You may not have noticed, but it's hot outside. Really hot. Energy grids are exploding, wildfires are blazing, and New York City stinks like a filthy open asshole. And, thanks in part to Global Warming, we can look forward to a good long summer of blazing heat. We here at CSP can't actually do anything about the weather (apart from conserving fiercely in hopes we can help prevent the ice caps from melting a decade from now). But we can supply you with a bangin' mix of music which will remind you why we celebrate summer 'round here. We don't advise that you dance while listening, no matter how much the awesome music moves you -- we don't want anyone dying of heat stroke on our watch.
Click on the song name to grab it from iTunes, or (for those songs which are not available through iTunes) from wherever we were able to find it.
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
It's a crime not to include Summertime in any list of songs dealing with the eponymous season. Not just because the lazy melodic meander of the tune is the perfect analog to the lean, lanky groove of summer, but also because it is one of those songs that serves as a kind of laboratory for musical experimentation. In the same way that summer has a character of its own but to which you must inject your own vitality and curiosities, so does Gershwin's song serve up very different road trips depending upon who is at the wheel. Personally, I don't much care for Janis Joplin's version (editor's note: I quite like it), which perhaps represents the pleasures of a summer spent with too much free time and recreational narcotics, but nevertheless has a slack randomness to it that puts it low on my list. Ella Fitzgerald and Diana Ross turn in some fine performances of this song, as do Billie Holiday and Nina Simone; many a diva has turned to this song for a flexing of the sultry muscle. Instrumental versions abound, and a personal favorite is by clarinetist Dr. Michael White, a truly gifted musician and music historian out of New Orleans. But for my money, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong's version is the king. Armstrong's nuanced, forceful trumpet is summer's braggadocio and muscle, Fitzgerald's raw-sugar voice its sinew and sweat. Many summer songs are overtaken by optimism; this has a world-weary quality that reminds us that the summer sun casts shadows like any other.
Are You Ready for the Summer?
Camp North Star Kids Chorus
I really like this movie, and I love when Bill Murray tells the kid who thinks he can do the egg toss, "Well sure -- you're built for it."
You'd think I'd pick Summer Days from Love and Theft. That would be the obvious selection, but whereas Summer Days talks about summer, Po' Boy sounds like summer (to me, at least).
Jack & Diane
This song takes me back to summers of my youth. It always seemed to be on the radio when I'd stop in the office/store for an ice cream bar at the campground we stayed at for a lot of the summer. It makes me think of warm summer nights, campfires, ice cream and mosquitoes. Most of those are good things.
Ven Conmigo (Solamente Tu)
Working at an internet start-up for most of 2000 burnt me out so much that I quit my job with nothing else lined up and went to Acapulco for a week by myself. I stayed at a resort that catered to Mexican tourists - almost none of the staff spoke English and my Spanish is pathetic. The isolating language barrier was blissful and I spent nearly every day lounging by the pool listening over and over to the same 20 songs en espanol. This was one of them. Whenever I hear this version on my iPod or the English version on the radio, I am instantly transported back to my Mexican vacation.
The Ataris are a few years older than me. In 1979 I was not climbing out of my bedroom window in Los Angeles after dark to go cruisin' with my friends on Pacific Coast Highway -- I was, rather, six years old and playing with my Star Wars action figures under the covers illuminated by a dim flashlight in Burlington, North Dakota. But this kind of late-seventies/early-eighties Hollywood movie version of high school just screams summer to me. From Caddyshack to Meatballs to Fast Times at Ridgemont High: this is how I picture summertime as a teenager, despite the fact that summertime during my actual teenage years consisted mostly of 48-hour Dungeons and Dragons marathons (which included many of my fellow CSPers). To be fair, beyond those celluloid fantasies of adolescence, this song does remind me of one summer when I was twelve or so and spent a couple of weeks hanging out with Harvey Skees right before school started again. We stayed at his big sister's apartment in Minot, stayed up as late as we wanted, watched scary movies, wandered the streets well after dark, and spent an obscene amount of time at the bowling alley a block or so away playing Gauntlet. Harvey's a lawyer now. I'm an out-of-work actor who runs an online magazine. Awesome.
The Captain of Her Heart
My freaky memory for obscure events led me to include these two songs. I vividly recall a softball game (in which I was a participant) was canceled just after it began due to a sudden storm, and how excited I was to be able to get home in time to see all of "The Dark Crystal" on Showtime. Back in the day, Showtime would show music videos in between movies, and these two were played back-to-back before "The Dark Crystal" started. Awesome '80s tunes, awesome '80s videos.
Friends in Low Places
Any guy 33 years old knows that when it's summer, 1991 and you're rockin' out some college party (when you're not yet in college) and there's free PBR or Schlitz -- then my friend, the guy next to you, if he is a guy, is your new best friend! Yee-Haw! Everyone hug, and cry ... blame it all on my roots!
