Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Summer Tunes

The ultimate mix tape for those crazy, lazy days

By Chris Herrington

JUNE 21, 1999: 

Teenager Side

Summer is about youth, and the fast-paced songs on side one are eternally in the moment -- summer vacation songs for the teenager in us all:

1. "Here Comes the Summer" by The Undertones -- The invocation. It's 103 seconds (a number to match the typical temperature on a Memphis July afternoon) of pure teenage kicks. Four actual teenagers play the "Summertime Blues" riff at double-speed and rave, with varying levels of comprehension, about the freedoms of the season.

2. "Rockaway Beach" by The Ramones -- And you thought the beat slowed down. ... This shouldabeen hit -- four street punks in black leather and ripped jeans hitch a ride from their "hot concrete" jungle to a mythic summer place (even if it's really in Queens!). Oddly inspirational lyric: "The sun is out and I WANT SOME."

3. "Summertime" by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince -- After the hopped-up rush of the opening double-shot, a "soft, subtle mix" that posits a warmly lazy day-in-the-life of one neighborhood utopia. It's a multi-generational kaleidoscope: "little boys messing 'round with the girls playing double dutch" while "old folks dance at the family reunion." And our hero? He catches some morning hoops and an afternoon barbecue before cruising for honeys in his freshly waxed Nissan.

4 & 5. "Summer in the City" by The Lovin' Spoonful; "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran -- Two deserving classics. "Summer in the City" describes the problem with an extraordinary eruption of detail that should strike a chord with anyone who's ever endured an unbearably humid Memphis summer: "Hot town! Summer in the city, back of my neck getting dirty and gritty doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city all around people looking half dead, walking on a sidewalk hotter than a match head." Then it offers a reassuring solution: "But at night it's a different world come on and dance all night, despite the heat it'll be all right." And that's all in just the first 30 seconds! "Summertime Blues" is, of course, one of the eternal riffs -- a rumbling blast that's the sound of school doors being knocked open. It's also a key document of post-war prosperity -- an economic boom that made it viable for a teenager to fuss and holler about having to (gasp!) work all summer in exchange for being able to borrow the old man's car.

6. "One Summer Night" by The Danleers -- After the time-honored complaints of the previous two songs, a cleansing burst of pure, innocent beauty. In one of probably thousands of nearly forgotten doo-wop one-shots from the late Fifties, lead singer Jimmy Weston sings the praises of cuddling up under a July moon while the other Danleers form a Greek chorus that offers the encounter an onomatopoeic blessing.

7. "Summer Babe" by Pavement -- While "Rockaway Beach" pines for the Place, "Summer Babe" is a great song about another essential component (for some of us, anyway) of summer myth, the Girl. Never before (or since) had the strip-mall wasteland of suburbia sounded so sexy or mysterious, and never before had post-punk guitar noize been so tuneful. As much as "Smells Like Teen Spirit," this is the signature record of Nineties rock -- a cryptic, conflicted tour de force where lead Pavement-boy S.M. goes on a hero's quest for his object of desire, finally dropping his cultivated air of distance to climax with one of the greatest screams in rock-and-roll history.

8. "I Get Around" by The Beach Boys -- No summer mix can be without a Beach Boys record, of course, and as much as I dig the audacious orchestration of "Good Vibrations," I can't pass up the adolescent insouciance of "I Get Around" -- Mike Love declaring "I'M GETTIN' BORED driving up and down the same old strip," while Brian Wilson delivers the definitively silly falsetto boast "I'm a real cool head/Makin' real good bread."

9. "Bummer In The Summer" by Love -- The penultimate song on their nearly forgotten psychedelic classic Forever Changes, "Bummer In The Summer" is a cathartic blast of backbeat after a half-hour of string-laden trippiness. In this context it takes the carefree teenagers of "I Get Around" and pulls them kicking and screaming into the heart of that beast called "the Sixties." "I ain't got no papers on you," Arthur Lee sings to the Summer Babe he wants to "ball all day," then they ride around all over town, presumably to scare the bejeezus out of every square in sight.

10. "In The Street" by Big Star -- The only song that can end side one. On the surface it may have no direct relation to summertime, but "In The Street" is the greatest record I've ever heard about being a bored, shiftless teenager, which is both the essence of summer and the great rock-and-roll subject. Hometown heroes Alex Chilton and Chris Bell construct a double helix of guitar riffage while Chilton evokes school's-out bonhomie with haiku-like intensity: "Hang-in' out/Down the street/The same old thing/We did last week Not a thing to do/But talk to you."


