Three summer-themed songs the first weekend of every summer solstice—that’s been the formula these past six years. And being as fond (some might more sardonically say “enslaved”) by ritual as I am, I can’t see any reason to give it up, at least until we run out of summer songs (sometime in the year 2525, perhaps, if man is still alive, if woman can survive, to cite a decidedly unsunny song…).
As always, suggestions for future songs are welcome, and if you want to check your suggestion against songs already duly honored in this series, all past selections are listed at the end of this iteration. Or just follow the link here to scroll through each year’s You Tube selections.
So: to the music, yes?
Bruce Springsteen does an acoustic version of this song from a 2014 concert in Perth that was tempting to offer up here, but ultimately, Bruce is so identified with that rollicking band of his doing full-blown rock & roll that I figured you could enjoy the slower version here if you’re inclined while we go full-boat below from a 2012 concert in Fenway Park.
And now an alternative take on the surf & bikinis & beer, easy livin’ and long nights we hear so much about in summer songs. Leave it to Joni Mitchell, gazing from a greater distance, eyebrow arched, hissing at the whole poppycock notion of ease.
“Hiss” is one of those words almost made to be elongated, its speaker cupping her hands around her mouth to better convey her disapproval. Summer lawns on which children romp and lovers spread out blankets under the shade of trees?
How about this instead?
He put up a barbed wire fence
To keep out the unknown
And on every metal thorn
Just a little blood of his own
Sing it, Joni!
No, we will not end there. We will leave chain-smoking, unfailingly interesting Joni behind and return to the pop frivolity from which most summer songs drink their transient pleasure.
“The Sunrays” were kind of a junior varsity Beach Boys group singing Beach Boys-type songs and maybe managing to pluck off a few girlfriends from among the adoring teenyboppers across Southern California who gave up on Brian Wilson, et al, ever paying attention to them.
Indeed, they opened for the Beach Boys at various concerts through the ‘60s, and it was Wilson’s father Murry who became their manager in 1964 and changed their name from “The Renegades” (too alt-badboy, it would seem) to “The Sunrays” (bringing light and love to your life!).
Here, they sing an anthem that encompasses a whole worldview from Southern Cal in the ‘50s-‘60s: physically, psychologically, theologically. Some people live for Jesus, son of God, others for the sun, a progeny of sorts from the same God. What’s not always clear is whether beach culture makes any distinction—or cares.
Frank Sinatra: The Summer Wind
Mungo Jerry: In the Summertime
Lovin’ Spoonful: Summer in the City
Bruno Marrs: The Lazy Song
Diana Reeves: Summertime
Sly & Family Stone: Hot Fun in the Summertime
Seals & Crofts: Summer Breeze
Martha & the Vandellas: Dancing in the Streets
Kid Rock: All Summer Long
The Jamies: Summertime, Summertime
Alice Cooper: School’s Out
The Kinks: Summer Afternoon
Ella Fitzgerald: Too Darn Hot
Eddie Cochran: Summertime Blues
Johnny Rivers: Summer Rain
Bob Marley: Sun Is Shining
Katie Perry: California Gurls
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Let the good times begin!!!
I think that covers it!
My childhood summers were not the idyll created by popular American culture. They were pretty long, pretty hot and very humid and featured more farm work than leisure. However, I was never immune to the pull of the idyll that was created and revered in all these songs. These songs were the soundtrack to my dreams.
Once I got old enough to put that dusty farm in the rear view mirror, I went looking for those songs: for salty beaches and cold lakes, sunlit meadows, long sunsets, fireflies and thunderstorms, starry skies viewed from a backyard blanket, cold beer and lanky boys. I knew they were out there….poets may embellish but they rarely lie.
Summer now in my current life is a gorgeous feast with easy access to natural beauty and fun. I am still making up for lost time.
These songs celebrate summer and help me to remember my wise intention to always look for beauty and joy. Always.
I agree with Angela: let the good times begin!!!
George Gershwin’s “Summertime” is a song that has been interpreted by a million and one crooners, including Diane Reeves, but the Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald version remains my favorite. The song opens with an orchestra backing up Louis’ trumpet solo, a perfect conduit for Ella’s incomparable vocalization. He then answers her with his gravelly voice, an ideal foil to her perfect pitch. Of course, it concludes with them sharing the mic. The combination of orchestra, horn, and singing covers all the bases…a home run!
I suggest a very complicated, deep hidden meaning, mythological referenced, baroque piece. https://youtu.be/T9KP0hICf70
Excellent link Kirk – Ramones doing Rockaway Beach – 3 chord throbbing pub rock at its zenith!
I appreciate your reflections Mary – growing up in Seattle I was quite lucky – lots of summer time to do kid stuff – being youngest of 3 boys my parents were great, but kinda “done” , so much free time to do whatever, water ski, play baseball, run around… And it was so GREAT to have a break from the rain and gloom of the NW – summer in Seattle was (and IS) pretty darn sweet. As an elder of 7 decades I still love the changing seasons but have no particular affinity for summer relative to the other 3 – love them all and feel lucky as can be to healthy enough to deeply appreciate what they offer! Appreciate this effort Andrew, agree with Robert that Gershwin’s Summertime is simply amazing on all levels, and gets my vote for the ultimate summer song – and so many great versions… However, as a life long rocker I also have a deep love for Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues, was lucky enough to see him perform this live in Seattle backed up by Buddy Holly & the Crickets on one of those Alan Freed Rock n Roll reviews that toured the country in the late 50s early 60s – of course it has been covered by everyone from The Who to Blue Cheer! (rated #77 of the top 500 rock songs of all time by Rolling Stone) Welcome to Summer!!