June 18, 2008

11 songs in a summer key (repost)

Just in time, and in random order (now with video!):

  • "Magic" The Cars (1984)

  • The opening moments of this are the aural equivalent of trying to look through the waves of heat coming off sun-drenched pavement. The guitars, drums, and synth kick in, and it's time for sun and fun. Ric Ocasek's lyrics say it all:

    "Summer--it turns me upside down
    Summer, summer, summer--
    It's like a merry-go-round"

    As a member of the MTV generation, I can't hear this and not think of the video, with it's vibrant, primary colors, and shimmering, aqua-blue pool.

  • "Penny Lane" The Beatles (1966)

  • With lyrical references to "blue suburban skies", "fish and finger pies in summer", and an overall sunny, exuberant mood, "Penny Lane" is fitting background music for the first days of summer, when there seems to be nothing but time. The song was recorded during the winter of 1966, and released as a single in February 1967. This was their first single since "Please Please Me" four years earlier that didn't hit #1 in England. The first time The Beatles appeared with facial hair in public was in the promotional film for this song. What a shock that must have been!

  • "Good Vibrations" The Beach Boys (1966)

  • Did they (Brian Wilson) not write the soundtrack for the American teen, summer experience? If not them, who the heck did? The song was known as Brian's "pocket symphony" and was the beginning of the ill-fated Smile sessions which resulted in Brian's breakdown, from which it took him decades (literally) to recover. According to Steven Gaines's excellent Heroes and Villains, Brian first heard the word "vibrations" from his mother, Audree, when she "tried to explain why dogs bark at certain people and feel comfortable with others."

    runners-up: "All Summer Long", "Surfer Girl"

  • "Summer Madness" Kool & The Gang (1975)

  • Kool & the Gang managed to capture the essence of a sweltering hot day in the instrumentation used on "Summer Madness". The stereo/cross-channel reverbed organ, and that great, ascending synth line bring to mind images of melting Popsicles and children playing around open fire hydrants. "Summer Madness" was of course sampled and used in Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's "Summertime". Much like MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This", "Summertime" really wouldn't have much structure or reason for being (from an artistic point of view) without the sample used. I like the Fresh Prince song, but after hearing "Summer Madness," not as much.

  • "The Girl From Ipanema" Antonio Carlos Jobim (version from Getz/Gilberto, with Astrud Gilberto on vocals)

  • Jobim wasn't know as the Gershwin of Brazil for nothing. I discovered him via my interest in Frank Sinatra. They recorded together a couple of times between 1967 and 1970.

    Supposedly, the girl from Ipanema

    I actually prefer the Sinatra version (with Jobim).

  • "Theme From A Summer Place" Percy Faith and His Orchestra (1959)

  • Percy Faith and Orchestra live performance, circa 1960

    Of all the songs on the list, this is the only one I might be a little embarrassed ashamed reluctant to blast out of my car (if that's even possible) at a stop light. I guess that makes "Theme from A Summer Place" a guilty pleasure. I do love this tune. It's like a time capsule of the late, Eisenhower-era 1950s. Up until November 22, 1963, it would have been pretty nice to be white, male, educated, and middle-class, and "Theme From A Summer Place" seems completely of that time. It was the top selling single of 1959-1960. It won the 1960 Grammy for Record of The Year. Strangely enough, the version used in the film is not the Percy Faith version.

  • "Summer's Cauldron/Grass" xtc (1986)

  • "Summer's Cauldron"


    By most accounts, British new wave/rock/pop band XTC's experience of recording their October 1986 Skylarking album was a miserable one. For one thing, they recorded it in Woodstock, NY, far away from their beloved Swindon. They'd travelled to Woodstock in order to record with Todd Rundgren as the producer, at his home studio. As the recording sessions progressed, the personalities and artistic/creative sensibilities of Andy Partridge and Rundgren began to clash. Whatever the problems were behind the scenes while they recorded, the result was an album many consider to be XTC's finest. It is frequently compared to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band due to it's abundance of psychedelic touches and nods to The Beatles. The opening track ("Summer's Cauldron") is brilliantly connected to the following track ("Grass"), thus immediately giving it a conceptual feel similar to Pepper's. The idea was Rundgren's.

