I absolutely love the Fourth of July. And it’s not just the wanton deployment of explosives, nor the smoky barbecue pits, the shameless day-drinking, or even the nitrate-loaded dinners. Those things are all awesome. But for me, it’s all about the music.
That’s how I celebrate my patriotism.
Naturally, patriotism means something different to everyone. Maybe for you it means wearing flag-related apparel and solemnly saluting our nation’s heroes. Maybe you celebrate your freedom by marching down to your nearest administrative office and protesting injustice. Maybe for you it just means waking up at dawn and watching a Hogan’s Heroes marathon while polishing off a full case of something lite and domestic.
Well, that’s cool. We won’t tell you how to love your country. But, for me, it’s the music. This should be a common thread for every Fourth of July celebration: awesome music, the kind that both describes and typifies this wildly diverse nation of ours.
America: Birthplace of the Cool
Say what you want about American culture. We’re tacky, materialistic, and excessive. And of course, so is a lot of our music. But, oh man, some of our music is just the best in the world, and I say this objectively, without a trace of holiday-related nationalism.
America is the birthplace of jazz, the cradle of the blues, the “country” that we refer to when we say country music, and of course, the proud parent of history’s most beloved bastard son, rock ’n’ roll. And from these seedlings grew soul, funk, and disco, rap, hip hop, and house.
Not so much polka. All credit to the Czech Republic on that one. Otherwise, all that awesome music was invented right here.
The path to that invention was sometimes painful and often shameful. At the risk of dramatically oversimplifying the complex history of American music, nearly all of our popular music today can be traced to the collision of European colonialism and the African slave trade. While there is darkness and suffering in this history (features so often connected to brilliant expression), there is also integration, cross-pollination, and continuity.
Let’s Get Together
This collision of cultures, the forced integration of races and ideas, the continuity that bridges our past and present, as well as what is best and worst about us: all of these features give America’s musical tradition a depth and diversity that may be unparalleled in the world.
A great July Fourth soundtrack should reflect this depth and diversity … and of course, it should be fun. We are living in a moment of great cultural, political, and emotional divide. That can make it hard to focus on what really matters during a holiday like Independence Day. Namely, we’re all at the same birthday party. I think it takes the right kind of soundtrack to drive that point home.
Obviously, we’ll all have different playlists.
Maybe you prefer your fireworks display backed by the prerecorded swell of the William Tell Overture. Maybe you’re having a lakeside barbecue and that demands a strict menu of Bro-Country. Maybe you crave the summertime euphoria only possible while cruising a beachfront street, windows down, West Coast G-Funk grooving from your speakers. Hey, it’s your party and this is America. Play whatever you want.
But remember, whatever our differences, personal or musical, it all came from the same place. See, we’re not so different, you and I. Unless, again, you celebrate July four with polka music, in which case, yeah, you’re maybe a little different.
America the Songful
Songful is a word. I checked. Anyway, like I said, you may like a booming orchestra, a pickup truck anthem, or a rumbling bass. Me, I like big classic rock riffs, corny ’80s tunes about summer love, timeless Americana, songs about hitting the open road, songs that cleverly rhyme the names of a bunch of different states and cities, songs where hippies sing about revolution while mostly just getting high in the studio, and obviously, a bunch of Bruce Springsteen. (As for that last one, love it or leave it. I spent all of my teen years living in New Jersey, so back off.)
So, just in case you haven’t assembled your own playlist for the occasion, we’ve got you covered. What follows is a mix with a little flag-waving, a little protest, and a lot of summer groove. Crank it on the beach. Blast it from your car. Or shuffle it up for your backyard bocce party. Oh, and if you happen to be on campus right now, don’t be that dinkus who blasts your speakers out of your dorm window like everybody wants to hear your music. I think this is a cool mix, but nobody likes that guy.
Anyway, this Spotify playlist is loaded down with All-American Awesomeness, so grab a frosty beverage, salute America with whatever combination of fingers you feel appropriate, and queue it up at full volume.
And Happy Birthday, America! With the exception of Cleveland, you don’t look a day over 200.
We kid, Cleveland. We kid because we love.
Happy Independence Day to All!