Once upon a time, summer was the season of "summer songs": the Drifters' relaxed "Under the Boardwalk," Alice Cooper's boisterous "School's Out" . . . and just about anything by the Beach Boys.
"Every time you hear anything by the Beach Boys you think `summer,' " says KSOP deejay Country Joe Flint.This was partly an era - especially Top 40 pop radio in the '60s and '70s - and partly strategic marketing by performers and their record companies. But the fact of the matter is that summers are packed with fun, particularly if you're young and soaking it all in.
It's a time when about any song can underpin a memory.
"You're out of school, having a great time . . . ," recalls Randy Stinson, who runs the nostalgia-haven Randy's Records. He admits to being a "fair-weather" guy to this day.
Maybe the summer of '98 will be eternally tied to Brandy & Monica's smash "The Boy Is Mine," which has been Billboard's No. 1 single for more than two months. Shania Twain's ballad "You're Still the One" may be linked to a shared ride down State Street. More traditionally, "Cruel Summer," the Ace of Base remake of an early Bananarama hit, might spark future reminiscences about cutting the lawn in the hot sun or washing the dishes on a muggy evening.
We even have a local made-to-order song this summer. Have you caught Robert Lund's latest spoof, "Salt Lake Lovin'," on KBEE? It's a full-tilt take-off on John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John's "Summer Nights" from "Grease."
Heather Simmons, a head lifeguard at Raging Waters, already has a current song spliced to a relationship: She says Usher's "My Way" (not to be confused with the Frank Sinatra-Elvis Presley perennial) "reminds me of one of my friends I used to hang out with."
"She got a boyfriend, and that's their song."
K-Ci and JoJo's "All My Life" also seems destined to be part of this summer's soundtrack. "They play that all the time," Simmons says.
She also has a song-memory from last summer, when she was busy participating in track events. Simmons and a friend discovered Nate Dogg's "Never Leave Me Alone" on a tape mix and played it over and over in the car.
"Every time I listen to it, it is like totally last summer," she says.
Personally, Simmons likes reggae: Bob Marley, Alpha Blondy, Steel Pulse. To her, they are summer.
The doo-wop era chant of "Summertime, Summertime" pops to mind when Randy Stinson remembers the summers of his youth. But Stinson agrees that all kinds of other songs also fit the bill.
He recalls waiting by the railroad tracks near West High School. A train may have been passing, or it may not have been - the memory is a little opaque - "and somebody went by in a convertible, top down, and I heard the radio, which was loud."
The song being played? Frankie Lymon's "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?"
Country Joe Flint, a music-store owner as well as a deejay, has flashbacks too.
"I hear `Chattahoochie' by Alan Jackson and think of water skiing," Flint says. "It just has that summer feeling."
Every once in awhile country musicians summon up summers past. Deana Carter's breakthrough "Strawberry Wine" "is a little flashback to when she was younger," Flint said. The storyline in Garth Brooks' "That Summer" tells of a ranchhand remembering an affair of his youth.
And then there are the rodeo songs. "Whenever you hear a rodeo song on country radio, that throws you back to summer," Flint says. " `(Hooked on an) 8-Second Ride' by Chris LeDoux really puts you in the rodeo spirit."
Jeff McCartney, afternoon deejay at KZHT, observes that summer-themed songs seem to go in cycles - and right now we're not in a peak generating period. Instead, "up-tempo records perfectly suit the summer," he says. The "new swing" tunes of the Brian Setzer Orchestra ("Jump Jive an' Wail") and Cherry Poppin' Daddies ("Zoot Suit Riot") fit the times, as do danceable songs like "Tearin' Up My Heart" by 'N Sync, McCartney notes.
Michael Ferguson, assistant manager of Blockbuster Music's Sugar House store, agrees: Few of the songs heard in summer are ABOUT summer anymore. "I don't know that music fits that archetype anymore," he said. The big album releases are around Christmastime and early in the year, and their tracks seem to hold sway for several months.
But to Stinson - and to many others - the joyful songs of summers past are the ones most attuned to this time of the year.
