Few American holidays are as unapologetically celebratory than our Independence Day, July 4th. Any good celebration demands good music, and there’s just something perfectly American about country music. That’s why I created this (perfect) mix tape of Fourth of July country songs.

I came of age at a time when CDs were just entering the music market and MP3s were something out of a science-fiction movie. To create our own mixes, we would have to buy “blank” cassette tapes and wait for our desired songs to come on the radio.

Try as a might, I could typically fit only 10 songs on any mix. Each one would have some sort of radio DJ intro, and often times they would bleed into the song that followed. But I miss those days of delayed gratification and truly efforting to create a kickass mix tape.

So, as we celebrate Independence Day today, here is the perfect mix filled with nothing but Fourth of July country songs. Note that not all of the artists actually wrote the songs, and some weren’t even the first to record them. But I chose the versions that are best. Infographic is directly below, and more extended explanations are shared below that.

Check it out, and please provide your criticism or approval in the comments section below. Happy Fourth of July! I’m headed for the pool …


1. 4th of July

Artist: Shooter Jennings

Album: Put the “O” Back in Country

Year: 2005

This song (by Waylon’s son) captures the pulsing energy that I always feel on the 4th of July. Like many of the songs on this list, it’s about a journey — but it’s also about falling in love. Which I love. I think this song is so satisfying. Can’t imagine a better Independence Day song, though I know this one isn’t nearly as well known as others on this list. The George Jones cameo is fun, too.


2. Fourth of July

Artist: Robert Earl Keen

Album: Picnic

Year: 1997

Here’s another one that you may not know. Robert Earl Keen is one of those Texas songwriters, perhaps better known for being Lyle Lovett’s college roommate and friend — and Lyle Lovett is probably better known for being Julia Robert’s ex-husband. This song really captures the everyday, mundane aspect of a holiday thrust into the middle of summer. I’m pretty sure it was used as the closing credits song in an episode of the Soprano’s, which is definitely a “coolness” stamp. (Ah, just checked and found that I’m right: It was the closing credits song, Season 6, Episode 6, though the version by X rather than Robert Earl Keen. Fast forward to the end of the video at this link to see/hear it.)


3. Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue

Artist: Toby Keith

Album: Unleashed

Year: 2002

OK, so I mostly despise Toby Keith. And I also despise the right-wing, “let’s go to war” style of music that seems to be so prevalent in country music. Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten?” is just about as excruciating as much gets — and it’s exploiting post-9/11 emotions, which is even more excruciating. But this song by Toby Keith is surprisingly catchy, and it kicks a lot of ass. I remember hearing it on the radio while running somewhere during summer 2002, and I remember thinking: Can they say these things on the radio? They can. And Toby Keith did. And the Fourth of July is the best time to add this to your playlist.


4. Soldier’s Wife (Don’t Want You To Go)

Artist: American Young

Album: American Young

Year: 2016

This is the newest song on the list. Remember Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” that came out just after 9/11? This is the song that comes out some 15 years later. The Vietnam War was a lengthy disaster that cost us more than 8 years and nearly 60,000 American lives. The Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost us many more years, though thankfully far fewer lives — though each is precious and painful. This song captures the pain of wife spending time with her serviceman husband before he’s to be deployed.


5. I’ve Been Everywhere

Artist: Johnny Cash

Album: Unchained

Year: 1996

The United States is so vast and so diverse. Thanks, Manifest Destiny — there’s a lot of America to explore. And Johnny Cash uses his unmistakable voice to explore the entire country in the span of a just more than 3 minutes. Yeah, I think he mentions a Canadian city of two. (Was that Ottawa he visits in Verse 1? … Though there are Ottawas in West Virginia, Kansas and Illinois) But this song is a celebration of the many locales that together make up what we think of as the United States of America.


6. Heads Carolina, Tails California

Artist: Jo Dee Messina

Album: Jo Dee Messina

Year: 1996

There’s something about exploring the United States by car that makes me think about the Fourth of July. Jo Dee Messina captures that sense of exploration in her song “Heads Carolina, Tails California.” It also alludes to the sense of freedom and possibility that’s not always present in other countries. I’m reminded of “The Hunt for Red October” film when one of the defectors talks about wanting to see Montana. He’s shocked to learn that you can move from state to state without papers. Yes, in America, you can flip a coin and choose either coast, hop in your car and be on your way.


7. City of New Orleans

Artist: Willie Nelson

Album: City of New Orleans

Year: 1984

Here’s another song about exploring the United States, though by railroad rather than highway. There’s something magical about the chorus: “Good morning, America, how are ya?” That it’s Willie Nelson’s voice makes it that much better. You know: Willie has been hosting a 4th of July picnic since 1973. The 2017 event (in Austin, TX) includes Sheryl Crow, Kasey Musgraves, David Allan Coe, Ray Wylie Hubbard and many others.


8. Springsteen

Artist: Eric Church

Album: Chief

Year: 2011

This is a pretty clever song. There are few artists more distinctly American than Bruce Springsteen. Eric Church mines Springsteen lyrics to piece together this strikingly American song, “Springsteen.” The best part about Bruce Springsteen as an American icon is that he can be so pointed in his criticism of the United States. Just take a look at the lyrics of “Born in the U.S.A.” — it’s not a love letter to the nation. But we love America, blemishes and all. The best part about American is that we are (sometimes in fits and starts) constantly moving forward and getting better, in part spurred by criticism in song.


9. Independence Day

Artist: Martina McBride

Album: The Way That I Am

Year: 1993

Let’s be honest: 90s country was incredibly cheesy. But there was something charming about it. This song is one of those quintessentially cheesy 90s country music songs, one that offers an inspired message about breaking free from your current circumstances and discovering the freedom that should be available to all in our great nation.


10. God Bless the U.S.A.

Artist: Lee Greenwood

Album: American Patriot

Year: 1992

I can’t help myself. I don’t want to like Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” Why? Because, unlike Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” and other equally as patriotic songs, it’s a little too eager to look beyond America’s mistakes and errors. This is an unbridled love song for the United States. But it’s pretty damn catchy. It’s a beautiful song, though imperfect, but it deserves inclusion on a 4th of July playlist. Perhaps the biggest question mark is whether of not Lee Greenwood is a country artist. We’re giving him the nod.


Let me wish each of you the happiest of Independence Days! In case you missed it, I spent last week reviewing the best red, white and blue one piece bathing suit, which I’ll be happily sporting today.

Whether it’s music of a patriotic bathing suit, let us know how you’re spending your Fourth of July in the comments section below. Or, you can always send us a message using our contact page.

 

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