Summer has always had an unfair advantage as a season. From the time we're small children, we're indoctrinated with the joys of summer vacation. Two and a half months to do nothing but get into trouble. No school. No work. Until the coal mines come calling and your parents mistake you for their own personal ATM machine.
Anyhow, whereas it takes a person of strong mental and physical character to survive the brutalities of an Alaskan winter, any lazy, indifferent slacker can lounge under a tree during the "Dog Days of August." Songwriters are always quick to capitalize on a trend. They write for the radio. They write for the seasons. There are plenty of great "Summer" songs. I stuck with lots of obvious ones, since they're the ones that come immediately to mind. Nostalgia's one of those things where no matter how indifferent you are to something, once it's in your memory it often changes into something better than it was. (Except for those long, sweaty black lung days in the coal mine, natch).
Here are 25 songs guaranteed to give you a sunburn if you don't wear your sunblock. And don't pick at it, you'll just make it worse, son.
25) "Constructive Summer"--The Hold Steady: They released their latest album in the summer with this chugging tune as the lead-off track. It still won't help them get airplay. Get real. But it should. Is he really singing "Me and my friends are like the drums on 'Lust for Life.'?" I think someone actually wants to be a rock critic. Bad choice.
24) "Summer In The City"--The Lovin' Spoonful: This song is so corny--never rhyme "City" with "Gritty" and "Kitty," never mind "girl" and "world" (unless you're being a jerk on purpose)--that you figure the singer deserves to get mugged, have his car towed and end up penniless in the park, begging for change to get a train back home to the suburbs. But these days he can spend the days staring at all the nice new luxury condominiums filled with people who have more money than he will ever make in his entire life. What was the question?
23) "In The Summertime"--Mungo Jerry: Everytime I hear this song, I think it must be summer. Because I would never listen to something this "junky" at any other time. Not that it isn't lovely, but there's something so lazy about this song. It almost feels as if it isn't really there, as if no one would consciously attempt something this silly without deciding to stop before it happened.
22) "Summertime In England"--Van Morrison: Now this had "hit single" written all over it. Fifteen-plus minutes and references to Wordsworth and Coleridge who were "Smoking Up In Kendall." And this isn't some marijuana fantasy! This is highly addictive OPIUM smoking we're talking about here. I didn't even know they had summer in England. I was told it was like Seattle without the Starbucks. Just rain all the time. But this song taught me something, which is what you want from all music: a lesson, a moral, something that makes you a better person or else you could turn out worse!
21) "The Other Side Of Summer"--Elvis Costello: Leave it to a geek with glasses to decide that not everything with summer is so great. Summer is great. Some people just like to be contrary. I don't know what's up with that.
20) "All Summer Long"--The Beach Boys: Feel free to substitute whatever Beach Boys song you like here. They're all great and a lot of them are about summer, but this one has it right there in the title. You're not allowed to celebrate summer in the United States without acknowledging the Beach Boys. Why would you want to ignore them? Unless you have something against being happy?
19) "This Ain't The Summer Of Love"--Blue Oyster Cult: More guys who just can't leave a good time alone. They have to shove it in our faces that not everyone come July gets to have sex on the beach. Yeah, I've seen David Lynch movies so I know there's a "dark side" to everything. But do you have to be so Frank Booth about it?
18) "Summer Nights"--John Travolta & Olivia Newton John: This song only works if you already know it and can act it out in a really annoying manner that makes other people feel embarrassed and afraid to be seen with you. The perfect Karaoke song. Find a partner and sing away.
17) "Summer Nights"--Marianne Faithfull: Before she became a heroin addict, Marianne specialized in a melancholy drear that even her happiest records sound as if the world might end soon. At least, that's what I always liked about them.
16) "Summertime"--D.J. Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince: Since 15,000 people bothered to tell me that in no way was Will Smith, the Fresh Prince, a bad rapper, I figured I'd give him a slot on this list to make amends and see if maybe he might want to share some of his $20 million salary with me. You know where to find me, Will. I'm getting heat in the basement this year, so it'll be cozy next time you visit!
15) "Summertime"--Janis Joplin, Billy Stewart: The old Gershwin number that always gets people thinking it's time to buy that air conditioner. Billy Stewart had a hit with it, but I always think of Janis' version, since it's one of the few times where she doesn't completely lose her mind midway through a song.
