For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere next Monday, 21 June, is the Summer Solstice – the day in the year with the most daylight hours. I wanted to mark it in some way in this series, but wasn’t sure whether to do it six days early or a day late. In the end, I decided on the traditional British spirit of compromise, even if our government appears to have forgotten what the word means, and am doing both. So for this week and next I’ll be sharing songs about summer and/or sunshine. As always, the links may be as tenuous as being a word in the title, but that’s the way I roll…
There is only one place I could start, really:
What can I say about this one? The basic facts are that it topped the UK charts for seven weeks in summer 1970, for six of which it kept Free’s All Right Now at #2. I loved that Free record – still do – and feel that it deserved at least a week at #1, but when you’re contending with a juggernaut like this one I guess you just have to take your place in the queue! This song captured the summer spirit around the world: it was #1 in eighteen countries, reached #3 in the US – the band’s only hit there – and has sold more than 30m copies. Not bad for a bit of jugband music that it is claimed took ten minutes to write. And for anyone who doesn’t know, the band’s name was inspired by the poem Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, from T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. The lead singer and band leader, who wrote this song, is actually called Ray Dorset. They had a total of nine hit singles here, of which three others reached the top ten, including the follow up, Baby Jump, which also got to #1.
My next tune this week is much more recent:
Haim comprises three sisters, Este, Danielle and Alana Haim, and they were joined in that video by Henry Solomon on saxophone. It looks as though they had a lot of fun making that, but it is probably just as well the song isn’t any longer! This was released in July 2019, and reached #27 on the Billboard rock chart, though it didn’t make the main US chart – or anywhere else, come to that. It was included on their third album, Women In Music Pt III, which was released in June 2020, reaching #13 in the US and #1 here in the UK. Their albums have all performed better in the UK charts than in their homeland: the two previous ones reached #1 and #2 here, #6 and #7 in the US. When the band made an early recording of the song they felt it sounded reminiscent of Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side, and added in a bass line to enhance the comparison: as a result, they gave Lou a songwriting co-credit. It’s a fun song, with a fun video to match.
Next up is a pop classic from The Sixties. There is an unofficial video for this but, fearful of copyright issues, I thought I’d stick with the record company’s audio-only version:
That was released as a single by The Lovin’ Spoonful in July 1966, reaching #1 in the US and Canada, and #8 here in the UK. It was also included on the album Hums Of The Lovin’ Spoonful, which peaked at #14 in the US but didn’t chart here. As a depiction of the two sides of city life in summer heat it is perfect, in my view. I just wish I hadn’t always been so keen to get out of the city after work: it appears I may have been missing out…
As summer songs go, they don’t come much better than this classic:
All too short, like Eddie Cochran’s life, sadly. Released in 1958, that reached #8 in the US and #18 here. There have been many cover versions, notably by The Who, but I don’t think the original has ever been beaten. Its description of teenage angst and frustrations is superbly captured in such a succinct fashion. Cochran was only 21 when he was killed in a car crash in Wiltshire on his way back to London in April 1960, having just played in Bristol. He was already a star and could well have gone on to become huge, though his posthumous legacy has done well and he has taken his place as an icon of rock and roll history. There is a tragic irony in that the final single he released in the US when alive had just come out before the crash that took his life: it was Three Steps to Heaven. It wasn’t released here until the month after his passing – we took it to #1 in his honour.
I’ve seen references to an official video for my next tune but have been unable to find it – this claims to be an edited version ‘to avoid copyright’:
In case that doesn’t work for you, this is the official record company audio version.
The imagery of the song is a wonderful evocation of how love can pass on and how little things, like seeing girls in their summer clothes, can remind us of happier times: it is a collection of vignettes from life, very typical of Bruce Springsteen’s storytelling style of songwriting. This was a track on his album Magic, released in September 2007, which peaked at #1 in both the US and the UK, as well as elsewhere. It was released on iTunes as a digital single in January 2008, and reached #98 on the Billboard chart. It is one of my favourites of his – something about it just gets to me. I think that may be because the album was released around the time my marriage was ending, and I played it a lot once I was living on my own, with plenty of time to think!
This week’s final tune is another that, if you’re used to my musical tastes by now, will come as no surprise to you:
That video looks to me like a neat attempt to get round copyright, so do please let me know if you can’t watch it! Again, in an attempt at pre-empting that eventuality, here is a link to an official live version. This was the opening track on Don Henley’s second solo album, Building The Perfect Beast, which was released in November 1984, reaching #13 in the US and #14 here in the UK. The song was released as a single the previous month, and got to #5 in the US and #12 here. It resonated with me: I was born and brought up in coastal towns which depended on itinerant workers for summer holiday staffing, which is also what I had relied on for holiday jobs in my schooldays, some fifteen years earlier. We were always glad to see the back of them: coming down here, stealing our girls!
That’s all for this week, but I’ll be back with another selection of summer songs next week, at least one of which will have sunshine in its title. Hopefully the weather will live up to its billing until then, though we in England have the prospect of violent thunderstorms forecast for the next few days. We also, as of yesterday, have another month or so of lockdown restrictions to come: maybe our unimpressively non-statesmanlike Prime Minister should have upgraded his roadmap for a satnav and kept up with the technology? But who would he have got to pay for it? Carping aside, I think the further delay is the only sensible decision they could have made: a bit of a first for this bunch of numpties. Take care until we meet again 😊