The Best Music for Summer

by PopMatters Staff

1 July 2011


The Replacements, Slowdive and more...

The Replacements - Hootenanny (1983)

There’s something about this seemingly sloppy release that shouts summertime into my ear. It’s loud, loose, and runs the gamut from the silly (“Hootenanny”, “Treatment Bound”) to the sentimental (“Within Your Reach”). But it’s the devil-may-care feel of “Color Me Impressed” that really captures the spirit of late nights and long, loud parties. Yet this isn’t so much about the act of partying as it is the spirit of it and, for around half an hour, you become convinced that there is fun to be had without consequence. Of course, the eerie “Willpower” is a sobering but brief reminder that when life looks like you’re riding on easy street, there is always the possibility of danger. Jedd Beaudoin

Cliff Richard and the Shadows - Summer Holiday (1963)

John Lennon said the first rock record in the UK was Cliff Richard’s “Move It”, from 1958. At that time Richard was seen as a Euro-Elvis; a lewd, immoral, and rebellious influence. Yet by the time of his 1963 hit movie and record Summer Holiday, he was well on the way to becoming an all-singing and dancing wholesome cash-producing whirlwind. Peter Yates’ debut film remains a lovely piece of cultural escapism: an archetype of carefree fun for young people striking out for independence. It features Richard’s sometime backing group, the Shadows (one of whom married the young Olivia Newton-John) and also stars Una Stubbs, later to appear as the daughter in Til Death Us Do Part (remade in the US as All in the Family). The single reached number one in the UK charts and didn’t hurt the popularity of tourism to the continent where Greece, France and Spain were key destinations. Not even the intervention of Franco could slow the British tourist boom, despite the General secretly dictating that Spain’s “La La La” would pip Cliff Richard’s “Congratulations” by one point for pitifully cheery and tawdry glory in the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest.

By 1977, British holidaymakers were going much farther abroad than the South of France and Johnny Rotten was rejecting the notion of “a cheap holiday in other people’s misery”. The song “Summer Holiday” now exists outside of fashion and still sounds fresh and hopeful 50 years after I used to sing along to it as my dad drove us to a caravan holiday on the English East coast. The film has been produced as a musical on several occasions and another of Richard’s early hits unwittingly spawned the cult TV show The Young Ones. Before the ‘60s were out, he became a celibate Christian, but has enjoyed a long career in pop music with a devoted following. In 1968, director Yates made Bullitt and, in 1979, the excellent Breaking Away. D.M. Edwards

Jonathan Richman - “That Summer Feeling” (1983/1992)

Summer in the popular imagination is often about longing for what might have been; think of cinematic and literary tales of summer romance, for example. Jonathan Richman’s song captures that longing as a “summer feeling” that haunts us all forever. It’s the romanticization of fleeting moments from the past, daydreaming about paths not taken; summer connected to freedom, youth and beauty. In its original 1983 version, the song is bright and, well, summer-y. The harmonies and fingersnaps represent the way we think about summer while the lyrics warn us that “that summer feeling is going to haunt you one day in your life”. The 1992 version is a revelatory rewrite that dwells on that haunting. He fills out the image of the flirtatious girl at the playground, sung with an outpouring of emotion, like he’s back in that moment. “You’ll throw away everything for it”, he sings, acknowledging that this idealistic, pop-culture version of what life could be is what leads to mid-life crises, marital breakdowns, and brash life decisions that we’ll regret when reality sets in. We’re always chasing summer, but we need to watch out for it, too. Or as indie-popper Jacob Borshard put it last year, “Summer Will Have Its Way”. Dave Heaton

Rush - “Lakeside Park” (1975)

The May 24th long weekend, or Victoria Day weekend, is considered in Canada to be the unofficial start of summer, a time when families open up their cottages for the first time, do some flower or vegetable planting, and fire up the grill. Rush’s “Lakeside Park” is the unofficial anthem of May 24, as that date is referenced in the song itself in fondly nostalgic ways. (“Everyone would gather / On the 24th of May / Sitting in the sand / To watch the fireworks display.”) The best track on 1975’s meandering Caress of Steel, which is arguably their worst album in their long and storied career, “Lakeside Park” is almost a ballad by Rush’s standards: just a simple sketch of an infatuation drummer/lyricist Neil Peart had with some green space in his hometown of St. Catharines, Ontario. Bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee has publically dismissed the tune as “lousy” in a 1993 magazine interview, but he’s wrong. This is a lush, gorgeous song with a lovely quiet break before the guitars roar back to life by its end, as potent as a group of fireworks going off. “Lakeside Park” might not make the playlist of recent Rush concerts, but it has a special place as a summer jam in the band’s lengthy back catalogue. It’s one that hits the sweet spot every time you here it, and is the mother of all national hymns marking the start of Canada’s all-too-short summer season. Zachary Houle

Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin’ (2011)

The great Raphael Saadiq has created a soul-infused tribute to legendary predecessors such as Sly Stone and treads boldly into the mighty sonic explorations of ‘60s soul. At this year’s South by Southwest, journalists and fans alike were raving about his now-legendary performances through the week, with much of his set being culminated from this album. If you want to get people on the dance floor, put on the “Take You Higher” throwback “Heart Attack”, which boasts one of the most instantaneously electrifying moments of the year or for more mellow and soulful moments, try “Go to Hell” or “Good Man”, which harken back to the string-drenched trances of Motown. Josh Antonuccio

Sleigh Bells - Treats (2010)

If you ask me, summer is the ideal time for noise pop, and no band working today does it better than Sleigh Bells. The Brooklyn duo’s debut record is, well, just what the title says, a treat. Every track is filled with the kind of exuberant joy felt during a carefree summer holiday. With soaring guitar melodies, repetitive synth lines, and chant-like vocals combined with mainly superficial lyrics—see the lines “wonder what your boyfriend thinks about your braces” and “Ain’t life sweet with my true friends”—it doesn’t get much more viscerally primal than this. Jacob Adams

Slowdive - Pygmalion (1995)

Here in Southern Ontario at least, summer hasn’t necessarily gotten any hotter, but it has gotten more humid. And as much as summer is about parties at the beach, barbeques, and the like, it’s also about those first few days where the humidex hits you like a moist sledgehammer, when you just want to stay indoors with all the lights off and curtains drawn, a fan aimed directly at you while you lie on a couch and breath slowly. Slowdive’s underappreciated, almost ambient swansong Pygmalion is the perfect soundtrack for those days; just like you, “Rutti” barely moves at all, but by the time “Blue Skied An’ Clear” slowly unfurls heavenward, you might just have made peace with never leaving that couch all summer long. Ian Mathers

Slowdive - Rutti

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