A Brief History
On June 21, 2018, we celebrate the Summer Solstice just like our ancestors, welcoming the season of vacations, swimming pools, fishing, baseball, and barbecues. Another thing we love about Summer are the great songs about this greatest of seasons, or at least featuring “Summer” in the song. We list 10 songs we believe are either iconic as representing the genre of Summer songs or at least among our favorites.
1. “A Summer Song,” Chad and Jeremy, 1964.
Written by Chad Stuart with minor contributions by Jeremy Clyde (and others) this soft and beautiful song is a longing for those heady, wonderful summer days when love bloomed with the flowers (I made that part up) and the sadness of the summer and the romance coming to an end. “They say that all good things must end someday, Autumn leaves must fall…” The inevitability of the end of summer is something we all have to deal with, which makes the song so relatable. Perhaps “summer” is a euphemism for life itself, or for other good things that age and fade. The sweet singing British duo were surprised by the success of the song as a single, thinking that it was merely a space taker on an album. In fact it was their highest charting hit, reaching #7 (#4 on Adult Contemporary). Others have covered the song, notably The Letterman and Skeeter Davis. The song has also been recorded in French and in Finnish.
2. “Theme from A Summer Place,” Percy Faith, 1960.
The 1960’s were a great time for Summer songs, starting with this instrumental classic. Although Percy Faith and his orchestra did not record the soundtrack version for the 1959 movie, A Summer Place, it is his version that reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and stayed there for 9 weeks in 1960. The success of this hit arguably makes it the greatest of the “Summer songs” as its run of 9 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 was not beaten until 1977 (the lamentable “You Light up My Life” by Debby Boone). (Note: “Don’t Be Cruel/Hound Dog was on top of the charts in 1956 for 11 weeks for Elvis Presley, but that was before the 1958 introduction of the Billboard Hot 100.) Other singers have covered the song with lyrics, notably Andy Williams in 1962 and The Chordettes also in 1962. Cliff Richard and Bobby Vinton also produced vocal covers (1965 for both of them) and numerous instrumental versions were recorded. Many other songwriters have featured portions of the words or music integrated into their own songs. Other feature films and television shows have used the song as soundtrack music, usually in the background.
3. “Summertime,” George Gershwin, 1935.
This tune is good enough for many singing contest contestants to sing in their efforts to achieve stardom. Originally penned as an aria to the 1935 Gershwin opera “Porgy and Bess,” the song has stood the test of time, constantly being covered by seemingly every singer on the planet, but in fact only something over 33,000 of them! The sultry, jazzy ode to Summer was first a hit record for Billie Holiday in 1936, then Sam Cooke in 1957 and Al Martino in 1960. Other notable versions include artists such as Ricky Nelson, The Marcels, and the highest charting version by Billy Stewart in 1966, reaching #10 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1968 Janis Joplin contributed her raspy, soulful voice to the catalog of over 25,000 recordings of “Summertime,” a favorite of many of her fans.
4. “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer,” Nat King Cole, 1963.
Both the title of the album and the lead song on the album, Nat Cole was truly “King” in the easy listening genre of his day. The hit album featured other Summer themed songs, including “That Sunday, That Summer,” “That’s What They Meant (By the Good Old Summertime),” and “In the Good Old Summer Time.” Hard to believe this wonderful album only reached #14 on the Billboard LP chart, but it is probably the greatest “Summer” themed album of all. (The single topped out at #6.) Cole had a wonderful, deep, mellow voice, one of the greatest in recording history. Not only did he have over 100 songs that made it to the charts, he was also the first African American man to host a television show. The Nat King Cole Show debuted in 1956, but only lasted until 1957 due to a lack of landing a national sponsor. (Such was racially divided American in the 1950’s.) Cole performed at the 1956 Republican National Convention, supporting Dwight Eisenhower’s bid for a second term, and at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in support of John F. Kennedy. Nat also supported Civil Rights causes and was a consultant on such issues for President Kennedy and President Johnson. He died tragically too young of lung cancer in 1965 at the age of 45, a victim of a lifetime of heavy smoking. This versatile singer also had winter themed hits such as “Frosty the Snowman” and “The Christmas Song” 1947, the one where he is roasting chestnuts on an open fire…). His daughter, Natalie Cole (1950-2015) was also a gifted recording artist. We can confidently say that Nat “King” Cole was “Unforgettable.”
5. “Summer in the City,” The Lovin’ Spoonful, 1966.
Co-written by lead singer John Sebastian, this classic made it to the top spot, #1 on the Billboard Chart in ’66 (ranking #11 for the year). Those days were full of racial tension and predictions of “a long hot summer.” The Lovin’ Spoonful recording dispenses with the drama and contrasts the hot, sweaty days with the wonderful summer nights when young men and women could hook up in comfort. For some reason the song includes the honking of an automobile horn (Volkswagen Beetle) and jackhammers. Go figure… Rollin Stone Magazine ranked the song #401 on the Greatest 500 Songs of All Time. We particularly love the line, “Cool cat, looking for a Kitty…”
6. “Summertime Blues,” Eddie Cochran, 1958.
