The Perfect Summer Barbecue Playlist

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It doesn’t get much better than the 4th of July. For most Americans, the celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence involves a day spent hanging out with friends and family in the sunshine, maybe catching some time by the pool, chowing down on barbecue, cracking open a few cold ones and then watching colorful explosions in the night sky. It’s about as idyllic as it gets.

In order to enhance the good vibes and fun activities, a hot playlist filled with good tunes is absolutely essential. If you’ve been looking for some fresh cuts and bonafide classics to help give your 4th of July party that extra special kick this year, well then fear not, we’ve assembled a couple of recommendations to help you create the perfect Independence Day.

Soundgarden — “4th Of July”

It didn’t seem right to have an entire list of songs for the 4th of July without including a song literally titled “4th of July.” Thank God Soundgarden put together this classic headbanger. Okay, so the vibes are a little, let’s say, “doom-laden.” You can’t deny that the quality of the music, and I defy you to try and get the chorus out of your head after hearing it a time or two. Anyway, it has to be said again, RIP Chris Cornell. I raise a stiff, strawberry-lime margarita up in your honor.–Corbin Reiff

Van Morrison — “Into The Mystic”

This is the best Van Morrison song, if you think differently you’re wrong. More diplomatically, this is my favorite Van Morrison song, and one that never fails to get an entire group of people swaying and singing along (that is, if you’ve selected your friends well). There’s such a breezy and welcoming vibe to this song, like everything you’ve dreamed of is still completely within grasp, and that is the exact vibe I hope to feel when I’m celebrating the birth of a country that, however corrupt it may be at times, was founded on the desire to see freedom unfold everywhere. That’s the cosmic journey I envision when “Into The Mystic” comes on, a hopefulness that rises and swells like the sea, bound only to the kind of love that makes these big joyous dreams feel entirely possible.–Caitlin White

Dom Kennedy — “Ice Cream Trucks”

We’re talking about the 4th of July, right? It’s hot, maybe even sweltering. You’ve got your barbecue, kids running around, and everyone is sweating and roasting in the summer sun. Then, the first sounds of that jingle — whichever nursery rhyme sing-along the truck on your block plays — come floating around the block, and you now all will soon be right with the world. That’s the visual I get from Dom Kennedy’s “Ice Cream Trucks,” which is just how he wanted it. “Barbecue for the whole squad / House party right down the street / Sip champagne all day / Ice cream trucks all week,” goes the chorus, and I am instantly transported to idyllic summer days on the block when that iconic music can be heard drifting throughout the neighborhood. It’s the perfect mood setter for your own house party when the weather is warm and the office is closed.–Aaron Williams

Night Ranger — “(You Can Still) Rock In America”

Swooping in like a bald eagle snowblind on red, white and blow cocaine, Night Ranger’s “(You Can Still) Rock In America” is ‘80s bombast with all the desirable cheeseball dad-rock thrills. It’s not entirely clear who’s putting THE FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHT (or whatever, I’m Canadian) to rock in jeopardy, but mothefudgin’ Night Ranger is blasting them away with the might of amped up MTV gloss-metal. This pairs well with barbecues, fist fights after barbecues and reenactments of movies released by Cannon Films. “(You Can Still) Rock In America” is colorful fun and efficient excess is a great way to do Independence Day.–Dan Macrae

Kanye West — “Good Life”

I’m on record as being a pretty big Kanye West stan. There’s no use in denying it. The choice for me when it came to this list wasn’t whether or not to include Yeezy, but rather, which of his songs sounds best out by the barbecue. “All Falls Down” is tailor-made to get people dancing. “Monster” would surely inspire the multitudes to go bar-for-bar on Nicki’s verse. “Stronger” is just a fun classic. In the end, I’m gonna go with “Good Life,” because of all the tracks in ‘Ye’s canon, this is the breeziest. “If you’re feeling me now, put your hands up in the sky.”–Corbin Reiff

50 Cent — “Don’t Stop ’50s Music”

50 Cent has been ahead of the curve on a lot of things in his career, but Sincerely Yours, Southside is one of his most creative exploits. He decided to spit over 12 cookout classics, paving a bridge between his young fans and their older family members. It’s basically a cheat code; if your people usually aren’t trying to hear any 50 that’s not “In Da Club,” sneak this on. Listen to them complain about him rapping about being strapped and how rapidly society is devolving, then wait ’til the chorus of Yarbrough & Peoples’ “Don’t Stop The Music” comes on and watch them start dancing and singing along with the rest. Rinse and repeat 12 times. Thanks 50.–Andre Gee

New Radicals – “You Get What You Give”

Trying to remember the lyrics to the “Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson / Courtney Love, and Marilyn Manson / You’re all fakes run to your mansions / Come around, we’ll kick your ass in” verse never gets old, does it? Aside from that, every summer shindig needs a hit of nostalgia, and this one-hit wonder is a supremely strong dosage that musically still holds up. I mean, how can you not get pumped up hearing that intro, then dad out with some air guitar before the first verse? Even if “You Get What You Give” is the only good song New Radicals ever wrote, when they finished recording it in the studio, how pumped must they have been to hear the playback? It seems like it was a real “Holy sh*t, we actually did that” moment. It’s a great and repeatedly listenable song, even today, so just enjoy it, man.–Derrick Rossignol

Vampire Weekend — “Holiday”

