it's sense of the pleasure in the way in which American roots culture is never pure but still vibrant.

The two songs aren't in tension, and yet, I listened to "Disney's America," then went back and listened to "American Ride" and of the two it was Willie Nile's rhythm that stuck in my head.

Holly A Hughes said...

I did have that Willie Nile song in the playlist -- it just didn't shuffle up. GP seems to be in his Dylan mode here, a sort of folkie talking blues, so yeah, the rhythm's less important. But of the two, I'd have to say I prefer the Parker track -- it's so smart, and the emotions are so finely balanced. A really great song!

NickS said...

it's so smart, and the emotions are so finely balanced.

I still feel like I haven't gotten inside the song. It seems like my kind of song, but at the moment it just isn't quite making sense to me.

So I'll be willing to ask a stupid question and wonder which emotions do you think the song is balancing.


Having asked that, I did a little more research, and the song makes a little more sense. I knew that I was missing something and searching reveals that I didn't realize that "Disney's America" was a specific reference. I had been trying to make sense of it as a metaphor and getting stuck. Though it appears that my confusion is somewhat understandable.

I heard on the radio that Disney wanted to build a theme park next to the civil war battlefields in Manassas. ... I thought it was going to be a done deal and I thought Disney would win. So, I wrote this song, which was a preemptive protest song. It turned out to be a preemptive redundant protest song, Disney scrapped their ideas and it got canned. I did that whole songwriter trick making it about different things. I made it about “Virginia” who could be a girl as well. I made it a lost love song, which covered for the fact that it was a preemptive redundant protest song.

In my first listen I assumed that "Virginia" wasn't a person, and that the song was primarily about the legacy of the Civil war. But it makes more sense to think that the Civil War history is a thread in the song, but so is the story of lost love.

On another note, the version of "Fourth Of July" is the first version I had heard, and one that I like. But, at some point, I was looking on youtube for other versions and I do think it works well as an X song.

My tastes normally tend towards the folky, but I the X recording is nicely produced, and generally quite restrained, but it benefits from there ability to have moments of rock and roll power.