Summertime, and the Livin’s Easy

This article was originally published in online magazine Pointless Banter on June 19, 2006.

Summer is upon us, and you know what that means. BBQs, water sports, and sunburns, and lots of driving with the top down and the stereo blasting. In the summer we’re in the mood for a little different kind of music than the rest of the year. Maybe it’s something about the sunshine or the fact that we wear a lot fewer clothes, but in the summer, it’s all about the poppy, the happy, the…chill. I started thinking about what albums say “summer” to me. I’ll follow this up with them at the end of this article. One thing I learned while doing the research of this article – under no circumstances are we to trust Amazon to point us in the direction of good music. Amazon’s “Top Ten Summer Albums” included, in my opinion, one good one, six “Hells no!”s, two disgruntled “I guess maybe…”s, and one “What the?!?”

Amazon’s picks:

10. The Beach Boys – “Sounds of Summer.” While no one would argue that the Beach Boys really do scream summer, aren’t they a little dated? Maybe if I were on a road trip with my grandparents. Next!

9. Mariah Carey – “Daydream.” Uh, NEXT!

8. Sheryl Crow – “The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow.” Okay, I’ve caught myself singing along to “All I Wanna Do (Is Have Some Fun.)” That’s a great summer song. But as a whole? I’ll pass.

7. The Eagles – “Greatest Hits 1971-1975.” As The Dude would say, “I HATE the fuckin’ Eagles, man!” Next!

6. DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince – “Homebase.” Fine, it was an okay album in 1991. Last I checked, that was fifteen years ago. I’m not a stickler about “modern” music being the order of the day, but this album should really only serve as a reminder that Will Smith is damned lucky he got a job as an actor. Not exactly what I would call “timeless.”

5. Avril Lavigne – “Let Go.” I don’t know if this is a great summer album or not. Avril Lavigne has passed under my radar unnoticed, except for the whole dressing like Angus Young thing.

4. Nelly – “Nellyville.” I refuse to listen to anything by a grown man who voluntarily calls himself “Nelly.” Maybe I just like the tough guys, but that’s stupid. Next!

3. Outkast – “Speakerboxx / The Love Below.” This one I can agree with. Who can’t shake their asses to “The Way You Move” or “Hey Ya!”? Shake it sugar, indeed. They’re on with this one. I might have picked this one.

2. Various Artists – “Billboard Top Hits 1980.” Besides the fact that it’s kind of a cop-out to include a compilation on a list like this, come on. It apparently includes hits such as “Funky Town”, “Fame”, and “Upside Down.” I like Funky Town as much as the next person (which isn’t much), but NEXT!

1. Various Artists – “Motown: The Classic Years.” Oh, another compilation. Having trouble coming up with real choices, are we? This one includes “Summer In The City” and “Dancing In The Streets.”

Clearly, Amazon cannot be trusted. Next, we go to the celebrity musicians for their opinions on the best summer albums. (Borrowed from Boston’s “Weekly Dig.”) If you can’t trust celebrities to point you in the right direction, who can you trust? Some of their picks (I only selected a few – you can read the entire list here. This was particularly interesting to me as most of the musicians are indie.

Phil Manley of Trans Am:

American Beauty by Grateful Dead. This album makes me incredibly nostalgic for the summer of ‘89. It was the soundtrack to lots of “first times.” First girlfriend, first drug experience, first time out West …

Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service:

In the summer of 1997 I listened to Elliott Smith’s Roman Candle every morning on the way to work. While not a summertime record like, say, Len’s “Steal my Sunshine,” it definitely set the tone for one of the best summers I’ve ever had and inspired me to keep writing.

Jesse Vuona of Read Yellow:

Weezer’s Blue Album. With all the new music out these days, I don’t get many chances to listen to the albums that shaped my life. Every so often, I hear a song from and it reminds me of my summer in 1994. My best friend and I played , while listening to this album everyday until the tape broke. It may not have been the best summer for finding love, but I did learn about great music. Note from E: Several artists picked Weezer’s Blue Album.

Noelle of Damone:

Neil Young’s Harvest Moon is a wonderful summertime record. It’s perfect with a setting sun on a breezy evening, under a slightly overcast sky, getting ready for thunder storms, on the roof with a glass of wine and a cigarette.

Magnus of The Cardigans:

Pursuit of Happiness by Weekend Players: Hot sunny days, margaritas in the sun, holding hands, smiling, pregnancy, Long Beach in Plymouth and live at 2003 WMC – Billboard. What better memories could you have?

Robert James of West Indian Girl:

After much debate, I would have to say Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking. It’s perfect for waking up to in the hot, hazy morning, trying to remember what I did the night before.

Some terrific picks, there. Instead of entire albums, I decided to do a list of songs that say “It’s summertime” to me. This list may be a tad skewed style-wise, as nothing says ‘drinking in the sun’ to me like ska and reggae. In no particular order:

15. Hepcat – “Bobby and Joe.” This is from the album Scientific, and Hepcat are some of the godfathers of ska. It’s Jamaica-style. Oh, they do the rumba.

