In last Thursday's E section of the newspaper, esteemed music critic Mikael Wood listed his picks for the best songs of summer over the last 20 years — you know, those songs that you hear everywhere during the summer months. (It's hard to argue with his No. 1 pick, Beyonce's 2003 "Crazy in Love," although you could make a case that its sequel, "Deja Vu," kicks just a little harder.)
But, already, I digress. Wood's list was fun to read, but it got me to thinking: What are the best songs that are actually about summer? After all, it's a season that requires its own soundtrack, and popular music has been filling that requirement for years.
I welcome your thoughts as well: Email me your favorite songs about summer, whether they be big hits or obscurities. If I get enough, I might compile them into another column. For some additional summertime fun, nominate your least favorite song about the summer, and I might include those songs as well. Leading that particular list for me right now is Bobby Goldsboro's "Summer (the First Time)," which now just sounds a little, well, creepy.
And here's the first draft of my list of the best summer songs:
• "Hot Fun in the Summertime," Sly and the Family Stone, 1969. With that easygoing groove and terrific horn line, this track screams "summertime." It could be, though, that Sly Stone had something else in mind as well with this song, and that adds a little darker mystery to the track. All the better.
• "Summertime," Miles Davis, 1959. For my money, Davis was never better than when he worked with Gil Evans, and this softly swinging version of the Gershwin classic is perfect for the season.
• "Cruel Summer," Bananarama, 1983. I love Bananarama. Don't judge me.
• "Summer Breeze," Seals and Crofts, 1972. Jasmine. In my mind. That explains everything.
• "Sabado en el Parque," Grupo Fantasma, 2010. Yes, it's a cover of Chicago's "Saturday in the Park," but this cover by the terrific Austin, Texas band rocks harder than the original and features fewer nonsensical Italian words. (If Grupo Fantasma sounds familiar, you might have caught its da Vinci Days performance back in 2010.)
• "Chattahoochee," Alan Jackson, 1993. Country music has a long and honorable tradition of terrific songs about summer (it has defined Kenny Chesney's career), but Jackson's song still sets the standard. And how hot does it get way down yonder on the Chattahoochee? Why, "it gets hotter than a hoochie coochie."
• "Summertime Blues," Eddie Cochran, 1958. Oddly enough, Alan Jackson's cover of this classic was his followup single to "Chattahoochee." And, in fact, many other artists have covered this summertime staple, including The Who, Rush and Blue Cheer. Can the Swing Out Sister cover be far off?
• "Summer in the City," The Lovin' Spoonful, 1966. The Spoonful never rocked harder than they do here; it's enough to get the back of your neck feeling dirty and gritty. And how hot is there in the city? "Hotter than a match head."
• "Lovely Day," Bill Withers, 1977. But some summer days are just right, lovely even, as long as you have the right sunglasses to keep the sunlight from hurting your eyes. What kind of sunglasses? Don Henley will fill you in later.
• "Dancing in the Street," Martha and the Vandellas, 1964. Summer's here, and the time is right. What should you wear? Don't worry about it.
• "Under the Boardwalk," The Drifters, 1964; "Up on the Roof," The Drifters, 1962. It's the recipe for a perfect summer day: In the day, when your shoes get so hot you wish your tired feet were fireproof, there's a place where you can take refuge with your baby. And at night, we know a place where the stars put on a show for free.
• "Surfing USA," The Beach Boys, 1962. Hey, where's everybody gone? Oh.
• "Wipeout," The Surfaris, 1962. Hey, why aren't you surfing anymore? Oh.
• "Summer of '69," Bryan Adams, 1984. They really were the best times of Adams' life; it's hard to believe this summertime staple was just the fourth single released from his "Reckless" album.
• "Summer Nights," John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, 1978. Tell me more.
• "The Boys of Summer," Don Henley, 1984. No, don't tell me more. The flip side of "Summer Nights" and a dark reminder that, once again, the summer's out of reach. But you look good in those Wayfarers. (mm)