PopMatters writers offer up their favorite songs and albums for summer. From the transcendent vocals and trumpet of the incomparable Louis Armstrong to the contemporary beats and rhymes of superstar Kanye West, our picks traverse the cultural landscape, picking out summery tunes from every era of popular music history.
Canadian indie rock group Arcade Fire won best album at the 2011 Grammy Awards for their third album, The Suburbs. Vocalist Win Butler calls the instrumental album a letter from the suburbs, which is a very good description considering most tracks, like “Rococo” and the title track, are evocative of long warm evenings in neat back gardens beside a smoking barbeque. Others, like “Ready to Start” put the listener in mind of summer nights driving along a coastal road with the top down, accompanied by a sultry breeze, 100,000 stars, and the laughter of friends anticipating a good night. Watch the fantastic music for “The Suburbs” by Spike Jonze to put you in the mood. Sally Fink
Released as a single in early 1932, these two Hoagy Carmichael songs were ideal nap-in-the-backyard cuts from the beginning. Armstrong’s arrangement retains the brassy culmination at the end, but also keeps the entire thing unpredictable (in classic Armstrong fashion) by letting the piano provide a lounge-y lead-in to it. Even though you might know what’s coming, the light tap of percussion and the twinkling piano beforehand—not to mention his scatting, taking on a near-flinty tone by the end—doesn’t quite prepare you for the fanfare of brass that arrives with his solo. The B-side, meanwhile, is obviously familiar to all no matter who sings it, but the staccato chop that pushes it along seeps fluidly toward ambling harmonies and a relaxed guitar strum by the end. Both songs are rustic in sentiment and equally inventive in summer shade or sun. Nathaniel Wisnicki
And yet another great Louis from New Orleans on the tune…
Plenty of albums can summon up spirits of summers past, but it takes the special magic of the Avalanches to recall summers that never happened. In their sun-baked Aussie hands, the passable vocals of dusty pop vinyls become nothing less than beatific, evoking without strain the lovesick pursuit of a girl around the globe that was once their one-and-only release’s guiding concept. That journey, abstractly but luculently bittersweet, unravels against a big beat backdrop of leggy stewardesses and plastic suitcases, chattering tourists and disembarking cruises, crowded nightclubs, squealing sirens, braying stags, combative spaceships, Madonna’s “Holiday”, Divine in Polyester, Raekwon in “Glaciers of Ice”, heaps of delay, strings and choirs galore, and the Osmonds. Since I Left You is, above all, versatile in the way this season requires: generously danceable, rock-opera-smokeable, and ceaselessly likeable; as much for June looking forward to higher temperatures, as for August, looking back at June. Benjamin Aspray
If Basement Jaxx are to be trusted, it’s not so bad to break up with someone just before summer begins. Damned if it doesn’t sound like the protagonist in “Romeo” is having way more fun than should be expected from someone getting the “hold up”, from a now-lackluster lover (“When we get it on it’s so-so / You used to be a Romeo”). The chorus is a liberating anthem in the tradition of the best disco and pop divas, from “I Will Survive” to “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay”—“let it all go” becomes a mantra for the fun side of rebounding, bathed as it is in tropical synth tweets. Like many songs on its accompanying album, Rooty (2001), there’s a distinctly raw quality to the vocals on “Romeo”. This is someone who’s ready to truly let it go, and then head somewhere warm and breezy. Not a bad way to start the summer. David Abravanel
Though some hippies claim Sgt. Pepper’s as the ultimate Beatles summer album, for me it’s their second, With the Beatles. From its odd movie-credit title and cover photo of the Lads emerging from some serious blackness (so much cooler than Sgt. Pepper’s), to its kick-in of “It won’t be long! (Yeah!) Yeah! (Yeah!) Yeah!”, this is much more than merely the greatest sophomore record of all time. Though their first, Please Please Me, has a one-take immediacy, it still feels like the Boys trying to learn the studio. It only took them one album. With the Beatles is bold, wild, and super-melodic, boasting strong covers (“Roll Over Beethoven”, “You Really Got a Hold on Me”) and better originals (“All I’ve Got to Do”, “All My Loving”, “Don’t Bother Me”). Roll down the windows and turn it UP. With the Beatles is perfect driving music. Guy Crucianelli
With a name that means “beautiful sun”, BeauSoleil are about as built for summer as one can get. It helps that they specialize in upbeat, bright, Cajun music capable of producing an instant party mood from the first few joyous notes of Michael Doucet’s violin and Jimmy Breaux’s accordion. In fact BeauSoleil pretty much single-handedly saved Cajun music from obscurity within the larger culture, spearheading a revival moment from their formation in 1975 that continues strong to this day. Cajun music is on heavy iPod rotation for me during the summer months and BeauSoleil is pretty much my favorite currently active band on the planet. The level of musicianship this band displays is simply staggering, especially in a live setting. An hour into a performance, Doucet seems to hit some sort of transcendant groove where the notes from his violin spiral into cascades that evoke the most complex forms of jazz, while simulaneously keeping the whole floor dancing. One album recommendation? Nah, I’m giving you three. Three of the best albums in American roots music, period. Each one of these is essential, so “eenie meenie minie moe” in picking one if you must just select one. Sarah Zupko
I am so not recommending this five-CD set because I wrote the liner note essay…. at least, *ahem* not entirely. Besides inspiring—now that I think of it—really quite decent essays, radio comedy team Bob & Ray built a legend out of keeping it simple. They merely zeroed in on the madness of the mundane in American and/or life in general, delivering their hilariously razor-sharp satire wrapped in rambling, gently inconsequential drollery—which makes them the perfect philosophers to take along on a lazy summer’s day. Hey, even the darkest of cynics need brain candy when the mercury hits 90F in the shade. This comprehensive compilation works well either as a gateway to Bob and Ray’s 40-year career, or a way to keep all their high spots in one place. Plus—gosh, it’s undeniable, honestly—awesome liner essays, of course. Kerrie Mills
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