The best Fourth of July rock music will provide audio fireworks for your Independence Day celebration, the most American of holidays. After all, rock and roll is American music. While celebrating the birth of our nation, the 4th also honors all things American: our freedoms, life in the USA, and even summer itself. The songs can be serious, fun, thoughtful, thoughtless, or any combination thereof. While there are plenty that pay homage to American values and virtues, these are the best:
Living In America, James Brown
The Hardest Working Man in Show Business sings, hoots, and howls this paean of American life. It was recorded for Rocky IV, in which the cold-war-fighting Rocky ultimately triumphs over the Russian Drago, symbolizing America’s greatest post WWII victory. The American Way prevails. Bonus feature: the film clip is also a great example of bloated American excess.
4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Bruce Springsteen
When one is young, summer is everything. And that time is never more vital than when experienced on the edge between youth and adulthood. This song captures that place and those moments. So much of the American summer is the shore and the boardwalk (or Main Street), and Springsteen draws of a vivid portrait of the yearning that rises there. If you’ve grown up in the US, this song will lead you back to place you know.
This medley of Neil Young songs will hit the highs and lows of the American experience. Rocking in the Free World (from “Freedom’) is a full throttle celebration of freedom in general, and freedom of expression in particular. Yes, we are grateful. But This Note’s for You, on the other hand, skewers the never-ending marketing deluge that Americans face on a daily basis. Everything is for sale here, including integrity. Hopefully, our freedom will prove to be an exception.
Guitars, Cadillacs, Dwight Yoakam
For the heartbroken, lonely character of this song, the only thing that “keeps him hanging on” are “guitars, Cadillacs, and hillbilly music.” This roots rock/country rave recognizes the basis of identitiy for many Americans: Cars and Music.
Rockaway Beach, The Ramones
Once again, The Ramones nail it in the simplest way possible–both lyrically and musically. It’s summer, it’s hot, and they want to escape the city go to the beach. They’ll hitch a ride to get there, too.
California Girls & Surfin’ USA, The Beach Boys
The Hangover was tempted to place the entirety of Endless Summer
on this list. The Beach Boys were at one time not just the original California band, but the American Band. They honor the USA with their classic sound here, extolling the virtues of California women and surf culture. No arguments accepted.
4th Of July, X
The other seminal California band gives us a snapshot of reality–relationship discord and disappointment on the day itself. The singer hopes that the holiday can allow the couple to step outside into the fireworks and regain what they have lost. It’s a heartfelt, urgent slice of American life.
Fight For Your Right, The Beastie Boys
The Declaration of Independence tells Americans they are entitled to certain unalienable rights, one of which is “The Pursuit of Happiness.” Nothing will stop the Beastie’s from this exercising this right: Not hypocritical parents or a dictatorial educational system. Americans have had to fight to protect the freedoms that we have been given, and the Beastie Boys take this seriously.
Surrender, Cheap Trick
On this holiday, one cannot ignore middle-American suburbia, the soil that Cheap Trick tills here. Post-Vietnam America spun off its axis, and Cheap Trick’s portrayal of that era reveals a fissure that while disconcerting is far from fatal. Weirdness is okay. “We’re all alright.”
Chuck Berry’s 1961 cover of Route 66 brought the roadtrip into the rock and roll world. There aren’t many things more American than hopping into a car and just taking off. The virtues of this particularly American escape are echoed by John Hiatt in Drive South, recorded nearly 30 years later.
Living In The U.S.A., Steve Miller
In this most egalitarian of nations, it’s fitting that even a mediocre rock star can write a great song about his country. It’s a “plastic land” that’s not quite so easy to live in as it appears to be, but it’s even harder to leave. This nuanced, insightful look at the USA delivers much more than what can normally be expected from Miller.
Gun Sale At The Church, The Beat Farmers
In the 1600’s, the American continent was settled (invaded?) by hardcore religious fanatics kicked out of England. The musket ultimately made that habitation “successful,” and then the Winchester rifle sealed the empire by winning the West. The very foundation of America, therefore, is based on gun and church. The Beat Farmers skewer the irony of this philosophical dichotomy as it exists in modern America.
American Beat ’84, The Fleshtones
The Fleshtones pay tribute to the American Rock and Roll sound, so much a part of freedom of speech and our post-1950 cultural heritage. Their homage acknowledges the American sounds of: Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Berry Gordy, Del Shannon, the Del Fuegos, Buddy Holly, the Lyres, the Real Kids, The Modern Lovers, MC5, the Kingsmen, the Plimsouls, Los Lobos, Richie Valens, Martha Reaves, and on and on….
Ode To Liberty (The Protest Song), Phil Lynott
Phil Lynott shows depth as a songwriter, philosopher, and poet with a thoughtful ode to American liberty and the need for it to exist throughout the world. It is a poem set to dreamy, textured rock that buoys the hope and need invoked in the lyrics. This is a song that should be heard, especially on the July 4th.
Pink Houses, John Mellencamp
Although there’s a slight risk that someone might mistakenly think you’ve slipped a Chevy commercial into your mix, Mellencamp’s Pink Houses is a wry celebration of all things American: Freedom and the resulting absurdity allowed by that freedom. He sings of past glories, ridiculous disillusionment, winners and losers, and the ultimate irrelevancy of it all.