A lot has happened this summer: Carly Rae Jepsen dropped a candied B-Sides to Emotion. Blink-182 put out their first album sans Mr. DeLonge (who, apparently, is busy working with the highest levels of the Department of Defense and NASA on a top secret UFO-related project). Frank Ocean finally untangled himself from the web of Harper Lee conspiracy theories abundant on the internet and released not one, but two albums—and a magazine! Even Thrice returned from hiatus. 2016 has been a hard year, but our pals over at AllMusicBooks.com joined forces with us, and we decided to put together a playlist to focus on the good stuff. After President Obama released his summer playlist, we got to talking, comparing (read: arguing) over our “summer jams” and thought, as Labor Day approached, we could offer a final word over our favorite hot weather music. Below, our founding editor Gauraa and AllMusicBooks.com’s very own Steve J talk about twenty of their classic summer jams. So, turn ’em up, get yer 45 on, soak up the sun before it goes out on you. (Or something else Sheryl Crow sang that gets you out of bed.)
Steve: Summer in New England…blink and you’ll miss it! I checked President Obama’s 2016 summer list when it came out. Obama always has some good jams. There were some usual suspects in there and then some things I had to go and check out. Kind of like our collaboration here! For me, summer is all about the groove.
Gauraa: I should probably preface this discussion by telling you that I grew up in the transcontinental thousand-island nation of Indonesia. I loathe the tropical heat. After having spent the past four years in New York, enduring sweltering heat straight out of the pages of Gatsby, historic snow storms that inculcated in me the survivalist need to induce hikikomori–not to mention the present one drenched in the storm-tossed monsoon of Mumbai–my perspective hasn’t changed: never leave the house until you absolutely have to. The world is gross, it’s either monstrously hot or mercilessly cold and the only time worth being alive is September in New York City. That said, the ten songs I have cautiously selected below capture my seasonally challenged ennui from all twenty-one summers of my existence. These are the best songs, and you will love them.
“Hot Fun In The Summertime” – Sly and The Family Stone
Steve: There’s a ton of good tunes with variations of “Summer” in the title or as the main chorus and they’re on a lot of summer playlists. I tried to avoid that, but this one (and WAR’s “Summer”) is just too good. Sly was a total revolutionary, both musically and culturally, liberally blending and blurring musical and color boundaries to create a whole new thing. And it’s a great kick-off tune, laying all of the cards on the table.
Gauraa: You know what’s absolutely bizarre? This is the first time I’m listening to Sly and The Family Stone. And it’s strange, really, because I’ve read so much about them, what with Greil Marcus crowning them one of the principle inheritors of rock’n’roll and what not. But this is exactly what I expected them to sound like–whole, soulful, fun. I dig this.
Steve: Ahh, Greil. I’ve reviewed his books often.
Gauraa: No, no. You say that with pride.
“Temptation (7” Version)” – New Order
Gauraa: Curiously, the particular listening experience that dictates my relationship with this song didn’t take place in the summer. It was Syracuse. 2015. A frigid, ferocious February had snowed into a merciless March, and I had become a scholar of my own wintery, wine-stained sadness. Suddenly everybody I knew was either already in a stable relationship or nestling into the understandable warmth of a new one. Drinking buddies were stone cold sober, often found rearranging furniture on Sunday nights. I had to get out. I bought a ticket to DC, and listened to “Temptation” on my way there, on repeat. And as I walked down the confounding roundabouts of D.C., leaning into that glistening, vibrating bassline, the crisp but even-tempered and distant drums, my wintery loneliness suddenly seemed extrapolated. The song had firmly implanted itself in me. I still love everything about it: it’s sparing use of a chorus, it’s peak-a-boo distorted guitar line that weasels in and out of the second verse, it’s astute lack of structure,it’s catchy oohs, placed at perfectly statured intervals.“Temptation” has since been a summer staple. Maybe not in season, but in mood. It’s the sound of liberation, the sound of a new start. I’ll never know quite what it means but I suppose that’s part of the charm. And it leads me to believe that if anything, tonight, I can “walk alone and find my soul as I go home.”