  • "Summertime" by George Gershwin from Porgy & Bess (1934), Charlie Parker version from Charlie Parker with Strings (1949)

  • I have a theory that white America has always had a certain fascination with, and perhaps even jealousy of, African-American culture. I think Elvis felt it, and you can't listen to stuff by The Beatles (they were heavily influenced by American culture and rhythm and blues music) such as Introducing The Beatles and not hear the influence of Motown, Stax, or Tamla (not to mention Paul McCartney's impressive Little Richard imitation). Whatever it is, George Gershwin was presumably inspired enough after reading "Porgy" by DuBose Heyward to begin working on what would become the 1934 stage musical Porgy & Bess. For me, the best instrumental version of the song was done by Charlie Parker on Charlie Parker with Strings from 1949. In its two minutes and forty-eight seconds is all the mystery and thick, humidity of a hot summer night in Charleston.

  • "Dancing in the Street" Van Halen (1982)

  • Terrible video quality, but this is a pretty good live version from a 1983 concert in Argentina

    Van Halen did a great cover version of the Martha and The Vandellas classic on their 1982 album Diver Down. That album boasted three other cover tunes: "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" (an old Kinks tune, second one for Van Halen), "(Oh) Pretty Woman", and "Happy Trails" (yes, the Roy Rogers thing). Due to this fact, not surprisingly, Eddie despises the song and the album. I think he should take a fresh listen to Roth-era Van Halen and readjust his attitude. People talk about how The Clash was like the punk Beatles, I'd argue that Van Halen was the Californian, hard rock/metal Beatles.
    Obviously, the guys after a vigorous, five-mile run.

  • "Summer Wind" Frank Sinatra (1966)

  • I know, I know...it's a cliche (probably all my choices are!), but few pop songs capture so well the feeling of loss that can come at the end of summer.

    That picture was taken during Sinatra's honeymoon with Ava Gardner. They knew as the press followed them to get this shot, that their marriage was doomed (due to a lack of privacy, among other reasons), much like the summer itself. This is one he definitely lived. "Summer Wind" entered the Billboard Charts on September 3, 1966, hit its highest position of twent-five, and stayed on the chart for a total of seven weeks. Not bad for a 50-year-old, toupe-wearing, former big band singer in the era of long hair and The Beatles.

    runners-up: "Indian Summer", "Things We Did Last Summer"

    Apparently white was in that year. The Beatles' "White Album" (The Beatles) was also released in 1968.
  • "Street Fighting Man" The Rolling Stones (1968)

  • Live in '72

    What I love most about this is the Brian Jones-played sitar track, which is periodically mixed in and out of the overall recording. Jones also plays tamboura, which is an Indian drone instrument. It's strange stuff like that that made the music of the 1960s so interesting. I also love how it sort of takes off like a jet. The rhythm is rolling, as one would expect.

    There you have it. Not a top ten (eleven, actually) or "greatest" or "best" list, just a group of songs that capture a summer feeling.


    EL said...

    Fantastic list. But how do you limit yourself to one Beach Boys tune? I admire your restraint.

    Chris said...

    Thanks, el!

    Well I did have two runners-up.

    Todd Frye said...

    Good call on the 'Summer Madness.'

    Was it just me, or were the summers of the 1970's really, really hot? In any case, it was a beloved decade (my childhood) and this song brings back certain memories and inexpressible feelings from it.

    Chris said...

    "Summer Madness"--seemed like a no-brainer!

    Sure it was hot in the 70s, but that's why we had Slip and Slides and the like.

    I do think it's been much warmer last few summers (at least here in Texas).

    Todd Frye said...

    Good call, including "Summer Madness" and "Girl From Ipanema."

    Everybody's list would differ somewhat, but I think mine would be similar to yours.

    Hold on, I just saw my name to the left and wondered how the hell I had replied to a new post. See? I didn't remember writing that. Okay, my mind's gone.

    Anyway, my list would include such things as Abba's "SOS," some Frampton, Steve Miller Band. Viva la 70's!

    Chris said...

    Whoa.....déjà vu.