1. The Lovin’ Spoonful – Summer in the City
I couldn’t think of a better way to start off a mix of my ultimate summertime tunes than this jam by The Lovin’ Spoonful.
When those first faint chords come in with that pounding drumbeat, you just know something urgent is happening. And it is urgent, all those people on the city sidewalks, goin’ crazier as the temperature climbs. But at night it’s a different world – the music cools down a little bit, grooves a bit more, as John Sebastian rasps out about how you need to go out and find the girl. This one is guaranteed to put a bit of a swagger in your step as you walk down the streets of the city – even if the back of your neck is getting dirty and gritty.
2. Blue Cheer – Summertime Blues
There are many versions of this song. The Eddie Cochran original is a classic; The Stray Cats and The Who both do decent versions, as well. No other version makes me feel the desperation of the situation like the Blue Cheer version, though. This fuzzed-out, psychedelic blues rock cut from 1968 is a killer. They yowl, they play their instruments loud, and you can almost hear them glare. They sound like bratty teenagers, angry that their summer plans are being thwarted by parents, bosses, pretty much everyone – and that’s what it’s all about. You can also hear why they are now considered to be proto-metal, proto-punk, and proto-grunge (three genres very popular with angry teens) – they have the heavy metal riffs, the sloppy looseness of punk rock, and the distortion of grunge.
3. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run
When it finally feels like it’s truly summer, I dust off my old cassette of Born to Run, put the album in my car’s tape deck, and drive too fast with the windows down, blaring it, letting the hot guitar licks and sizzling horn section pour out into the heat. I could have put any song from it on this mix, but the title track is the one that really does it for me. It’s another restless teenage tune – and what’s summer for if not feeling like a restless teenager, no matter how old you actually are? – but this one is more hopeful. Sure, this town rips the bones from your back, but you can get out while you’re young. You’ve got a motorcycle, and your love by your side. And you’ve got this four-and-a-half-minute scorcher to fuel you.
4. Used Kids – Midwest Midsummer
Used Kids have an obvious Springsteen influence, but they also sound kinda like The Replacements. A band that is influenced by The Boss and The ‘Mats? I can get behind that, for sure. I suppose I am biased to liking this song for another reason – every summer of my life, save two when I lived in Pennsylvania and two when I lived in California, has been spent predominately in the Midwest. The lyrics to this song mention so many of my favorite things about Midwest midsummers: cool mornings, cookouts, running around by the lakeshore, running around with friends and lovers in the middle of a summer storm. They even sing about ‘the corner of Humboldt and Kane,’ which is an intersection in Milwaukee, a city where I spent four epic summers.
5. The Replacements – Can’t Hardly Wait (Tim version)
Speaking of The ‘Mats…this song had to be included. Furthermore, it had to be the version that was recorded during the Tim sessions, which ended up, finally, on All For Nothing/Nothing For All. This song, all of it, the guitar riffs, the rhythm of the drums, Paul Westerberg yelping about how he can’t wait ‘til it’s over, embodies summer for me. That feeling of being on a summer tour or road trip, and desperately missing someone(s) back home. That feeling of working a boring summer job and counting the minutes ‘til the end of the day, when you can see your friends. This version, in particular, because of the line about climbing to the top of the crummy water tower, screaming – that’s exactly the sort of thing I used to do to release my frustration on a summer night.
6. Japandroids – The Nights of Wine and Roses
I have a suspicion that Celebration Rock – the album this track is from – might end up making it onto my list of favorite summer albums, but I haven’t listened to it enough to know for sure. I knew right away that this song would go on this mix, though. The punchy piano chords, the big guitar riffs, the simple but throbbing drumbeat and cymbal crashes, and the passionate yell of the vocals – it is a celebration. A celebration of youth, or maybe of acting like you’re young because screw it, you only live once; a celebration of the beauty of willful self-destruction. A celebration of everything that summer should be.
7. Tom Waits – Ice Cream Man
One of the surest signs of summer is the out-of-tune lilt of ‘The Entertainer’ or ‘Pop! Goes the Weasel’ coming from an ice cream truck. And this song will ensure that you’ll no longer think of your neighborhood ice cream man as innocently as you once did, because Tom is peddling something much different than pre-packaged frozen treats. It starts out with a deceptively sweet piano line, and then heats up into a jazzy jumpin’ jive, with a young Tom Waits crooning about how he’s got a big stick, mama, that’ll blow your mind, and he also lets you know that it doesn’t matter if you’re broke – he’ll let you work out another sort of deal. By the time you reach the outro, which is another little bit of whimsical piano, you’ll be melting like a creamsicle on the hottest day in July.
8. The Drifters – Under the Boardwalk
I do not remember when or where I first heard this song, all I know is that I’ve loved it since I was a child. This song sounds like summer – the bright violins, the metallic ping of the triangle, the percussive zip of the güiro, and the harmonic ‘ooohs’ in the background. When I first loved it, it was just a pretty, summery tune, calling to mind all those childhood summertime things – beaches and carousels and the like. As I got older, I realized that the singer and his girl were having a tryst under the boardwalk, and that ‘having some fun’ was code for ‘heavy petting.’ That made me like it even more. The song works on two levels – it has the delightful summer fun of everyone hanging out on the boardwalk; it also has the playful sexiness of a summertime fling.
9. The Bittersweets – What A Lonely Way To Start The Summertime
I suppose you could say this track is the sullen sister to ‘Under the Boardwalk.’ This song starts out – To me, the boardwalk’s cold, now. The singer is looking for her love, but he can’t be found. One can only imagine – did something terrible happen to him? Did he take up with another girl? In this song, the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ sound less like lovers’ coos, and more like sorrowful sighs. She explains that there are other people she could go on dates with, but why bother, because all she’d do is think of her lost love. And then it reaches the part where she stops singing, and laments: All I can see on the beach is a piece of driftwood, and it somehow reminds me of the twisted memories left in my mind; as she says this, she is backed up by deep and ominous voices moaning, ‘ah, ah, ah,’ almost like a chorus in a Greek tragedy, accentuating her point. This ‘60s girl group tune, clocking in at just over two minutes, is a masterpiece of heartache.