This song only reached #8 on the charts? Unbelievable! The classic was written and performed by Cochran in a rockin’ rockabilly fashion that is eternal. The song later became a #1 Country hit for Alan Jackson and notable cover versions by The Who and Jimi Hendrix. Cochran later released an album by the same name in 1966, and feature film titled Summertime Blues in 1984. Of course the song has popped up in other films/television shows, including the 1987 film, La Bamba, where Brian Setzer sings a version as Eddie Cochran and the song appears in the 1980 smash hit movie, Caddyshack. Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, Rolling Stone rated it #73 on its Greatest 500 Songs of All Time list. The great guitar work is recognized by Q Magazine as #77 on its list of 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. Sadly, Cochran died at the age of 21 in 1960 when in England. While riding in a taxi with his fiancé and singer Gene Vincent, the taxi blew a tire (tyre for you English types, Guv’ner…) and crashed. Cochran was ejected from the cab while trying to shield his fiancé. Gene Vincent and the others survived the crash, but Vincent’s injuries led to a greatly abbreviated career.
7. “Summer Nights,” Grease (Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta), 1978.
Ah, those summer nights! Olivia, aka Sandy from Australia (in the movie) meets John Travolta as Danny Zuko at the beach on summer vacation and the 2 youngsters have a summer romance. Awwww… isn’t that cute? The song from the movie was a big hit, reaching #5 in the US and #1 in Britain. In 1990 a rerelease became a hit again. The song is a celebration of the couple having met, fallen in love, had a good time, and sadly having to part at the end of the summer, “It turned cold, that’s where it ends…” Yeah, the end of summer, “Summer dreams, ripped at the seams.” The popularity of the movie and the star power of Newton-John and Travolta ensure that this great summer tune will be heard by generations to come, watching reruns of the film version of Grease. Grease was a 1971 musical play adapted for the big screen in 1978 with some changes. It is set in 1959 and the original characters in the play are Polish-Americans (the Sandy character in the play has a last name of Dumbrowski) as are many Chicago area residents where the play is set. The play was originally shown in Chicago before a Broadway version was staged, and then of course the iconic film. Interestingly, the original Chicago production featured a different song where “Summer Nights” appears in the Broadway and film versions.
8. “Summer Wine,” Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, 1967.
Originally recorded and released in 1966, the tune became a hit (#49 on Billboard) in 1967. It was written by Hazelwood and done as a masterful duet by Nancy and Lee. This duo is one of the great male/female song pairs and they had another great song in a similar, cautionary style called “Some Velvet Morning.” “Summer Wine” tells a tale of a siren that lures in a man with her “summer wine” and robs him while he is sleeping it off. As the song weaves the tale of deceit, various interpretations have emerged, including the assumption that the woman uses sex as a lure and the wine as the instrument by which to steal the man’s silver spurs and money. A phrase in the song about “an unfamiliar line” is theorized to refer to cocaine (people will read anything they want to believe in a song, story, movie or whatever!) and the victim’s plaintive moan that he longs for more of her “summer wine” may mean more sex or more cocaine. Or maybe just more of that great vino, who knows” Of course, covers of the tune have been recorded, and one German language version became the #4 song of the year in Germany in 2007. The song has also been recorded in French and Hebrew, among other languages, and Nancy Sinatra also collaborated on a German language version.
9. “Summertime, Summertime,” The Jamies, 1958.
Incredibly, this wonderful song only reached #26 on the Billboard Hot 100, although a rerelease in 1962 also charted, this time reaching #38. Sung by Tom and Serena Jameson, a brother and sister act, the song is peppy as all get out, and features great lines such as “Well I’m so happy that I could flip, Oh how I’d love to take a trip, I’m sorry teacher but zip your lip…” The song has been labeled as a “Doo Wop” song although others categorize it in the “Sacred Harp” genre. (????) Advertisers for Buick, Ken-L Ration and Appleby’s have used the song in television commercials, and a wide variety of other singing acts have covered the song, including The Fortunes and Jan and Dean. Of all our Summer Songs listed here, this song is the liveliest and it is performed a capella!
10. “Summer of ’69,” Bryan Adams, 1984.
In 2000, Chartattack named this tune the #4 song on their “The 50 Best Canadian Singles of All Time” list. Only reaching #40 in the United States, the song actually did better in Europe. Regardless of chart position, the upbeat, catchy nature of the song evokes memories of summers past when we were in our salad days without the depressing overtones some retrospective songs sometimes generate. Instead, the lyrics celebrate the good old days, in fact, the best days. Adams, who co-wrote the song and should know, said the “69” is actually a sexual reference instead of the year 1969. Ok, we also appreciate the longing and fond memories of loves gone by as well. Anyway, Adams did say the song really is about summer love. In 2006 Canadians voted the song the #1 tune to sing while driving in their cars. Those Canadians! Germans voted the song “The Hottest Summer Song” in 2010. We told you, Europeans love the song. Belgians voted it the 4th Best Song of all time in 2008. As with any classic hit, the tune remains popular still today.
Question for students (and subscribers): Please tell us the songs we neglected to mention that you would absolutely include on this list. Happy Summer Solstice to all our Pagan friends! (“Summer Wind?” “The Boys of Summer?” “In The Summertime?” “Summer Breeze?” “One Summer Night?” How about “Summertime” by Sublime? So many songs have been titled “Summertime” you have many to choose from just with that title alone.) Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Guerinot, Jim, Robbie Robertson, et al. Legends, Icons & Rebels: Music That Changed the World. Tundra Books, 2013.
Heinberg, Richard. Celebrate the Solstice: Honoring the Earth’s Seasonal Rhythms through Festival and Ceremony. Quest Books, 1993.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Andrew Dunn of the Sun rising over Stonehenge on the morning of the Summer Solstice (21st June 2005), is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.