Rather than repost an empire bashing Memorial Day essay, perhaps it would be healthier to focus on something more uplifting. Since Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer season it seems good to pick out some of the best that summer music has to offer, since music is some of the best that there is about summer. Summer songs have their own unique place in our lives. This place transcends style and genre. They accompany us on vacation or to the pool or beach, or they take us back to a simpler time in our lives.
My list varies by era, but pretty much stops in the 90s. My apologies to the fine music of summer produced after this time period. That it stops then is a realization that enough years have accumulated that I am probably past absorbing much in the way of new culture. Anyway, here is my offering of Top Ten Songs of Summer:
10. Schools Out-Alice Cooper. No summer of mine during high school failed to start with this song. A good friend and I would prepare for the last day of school (always a half day) by stocking the trunk of his 1971 Chevelle with beer. We would upon deinstitutionalization, head for a body of water with this song cranked up to ear splitting level. Good (if illegal) times ahead.
9. Rockaway Beach-The Ramones. Sometimes summer just calls for banging out raw guitar-based energy, and no one did it better than The Ramones. This song has a uniquely New York/New Jersey feel, even for those of us that did not grow up there. You get the feeling that children of the mob hung out at Rockaway Beach.
8. Summer in the City-The Lovin’ Spoonful. This song, besides taking me back to the music of my youth (easy on the ageist thoughts, I had 7 older siblings), it invokes a gritty heat enveloped urban landscape, that was all too real for those growing up in such circumstances. It brings back a summer trip in the heat of the season to New York, a 1970s era sweatbox.
7. The Swimming Song-Loudon Wainwright III. An interesting song that I did not come across until long after its 1973 release. It evokes memories of learning to swim and forever chasing the pole in the water held by the instructor, a forgettable man I only knew as “Doc”.
6. Island in the Sun-Weezer. This is technically outside of the 1990s era that I established initially, being released in 2001. However, it has a thoroughly 1990s sound and ethos that it can’t help but take me back to my bartending days. It brings to mind breezy days, and carefree living, and isn’t that the point of summer.
5. California Sun-The Rivieras. No summer song list would be complete without this classic, do a dance in the beach song from 1964. It evokes a time that few can remember, when it was actually cool to live in California, and so many who did not, wanted to.
4. Surfin’ Safari-The Beach Boys. Can there be a summer song list without at least one Beach Boys tune? It was hard to pick just one. This classic also brings to mind the hope that California represented in the American popular imagination. It makes one want to catch a narly wave, smoke a doobie-oh, sorry got ahead of my cultural references by a couple of decades, my apologies to Spicoli.
3. Six Pack Summer-Phil Vassar. Often overlooked summer classic by a gifted country singer/songwriter. This brings up memories of cruising in cars on hot summer nights, looking for something to do, and girls willing to hang out with us. There is just something about being a “dashboard drummer” that is inherently appealing.
2. Summer Breeze-Seals & Crofts. I was 9 when this song came out and for at least the next several years was the epitome of laid-back summer (and youngster) living. Seals & Crofts may have represented the zenith of 1970s mellow rock. If there is a flagship tune for what has become known as “yacht rock”, this is it.
1 All Summer Long-Kid Rock. Somewhat an ironic choice for #1, because it was not released until 2008. It is clearly a fond remembrance for Kid Rock, which is what makes it such a wonderful piece of nostalgia. Kid Rock is a few years younger but from the same general era, likely why this song resonates with me. Nearly every, single lyric takes me back to a particular place, with a particular group of people. That is powerful songwriting.
My hope is that this brief trip down my amnesia lane encourages you to take a similar trip, and prayerfully a happy trip. Summer music in our youth serves to accompany us as we revel in the simplicities of growing up, simplicities we do not recognize as such until our youth is gone. Returning to those days by way of the time travel device known as music should serve to, if for but a moment, take us to a simpler, joyful time and place. While we cannot live in that past, I’m pretty certain God is good with us visiting from time to time.
Praise Be to God