After last year’s annual edition of this summatime summatime summatime ritual, it was brought to my attention by astute readers that the previous eight years’ worth of selections had yet to include a single song by either Jimmy Buffett or the Beach Boys, who, if they didn’t first propagate the idea of summer and its languid pleasures, at least had a major hand in refining them for the modern age.
Shocked, I vowed to set things aright in 2021, both to give honor where honor is due, and pleasure where pleasure is desired.
So on this first day of summer, the summer after the summer that kind of wasn’t because nothing quite was during Pandemipalooza 2020, we are going to hear from both Mr. Buffett and Messrs. Wilson, Love, et al, along with the first repeat appearance in this series. That honor goes to Martha Reeves and her Vandellas, who will unfortunately not be “Dancin’ in the Streets” as they did in the Third Annual version of this series because of a serious “Heat Wave.”
Doesn’t seem to have slowed them down much, though. Evidence below.
Does Jimmy Buffett own a pair of shoes or long pants? Has anyone ever seen him in concert in, say, December?
Didn’t think so.
Island Jimmy of the Good Times seems to have been put on this earth to strum and grin and wave away all the dark impinging forces that would crumble our better nature. In Jimmy, we at least momentarily place our trust that the world can be a source of endless joy if we but push away from our walls of worry and join him in singing and boogying and grabbing an occasional liquid refreshment to help power us through the days we are given (summer days in particular).
It’s a privileged perspective, unmoored from, among other things, the vicissitudes of dumb blind luck that come with our genetic and cultural endowment, but there will always be an audience for it because there is a powerful case to be made that all humans are deserving of nothing less.
And on this solstice day after being shut in for a year and shut out of many of the joys mentioned above and much more, that case is perhaps more powerful than it has been for a very long time.
There are technically superior, visually more felicitous versions available of this iconic song by this surpassingly iconic group in pop music history, but there is a delicious weirdness to this version that I find utterly compelling. Part of it is the Boys’ youth—they all look about 16 here (except for front man Mike Love, who seems to have been born looking about 40).
The striped shirts and white bell bottoms, the bizarre dubbing, the outfits of the hangers-on, Love’s almost creepy countenance and hopelessly unhip dancing—all wrapped up in that deservedly famous Beach Boys sound—what’s not to marvel over and love?
(Please note a coding issue not revealed before publication here will take you from this site to You Tube to view the song; just hit the “Watch on You Tube” link when you click the arrow below, then your back button to return here.)
It’s a long way, in every way, from the beach cities of southern California (and Mike Love’s hips) to the streets of Detroit. The heat waves, for one, don’t quite compare.
But inside the studios of Motown Records, scores of recording artists generated all the best kinds of heat during a golden age that very much included Martha and the Vandellas.
It is impossible to accurately gauge the effect that black musical performers and the wildly popular Motown acts in particular had on the advancement of civil rights through the second half of the 20th century and beyond.
But this much is self-evident: For all of the setbacks that the cause of racial justice has continued to suffer, black music’s percolation into the totality of American culture has been dramatic and sustained. It is, at this point, wrapped indelibly into the very soul of America’s cultural expression, a long-running heat wave whose currents continue to add depth, dimension, and great good fun to every occasion upon which it bestows its grace.
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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.
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Beach ball by Raphaël Biscaldi, Annecy, France https://unsplash.com/@les_photos_de_raph