An All ‘Independence’ Playlist for the Fourth of July


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Like Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” Martina McBride’s 1993 song has often been misunderstood and misplaced as a patriotic anthem. It was written from the perspective of a daughter whose mother suffered at the hands of an abusive husband before ultimately finding her own form of freedom by burning down their house — with him, and possibly her, in it. Gretchen Peters wrote the song, which was inspired by a real-life story from the late 1970s. “What drew me to it was the brilliance of the lyrics,” McBride told Rolling Stone. “If you write it down on paper, it’s like a work of literature, it’s like a poem.” The uncertainty in the song’s story is balanced by the sturdiness of the track’s classic country production, and the sureness of McBride’s powerful, clear voice.

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I could talk for hours about Elliott Smith, one of my favorite songwriters of all time. (And I will, in a future Amplifier, promise.) On this tune from his 1998 album, “XO,” he strikes a hopeful note over fingerpicked guitar and a gentle shuffle, telling a friend there’s beauty and wonder — even if it’s fleeting — just around the corner. If this song had been out when I graduated from high school, you can bet “You only live a day/But it’s brilliant anyway” would have been my yearbook quote (alongside the R.E.M. one, of course).

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Plug those guitars back in! (But a few tears can stay.) El Kempner sings about a breakup that went down on the holiday on this peppy but regretful indie-rock jam from last year: “Sparkler in my throat/Can we just take it all back?”

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And now, a moment of spiritual revelry. Donna Summer covered this track by Jon and Vangelis on her self-titled 1982 album. Jon and Vangelis were Jon Anderson (formerly of the prog-rock band Yes) and Vangelis, the Greek synth master behind “Chariots of Fire.” The song encompasses a mix of global styles and traditions, which Summer infuses with a joyful breeziness and wonder.

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