There are a number of popular songs that reference the Fourth of July and Independence Day. There are songs that take a historical approach to focus on the drafters and signers of the Declaration of Independence as in the play and movie 1776. And there are popular songs about America like the version of “America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles or the song we discussed on Chimesfreedom last year, Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” But there are also a number of songs that refer to the modern version of the holiday without singing about Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, or purple mountains majesty.
Shooter Jennings: “Fourth of July”
Shooter Jennings, son of the great Waylon Jennings, recorded an excellent song about the holiday in “Fourth of July” off his debut album, Put the O Back in Country (2005). Although the song does not mention the Declaration of Independence or our Founding Fathers, it evokes the Fourth of July that is more familiar to Americans today of having a nice holiday.
Unlike many of the other Fourth of July patriotic songs, Shooter Jennings’s song is completely about the holiday. And it is a fun song. (Unfortunately, the official video is no longer available on YouTube so below is a fan video with the lyrics. A live version is here.)
There are two excellent songs titled “Independence Day” that focus on personal escape and independence. In Bruce Springsteen’s song from The River (1980), he sings about leaving home, not necessarily on the Fourth of July.
While Springsteen’s “Independence Day” portrays a bittersweet aspect of growing up and escaping, Martina McBride sings her “Independence Day” as an angry and empowering anthem. In the song, written by Gretchen Peters, the singer tells about her mom standing up to domestic abuse.
The “Independence Day” in this song refers both to the mother’s action asserting independence as well as to the holiday: “So I took myself down to the fair in town / On Independence Day.” Here is McBride’s video of the song, which appeared on her album The Way That I Am (1993).
“Fourth of July, Asbury Park”
Springsteen actually does have a song that, unlike his “Independence Day,” is set on the holiday. “Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” first appeared on Springsteen’s second album, The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle (1973) album.
Here is a young Boss playing the song in 1975 at Hammersmith Odeon. Like Shooter’s song, this one does a great job of capturing the holiday spirit.
Songs About Fireworks
I suspect that many firework displays feature Katy Perry’s “Firework,” from her Teenage Dream (2010) album. Although the song mentions the Fourth of July, it does so in the context of asking the object of the song to “Just own the night like the Fourth of July.”
Like McBride’s “Independence Day,” Perry’s “Firework” is a song of empowerment, but without the arson.
Another song that evokes the annual holiday explosives is Ryan Adams’s excellent song, “Firecracker” from his Gold (2001) CD. The song is about courtship instead of going out to see fireworks on the Fourth of July: “I just want to be your firecracker / And maybe be your baby tonight.”
In this video, Adams performs “Firecracker” in an acoustic version.
“The Great Compromise”
John Prine invokes patriotic imagery as he remembers “a girl who was almost a lady” born on the Fourth of July in his wonderful “The Great Compromise.” The song appeared on Prine’s album Diamonds In The Rough (1971).
The girl in “The Great Compromise,” however, really represents the United States. Prine’s song about disillusionment with the country during the Vietnam War is one of the great songs about our country. [Thanks to Lucia Ferrara for reminding me about the Prine song.]
Other Singing References to the Fourth
Many other singers and songwriters have planted references to the holiday in their songs. For example, there are songs by James Taylor (“On the Fourth of July”), U2 (the instrumental “4th of July”), Elliott Smith (“Independence Day”), X (“4th of July”), Ariel Abshire (“Fourth of July”), and Aimee Mann (“4th of July”).
Tom Waits mentions the holiday in “This One From the Heart.” So does Chicago in “Saturday in the Park” but the band was not completely sure about the day: “Saturday in the park/ I think it was the Fourth of July.”
And Lucinda Williams sang about a “Metal Firecracker,” although the song title referred to a tour bus. PopMatters has a good list of July Fourth songs, and check out the comments below for some more additions.
What is your favorite Fourth of July song? Let us know in the comments. And have a happy and safe Fourth of July.
(Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)