Songs Summarizing Summertime: Vote Your Favorite

SummertimeKansasbybillyunderscorebwa

Summertime Kansas. (billy_bwa)

We’re almost in the thick of it.

Friends gather for summer picnic, 1964.

Friends gather for summer picnic, 1964.

For three weeks after Memorial Day Weekend, you could still technically claim it wasn’t summer until the vernal equinox of June twenty-first.

A mother with her kids on a swing set in the backyard, summertime 1965.

A mother with her kids on a swing set in the backyard, summertime 1965.

Two weeks out since Independence Day, however, it is high season, enough time to make good on the promise to get to the beach or host a cookout at least once this season.

“Summertime,” has been part of our popular culture for a majority of Americans since the Industrial Age.

A gathering of Creole girls playing music in the summer of 1935.

A gathering of Creole girls playing music in the summer of 1935.

Of course, “Summer” is not “Summertime.”

Summer’s technical boundaries are parametered from June twenty-first to September twenty-first.

“Summertime” is not bound so strictly, with May thirty-first and approximately September first marking the period, ending abruptly with what was traditionally the date of the school term ending and beginning, and families adjusting their lifestyles accordingly.

A snapshot of friends from the summer of '72.(cromwellcrew.com)

A snapshot of friends from the summer of ’72.(cromwellcrew.com)

The perception of “old-fashioned summertime” as an idyll of ice cream socials and bandstand concerts, however, was a reality that truly existed only for Technicolor characters in The Music Man. No songs reference the hoards of flies following the horse manure left in the streets, the dread of life before air-conditioning or even electric fans, and the frustration of missing the iceman when he came to call.

A still from the 1958 film Long, Hot Summer (makingniceinthemidwest.com).

A still from the 1958 film Long, Hot Summer (makingniceinthemidwest.com).

Still, even in the 1958 film Long, Hot Summer,  a troubled southern drama based on the William Faulkner novel and filmed in the Bayou of Louisiana, all the pleasant visual imagery of the collective memory that could possibly be evoked was used.

Except for the elite class, most Americans have never had the luxury of not working so they can lull away the days of June, July and August.

A group of workers gather for summer fun at the shore, 1902.

A group of workers gather for summer fun at the shore, 1902.

Still, factory workers and field workers alike knew one only a limited period to steal away into some sunshine during those months, local farmhands gathering at dusk or on Sundays for picnics and manual laborers joining in large park picnics sponsored by their local union shops.

For over a century, Summertime in America has inspired popular music, with messages of steamy sexual crushes, brisk ocean frolics, beastly heat, and teens stuck at temporary jobs longing for a day off.

A crowded beach during the final summer of the century of the 20th century.

A crowded beach during the final summer of the century of the 20th century.

Here then are the Fifteen Songs About Summertime, with a range from ragtime to rockabilly to light opera to hip hop to “redneck rock,” covering a spread of time from 1902 to 2015.

Particular artists were chosen more for the mood they evoke in singing a popular standard rather than the popularity of any one performer.

A lake and meadow in summertime.

A lake and meadow in summertime.

Enjoy the music soon. Part of Summertime’s magical allure is its ephemeral nature.

These days of blooming daisy fields in the countryside, blue skies above blue waters, and an enveloping warmth that is everywhere always seem abruptly end far sooner than we want, proving yet again that nothing beautiful lasts forever.

 

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1. In the Good Old Summertime (1902)

Sophie Tucker

The great-granddaddy of all summertime songs, the premier of “In the Good Old Summertime” in the musical comedy show “The Defender” of 1902 goes back to nostalgically recall an even earlier sense of the season in American life. From the very first time it was performed, it touched audiences with a sense of familiarity and would often have them spontaneously join to sing the chorus. A year later, it was performed by John Philip Sousa and his band, recorded on disk and sold to the general public. Over the ensuring decades, it would be recorded by many of the nation’s most famous voices until a time was reached when the song could no longer be within even the distant memory of the public. This recording of an uncertain date is by the famous performer Sophie Tucker, known as the “last of the red-hot mamas.” She articulated the lyrics with her unique talk-sing but lusty style.

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2. Summertime, (1957), Ella Fitzgerald

Porgy & Bess, George Gershwin’s “folk opera,” as he termed it, was first performed in 1935; it tells the poignant story of a disabled beggar Porgy who tries to rescue the beautiful Bess from her exploitations of a violent lover and drug dealer, set in summertime, in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina. “Summertime” is one of the opera’s signature pieces but was traditionally sung only in that format. Then Ella Fitzgerald teamed up with Louis Armstrong in 1957 to jazz it up for a general audience and the reaction was immediate, one critic deeming Fitzgerald’s handling of the operatic aria to possess “disarming delicacy” and “clarion intensity.” It won Grammy Hall of Fame Award status in 2001, for its “qualitative or historical significance.” Fitzgerald seemed to capture the very sound of an intensely hot summer in the city, without the operatic tendency towards the maudlin.

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3. Summertime Blues (1958)

Eddie Cochran

With a comedic touch capturing the “blues” of a teenager who has to work during the summer and earn some money for himself at the order of his parents, “Summertime Blues” was co-written and recorded by American rockabilly artist Eddie Cochran. Released in August of 1958, it hit the Billboard Hot 100 at number eight – a week after summer ended. This classic version in the “rockabilly” sound was turned into a rock song in 1970 when covered by The Who.

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4. A Summer Place (1959), Andy Williams

This standard is more familiarly heard as an instrumental. It was first released in the 1959 hit film by the same name, A Summer Place, written by the famous composer Percy Faith. Numerous singers of the era recorded it, but most consider this version by Andy Williams to be the most evocative not just of that season but that romanticized dawn of the what came to be known as the brief Camelot era.

