I’m going to break a rule. It’s one of my own rules, so I guess it’s okay if I decide to break it. The song shared today is in print and presumably available at your favorite local, independently-owned record store. In fact, there’s a whole mess of Dave Alvin albums that can be purchased, including the recently-released collaboration with his brother that’s drawn laudatory reviews. So I’ll begin by urging you to contact the proprietor of that favorite store and discuss making a purchase. Not necessarily today, though. It’s a holiday. Let them have a break.
“4th of July” is best known as a song by the band X, issued as a single from their 1987 album, See How We Are. It probably wouldn’t have been their song without a recent personnel change. Founding guitarist Billy Zoom had left the band the previous year, making good on a promise to throw in the towel in X didn’t achieve greater commercial success. He was replaced by Alvin, then fresh off the Blasters. Along with skills and talent, Alvin brought with him a song about feeling forlorn on America’s birthday, smoking cigarettes along on the stairs while “Mexican kids are shootin’ fireworks below.” It became the only track on the album not written by John Doe and Exene Cervenka. It also became one of Alvin’s few contributions to the group. Though her toured with them a bit, Alvin was clearly tired being a sideman. He parted X in short order, which probably helped signal the end of the band as a going concern. (1993’s hey Zeus!, their final studio album, was generally considered a reunion album.)
I love the song, but it wasn’t X’s album that I reached for when I found myself deejaying on the 4th of July, which happened most summers I was in college. Instead, I went for Alvin’s solo debut, Romeo’s Escape, released the same year as the X album. There again is “4th of July,” kicking off the whole record. It’s not that Alvin’s solo version is better. Truthfully, there’s not all that much difference between the two recordings. I simply liked playing the version that was fully and solely credited to the guy who wrote it. Sure, there was that music geek pride of playing the lesser-known version, but it was mostly being able to name Alvin when I backsold the track. It was his song, after all. He just loaned it to X, an extremely generous act. The song is so good that it’s like sharing a jackpot.
Listen or download –> Dave Alvin, “4th of July”
(Disclaimer: Most of the usual disclaimer material is covered above, though perhaps not as sheepishly and apologetically as it could or should be. So imagine it repeated down here with more of that tone. I will note that it looks to me like Romeo’s Escape is indeed out of print. However, the song has shown up on at least one collection that still seems to be in print: Best of the Hightone Years. So get that. Or some other Dave Alvin record. You can’t really go wrong.)