[This gem is on the box set One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found, which is absolutely worth tracking down.]
1. Future Bible Heroes – Real Summer
Future Bible Heroes were a side project of Stephen Merritt, best known for his work with The Magnetic Fields. This track, from their 1997 album Memories of Love, sounds so happy. Electropop with a disco beat, and Claudia Gonson’s lovely voice! Then, you listen to the lyrics. It is all about summer not living up to your expectations of it, although in a different way than in, say, ‘Summertime Blues.’ In the case of ‘Real Summer,’ it’s not so much that other people are preventing you from living it up, it’s more like, maybe the weather is crummy, or maybe you don’t really love your summer lover all that much. The chorus states – We get one real summer, only one in our time, full of wine and wonder, ridiculous and sublime. If you take that sentiment to heart, it’s easy to get depressed, so it’s probably better to think of it as simply a poignant-but-fun pop song. However, when summer isn’t living up to your expectations, it does help to have this song to relate to. The Beach Boys, hell, they might as well play ‘Winter Wonderland’ – summer, my ass.
2. Regina Spektor – Summer In the City
With nothing but sparse piano chords, and her stunning, off-kilter voice, Regina Spektor will slay you with this song. No, this is not a cover of the Lovin’ Spoonful tune; this is an original composition. It is all about walking through a city, any city, in the summer, and longing for that person you’ll never truly get over. At other times, you might not even think about them so much, you might be doing quite fine, but when it’s summer in the city, and they’re so long gone from the city…everything reminds you of them, despite your best efforts to distract yourself with alcohol and the company of strangers.
3. Waxahatchee – Catfish
My friend L. refers to this sort of music as ‘sad girl music,’ but that’s okay – I’m a sad girl for life (and if you get that reference, you’re my friend for life). Katie Crutchfield’s gentle guitar strumming and reedy, slightly damaged vocals are the perfect accompaniment for her lyrics. It’s one in the morning, and ninety degrees. You’re a ghost, and I can’t breathe. Sad girl music, yes, but in a beautiful way. I contrive you with whiskey and Sam Cooke songs, and we lay on our backs, soaking wet.
4. Sam Cooke – Summertime
This standard, about it being summertime, and the livin’ bein’ easy, had to go on this mix. And it had to be this version, with its slow swing, and the high-pitched and haunting ‘oooh-oooh-oohs.’ It had to be this version, because more than any of the others, it will make you feel like the livin’ is easy, and even when it gets so hot you can barely move, Sam Cooke’s velvet voice will wash over you like a sweet, cool breeze.
5. Lightnin’ Hopkins – Shine On, Moon
There does come a point in the summer when it gets too hot to move. When it hits that point, all I want to do is lie on the floor, drinking cold beer and listening to music. And when it gets so hot that the air is thick in my lungs, the only music I want to listen to is the blues, because there is something about the music that comes from the Mississippi Delta that is perfect for the brutal heat of the dog days of summer. This song is a personal favorite – even if I am only lying on my floor, it makes me imagine being out on a hot, hot night, wandering around and gazing up at the hazy summer moon.
6. Eilen Jewell – Too Hot to Sleep
This song makes me imagine staying up all night with a friend or a lover, in a hot hot city like Memphis or New Orleans. Walk me down the sweltering street, Eilen drawls, I wanna feel the city’s summer heat. The sexy slink of the rockabilly guitar urges you on, through barhopping, drinking, dancing, until finally, all the bars are closed up. So you invite your partner-in-crime to come up to your place, be it apartment or hotel room, and dance some more. It’s too hot to sleep anyway, so you might as well stay.
7. Crimpshrine – Summertime
Although this may have the same name as the Sam Cooke track, it is a very different song. This punk rock ditty is messy and gritty; much like your skin gets from wandering around or riding your bike in the summertime. It’s loud, it’s imperfect, the vocals are growly and the drums are raucous. But the lyrics are cute – I’ll be back in the summertime, with a handful of flowers and a bottle of cheap wine. It’s a punk rock love song to someone that’s far away, but that you’ll probably see again, in the summertime, of course. Pretty much any summertime crush I’ve had in the past, oh, fifteen years, has received this song on a mix from me.
8. Crooked Fingers – Sleep All Summer
Let’s get melancholy again, for a few minutes. If the previous track is about a love affair that might work out, after all, this one is about one that has definitely seen its end. The former lovers in this song are older, wiser, and sadder – they know that it’s over, but they don’t want to admit it yet. Otherwise, they wouldn’t both keep asking – why won’t you fall back in love with me?
9. Jonathan Richman – That Summer Feeling
In this acoustic pop tune, Jonathan Richman croons and entreats you to make the most of every single summer. Because even if you have some lonely moments, or have to work a job you hate, there are also bound to be some wonderful times along with the bad ones – even if the wonder comes from something as simple as a ride in a convertible, the smell of a fresh-mown lawn, or a swim in the pond. Jonathan pleads with you, tells you that if you don’t appreciate every summer, you’ll regret it, one day. You’ll end up feeling nostalgia even for the bad things, the not-so-great things. Some things looked good before, and some things never were, he sings. Enjoy it all!, he begs you, because no matter what – that summer feeling is gonna haunt you one day in your life.
Hidden Track: If you’d like to hear the twelve songs that didn’t make the final cut, head on over to my blog – http://restlesschance.tumblr.com/ - where I will be posting them over the course of the next week!