Soundtrack of Our Lives
Talking summer songs with the local music community
Here is a totally made-up, but probably true statistic: There are more songs about summer than there are about all three other seasons combined. Just think of all the songs simply titled “Summertime,” from George Gershwin to Kenny Chesney to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
Everyone has their favorite summer songs, too, whether they are explicitly about the year’s hottest season, or simply conjure memories of cookouts, pool parties and sweat-induced crotch rot.
I actually have two: the “cool” answer and the considerably more embarrassing (but possibly more truthful) answer. The former would be “Another Sunny Day” by Belle & Sebastian, off their excellent 2006 record, The Life Pursuit. In classic B&S fashion, it takes what appears to be syrupy-sweet subject matter (gardening! Playing football! Being outside is fun!) and juxtaposes it with a truly sad outcome. The precious puppy love described in the first few stanzas deteriorates, ending with “ghost figures of past, present, future haunting the heart.” Oh, and it surprises you with the word “fuck.”
And the embarrassing one? Well, that would be “If You Steal My Sunshine” by one-hit-wonder, Canadian brother-and-sister duo Len. In the summer of 1999, I spent two-and-a-half weeks with family in Canada, and having nothing else to do, I pretty much watched MuchMusic (the Canadian equivalent of MTV) all day. Turns out, that was a pretty notable summer for pop music, what with “I Want It That Way,” “What’s My Age Again?” and “Genie In a Bottle” all hitting big, but what really sticks out is that Len song. Maybe it’s the summer-y visuals (“I was lying in the grass . . .”), or maybe it’s the goofy spoken word in between the verses (“Does he like butter tarts?”), but that song will never truly leave me, especially during the summer, even if it probably should.
Thinking that OC/LBC musicians and industry professionals had to have better tastes than I do when it comes to this question, I polled some local notables to find out their favorite summer songs.
Solo artist, www.myspace.com/brawdcast
“Summertime in the LBC,” the Dove Shack: “It just makes you wanna hit up Long Beach and get a barbecue going. The stoney, positive vibe is an open invite to good times and relaxation.”
Drummer, the New Limb, www.myspace.com/thenewlimb
“Good Vibrations,” the Beach Boys: “Always reminds me of summer, but I feel like they can also get annoying at times. But this song is appropriately eerie as well as upbeat, so it’s okay in my book.”
DJ, Thursdays at Avalon Bar, www.myspace.com/djmoldboy
“You Will be Warm,” August Born; “Sligo River Blues,” John Fahey; “Minmin,” Do Make Say Think: “The August Born track reminds me of a certain girl who once painted me a ‘summer of renewal.’ I used to take many naps in my car during the summers of ’07 and ’08, passing out to songs like ‘Sligo River Blues.’ Do Make Say Think will forever be my summer band, and ‘Minmin’ is my nostalgic, cruising-along-PCH song.”
Lead vocals, Franki Doll and the Broken Toys, www.myspace.com/frankidoll
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” Tears for Fears: “For some reason, this is my ‘going to the beach/summer song.’ My friends and I would sneak out of the house, make our way toward the sand and sing this song. It was kind of lame, but at the same time, it was definitely us. For me, this song made me feel like someone was speaking to me, understood my plan as a musician—I was going to ‘rule the world.’”
Booker, the Yost Theater and Sutra Lounge, www.yosttheatre.com; www.sutrabar.com
“1901,” Phoenix: “The entire Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix album is actually my official soundtrack of the 2009 summer. I can listen to it start to finish, over and over and over. But ‘1901’ immediately teleports me onto a rooftop in a pool on a sunny day (think the Standard Hotel in downtown LA) with a Mai Tai and a squirt gun—in slow-mo. Love it.”
Lead vocals and guitar, Venus Infers, www.myspace.com/venusinfers
“Pale Blue Eyes,” the Velvet Underground: “When I worked the Balboa Ferry boat in the summers during school, we used to always listen to the fucking Velvet Underground. There was a record store down there, and I bought every VU album they had. Of course, if I still had to work in Newport during the summer, I probably would have picked the Jam’s ‘Town Called Malice.’”
Lead vocals and guitar, Melanoid, www.myspace.com/melanoid
“Lonely Madman,” Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks: “From Last Train to Hicksville. My dad first introduced me to this album when I was in seventh grade, and my friend and I listened to it constantly that summer. It is still one of my favorites.”
Lead vocals and guitar, Yellow Red Sparks, www.myspace.com/yellowredsparks
“Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” the Beach Boys: “This song always put my head in the clouds as a kid, and it really gives you that ‘what if’ sort of feeling. It’s kind of funny because summer is one of the most carefree times in your life as a child, but somehow, you still fantasize about being ‘grown up.’ Kids are obviously dumb.”
Solo artist, www.myspace.com/barrettjohnson
“Lazy Bones,” the Mills Brothers: “Although I feel that Sam Cooke’s definitive version of the song ‘Summertime’ and Bob Dylan’s song and album New Morning are must-listens, my personal favorite summertime song has to be the Mills Brothers’ ‘Lazy Bones.’ Laid-back four-part harmony, mouth trumpet, lyrics about embracing procrastination—grab your hammock and your lemonade. We ain’t doin’ shit today.”
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Lead vocals and guitar, Greater California, www.myspace.com/greatercalifornia
“Catch the Wind,” Donovan: “Every time I hear that song, it stops me and seems to wipe everything completely clean. The simpleness and possibility is so reminiscent of summers spent as a kid. Family vacations and national parks and riding in the back seat, and you could look up at the sky, and you were surrounded by the sound of nothingness, and it felt like it was never going to end. It brings all those things back in.”
Lead vocals, Honeypie, www.myspace.com/honeypiemusic
“In the Summertime,” Mungo Jerry: “I love the chh-chh-chh, uhh, chh-chh-chh, uhhs throughout the song. The lyrics are great, too. ‘We’re always happy. . . . Life’s for livin’, yeah, that’s our philosophy.’ I like this because it reminds me not to take life too seriously and to do what I love because life is for livin’. This song just makes me want to lay in the sun and sip margaritas all day.”
Lead vocals and guitar, the Steelwells, www.myspace.com/thesteelwells
“Cecilia,” Simon and Garfunkel: “This song instantly puts me in the mood to get on a bicycle and ride around town while I high-five everyone I ride past. I suggest you put it on your iPod and do this just so you know what I am talking about.”