No. 1 in his estimation (literally; see related list on this page) is "Summertime, Summertime" by the Jamies. "That's one of those songs that came back twice, like `The Twist.' " The single hit the charts in both 1958 and 1962, though it never got higher than No. 26 in Billboard magazine - and was the Massachusetts group's only charting single.
While discussing the subject, Stinson pulls out a cassette collecting 10 popular "Summer Songs." "Summertime, Summertime" is the lead-off tune.
Savvy record companies regularly tap into the joyful songs of summers past. One of the first such time capsules (besides their regular albums) was an early Beach Boys anthology, 1974's "Endless Summer." A few years ago Capitol pulled together two "Monster Summer Hits" collections, subtitled "Wild Surf" and "Drag City," for CD release. Each has 26 tracks.
More recent, Ferguson notes, are the anthologies "Sun Splashin' " and "More Sun Splashin'," which bring together songs like David Lee Roth's remake of "California Girls," Glenn Frey's sizzling "The Heat Is On" and Blondie's "The Tide Is High." Hot Rod Magazine and the label The Right Stuff spotlight all those great old car songs on a CD series with individual titles like "Big Boss Instrumentals" and "Hot Rod Lovers" with songs by the Beach Boys, Booker T & the MG's and even Johnny Cash (on the country-themed "Hot Rod Cowboys").
Summer songs capture fun in the sun, Stinson says - in the city, on the beach and in a fast car. That's why seasonal tunes like Leslie Gore's "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows" and Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher's regional hit "Hot Rod USA" are among his favorites.
So the Lovin' Spoonful's sweaty "Summer in the City"; "Summertime Blues," an early anthem for disaffected youth ("I think of Eddie Cochran, but you could think of Blue Cheer, and The Who had the big one") and War's "Low Rider." "The more I think about that, it reminds me of driving around in the summer," Stinson says. "It was one of those feel-good songs.
"And remember `Dancing in the Street'?" Stinson wonders, referring to the 1964 original by Martha & the Vandellas. He used to spin records at parties in the '70s and '80s, "and that was a song they'd all dance to. Certain songs catch everyone's interest."
And often these are the very essence of summer.
There are lists of great summer songs out there, compiled by fans and magazine writers. You can also find anthologies of still-simmering hits at your neighborhood music store.
But suppose you wanted to work up a playlist for a tape of your personal favorites? We asked Randy Stinson to do just that.
A collector who purveyed the singles and LPs of his youth into a profession - doing a request show and selling vinyl, cassettes and eventually CDs at Randy's Records - he knows popular music, and he knows the music of summer. Here is a tape's worth of his very favorites:
1. Summertime, Summertime (the Jamies, 1958 and 1962)
2. Summer in the City (the Lovin' Spoonful, 1966)
3. In the Summertime (Mungo Jerry, 1970)
4. Under the Boardwalk (the Drifters, 1964)
5. Groovin' (the Young Rascals, 1967)
6. Hot Fun in the Summertime (Sly & the Family Stone, 1969)
7. I Get Around (the Beach Boys, 1964)
8. Surfin' U.S.A. (the Beach Boys, 1963)
9. California Girls (the Beach Boys, 1965)
10. Dancing in the Street (Martha & the Vandellas, 1964)
11. A Summer Song (Chad & Jeremy)
12. Summertime (Billy Stewart, 1966)
13. Wipe Out/Surfer Joe (a double-sided single, the Surfaris, 1963)
14. Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran, 1958; Blue Cheer, 1968; the Who, 1970)
15. The Theme from "A Summer Place" (Percy Faith & His Orchestra, 1960)
16. Summer Means Fun (Bruce & Terry, 1964)
17. Sunny Afternoon (the Kinks, 1966)
18. Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer (Nat King Cole, 1963)
19. Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows (Leslie Gore, 1966)
20. Low Rider (War, 1975)
21. Little Deuce Coupe (the Beach Boys, 1963)
22. Summer Nights (Marianne Faithfull, 1965)