Grown-up Side

Summer is about youth, lost and longed for, remembered and recaptured. The longer, more conflicted songs on side two look back to that essential summer from the distance of a few months or a veritable lifetime -- songs for the grown-up we've become and who doesn't get summer vacations anymore:

1. "Celebrated Summer" by Husker Dü -- Finally harnessing their gigantic guitar roar for all the world to hear, this song finds the heroic power trio from St. Paul poignantly glancing back at the perfect summer from its own end, though you may have to have survived a Minnesota winter in order to truly grasp Bob Mould's despair when he sings, "Do you remember when the first snowfall fell? When summer barely had a snowball's chance in hell?"

2. "Raspberry Beret" by Prince -- Though I know the egotistical, diminutive Purple One never intended it this way, I like to hear this song as pure summer fantasy, which helps deflect its crassness. In which a virginal store clerk makes love like a stallion first time out to a gorgeous, scantily clad ("if it was warm she wouldn't wear much more") stranger ... in a barn! And then he wakes up.

3. "Every Ghetto, Every City" by Lauryn Hill -- A modern-day masterpiece Stevie Wonder would have killed for. A childhood remembrance that takes place in the streets and parks rather than in school, it has an undeniable summer feel. Lauryn constructs a beatwise hymn for a whole multicultural generation for whom "'Self-Destruction' record drops" and "back when Doug Fresh and Slick Rick was together" are identifiable markers.

4. "That Summer Feeling" by Jonathan Richman -- A campfire song for reluctant grown-ups. Rock-and-roll's eternal fifth-grader captures the simple childhood excitement that summer inspired, then catalogs its loss in adulthood: "If you've forgotten what I'm namin'/You're gonna long to reclaim it some day/You see, that summer feeling's gonna haunt you the rest of your life." Oh yeah -- best white-bread background vocals ever caught on tape.

5. "The Summer of My Wasted Youth" by Amy Rigby -- America's favorite aging bohemian (in my dreams, anyway) recounts the summer of '83, when her twentysomething self ate waffles on the roof, went on road trips, wore thrift-store skirts, and experimented with LSD and Skeeter Davis. Message to any trespassing youngsters: Fun matters, don't take it for granted.

6. "Night Moves" by Bob Seger -- Inspired by American Graffiti and with an assist from some great piano work, the journeyman rocker comes up with his one great record. Musing on a teenage summer from the yawning distance of adulthood, Seger's victims of the "awkward teenage blues" aren't nearly so assured as the kids from "I Get Around" or "Bummer In The Summer." Sex is fumbling but exciting, a mystery without any clues -- and autumn keeps closing in.

7. "Nightswimming" by R.E.M. -- Their most shamelessly beautiful music. Michael Stipe sings with palpable yearning, and whether you take it as a literal ode to the "recklessness of water" and the joys of a nighttime dip or as a veiled reference to the days before the sleepy little Southern art-pop band became national culture heroes, it still provides a perfect capper to a side of wistful summer songs.

 It's a cruel, cruel summer  
 Leaving me, leaving me here on my own  
 It's a cruel, cruel summer  
 Now you're gone  
 You're not the only one  
 -- "Cruel Summer," Bananarama  

I can see you Your brown skin shinin' in the sun You got that hair slicked back and those Wayfarers on, baby I can tell you my love for you will still be strong After the boys of summer have gone -- "Boys Of Summer," Don Henley

No more pencils No more books No more teachers' Dirty looks -- "School's Out," Alice Cooper

I was in your presence for an hour or so Or was it a day? I truly don't know. Where the sun never set, where the trees hung low By that soft and shining sea. Did you respect me for what I did Or for what I didn't do, or for keeping it hid? Did I lose my mind when I tried to get rid Of everything you see? In the summertime, ah in the summertime, In the summertime when you were with me. -- "In The Summertime," Bob Dylan

When the sun beats down And burns the tar up on the roof And your shoes get so hot You wish your tired feet were fireproof Under the boardwalk Down by the sea On a blanket with my baby Is where I'll be -- "Under The Boardwalk," The Drifters


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