Songs For Independence Day

As someone who never misses a chance to recycle a previous post, thereby saving the effort of writing something new, I thought I’d mark this important day for my American friends by sharing an edited version of the piece I posted on this day last year:

Today is 4th July which, as any American will tell you, is celebrated there as Independence Day. This dates back to the signing of the Declaration of Independence on 4th July 1776, by the 13 Colonies which were later to join together as the United States of America. I won’t detain you with the full history lesson, as there are many places in which you can read about it, but suffice it to say that this was the upshot of their treatment at the hands of King George III – to their minds, this amounted to tyranny. He later descended into mental illness – now believed to be the result of suffering from porphyria, a genetic disease – and the history books haven’t been kind to him. He is, however, one of the British monarchs whose story has been the subject of a movie, as QEII has found, and there are some others, such as Queen Victoria. In case you missed it, the George III movie was called The Madness Of King George, and you can get a taste of it from this trailer:

The Declaration came some three years after a now well known event, which was probably a major catalyst for the subsequent American Revolutionary War, which ran from 1775 to 1783, until peace was agreed and the UK formally recognised the new USA. The American Colonies had been outraged by the way they were taxed, in particular over tea, and in 1773, tea ships moored in Boston Harbour were boarded by colonists and the tea was thrown overboard, an event that became known as the Boston Tea Party. This is the excuse for my first song today. I’m guessing that this will be unfamiliar to many, but I thought you’d like to see a song by a Scottish rock band written from their perception of the American viewpoint. I’ve always felt this song to have a feel of menace about it – I’d be interested to know if you agree after you’ve heard this:

That’s it for my pseudo-history lesson: you’ll no doubt be pleased to know that the remaining ‘Independence Day’ songs share that title and, in a couple of cases, reference the date, but they are actually dealing with a different kind of independence. The first one is relatively recent – the album it is on came out in March 2020 – and is by one of the leading ‘UK country’ bands. Yes, that is a ‘thing!’ I’ve followed them since they started, and this is fairly typical of them; the metaphor of 4th July as being the day of independence from a failed relationship is the starting point for an uplifting piece that looks to the future:

To date, The Shires have yet to dent the US charts, though they have toured here with the likes of Shania Twain and Carrie Underwood. All four of their albums have topped the UK Country Chart though, and have reached the top 10 in the overall albums chart, three of them making it to #3. I hope they reach that wider audience – I think they deserve it.

Having begun with two British acts I’m now turning to the US: it seems right that I do! One of the biggest songs to carry this title is by Martina McBride:

As I know that song so well I was surprised to find that it only reached #12 in the US Country Chart in 1994, and didn’t make the top 100 pop chart at all. Nevertheless it has sold over 500,000 copies so it hasn’t done badly! One thing that isn’t, I think, widely known about the song is that it was written by Gretchen Peters, who just happens to be one of my favourite singer-songwriters. Gretchen has also recorded it, and it features often in her live performances, as here:

If you listen to the lyrics you’ll hear that the song is about an abused woman who ‘celebrated’ Independence Day in very dramatic fashion. The song is very powerful: I’ve heard Gretchen play it live and it really is one of those ‘hairs on the neck’ moments. It won her the CMA award for best song in 1995 and was also nominated for a Grammy that year, though it didn’t win. If you want to find it, it was on Gretchen’s first album The Secret Of Life, released in 1996, and has been on compilations too.

My final selection for today is a pretty obvious choice: you’ve probably been wondering when I’d get around to it. Fear not, I’m nothing if not predictable! This is by one of my all-time favourite artists – you may have heard of The Boss:

That song was on Bruce Springsteen’s fifth studio album, The River, released in 1980. It is up there with his best, I think, and has so many great tracks on it. It has sold upwards of 7m copies – not bad for a double album! Springsteen fans will know that I had another possible choice from him: 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) from his album The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle but I prefer this one, sorry!

To me, it is interesting to see how three songwriters have taken the theme of independence as their starting point but have gone in different directions: firstly, the failed relationship, secondly the drastic action to spare a woman and her daughter from abuse, and finally the son who realises that for the sake of both himself and his father, he needs to move away to preserve any chance they may have of a relationship. But none of them are political – it took a Scot to do that!

As it is your day, America, I think it fitting that, after my musical trawl through various kinds of independence, I should let your Founding Fathers have the final words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Happy Independence Day!