Steve: If you had asked me to pick a season that New Order defines, it definitely would have been winter — they make me think of pasty skin and overcoats! However, this song makes me think of the nightlife in Miami, where I grew up. It sounds like club hopping on a warm summer night.
Gauraa: I get that, it’s compulsively danceable. And this is coming from a person who has six left feet.
“Totally Nude” – Talking Heads
Steve: It’s funny, but this was one of the first tunes that popped into my head when we started discussing this project. And it’s not because of the name, although that doesn’t hurt. It’s such a light, funky tune with remnants of African highlife and juju in the guitar. And who knew David Byrne had a little bit of hippie in him!
Gauraa: This is the first time I’m listening to this song, too, and it’s a bit of surprise. As for the hippie element, you’re absolutely right. Who knew?
“Grow Up” – Paramore
Gauraa: If there’s a song about transitioning into your twenties, it’s this one. I listened to it a lot as I moved to New York in the summer of 2013, and it never ceases to remind me of that time. I didn’t know my way around and I spent a long time confusing the Queensboro Bridge for the Brooklyn Bridge. What a time. My recollection of it is very cinematic, too : the camera zooms in, then out into steady vision. The bass drum thumps, slowly approaching. The guitar fine tunes you into narrative. Enter Hayley: with her full, rich, bulbous vocals. “I told ‘em all where to stick it/ Left town with a dime to my name.” It seemed to have summed up the story back then, moving to a new city, letting go of the fake friends, the “self-righteous pawns in a losing game.” It’s very vindicating and it sums up your standard generational angst: “Stood in line for so long just to picket/ Something I will never understand/ Aren’t you tired of always being mad at the world/ Won’t you just admit you don’t care?” Most of all, it’s fun. (It’s also incredibly satisfying to sing along to.)
Steve: Never heard this one before but it definitely sounds like an anthem, full of attitude, rebellion and buzzy guitars. Turn it up, put the top down and hit the road! But I’ll admit it; I have no clue what “bulbous vocals” sound like, even after repeated listenings.
Gauraa: Bulbous in terms of production. It’s just such a fat, full, whole sound that they’ve managed to capture with the vocals. You don’t hear that very often. I’m a huge fan.
“Stir It Up” – Bob Marley & The Wailers
Steve: One of the all-time classics, the only question was should it be the studio or live version? I went with the live version, as it’s almost in double-time from the original and feels more upbeat and summery. Totally naughty lyrics you can sing out loud in front of the unsuspecting give it bonus points.
Gauraa: You know, I’ve never been much for Bob Marley. My dad would play me “Buffalo Soldier” growing up, reminding me, “If you know your history/ Then you would know where you’re coming from,” as he encouraged me to pick up a copy of Valmiki’s Mahabharat. Now, when I think of Bob Marley, I am saddled with a barrage conflicting images: one of a thick, unread copy of the Mahabharata, and one of dreaded white stoners in vape shops, buying paraphernalia with huff images (they invariably dress in Bob Marley t-shirts). All that said, I wouldn’t be opposed to lounging in a beach-side shack with a fruity cocktail in hand, listening to “Stir It Up.” It has the quintessential relaxed summeriness to it. It flows with such ease, that you can’t not fall in love with this.
Steve: You wouldn’t make it in my house. I named one of my daughters Marley…
Gauraa: Biting my tongue as we speak, but, um, either way, Marley is a pretty name! Nothing against the name!
“Gigantic” – Pixies
Gauraa: There was a stigma attached to the Pixies. In many ways, they were the most hated band in the scene, simply because they sold. I remember watching an interview wherein a young Courtney Love professed she wanted to be “bigger than the Pixies.” Jon Fine of Bitch Magnet openly bitched about the sellout that were the Pixies in his memoir Your Band Sucks. I think people remember them more today as a ballpark figure than anything else, but I remember them for this song: “Gigantic.” It’s not beachy and all that you associate with the summer, but I grew up in the tropics, where it was summer ‘round the year, so maybe my perspective is a little skewed. I do associate this song, its thumping basslines, that Kim Deal aaah with a blinding bright light. It’s the perfect song to drive to: roll down your windows on the freeway, drive a little faster than you normally would. “Hey Paul, let’s have a ball.” Let’s have it, then.