14. Squeeze – “Tempted.” Who hasn’t bobbed their heads and sung along when they hear the first words of this one? This is one you crank. “Tempted by the fruit of another, tempted but the truth is discovered…”

13. The Steve Miller Band – “The Joker.” This one makes you want to put your shades on, drop down in the driver’s seat with one hand at twelve, and pretend that some people call you “Maurice.”

12. Sugar Ray featuring SuperCat – “Fly.” I love this song. Particularly when coupled with the video, because of the ogling of Mark McGrath that ensues. This is better than the radio version, though, because it’s got reggae-skat man SuperCat rocking the breaks. Did I just say ‘rocking the breaks’? I think I did.

11. Janis Joplin – “Me and Bobbie McGee.” Maybe it’s just that on my birthday last year, a friend of mine and I sat on my back porch, threw back some brews, and listened to this several times on loud. The vinyl version. Yeah, I have Janis on vinyl. This song is a perfect beer-on-the-back-porch song. “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”

10. Weezer – “Surf Wax America.” This is the first song that made me wish I could ride a surfboard to work. Yes, it’s from the famed Blue Album, and the rest of it, which includes hits “Buddy Holly” and “The Sweater Song” is equally good and summery.

9. Sublime – “Scarlet Begonias.” I was hard-pressed to select one song from what I consider to be one of the best summer albums of all time – 40 oz. to Freedom. This one is just the right mix of bounce, groove, and sunshine to make the list. “There ain’t nothin’ wrong with the way she moves.” A few close seconds by Sublime are, of course, “What I Got”, “Waiting For My Ruca”, “Caress Me Down”, “5446 What’s My Number”, and “Garden Grove”, from both ‘40 oz.’ and the self-titled album, although for summer, you can’t go wrong with a little Sublime.

8. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – “Someday I Suppose.” I know every word to this song. Horn-laced ska with a whiskey-soaked frontman, Dicky Barrett. This is from the album Don’t Know How To Party. “There was a place, and the name of the place escapes me.”

7. The Barenaked Ladies – “One Week.” Okay, this was a huge radio hit and kind of cheesy, but admit it: You have definitely cranked this one up and tried to sing along with the fast “Chickity China, the Chinese chicken, you have a drumstick and your brain stops tickin’” part. And you screwed it up. And you laughed. From the album Stunt.

6. The Ramones – “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker.” My list wouldn’t have been complete without some old-fashioned punk, and the Ramones are just surfy enough to say summer.

5. Blink-182 – “M&Ms.” God help me, I am so sick of Blink-182, and they lost me years ago, but this song is from their little-heard first album, Cheshire Cat, and is probably one of the most perfect love songs in the world. When I hear the opening guitar riff, it makes me instantly smile and rock out. “We’ll buy some candy and cigarettes and get into my car. We’ll blast the stereo and drive to Madagascar.”

4. The Offspring – “Pretty Fly For A White Guy.” This song is cheesy, I’ll admit. But The Offspring kick ass and I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been drunk when this song has come on and not done the “Give it to me, baby! Uh huh! Uh huh!” part really, really loudly. And off-key.

3. 311 – “All Mixed Up.” This song just flat grooves, and sounds like hot dogs and firecrackers at the lake to me. “You’ve got to bet on yourself now, star, because that’s your best bet.”

2. The Violent Femmes – “Add It Up.” You aren’t a red-blooded rock lover if this one doesn’t make you get up and shake your ass. And I’ll be damned if the lyrics aren’t sexy. “There may be something that I wouldn’t miss, but I look at your pants and…I need a kiss.” Or “Share a smoke, make a joke, grasp and reach for a leg of hope.”<i And who doesn’t spend their summers sharing smokes and making jokes? Or if you don’t, why aren’t you? Two out of three ain’t bad – I’ll settle for making a joke and reaching for a tanned thigh, if not the smoke.

1. The Sugarhill Gang – “Rapper’s Delight.” I couldn’t help this one. When the bass line kicks into that groove, I simply must shake my ass. Plus, it’s fun to sing along to, even if you’re picturing Ellen Albertini Dow at the end of The Wedding Singer. “You don’t stop rockin’ to the bang bang boogie said up jump the boogie to the rhythm of the boogie the beat.”

15 Honorable mentions: Outkast’s “Hey Ya!”, Uncle Kracker’s “Follow Me”, Kid Rock’s “Cowboy”, Cypress Hill’s “Insane In the Brain”, Sister Hazel’s “All For You”, Voodoo Glowskulls’ “The Drop In”, Veruca Salt’s “Volcano Girls”, Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979″, Bad Religion’s “A Walk”, Fishbone’s “Armageddon & AIDS”, Bob Marley’s “One Love”, Local H’s “Bound For The Floor”, Everclear’s “Santa Monica”, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “If You Have To Ask”, and Blondie’s “The Tide Is High.”

There you have it, friends. Put your top down, your hair back, and your shades on, and spin these babies. Summer is here.

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