14) "Summer's Almost Gone"--The Doors: This is for all you people who consider the 4th of July to be an "End of Summer Party." I always feel that way. I have a problem with what is known as living in the present. I've already got my retirement community figured out. I just hope they keep to the same bingo schedule.
13) "That Summer Feeling"--Jonathan Richman: He sings like he has post-nasal drip. I'm sure he grew up asthmatic and still kicks himself for not wearing his slicker when his mom insisted on it. This song addresses how when you're old you'll look back at your youth and realize how you wasted your life. I do that all the time. I don't need some dumb song to remind me.
12) "The Boys Of Summer"--Don Henley: God, I hate those guys. The Boys Of Summer. Though I haven't found that these kinds of guys are all that seasonal. I've found them year round. They just happen to wear less clothes in the summer so you can see their amazing physiques that never show off all the hot dogs they actually eat. You ever go to those Nutrition Centers and try some of those special drinks they advertise? They say it tastes like Yoohoo! Have they ever really had a YooHoo?
11) "Celebrated Summer"--Husker Du: Guys from Minneapolis get extra points for singing about summer, since they suffer so much at the hands of winter. It must seem like an amazing week to them when they can put away their galoshes and not freeze to death waiting for the bus. I'm not saying move to Florida, but it might be a start.
10) "Summertime Blues"--Eddie Cochran: This is the kid who grows up to live alone. The Schleprock of his generation. The guy who always finds the cloud in the silver lining. The guy who sees not what is possible, but what is likely to happen if you don't wear your seatbelt. Who upon receiving a piece of birthday cake recites the statistics for the growing adult onset diabetes crisis. This is my cousin.
9) "Hot Fun In The Summertime"--Sly & The Family Stone: This song makes everyone think they're going to have fun because the guys in the band sound like they're having fun. And if they can have fun while technically working, then those of us in the cheap seats should be able to have just as much fun doing nothing at all.
8) "Summer Of Drugs"--Victoria Williams: I know it's not politically correct to encourage anyone to take drugs just for the fun of it. Boy, how times have changed. You'd think people died from drug abuse or something. Only if you take too much Tylenol. Then you damage your liver. So be careful kids and don't take this song seriously. Vic's using her imagination. That's what writers do. (Well, not me, obviously).
7) "Wipe Out"-Surfaris: I don't often choose instrumentals since I don't trust what they're really about. But this one has to be about surfing and it has to be a summer tune. There's no way this one has anything to do with Winter. If it did, it would have Mark Isham on trumpet.
6) "4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)"--Bruce Springsteen: I might take "Spirit In The Night" instead, but the key to early Springsteen is just how much Jersey Shore he managed to fit on the records. You can practically feel the sand sticking to your toes and smell the salt water damaging your hair. And you can imagine the loudmouths all sitting somewhere behind you waiting for you to go back in the water so they can steal the wallet you've so carefully "hidden" in your shoes.
5) "Summer Wind"--Frank Sinatra: If you ever get to hear this song on a cheap transistor radio while standing on the boardwalk in the middle of the night, you will know there is no better way to exist. It beats working for a living. It beats jail. It beats having a future. But it doesn't beat having a cheeseburger. Nothing beats that. C'mon.
4) "Summer Breeze"--Seals & Crofts: I once got to request this song on the local radio station because the night I called in was really hot out and the DJ sensed a great thematic tie-in. He asked me if I was "keeping cool" and I assured him I was, though that was a lie! And then he asked me my favorite radio station and I had to say it was his and even refer to it as "1530, Gold Rush!" In truth, the station stunk!
3) "Hot in Herre"--Nelly: I admired Nelly for saying what the rest of us were thinking. When it gets hot, you really want to take off that wool blazer. And those darned socks. You want fibers that breathe. Or at least a room with air.
2) "Sunny Afternoon"--The Kinks: The key here is that ice cold beer that apparently Ray Davies already had before cutting this number. At least that's how I hear it. He emulates the spirit of the season by partaking in it. Davies does not "project," he executes. He's like the godfather of Reality TV without the cameras and that most dramatic rose ceremony ever.
1) "School's Out"--Alice Cooper: This is what I'm talking about: a song that celebrates doing nothing! A song that every kid everywhere should sing because it's the kind of song that was written to be sung by every child in America, if not the world. Who doesn't look forward to getting out of school? Who doesn't dream of aimless months of debauchery and unrepentant living? Who doesn't want to ignore all responsibility and forget all their cares? Find me someone who doesn't and we'll ship them off to the dentist, where they belong.