Aside from Christmas, no other time of the year has had more great songs associated with it than summer. In fact, no other season has become sort of a musical genre of its own, as in, "Wow! Now that's a summer song!" Doesn't even have to specifically be about the summer months. For instance, for some people, the summer of 1989 will forevermore be associated with Love & Rockets' one-hit-wonder, T. Rex homage "So Alive." Just as the summer of '82 will always be associated with "There She Goes Again," the kick-off track from Marshall Crenshaw's very summery debut album … just as the summer of '78 was all about the Stones' "Beast of Burden." And so on. …
For simplicity's sake, though, we're going with 10 songs, specifically about sun, beach and all those other warm-month trappings, that belong on any respectable iPod during the next three months or so. (And, yes, most of them are "old" … which only means they've stood the test of time.)
1) "Hot Fun in the Summertime" — Sly & the Family Stone: The summer anthem from America's genre-defying, mixed race, mixed sex, funk-pop answer to the Beatles. Is there any better metaphor for the romanticized "freedom" of summer than when Sister Rose literally crows: "Ba, ba, ba, bop when I want to/ Out of school. …"?
2) "All Summer Long" — The Beach Boys: Any such list requires a Beach Boys tune, of course. And the group whose stated goal has been "keeping the summer alive" (at least in Mike Love's view) has dozens of them. But like Charlie in Apocalypse Now, we don't surf in Michigan, just as they don't in Iowa or Nevada. Still, everyone can identify with the fun, fun, fun-filled sentiments of this relatively more obscure classic, which already displayed Brian Wilson's melodic genius. It also features the annoying Love's most brilliant and digestible hook ever via "Not for us now!" The perfect ending to American Graffiti, one of the all-time archetypal summer movies, as well.
3) "In the Summertime" — Mungo Jerry: Pretty obvious, right? "When the weather's fine, you've got women, you've got women on your mind …" Ironically, it required a British band to take jug band-like music (they called it "skiffle") to the top of the American charts (No. 3, to be exact), featuring such great lyrics as "If her daddy's rich, take her out for a meal/If her daddy's poor, just do as you feel" and "We're not bad people, we're not dirty, we're not mean/ We love everybody, but we do as we please." The Ramones never came up with anything more brilliantly stoopid.
4) "Summertime" — Big Brother & the Holding Company: More people seem to prefer Billy Stewart's dynamic, bravado, trilling and scatting version of this Gershwin classic. But this more laid-back interpretation captures the lazy flow and sometimes melancholic feel of summer better. Plus, Janis Joplin never recorded with a better band than these San Francisco-based psychedelic garage rockers.
5) "That Summer Feeling" — Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers: Speaking of melancholy … "That summer feeling is gonna haunt you one day in your life," croons Jo Jo here. And just like childhood past with its many pleasures and pains, it will. And it does.
6) "Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer" — Nat "King" Cole: Purists will undoubtedly scoff in the same way they might when someone mentions Satchmo's hit version of "Hello, Dolly." But, hey, pop music will always be pop music and I like 'em both a lot. Besides, "those days of soda and pretzels and beer"? I mean, c'mon! And ask any elementary school kid if its "you'll wish that summer could always be here" refrain doesn't just say it all.
7) "School's Out" — Alice Cooper: But of course! The only near-riot that ever happened in a Thumb school (Lakers High School, to be exact; the police even had to be called out) occurred to the strains of this proto-punk anthem on the last day of classes.
8) "Fun at the Beach" — The 'B' Girls: The biggest obscurity on this list was originally released as a single on the late, great Greg Shaw's Bomp! label during the height of the new wave movement. These Toronto punk gals later included it on their Who Says Girls Can't Rock? LP, and this charming take on the age-old "Daddy, I need to be free!" theme is more melodically poppy than anything the Go-Go's ever managed. Snatch up the single if you can find it. A real indie power-pop gem.
9) "Summer" — War: Especially if your idea of summer is something akin to lying under a tree, wasting time, and just grooving on the vibes after a bong hit or two or three.
10) "Summer in the City" — The Lovin' Spoonful: It truly sounds and feels as gritty as its title's subject matter, resulting in the toughest thing John Sebastian and this New York City crew ever recorded.
Also: "Summertime Blues," Eddie Cochran; "Heat Wave" and "Dancing in the Street," Martha & the Vandellas; "Summer Wind," Frank Sinatra; "Sunshine Superman," Donovan; "Here Comes the Summer," the Undertones; "Vacation, the Go-Go's; "A Summer Song," Chad & Jeremy; "Summertime," DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince; "Remember (Walking in the Sand)," the Shangri-Las; "Girls in Their Summer Clothes," Bruce Springsteen; "The Message," Grandmaster Flash & the Furious 5; "Green Grass," Gary Lewis & the Playboys; "School Is Out," Gary "U.S." Bonds; "Groovin'," the Rascals; "All Summer Long," Kid Rock; "Vacation," Connie Francis; "Dancing In The Moonlight," King Harvest; "Beach Baby," the First Class; "Down on the Street," the Stooges.