Soundgarden was already one of the most respected bands in the Seattle area by the early 1990s. It was their album, Superunknown, that transformed them into a platinum-selling band. Singles like Black hole sun and Spoonman ay have been hits. However, deeper album cuts further showcased the band’s extraordinary abilities. 4th of July is one of Soundgarden’s greatest and best-remembered songs. Here’s the tune’s story.
4th of July’s lyrics
Surreal content dominates the album’s lyrics. Cornell, along with Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, Layne Staley, or Mark Lanegan, was a great lyricist. Violent imagery abounds. The distorted viewpoint was, perhaps, best represented in the famous video for Black hole sun. Contrary to popular belief, Soundgarden’s writing was rarely influenced by narcotic intake. The song 4th of July may be one of the exceptions.
Chris Cornell wrote 4th of July as something akin to a vision of the Apocalypse. An acid trip influenced the lyrics according to Chris Cornell. The lead singer talked about this shortly after the song’s release. Here is a quote from his interview with RIP Magazine from April of 1994.
One time I was on acid, and there were voices ten feet behind my head.Chris Cornell
” The whole time I’d be walking, they’d be talking behind me. It actually made me feel good because I felt like I was with some people. At one point I was looking back, and I saw that one person was wearing a black shirt and jeans, and the other person was wearing a red shirt.
They were always there. It was kinda like a dream, though, where I’d wake up and look and focus once in a while and realize there was no one there. I’d go, ‘Oh, f–k, I’m hearing voices.’ ‘4th of July’ is pretty much about that day. You wouldn’t get that if you read it. It doesn’t read like, ‘Woke up, dropped some acid, got into the car and went to the Indian reservation,” Cornell said.
Superunknown was one of the albums where Soundgarden further entertained their experimental nature. Most songs feature strange open tunings. 4th of July features CFCGBe tuning. The group, particularly drummer, Matt Cameron worked heavily, also, on innovative rhythms. Odd time signatures are often included in the compositions.
The song was often featured in a live context. Band members Kim Thayil and Cornell’s guitar improvisation would often extend the tune well-beyond its studio running time. 4th of July was featured heavily on the promotional tour for the Superunknown. It was later played on subsequent reunion tours. The song is even included on the 2019 live release, Live from the artists den.
4th of July, like many of Chris Cornell’s lyrics, left room for ample interpretation. This, coupled with the success of the album, have lead to numerous attempts at deciphering the lyrics. The topics of patriotism, violence, and depression are the lyrics to the song.
Music critics highly rated Superunkown. It also proved to be Soundgarden‘s most successful studio album, overtaking Badmotorfinger, the band’s previous effort. And, unlike albums such as Louer than love or King Animal, Superunknown was a more polished reocrd. It made many acknowledge the Seattle group as being part of The Big Four of Grunge and one of the leaders of the Seattle scene. The strictly unofficial list also included Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice In Chains, groups that had achieved multi-platinum success earlier.
To date, Superunknown has sold more than 6 million copies worldwide. 4th of July stands as a testament to Soundgarden’s great and varied abilities. The song remains a favorite for the group’s fans.