Whether you’re enjoying burgers with your family, having a drink poolside, or cruising on a boat with your friends, a classic indie rock track by Vampire Weekend is a must-have for your Fourth of July playlist. The party rhythm of “Holiday” from their sophomore record Contra, serves as an upbeat, fast-paced, light-hearted jaunt that will take your mind to the beach no matter where you are in America. If you listen to the lyrics a bit, however, this track seems to be more of a reminder about how everything in America isn’t all rainbows and butterflies right now; it’s easy to try to “stop [our] fear” with a “holiday” and “go away on a summer’s day.” Independence day is a “Holiday! And the best one of the year,” but Ezra Koenig reminds us in his lyrics that we may, in fact, be escaping something and to keep that in the back of our minds as we celebrate this year.Stephanie Stoneback

Jimi Hendrix — “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Listen, the 4th of July is a time for fun, naturally, but it’s also important to take at least a minute out from the festivities to remember what this holiday is all about. Is it cliche to include the American national anthem on this list? Probably. Is it super cliche to include Jimi Hendrix’s version from the Woodstock festival in 1969? Yeah, okay, I’ll cop to it, but you know what? I don’t really care. If you’re gonna throw up a salute to the good ol’ Stars and Stripes, it might as well be to the most badass, noisy, over-the-top rendition ever set to tape. Classics are classics for a reason.–Corbin Reiff

Jackson Browne — “Running On Empty”

Both of my selections are about journeys that aren’t quite over, or haven’t quite begun, which I guess is the closest approximation I have for my feelings about America right now. Jackson Browne makes the kind of easy listening folkrock that will fly by under the radar at any barbecue no matter the crowd, and this is definitely a bop — one of his best-known songs to date — but it’s also a track about unfulfilled longing, and the desire to chase down something more meaningful. While you’re eating potato salad and hot wings today, maybe think about some of the unrealized potential in your own life, and vow to purse that when it’s time to get back to work tomorrow.–Caitlin White

Adina Howard — “Freak Like Me”

Based on my assorted trips to the United States, it seems like people get horny for patriotism. Whether that’s true or not, your 4th of July could use a proud sex jam that’s about liberating the freak in every American and the summer-appropriate R&B classic “Freak Like Me” does the trick. (Don’t make it gross when it comes on, though. That’s on you.) Still activating at maximum bump-n-grind (“Pump! Pump!”) by 2017 standards, it’s a timeless throwback that’s what any sensible person would want from a summer jam. After all, summer jams are a huge U.S. export.–Dan Macrae

The Dove Shack — “Summertime In The LBC”

True story: to this day there are people from Los Angeles who still think that “Summertime In The LBC” is a Nate Dogg song. Actually, it’s The Dove Shack’s debut single, from their first album album and was featured on the soundtrack to the classic documentary, The Show. I grew up in Compton, right next door to Long Beach, and I still spend significant time in the neighboring city. When I tell you this song “goes up” at all of the house parties and functions, I mean it. And yes, everybody sings the line “Low riders, and East Siders,” with every bit as much conviction as Bo Roc. It’s a West Coast staple, a tradition, and a rite of passage, all rolled into one. It’s so popular, there is a music festival in the city this summer named after it, featuring practically every West Coast rapper to have dropped so much as a single from 1992 ‘til now. I can’t think of a better song to play at the 4th of July barbecue.–Aaron Williams

Nas — “Summer Cookout” (Featuring Nature)

Play this unreleased track from around 2002 track and let Nas, one of hip-hop’s best storytellers, take you to a QB cookout. Queensbridge MCs are some of the grimiest ever (RIP Prodigy), but even they like to kick back with a brew and a burger every so often: “Chillin’ back, sit back, beach chair / each year, we like to take to time out / hate to empty nines out.” So do we, Nas. Nature rides shotgun and showcases his unrealized potential with an equally vivid verse, including the “we give burgers to police, but cops ain’t fam’” gem.–Andre Gee

Best Coast — “California Nights”

For those of us Americans who don’t live in California, it seems like the picture of a sublime, hazy summer 24/7, 365. And while I can’t speak for Californians, it seems like this quality and this spirit is part of the reason why they love their state so much. Every state in America has a similar idiosyncratic spirit that sets it apart but ultimately makes up our nuanced, vibrant country as a whole. And what better day to celebrate those spirits than the Fourth of July? On the track “California Nights,” Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino sings out “California nights make me feel so happy I could die” while fuzzy, sun-kissed guitar sounds echo and build around her vocal. The song creates a perfect, psychedelic backdrop for an ideal summer night honoring the spirit of California, the spirit of America.–Stephanie Stoneback

Kurt Vile — “Wakin On A Pretty Day”

How bold of a move is it to start an album with a near-10-minute song? A very bold one, but that didn’t stop guitar god Kurt Vile from doing just that on Wakin On A Pretty Daze. The thing is, though, “Wakin On A Pretty Day” totally works as an opening track, and it’s arguably even the best song on the album. It’s a mid-tempo slice of light psychedelia, perfect for loafing around in the sun, occasionally tuning your attention into the track to say, “Damn, this guitar solo is lovely.” If there’s a better song for a lazy July afternoon, or perhaps for a warm Sunday drive in the country, I’ve yet to hear it.–Derrick Rossignol

Tony Toni Tone — “Let’s Get Down”

This one’s for after the barbecue, when the kids are all tucked in bed, and the “grown folks drinks” get to come out of the cabinet to play. There’s usually a nightclub or two open for an Independence Day shindig, and that’s when the real party starts. Produced by and featuring Compton’s DJ Quik, this mid-’90s two-step anthem from the Oakland R&B group Tony Toni Tone gets the feet moving and the liquor flowing, as Quik relates the events of the get down in his smooth, signature flow, and lead singer Raphael Saadiq makes his play, inviting his lady — and the listener — to come through and get their groove on.–Aaron Williams