Ten Crucial Fourth Of July Jams, As Chosen By "Along The Watchtower" Author Constance Squires
Along The Watchtower, the debut novel by Constance Squires, is a story of an Army brat whose tumultuous upbringing was kept steady in part by her discovery of rock and roll. It's published Tuesday, and in honor of its impending release and the coming holidaydon't forget, Monday's America's birthday!we asked her to select 10 songs that, were she to program the music for this country's celebratory pool parties and barbecues, she'd put on everyone's playlist.
1. X, "Fourth of July"
One of X's smoothest and most accessible songs, "4th of July" isn't one of the band's zooming, cranky, full-throttle moments. Instead the song shows the band growing up, harnessing their powers for vivid, concrete narrative. The holiday-song pattern yields humane and searing results here as John Doe uses the holiday to reveal how myopic a personal relationship has become: "Hey baby/ We forgot/ It's the fourth of July/ Baby take a walk outside." The urban Southern California imagery is sharp as a photograph: "On the stairs I smoke a cigarette alone/ Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below." John Doe's voice is full of longingand I swear it's for the woman he's singing to as much as it is for the chance to be one of those kids.
2. Youth Lagoon, "July"
A slow, roomy opening mimics the portentous emptiness of dusk on the Fourth, when people impatiently wait for the night to get dark enough for fireworks. The song builds and bursts, then complicates itself, the way the sky fills with wisps of smoke and ash as the fireworks continue going off. The opening lines establish the theme: "Like fireworks pinching the night/ the fireworks on the fourth of July," and the sound quality, muffled as if recorded outside a garage door by a peevish neighbor getting proof for the cops, evokes a suburban summer.
3. The Descendents, "'Merican"
When I was growing up in Lawton, Oklahoma, in the '80s, the only way to get new music from the crappy mall record store was to buy blind anything on the SST label. This is how the Descendents came into my life. "'Merican"a patriotic anthem that's open-eyed and pissed off about the countrycame way later, in 2004. "I'm proud and ashamed on the fourth of July." Who can't relate? The Descendents have that quintessentially punk-rock gift of grabbing your body and brain, bruising both a little, and making you feel cooler for the experience.
4. Los Lobos, "One Time, One Night"/"Wake Up, Dolores"
In 1988, Los Lobos lent all kinds of cred to Colors, Dennis Hopper's film about gang violence in their home of East L.A. "One Time, One Night" is a high point. (The song, not the video, which is a bit literal-minded and pretty dated.) A series of vignettes about American lives cut short that uses lyrics to the "Star-Spangled Banner" as its ironic refrain, the song critiques the American dream without giving up on it. Another Los Lobos song, "Wake up, Dolores," evokes the Fourth of July with the freshest imagery I've heard: "Oh sacred night/ On quetzal plumes/ Of dying suns/ And purple moons." A staggeringly gorgeous song with one foot in East L.A. and one in a much older, less white America.
5. The Breeders, "Saints"
The lyrics are paratactic, the Deal sisters strolling through a fair registering details like Bloom perambulating Dublin. The Breeders would have made great modernists, the lines "I like all the different people/ I like sticky everywhere/ Look around, you bet I'll be there!... It's a lot of face/ A lot of crank air" always recall for me Ezra Pound's "The apparition of these faces in the crowd;/ Petals on a wet, black bough." Just pare away the narrative and let the images tell the story; it's a brilliant technique that compresses the pure sensory data of a collective summertime experience into a song that goes off like a firework.