Saturday in the Park
This is great to sing and really conjures up visuals which are wonderful, but somehow also a little sad. Like a time that has past, left in the early '70s.
The album Born to Run is Springsteen's epochal ode to the capital-R Romantic mysticisms of summer on the Jersey shore, and as such resonates with track after track of great summer songs. The whole disc, from Thunder Road to Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out are perfect for rolling down the windows, positioning a soon-to-be sunburned arm on the sun-hot door, and finding an agreeable highway. The album's finale Jungleland is as grand and operatic a tribute to a season as one is likely to find in the annals of rock. Partnered with some of Springsteen's most poignant imagistic lyrics ("Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge / Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain / The rat pulls into town rolls up his pants / Together they take a stab at romance and disappear down Flamingo Lane"), the E Street Band pulls out the stops as well, with Clarence Clemmons taking his longest saxophone solo in the band's oeuvre. Many songwriters have tried to capture the quintessence of summer in a song; only Springsteen understood that the season's appeal lies in the many moods stirred up in it, and laid all those out in one of the great rock anthem masterpieces.
The Cheap Seats
It's a baseball song - how much more summery do you want? That aside, it reminds me of an evening at the Minnesota State Fair - the air was dusty and hot, my stomach was full with cheese curds and corn dogs, and Alabama was onstage playing this song as their finale with fireworks going off overhead. A classic summer night from my memory.
Summer of '69
For Mr. Adams it may have been the summer of '69, but for me it was the summer of '91. It may have been the only real summer I ever spent -- certainly it was my last time of innocence. Saying goodbye to band-mates and spending time looking back, the summer of '91 was filled with moments reminding me "it was now or never," as I wondered what I really wanted to do And as I fearlessly lept into a new life I knew I was in control of, I found that truly those "were the best days of my life." Upon hearing this song now I can only assume that we all have a "summer" regardless of year, we call "'69."
DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
Two weeks before I started college, I bought my first car. It was a white (primer) 1978 Datsun 280 Z 2+2. It was an awesome car. I put a CD player in it, at a time when a CD player in your car cost like $600. (I had to take out a loan to do it - my first consumer debt!) The first CD I played in it: Homebase by DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. I rolled up to college with Summertime blastin' in my fly Z. I was the shiznit. I crashed the car three years later in a blizzard, but I still have that fly CD.
Bradley Nowell borrows the opening line from the Gershwin tune Summertime for the opening line of this song (Warning: this song has nothing to do with Porgy and Bess). So, it's hard for me to think of summertime and not think of this song. After the opening line it's all Sublime, and it's all, well, sublime.
More Than Words
It's 1991 again, you and your buds are headin' to the lake. You've forgotten your fishin' poles, but that don't matter because you've got a hot Mustang, brews and some kickin' GNR songs, AC/DC and more. Then, suddenly, like your brother givin' the best man's speech at your wedding, this song hits a car full a guys like a ton a bricks! Everyone, including zero singers, becomes a Romeo and the harmonizin' somehow is perfect. After you hit every inflection and never miss a word you all look around for a moment and call each other "gay" for knowing that song.
Olivia Newton John & John Travolta
An amalgamation of memories from summerstock productions to watching the movie in the drive-in (man I'm old!) to putting on many performances in my own back yard and living room spring to mind. This is a very summery kind of song. (editor's note: Sorry, Jeanette.)
Endless Summer Nights
How can one not include a Richard Marx song in any mix?
Another song that sounds like summer to me. Also, I used to be a vampire in the Valley. So, he's singin' about me.
My cousin and I spent a good portion of the summer of 1989 scraping and painting our grandparents' grainery, and we wore out the cassette for the single of this song. It was so awesome to be able to sing/talk along to all of the cool lines from the movie. "Oh, I got a live one here!" -- sweet.
Santana & Rob Thomas
"Man it's a hot one / Like seven inches from the midday sun..." When I hear the opening lines to this song, I picture myself sitting in the front yard in one of those old aluminum lawn chairs with the sprinklers trained on me. I don't know that I have ever actually done that, but right now it sounds really nice.
Over the Hills and Far Away
I'm not sure why this song reminds me so much of summer. Something about Jimmy Page's opening guitar riff just oozes summer sun and fragrant hybiscus into my brain. It can only be described as "pastoral." And, somehow, the epic quest for love described by Plant's always intricately detailed lyrics reinforces the summer sound in my brain. I know I'm wired to love Zeppelin -- it's in my blood. I'm pretty sure I'm just wired to love summer, too.
Late in the Evening
I'm not sure if it's the lyric of the girls sitting outside on stoops, Paul Simon's uncharacteristically raucous vocal, or the crystalline smoke of the straight-from-Havana brass line, but whatever the reason, this song is positively redolent of summer. Never one to be accused of rocking beyond the pale of hardness, this is one of Simon's best uptempo songs and evidence of his interest in the global variety of musical expression long before Graceland.