Songs of Summer-part One
Article by Robert Benson
As summer winds down, let’s explore a two-part article series about songs with ‘Summer’ or ‘Summertime’ in the title:
Let’s start with the quintessential summer song by the Lovin’ Spoonful, the 1966 #1 hit called “Summer In The City.” The cut was originally a poem that was written by Lovin’ Spoonful’s band leader John Sebastian’s brother, Mark. John worked with the poem a bit and added a grittier beginning, one with more tension. Band member, bassist Steve Boone had a piece of music that was written for the piano that hadn’t fit into any other song that the group was doing at the time, but it fit perfectly with the new song.
“We hired an old man, obviously from the radio era, and he had old acetates of traffic jams and car horns,” recalls John Sebastain. “We listened for hours to various traffic jams and car horns and selected the ones we wanted. We found a pneumatic hammer…to provide the payoff for that selection and put it all together.”
In 1964, John Sebastian was excited by the Beatles and their music and was inspired to put his own four-man band together. While he was traveling through the south, he met folk artist Mississippi John Hurt. One of Hurt’s songs included the line, “I love my baby by the lovin’ spoonful” and the name of the group was set. The band went on to score many other Top Ten Billboard hits including: “Do You Believe In Magic” (#9 in 1965), “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” (#10 in 1965), “Daydream” (#2 in 1966), “Rain On The Roof” (# 10 in 1966) and “Nashville Cats,” which peaked at #8 in 1966.
One of the world’s most recognizable ‘summer’ songs is a 1970′s cut called “In The Summertime,” by the British pop-blues outfit Mungo Jerry. The band name was derived from a character from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (which was later adapted and made into the musical Cats by Andrew Lloyd Webber). It was the group’s first hit single, reaching #3 on the US Billboard charts and the song reached the top position on the charts in several other countries; including an astonishing seven-week stay atop the British charts. The record sold over 16 million copies worldwide and was Britain’s biggest-selling single in 1970.
Interestingly, the UK release (Dawn records) was a maxi-single which played at 33rpm instead of the usual 45rpm. The record also included another song on the A side (“Mighty Man) and a much longer track on the B side (“Dust Pneumonia Blues”). It also came with a great picture sleeve and sold for just a little bit more than a regular 45 rpm, making it an excellent value for the music consumer at the time.
In 1995, Jamaican-American reggae singer Shaggy covered the song (UK #5 U.S #3) however he changed one line of the song to reflect modern-day values and common sense. In the original version, the lyrics encouraged people to “have a drink, have a drive…” while Shaggy’s version says “I’m going to ride and drive…” This part of the original recording was also used in 1992 on graphic British TV public service advertisements warning viewers not to drink and drive. The song has also been recorded by Elton John and Bob Dylan.
“In The Summertime” was written by Ray Dorset, who was the group’s lead singer and was already a veteran performer when he formed Mungo Jerry in 1969. His first band, the Blue Moon Skiffle Group, featuring Phil Collins on drums, was formed when he was eleven years old. The song was used regularly in many different commercials and has become one of the world’s most recognizable songs. Many years later, it became the world’s most-played radio song and one of the most successful summer songs ever, with an estimated 23 million copies sold.
Another instantly recognizable summer song is the psychedelic-funk number by Sly & the Family Stone called “Hot Fun in the Summertime.” The song was released in 1969 shortly after Woodstock, where the band performed a memorable set, and it capitalized on their popularity, reaching #2 on the US pop charts and #3 on the R&B chart.
Listening to the song, it is dedicated to all the fun elements of the summer, however, if studied further, may have served as a commentary on the race riots of the late-1960s; depending on one’s opinion. “Hot Fun in the Summertime” was intended to be included with the cuts “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” and “Everybody Is A Star” as part of a new studio album by Sly and the Family Stone, however, the LP was never completed, and the three tracks were instead included on the band’s 1970 Greatest Hits LP.
The song was cited by Genesis vocalist and drummer Phil Collins as one of the musical inspirations for the cut “Misunderstanding.” Additionally, Rolling Stone Magazine ranks it at #247 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
If you were around in 1972, you can’t help but remember the cut “Summer Breeze,” by the pop singing duo of Jim Seals and Dash Crofts. The song was Seals & Crofts’ first charting single, reaching #6 on the US pop singles chart and #4 on the easy listening charts. Their main claim up until this point was joining up with the Champs (who released the Latin-tinged instrumental “Tequila”) in 1958. They went on to release several 70′s pop-rock gems including 1973′s “Diamond Girl” and 1976′s “Get Closer.”
In 1974, the cut was covered by the Isley Brothers where it only reached #60 on the pop singles chart, but topped out at #10 on the R&B singles chart and #16 on the UK singles chart. The Isley Brothers’ version is notable for the harmonies of the three vocals by brothers O’Kelly, Rudolph and lead singer Ronald, and for the guitar solo by younger brother Ernie. A remixed and updated version called “Summer Breeze (Tsuper Tsunami Mix),” was featured in two commercials by clothing retailer Gap which starred models Bridget Hall and Jessica Miller in 2004.
“Summer Breeze” has also been recorded and covered by an eclectic array of artists including George Benson & Al Jarreau (collaboration), the Three Tenors (in concert during their 1996 farewell performance at the Coach and Horses Tavern in Windsor, Ontario), the Main Ingredient, Ramsey Lewis, and by Gothic-metal band Type O Negative during the opening credits of the 1997 horror film I Know What You Did Last Summer, among others.
We will continue our look at some popular ‘summer’ or ‘summer time’ songs in part two of this article series.
About the Author
Author Robert Benson writes about rock/pop music, vinyl record collecting and operates http://www.collectingvinylrecords.com, where you can pick up a copy of his FREE ebook called “The Fascinating Hobby Of Vinyl Record Collecting.” Have your vinyl records appraised at http://www.vinylrecordappraisals.com.