By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Certain songs just sound like summer, even if the lyrics don’t explicitly mention sand and sun. The radiant splang of guitars on Cheap Trick‘s ”Southern Girls“ and Aerosmith’s ”Uncle Salty“ and the molten, bubbling keyboards of Santana evoke summer as much as the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean. At my L.A. high school, the real surfers disdained the stiff rhythms and nerdy lyrics of the Beach Boys in favor of music that actually matched the exhilaration of riding the waves, like the heavy kick-drum crunge of Led Zeppelin, or the sinuous buoyancy of Bob Marley. Perhaps that‘s why the punk rockers who surf usually play surf music with so much more sizzle and energy, like Agent Orange on ”Pipeline.“ (On the other hand, the most apocalyptic version of ”Pipeline“ ever recorded was by Johnny Thunders, who rarely went out in the sun, much less caught a wave.)
From the optimistic anticipation of the Undertones’ ”Here Comes the Summer“ to the mournful resignation of the Doors‘ ”Summer’s Almost Gone,“ summer songs inspire deeper emotions and trigger more intense associations with specific places than music from other seasons. Winter melodies don‘t translate well the rest of the year, and unfunky Christmas carols, with their enforced cheeriness and sterile harmonies, melt under the wicked afternoon glare of August. Yet summer songs feel good anytime.
What is a summer song? It can be about some literal aspect of summer, like Alice Cooper’s ”School‘s Out,“ George Gershwin’s ”Summertime“ and Martha & the Vandellas‘ ”Dancing in the Streets.“ Or it can be a more indirect metaphor, like the way slide and pedal-steel guitars conjure deserts and heat mirages. Or perhaps a random tune that was playing when you had your first summer kiss. I asked a scattered assortment of musicians, fans, experts and dilettantes what thoughts were triggered by their favorite summer songs.
For many, music they heard when they were young had the most lasting resonance. Writer Gwynne Garfinkle says, ”When I think of the intersection of summer and music, I immediately think of ’Every Summer Day‘ by the Last, from their 1979 debut album, L.A. Explosion. ’Baby do you wanna take a ride with meDown to the sand and the waves and the surf and the sea,‘ Joe Nolte sings, in what at first seems an innocent pastiche of early Beach Boys or Jan & Dean. By its conclusion, however, the song is filled with an elegiac sadness, a premonition of loss: ’And nothing‘s ever gonna change my worldAnd I’m never gonna lose that girl.‘“
It is the promise of days without order, the thrill of it, that summer songs fix in memory. Urinals singer-bassist John Talley-Jones writes, ”I associate the stuff I was listening to in high school with summer, because that’s when summer meant something -- three months of relative freedom. This was in Texas, where summer is insistent and brutal, blindingly bright, with a humidity that pushes down on you, exerts its own pressure. The song that I first think of is Mott the Hoople‘s ’Golden Age of Rock and Roll,‘ which wrapped up a lot of hope with a certain wistfulness, appropriate because I graduated when it came out. As a matter of fact, I think I got the album The Hoople as a graduation gift from a friend. ’Golden Age‘ became the anthem of that moment, and hearing it now recaptures an adolescent sense of mystery, sexual curiosity, and a kind of exuberant melancholy . . . a a suggestive power I associate with those singular summer months.“
Such songs possess an almost Pavlovian connection to summer, says writer Fran Miller. ”To this day, whenever I hear ’A Case of You‘ from Joni Mitchell’s Blue album, all I can remember is sitting in the back bedroom of my mother‘s house . . . and this clear, clean, beautiful voice that filtered every bit of light in the room and surrounded me with the most glorious music, and I wondered if I couldwould ever feel such a passion for anyone. If I close my eyes now, I can hear that song and smell the faint scent of star jasmine that grew all around my mother’s house.“
The most cheesy and presumably ephemeral bubble-gum hits take on a talismanic magic over the decades, perhaps because their silly lyrics and insidiously catchy hooks remind us of the unselfconscious possibilities of youth, escape from school and work, and of how oppressive humidity gives us all permission to wear hardly any clothes and to dance outdoors. Ricky Rat, of Detroit‘s glam-rock band the Trash Brats, says, ”What really bring back great summer (and childhood) memories for me are all things K-Tel and ’70s AM pop radio! Even now, a sappy ‘70s pop classic like ’Chevy Van,‘ ’Saturday Night‘ or ’Wildfire,‘ and even a tragic tune like ’Seasons in the Sun‘ or ’Last Game of the Season (A Blind Man in the Bleachers),‘ time-trips me back to those great summer days of the mid-’70s. The music helped give us our own individual soundtrack for our lives -- long before MTV started stripping away our imaginations. And a great pop, sing-along, catchy melody is always gonna take me to where I want and need to go.“ Sex With Lurch guitarist Bernard Yin also thinks that the worst songs are sometimes the most unforgettable. ”‘I hate that song! I hate that song!’ Well, get your shit together, because five years from now you might be teary-eyed thinking about that song at 2 a.m. when it‘s blaring in some Denny’s. I still wrestle in fitful sleep with the Hollies‘ ’The Air That I Breathe‘ and see feathered-haired nymphs climbing up the stairs into the school bus.“