The Best Summer Songs, Literally

(Editor's Note: Summer brings the inevitable search for music appropriate for the season. Already, the iVoryTowerz podcast has launched its annual search for the song that will forever evoke this summer in the future. Last year, this blog looked at the magic of summer themes: music that seems attached to a particular summer. However, some readers weren't looking for an essay about evocative music. For them, it was not about songs attached in some loose way to the season or to a year. It was not about radio airplay or Top 40 hits. No. Instead, it was literally about songs that mentioned summer: songs about the season. So, here's one for the literalists, appropriately for the first full week of the summer.)

by Rick Rockwell

1) "Summer in the City" by The Lovin' Spoonful: Although this was a band that could employ soaring harmonies, this song perfectly encompassed the heat and passion of summer with a particular crack to the drums and a throaty delivery of the lyrics. The song provides the perfect balance between the joys of summer and its aggravations. This is songcraft at its best and if it doesn't evoke a summer heatwave, you aren't listening close enough.

2) "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran: This is a great slice of rockabilly and the lyrics still apply to just about anyone 18 and under from the middle class on down. Although various bands have cut covers of this classic, including a scorcher by The Who, Cochran's original contains the perfect mix of plaintive teenaged complaint and joyous rave up.

3) "Summertime" by Janis Joplin with Big Brother & the Holding Company: This is a wonderful blues-rock reworking of George & Ira Gershwin's number from Porgy and Bess. Joplin's soul-wrenching vocals make you feel every bit of the heat and pain of the season. This is truly an American classic on so many levels.

4) "The Boys of Summer" by Don Henley: To every guy who agreed to a summer breakup because the girl he loved wasn't ready to settle down yet, here's your summer theme song. Henley knows how to write the pop hook for a rock song that covers a variety of summer scenes but also manages to work in disillusionment and the loss of innocence. Although the version played on the radio these days is by The Ataris, the original is the best.

5) "Girls in their Summer Clothes" by Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Perhaps this song is too new to be on a list of classic summer songs, but listen once and you'll hear Springsteen delivering bittersweet melancholy in a tall cool tumbler. Sure, you probably have to be over 30 to appreciate this for everything that's going on in this number, but who says all summer songs must be for those under 30?

6) "Hot Fun in the Summertime" by Sly and the Family Stone: Alright, summer may not be as moody as we've made it out to be. There's certainly more dimensions to the summer than a Beach Boys song. However, if you just want unadulterated fun and joy in your summer music then you can do no better than Sly Stone and this summer anthem. This song lopes along at just the right pace.

7) "Summer Breeze" by The Isley Brothers: This is another soulful number that perfectly catches the lyrical and melodic mood of a summer ticking away slowly. Ernie Isley's quicksilver guitar notes energize this song like few others. Sure, this is a cover of the Seals & Croft hit, but the Isleys remake it with such verve you'll forget the original. Fans in the U.K. thought so, where this cover charted in the 1970s.

8) "Summer Teeth" by Wilco: This song is far from popular, likely because of its dark lyrical overtones. Melodically it is summer feel-good music, with some synthesizers added to the production which definitely evoke the Beach Boys. Throw in the sound effects of birds chirping and brooks babbling and Jeff Tweedy and the band have seduced you perfectly.

9) "This Ain't the Summer of Love" by Blue Öyster Cult: It wouldn't be an iVoryTowerz list without a dash of heavy metal. This is a song from Agents of Fortune, the Cult's most popular album, but definitely the beginning of the band's long creative slide. However, this song has the lyrical and satirical depth of the group's first albums, while ceding nothing on the sonic front.

10) "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" by Queens of the Stone Age: Nothing like taking the idea of writing songs to become summer hits and twisting the concept inside out with a bit of post-punk satire. If you like shredding guitars with your sex, drugs and rock 'n roll, this is the perfect summer song/summer chant for you.

(Promotional photo of The Lovin' Spoonful by Henry Diltz from Rhino Records. To see the band performing "Summer in the City" from 1966, please check below.)

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Gilahi said...

Man, I love these old lip-synced videos from TV shows where they didn't even make a pretense of giving the performers microphones.

Rick Rockwell said...

Usually, I wouldn't post a video like this one, but the band has so much fun apparently tweaking the fact that lip-syncing is going on during the song that I couldn't resist.

But for those who want something else, many of the other links go to live performances without lip-syncing or music videos.

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