One Track Mind: Timbuk 3, "National Holiday" (1989)

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by S. Victor Aaron

So you’re thinking, “Timbuk 3, weren’t they the ones who had that cool song back in the 1980s …?” Yes, yes, we’re talking about that husband and wife tandem of Pat and Barbara K. McDonald who gave the world the grin inducing “The Future’s So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades)” back in 1986.

Maybe it’s because I was living in their town, Austin TX, at the time, but it never did compute to me why they failed to strike gold again. For a one-hit wonder, they sure had a mother lode of catchy, witty, hummable and even danceable songs that could have become anthems all by themselves.

One of those hidden jewels of radio ready sardonic wit was a ditty poking fun on how we Americans mark special days and although the lyrics stayed ambiguous enough to cover most any summer-themed holiday, it sounds a lot like they’re talking about the Fourth Of July. Such was the theme for 1989’s “National Holiday.” Starting out with a few opening notes dubbed in from a marching band, the proceedings quickly shifts to a funky strummed acoustic guitar and Pat’s familiar folkie harmonica and light accompaniment. The song, like most of Timbuk 3’s late eighties offerings, find them at their best in making keen observations and plainly spinning them into sharp imagery:

They put the chairs out on the lawn
Grandma’s got her new dress on< There's fresh flowers on Grandpa's grave And Junior smells of aftershave Oh boy, hey hey, it's a national holiday Everything's ready for the big parade The mayor's got his place in the shade We can't wait 'till the sun goes down Lie on the hill at the edge of town By the presidential proclamation Is blasting out across the nation And Mad Dog and his band of jerks Are lighting off the fireworks Oh boy, hey hey, it's a national holiday, it's a national holiday

The lyrics gradually turn more toward political issues (“communicate with the Communists/pacify the pacifists”), but the biting, clever commentary on social and global issues were the McDonalds’ stock in trade. Put all that into a folksie-funky package and like “Shades,” it’s every bit as singable and irresistible.

It’s been some time since I last heard this song and I still couldn’t forget how it goes. That’s pop craftsmanship, folks.

And while there might be more obvious songs to play on this Independence Day, none of those patriotically themed tunes will lighten me up and make me feel groovy like this song will. Oh boy, hey hey, Fourth of July with Pat and Barbara K.

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