July 4 is truly America's national holiday, because it combines two of the country's grandest traditions: Taking the day off work and blowing shit up. Because freedom isn't free, fireworks and other explosives are embedded in America's formative myths and our national character. Also, they're pretty and make loud noises.
America can't claim to have invented music inspired by fireworks, but like so many other things in this country's 236 years of existence, we have certainly perfected it. Give or take the odd Brit or Canadian or two, Rocks Off came up with a 100 percent red, white and blue playlist we hope has you feeling sky-high on the Fourth.
WARMING UP THE BARBECUE
American Analog Set, The Fun of Watching Fireworks (album) Animal Collective, "Fireworks" Of Montreal, "Keep Sending Me Black Fireworks" Martina McBride, "Independence Day" The Who, "Sparks" Soundgarden, "Blow Up the Outside World" Soundgarden, "4th of July" The Rolling Stones, "Sparks Will Fly" Sixteen Deluxe, Emits Showers of Sparks (album) Starland Vocal Band, "Afternoon Delight" ("skyrockets in flight...") Riverboat Gamblers, "Sparks & Shots"
THE MAIN COURSE
X, "4th of July": Written by front man John Doe's brother in arms Dave Alvin, "Fourth of July" is one of X's best songs -- perhaps moreso because even though X is perhaps the quintessentially American band, "4th of July" has almost nothing to do with the national holiday. Instead, a man smokes a cigarette on his front steps and watches some Mexican kids shoot off fireworks while he replays the slow disintegration of his marriage in his head. "Hey, baby, it's the Fourth of July," he says, as if the date is going to make some kind of difference with her. It probably won't.
Coldplay, "Sparks": Anyone who witnessed Coldplay's day-glo extravaganza at Toyota Center last week might not recognize this slip of a song from 1999 debut Parachutes as the same band, but Chris Martin and friends' trademark swooning melodies were already in place.
Katy Perry, "Firework": From Perry's 2010 album Teenage Dream, the club-friendly "Firework" is one of the more successful pop singles in recent memory, with sales of more than 5 million to date, a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year, and the award for Video of the Year at the 2011 VMAs. Supposedly inspired by Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Perry wrote the song with four other people and recruited a succession of young fans to appear as misfits and outcasts in the Budapest-shot video. And yet somehow the only thing people remember is that Perry wore sparklers on her boobs.
Drake & Alicia Keys, "Fireworks": On the reflective lead track from his 2010 breakthrough, Thank Me Later, Drake ponders his sudden success after "Best I Ever Had" and finds it exciting yet strangely hollow, before transitioning into an internal monologue on how his good fortune might affect his relationship. (Hint: Not well, probably.) Ms. Keys' assistance, softly crooning the line "every night is fireworks, all I see is fireworks" underlines the theme that stardom can be both blinding and monotonous.
ZZ Top, "Master of Sparks": We mentioned this in Rocks Off's recent review of ZZ's Texicali EP, but the backstory behind "Sparks," from ZZ's 1973 album Tres Hombres, hardly needs a national holiday to be repeated. It's doesn't take long: A crazy-ass Texas redneck builds a steel cage out of "sucker gauge" wire, hooks it up to his pickup truck and enjoys giving people rides. The effect, according to the song's narrator, is "like a stick of rollin' dynamite."
Supposedly this is based on a true story, and Rocks Off cannot tell our readers how much we'd like to hear from any of you who have actually tried this little stunt in the comments.
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EIGHT BANDS TO PUT OUT THE COALS
Sparks The Bottle Rockets Explosions In the Sky The Smithereens The Explosives Beachwood Sparks The Blasters Bang Bang Boom