Steve: Perhaps my favorite Pixies tune. I was in Boston working at a record label when these guys came up through the clubs. Great band. You can’t help singing along to that chorus. I never understood the inter-band jealousy; music communities are the perfect illustration of “a rising tide lifts all boats.” If you’re in a band, you’re SUPPOSED to want to be big. The rest of us sing alone in front of the mirror or while cooking.
Gauraa: I couldn’t agree more. Every band wants to be big, whether they’d like to admit it or not. Those in doubt can refer to the Ramones’ beer commercial. Also see: 80s indie rock band Del Fuegos. They did a Miller Lite beer commercial. They hated the Pixies, too.
“Under The Boardwalk” – Tom Tom Club
Steve: Everyone has The Drifter’s original version of this one on their summer playlist. And rightfully so…it’s a great, great song. Tom Tom Club (the rhythm section from Talking Heads’ side project) does a funky, gritty update here that’ll get ‘em dancing. Great production on this one; it just SOUNDS like hot sand on your feet. And boardwalks are seriously underrated.
Gauraa: Back in the day, I used to host a, um, “vengeful proto-new wave” radio show called the Sympathizer (ha, ha) for my college station. I used to play a lot of Tom Tom Club, particularly their big one: “Genius of Love.” I think, much like “Genius of Love,” “Under The Boardwalk” captures Tom Tom Club’s playful funk in perfect measure. Also, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Savoy Motel–they’re this new “boogie rock” band hailing from Nashville, brimming with retro nostalgia. They just put out a single entitled “Sorry People” that reminds me a whole lot of Tom Tom Club.
Steve: We need more “vengeful proto-new wave” radio shows!
“Awful” – Hole
Gauraa: I’m a massive Hole obsessive. I know all the songs, the multitude of stories behind them. And, yes, nod your head in disagreement as I say this: I absolutely love Celebrity Skin. “Awful” is hyper self-aware, and if I may, the best song off Celebrity Skin. It’s about the resurrection of Courtney Love after the death of Cobain (“I was punk! Now I’m just stupid! I’m so awful!”) but it’s also a candied confection of grunge, which I love. There’s also a line, at random, that bellows, low: “Oh just shut up you/ You’re only sixteen.” I love that so much. It’s sort of all over the place, but completely coherent at once. “He’s drunk, he tastes/ Like candy, he’s so beautiful/ He’s so deep like dirty water/ God, he’s awful,” could be a line about a dirty weekend. Or a summer romance. Here, here, have your pick.
Steve: Man. Our summers sure were different! I do like the “he tastes like candy” line though. Ah, youth!
“Soak Up The Sun” – Sheryl Crow
Steve: A candy-coated blast of pure pop and optimism from Sheryl Crow. Summer’s definitely the time to “tell everyone to lighten up…” Hipsters like to dis Sheryl Crow; I fire back that if this were the baseline of what is played on the radio, then radio would be a lot more happening.
Gauraa: “My friend the communist/ Holds meetings in his RV/ I can’t afford his gas/ So I’m stuck here watching TV.” God, Sheryl Crow is an absolute goddess. And this song features my other absolute favorite on backing vocals: Liz Phair. Anybody who has the audacity to diss Sheryl Crow and come see me.
“Feeling This” – Blink 182
Gauraa: This song is here partly because of nostalgia, and partly because it’s a great fucking song. Blink 182, as I remember them, were what my friends and I, barely even fifteen, would listen to during the summers as we drove out to shows (Indonesia wasn’t too strict about legality on the streets.) “Feeling This” is a coy anthesis to a summer fling: “Fate fell short this time/ Your smile fades in the summer/ Place your hand in mine/ I’ll leave when I wanna.” It’s studded with semi-romantic scenes we’d hope to grow up to live, one day: standing alone, on the street with a cigarette, on the first night you’d meet your summer romance. It’s snappy, young, perfect in surmising the summer glow of youthful disillusionment.
Steve: I’m not feeling this. Just kidding…didn’t expect that change of pace chorus.
“I Can See Clearly Now” – Jimmy Cliff
Steve: Another great cover, dragged into relevance again by Jimmy Cliff. So upbeat and positive, I dare you not to sing along and smile to this one.