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5. Lazy, Hazy Crazy Days of Summer (1963)

Nat King Cole

Instantly popular when released in May of 1963, “Those Lazy, Crazy, Hazy Days of Summer,” was written by Hans Carste, and Charles Tobias and made famous by Nat King Cole on his album by the same name. He also performed his version of “In the Good Old Summertime” on it. Referencing familiar foods and activities of American summertimes, there is a poignancy to the song’s nostalgic sentiment. In retrospect, it seemed to mark the end of an era in the U.S., not only in terms of its more innocent lyrics and happytime melody. The President would be shot that autumn and Cole died of lung cancer two years later; he credited his three-pack-a-day cigarette habit for his gravelly voice.

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6. A Summer Song (1964), Chad & Jeremy

Part of the “British Invasion,” of English recording artists who forever changed American music, the soft folk sound of Chad & Jeremy proved instantly popular with American audiences. Their wistful and gentle tale of a summer romance in “Summer Song,” was released in July of 1964 and became a top ten hit by the autumn. In fact, some suggest the song is more reminiscent of summertime being remembered in the cooler fall, rather than calling up impressions of the hot months. Part of it was the duo’s trademark vocal style of “whispering.”

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7. Hot Fun in the Summertime (1969)

Sly & The Family Stone 

The band Sly & The Family Stone reached critical acclaim after appearing at the legendary Woodstock summer festival in 1969 and released the single “Hot Fun in the Summertime” shortly thereafter. By that autumn, it hit the number two spot on Billboard Hot 100 pop singles and number three on its soul singles charts. It was 1969’s all-time number seven song. Referencing the timeless joy and games to be especially enjoyed in summertime, it still has staying power, named among Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” and declared by Yahoo to be a “summer anthem.”

8. In the Summertime (1970), Mungo Jerry

“In the Summertime” may well be the king of songs capturing the feel of the season. Written by lead singer Ray Dorset of the British rock band Mungo Jerry, it was the number one hit song all over the world, including three weeks at the top slot on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles. It remains popular single, having sold over 6 million copies.

9. Summer Breeze (1972), Seals & Croft

Distinct for its use of a toy piano as a backup instrument, Summer Breeze by Seals and Crofts reached the number six spot on the Billboard Pop Singles rankings of 1972. As one critic summarized its Seventies sound, it is “one of those relentlessly appealing 1970s harmony-rock anthems … appropriately ubiquitous on the radio and in the memory.”

10. Summer Nights (1978), Grease

The film it was first heard in, Grease, may be set in the 1950s but “Summer Nights” is as unmistakably a Seventies fabrication as was the 50s-to-70s sitcom Happy Days.  Although initially released on the album of its stage musical incarnation, once the song about summer romance written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey was recorded for the film version by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John it became an instant hit during the summer of 1978. Released first as a single, later included in the film’s soundtrack album, “Summer Nights” took the number five spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

11. Cruel Summer (1983), Bananarama

This New Wave number, written and first performed by 80s girl band Bananarama, its lead singer said the song “played on the darker side of summer songs: it looked at the oppressive heat, the misery of wanting to be with someone as the summer ticked by. We’ve all been there!” The song hit critical mass when it was included in the 1984 film The Karate Kid. The music video is interesting in and of itself, as a relic of an early 80s New York City summer, filmed in over 100 degrees weather.

12. Summer Vacation (1990), The Party

If there’s something willfully juvenile about the song “Summer Vacation” by the pop band The Party it’s no accident. In 1990, the band was created with cast members of the Mickey Mouse Club, from 1989 to 1994, by the Disney Channel. To promote it, Disney held a contest for the band’s new name, and “Party” was chosen as a backronym for “Positive Attitude Reflecting Today’s Youth.” Their first release was the moderately successful “Summer Vacation,” a simple homage to high school kids eager to finish the school term and get their summer vacation started. Not just the haircuts and clothes but the musical style speak directly to a point in the early 90s when the half-spoken, half-sung hip hop genre articulated lyrics, striking a vibe similar to the popular TV sitcom of her era Fresh Prince of Beverly Hill, starring actor Will Smith.

13. Summer Wind (2006)

Madeline Peyrox

With lyrics by the legendary Johnny Mercer and music by Heinz Meier, “Summer Wind” is a 1965 classic. Initially recorded by Wayne Newton, Frank Sinatra’s 1966 version is certainly the most famous, but everyone from Shirley Bassey, Lyle Lovett, Barry Manilow to Michael Bublé have recorded it. In her 2006 version of it, however, Madeleine Peyroux’s voice seems to literally capture the sound of a summer wind.

14. Summer (2014), Calvin Harris

Thirty-one year old Scotsman Adam Richard Wiles, known as “Calvin Harris” might best be known to Americans for the fact that he’s the current boyfriend of Taylor Swift but his high-energy dance song “Summer” may prove more enduring. Released in the spring of 2014 where it became an immediate hit in Great Britain. “Summer” is another tale of hot love and sex in the warmer months. Harris won the 2015 Billboard Music Award’s Top Dance/Electronic Music Artist.dhdhdhdhd

15. Why God Made Summertime (2015), Blackjack Billy

It’s a genre the four members of the Nashville-based “Blackjack Billy” have called “Redneck Rock.” Hitting last month, this country music ode to summer, evokes a string of familiar, national touchstones of relaxing in summertime, with a consciousness of the rapid flow of the months, fro, June to July to August.

So which songs best summarize summertime? Given that there are fifteen to chose from, each voter gets a choice of up to five each. You have a week to get in your responses. 

 


Categories: Americana, Music

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3 replies »

  1. All good songs but the one I always think of now with summer coming is Don Henley’s ‘Boys of Summer’….Mike (Campbell’s hauntingly beautiful guitar riff there. Here’s to a great summer!

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