For two years in the mid-1990s, I watched July 4 fireworks from the steps on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The epic bursts of color and light soar over the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool on the National Mall, while 1 million people “ooh!” and “ah!” It’s a definitive experience, like spending Christmas at the North Pole or Halloween in Salem’s Lot.
Fireworks are fun, but crowds, bugs, heat and traffic are problematic for my increasingly cranky and fussy demeanor (and for 3- and 5-year-old boys who take potty breaks every 45.8 seconds, a frequency that exponentially increases the further from a potty they are). My family was fortunate this year; a friend of ours booked a room and hosted a viewing party at the Park Inn for the July 3 Downtown Toledo fireworks.
Eleven stories above Summit Street, the view to the horizon provided an amazing warm-up show. Fireworks displays in Oregon, Rossford and throughout Toledo (official and otherwise) provided a constant tableau of color and distant booms. We were at the wrong angle to see the Mud Hens’ fireworks over Fifth Third Field, but we could see the reflections and hear the cracks, roars and rumbles from that display, which we knew signaled the imminent blast of Toledo’s show.
We tuned the hotel clock radio to 94.5 ’XKR to hear the simulcast music for the fireworks. The fireworks display was a tremendous and exciting big-league effort, and the music simulcast provided an eclectic soundtrack and tribute to America’s birthday.
Blade staff writer Zoe Gorman described the music as “an All-American classic rock soundtrack,” which it kinda sorta was, excluding appearances by England’s Beatles (twice), Rolling Stones, The Who, Jeff Beck, Yes and Pink Floyd and Australia’s AC/DC (twice).
The soundtrack was produced by ’XKR’s program director, Dan McClintock. McClintock, a former Toledo Free Press contributor, is a veteran radio executive whose rocker credentials are beyond reproach.
McClintock had an unenviable task; he had to produce a July 4 mix tape for a citywide audience that stayed true to his station’s tone. Defining the success or failure of such a project is as subjective as choosing a favorite color; 1,000 people could take the challenge and none of them would produce something that would please every musical taste.
Having said that, among its many triumphs, there were — to my ears — some odd moments in the mix.
The Sunday event started with Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” and segued to a loop repeating the title from Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.” By now, it must be common knowledge that this song does not celebrate America; it is harshly critical of its politics and failures. Either McClintock took the license to separate the words from their context, or he perpetrated a subversive and radical move by opening the fireworks with sarcastic irony. My guess is McClintock would stress the former action, but the latter theory is actually more faithful to the visions of the American Revolution.
The mix spiraled through a series of Attention Deficit Disorder edits, pulling snippets of songs that used words such as “freedom” to form a chain of staccato beats that set the aural framework.
In an email conversation, McClintock said the 22-minute mix took about 15 hours to assemble.
“94-5 ‘XKR is a Rock station but the soundtrack also really needs a wide appeal as you have an audience from eight to 88 and then some, and a lot of songs are must-haves,” McClintock wrote.
He said while he had input from sponsors and Zambelli’s Fireworks, “There really was no approval necessary. It was more like an exchange of ideas to get the right dynamics and flow.”
The mix featured a run-through of songs about America (including the Lynyrd Skynyrd staple “Sweet Home Alabama,” a song whose ambiguous racial politics have been dulled by time and repetition).
It included some great choices — “America the Beautiful” by Ray Charles, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” (another song that sounds patriotic but is a biting indictment of the American system — maybe McClintock was being subversive) and a slick Jimi Hendrix-to-Whitney Houston blend of “Star-Spangled Banner” versions.
Two odd moments slowed the mix to a stop. One was a segment from SSgt. Barry Sadler’s No. 1 record from 1966, “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” which related the death of the green beret. I understand the deference to sacrifice and respect the sentiment, but playing the song during a fireworks display is like playing Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in the Sun” during a wedding reception or Verve Pipe’s “The Freshmen” at a high school reunion — it’s piling on emotionally.
The mix stopped to pay respects to the upcoming 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. A series of news clips and speech snippets told the story as the fireworks splashed across the sky. That was followed, not by a fight-back song by Toby Keith or a rumination such as Alan Jackson’s “Do You Remember,” but by an instrumental version of … “Over the Rainbow”?
“That’s Jeff Beck from his last studio CD,” McClintock wrote. “That was a suggestion from John Greer at Zambelli … I popped it in after the 9-11 tribute.”
Again, all of this is incredibly subjective, but the dour and dragging version of “Rainbow” just didn’t work to my ears.
There was a too-short clip from Katy Perry’s “Firework” and a nicely edited run through the armed services themes before an effective false ending and the finale. The armed services music was directly followed by Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell,” and the production ended with the theme song of fireworks sponsor The Blade, Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold”; both choices make it hard to discount that subversive thread that wove through the music.
Kudos and thanks to McClintock for taking on the project and making his “July 4 Mix tape.” It offered highs, lows, smart moves, silly moves, corny moments, emotional moments and a mixed bag of just about everything.
A lot like America herself.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at email@example.com.
Tags: 2001, AC/DC, Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Chicago, City of Toledo, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dan McClintock, Downtown Toledo, Jeff Beck, July 4, Katy Perry, Lighting The Fuse, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Michael S. Miller, Park Inn, Pink Floyd, Ray Charles, Rolling Stones, Sept. 11, SSgt. Barry Sadler, Ted Nugent, Terry Jacks, The Who, Verve Pipe, XKR, Yes, Zambelli's Fireworks