Gauraa: Ah, a classic. Truly.
Steve: Tell the truth; you sing along very, very loudly to this one.
Gauraa: Alright, alright. But it’s so aggressively cheerful that literally everybody sings along very, very loudly to this one. That’s the only way to do it. Sometimes, just for fun, I like to envision this song at the end of a horror film as the credits start to roll.
“Shut Up Kiss Me” – Angel Olsen
Gauraa: Is this the only new release that made the cut for this list? I tried to stay “current” but the ten song limit proved extremely debilitating, and I didn’t want to put my money on a song I wasn’t too sure about. It’s also worth noting that, unlike Obama, we did not have the presidential luxury of including 50+ songs. I digress. Angel Olsen’s “Shut Up Kiss Me” is a summer essential. It’s gritty and sultry, all at once. And it captures the sweltering summer need to give in to that burning impulse, to pull someone close and demand “shut up kiss me hold me tight.”
Steve: Great title. Kissing and summer seem to go together quite well.
“Summer” – WAR
Steve: I might have gone for “All Day Music” here if Obama hadn’t. THANKS OBAMA! Seriously though, this one dominated the summers of my youth. WAR was a criminally underrated band.
“Ridin’ ’round town with all the windows down, Eight-track playin’ all your fav’rite sounds…” resonates *that* feeling even if you don’t know what an eight track was. Definitely a top track for “my time of year.”
Gauraa: You know, I was kind of bummed about not being able to squeeze in a Beach Boys track here but I think WAR’s “Summer” fulfills that capacity. While young boys playin’ stick ball in the street and old men feeding pigeons in the square isn’t quite my summer, it’s a quaint, idealistic, if not ironic, perspective I’d like to visit from time to time.
Steve: Holy crap. That’s cold…you know, there IS some time in between stick ball and Alzheimer’s. I think. Wait. What was the question?
“Some Other Time” – X
Gauraa: I love X so, so much. I used to live a block away from this hole-in-the-corner bar on Essex St, where I’d request the bartender to play this song all the time. It just so happened that the bartender was from California and spent the past summer following the band on tour from city to city. We turned the place into an X fan club. A driving guitar, Exene Cervenka’s half-meant vocals, delivered with an almost visual deadpan glare, “Some Other Time” is a perfect anecdote to summer, foregoing the future for the present: “It’s very bad luck to draw the line/ On the night before the worlds ends/ We can draw the line/ Some other time.”
Steve: What a great band. I would have gone “Fourth of July” here, and I almost did, but it didn’t quite fit my vibe. I got to work with John Doe and Exene on a Knitters album cover; he’s everything you’d think he is. Cool dude. I never think of punk tunes — other than the Ramones — as summer songs; maybe it’s the “permanent summer” of X and Los Angeles. More likely it’s the vision of punk rockers in board shorts, sporting their “tans.”
Gauraa: I’m so jealous, that’s amazing! Shit, how did we forget about the Ramones?! As for “Some Other Time” being a summer tune, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the fact that X’s Los Angeles and Gauraa’s Jakarta shared a climatic temperament, that we’re bound by some inexplicable, inarticulable understanding that unites only people who’ve experienced single-seasoned years. Either way, I find Punk a very summery sentiment in itself. I mean, if you think about it, who wants to rebel in the winter, who wants to put up a fight in the blizzarding cold? Think I’d be too busy 80-proofing my coffee, renting “Bridget Jones’s Diary” for the umpeeth time, to care.
“Groovin” – Killer Bees with Cyril Neville
Steve: I have a super soft spot for the Killer Bees, having worked with them on a couple of albums. This track, a cover of the Rascals hit, is in my mind the definitive version. I know, I know…heresy! But Cyril Neville just kills it on the guest vocal and it’s such a lazy, lowdown sexy groove. I could listen to this one all day…
Gauraa: Never listened to Killer Bees or Cyril Neville (I’m not on big on reggae at all) but I know what you mean.
Steve: You know my other daughter’s name is Cyril, don’t you?
Gauraa: My god, Steve, you really should tell me these things beforehand!
“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” – Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty
Gauraa: Ah! Had to have some Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty on here! What’s a summer without our golden lady, our Gold Dust Woman, without this golden song? It’s just the right amount of drama you’d want added to the summer. Rumor has it that Tom wound up at Stevie’s doorsteps after they’d broken up and given her this song. And she recorded it with him, too.
Steve: I’m a huge Petty fan. “American Girl” will likely make one of my summer lists. One of the top three songs Stevie ever cut, trailing “The Chain” and “Dreams.” It’s a great duet, if not “pure pop for now people” (Google it.).
“4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” – Bruce Springsteen
Steve: A classic. I’m surprised this doesn’t appear on more “Best of Summer” lists. It’s so cinematic. A classic sort-of coming-of-age, summer love story “down the shore.” So much here: “Chasin’ the factory girls underneath the boardwalk where they promise to unsnap their jeans” is just pure adolescent gold. There’s an innocence there— though the meaning is clear — that just seems lost with today’s songwriters. Sometimes you don’t have to say it…leave it to our imagination. We’ll figure it out. But you’ve got boardwalks, pinball, fireworks, beaches, seashore bars and fortune tellers all crammed into five and a half glorious minutes. This one’s for the lovers.
Gauraa: Sandy, the fireworks are hailin’ over Little Eden tonight. The cares of the day, the week, the year, the cares of Asbury Park. Ah, it isn’t summer without Springsteen. I concur wholeheartedly. Little Eden may be no more, but Springsteen still speaks of an Eden.
Steve: Perfectly stated.
“I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” – Ida Maria
Gauraa: This song came out when I was just shy of turning thirteen. It felt almost uncouth to sing along to it, you know? I was left feeling all these black-leather-cigarettes emotions in a school girl’s uniform. It was one of those so-wrong-it’s-right things. Fortress Around My Heart is a great album, and in my humble opinion, it still holds up. “I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked” is a great song perfectly delivered. And it sums up every summer heart palpitation.
Steve: Boy, pop music has come a loooong way since “I Want To Hold Your Hand!” (Author’s note: that song way precedes me, i.e. I ain’t that old). Great title and chorus, perfectly delivered. That’s pop music. But Gauraa, who wears black leather in the summer?
Gauraa: Um, I do. Black leather is not a stylistic statement, it’s an attitude. A state of being, if you will. It requires commitment. (And air conditioning.)
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay” – Otis Redding
Steve: Not sure anything needs to be said about this one. So sad, it was Redding’s final song and just points to an even higher level of greatness had tragedy not stepped in. Curiously, maybe that’s why the “moment” and being fully in it resonates so much in this one. One of the top two or three “whistling” solos as well.
Gauraa: It is sad, and I’ve always associated this song with funerals, for some reason partially creditable to several readings of “High Fidelity.”
Steve: You go to cool funerals.
“Jamie’s Cryin’” – Van Halen
Gauraa: God, this is my favorite Van Halen song. It’s short and sad and it just breaks my heart completely. Kids, for those of you who don’t know, this was the first coming of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Now, Jamie’s been in love before, and she knows what love is for. It should mean, a little, a little more than one night stands. In Van Halen we trust. Well, at least in this case.
Steve: What? Not “Crazy From The Heat?” I’d have to go “Ice Cream Man” strictly for the lyrics. “I got good lemonade, ah, dixie cups…all flavors and push ups too” could ONLY be David Lee Roth. Who almost certainly never saw a one night stand he didn’t like.
Gauraa: God. These guys were gross, they were. I mean, you’ve read the tell-alls. You know. Yet, somehow, it works in song.
Steve: Well that was fun Gauraa! First off, you need to get on the reggae tip. Perhaps if I came up with a rasta nom de pleur for you? It’s strange that we both come from tropical climates year-round, but have assembled a very different playlist on what “summer songs” mean to us.
Hey…here’s an idea; let’s find out what we might come up with for fall or winter. Want to collaborate again on a Halloween or holiday playlist for our readers? That might be interesting! You game?
Gauraa: Better yet: let’s curate a goth Thanksgiving playlist. I’m thinking along the lines of Alien Sex Fiend’s “Stuff The Turkey.”