Counting down a century of endless summer songs
By Michael Dwyer
Watermelon Sugar? Genius. Nothing like seasonal fruit to trigger that perennial taste of summer in a pop song. Blueberry Hill. Underneath the Mango Tree. Cherry Cherry. Strawberry Letter 23. Raspberry Beret. The Banana Boat Song. "Walking on the beaches, looking at the peaches". Fruit tunes are forever.
OK, in truth, it's too early to say how long Harry Styles' giddy sucrose high will linger on the eternal summer hit parade. First crushes and schoolie hangovers need time to work that curious alchemy where songs become interchangeable with lasting, longing memories.
The quintessential songs of summer.Credit:Illustration by Russell Tate
Objectively speaking, the guidelines for writing the feelgood summer smash have changed a bit over the decades. The latest "how-to" guide in Billboard magazine has "Auto-tune that sh!t" as rule #1. "Upbeat-yet-chill lyrics that reveal vulnerability," goes another, especially unhelpful tip from Audiosocket blog.
Magic tricks and fruit aside, the basic art seems to lie in freeze-framing a feeling which, by definition, comes and goes like the seasonal tilt of the Earth's axis. With due respect for the key imperatives of sweating, smouldering, swooning and sighing, here's 10 decades' worth of hot contenders for that endless summer playlist.
Star Dust (1927)
Hoagy CarmichaelCredit:Camera Press
Wondering aloud about the memory of a melody that haunts his reverie, Hoagy Carmichael pens a self-fulfilling prophecy in long, languid spirals that sink into the warm night like a thought slipping into a dream. Lyricist Mitchell Parish picks up the Tin Pan Alley maestro's original idea and meandering tune with half-imagined nightingales and fairytales; "a paradise where roses bloom" that's still attracting visitors like Michael Buble and Bob Dylan.
George Gershwin warmed up nicely with Rhapsody In Blue a decade earlier but with lyrics by novelist DuBose Heyward, this is where he caught the big fish just as it was jumping in the sultry evening air. Dig the heat-haze ripples of his chords, the lazy phrasing handed down from Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald; Miles Davis to the Zombies to Angelique Kidjo and REM. Then wait five minutes: someone else is recording it right now.
Neither the Xavier Cugat nor the Jimmy Dorsey version bothered translating the stuff about coconuts and hammocks and moonlit nights. The exotic sway of Brazilian composer Ary Barroso's samba rhythm and smoochy horns were enough to cut through the wartime gloom to log a million spins on the wireless, open the gates for the Latin pop invasion, and pass the baton from Frank Sinatra to Placido Domingo; Kate Bush to Arcade Fire.
Summertime Blues (1958)
Eddie Cochran.Credit:Syndication International
Twangin' Eddie Cochran wasn't long for this world when he launched his trademark anthem of teen desire and frustration. His untimely death in a road accident, aged just 21, lends an extra whiff of live-fast fatalism to subsequent versions by the Beach Boys, The Who, T-Rex, Joan Jett, the Black Keys and every other band refusing to go gently into that cruel summer night.
Summer Wine (1967)
With a heady cocktail made from strawberries, cherries and just a teasing hint of something much stronger, Nancy Sinatra left songwriter/ vocal partner Lee Hazlewood under the table in this steamy one-night stand that originally peaked during the '60s summer of love. Between its shimmering acoustic strums and unsettling strings, the loaded duet has since provided safe harbour to Bono and Andrea Corr, Evan Dando and Sabrina Brooke, Clare Bowditch and Ed Kuepper and a million karaoke trysts.
Summer Love (1974)
This summer smash caper isn't as simple as choosing a no-brainer title. Summer Love by Carly Rae Jepsen sounds like a chilly night in a dud boyfriend's musty jumper. Summer Love by Sherbet, written by Garth Porter and the late Clive Shakespeare, sounds like a sparkling swell dragging the sand from under your feet then thundering back to explode on the rocks again and again a mile high into a blinding blue sky.
The Boys of Summer (1984)
Don Henley.Credit:Domino Postiglione
Even in a decade backed up to the turnpike with tousle-haired posers in open-topped cars, Don Henley's panic-driving account of romance-gone-bad holds more glamour and intrigue than a Miami Vice boxset. The genius is twisted in the hyperventilating rhythm, the recurring present tense vision of the girl who got away in the convertible and that chord in the chorus that holds on for just a bit too long than seems entirely healthy. Canny product placement of Rayban, Cadillac and Grateful Dead merch completes the cinematic vision.
All I Wanna Do (1994)
Nothing says summer like drinking beer at midday on a Tuesday at some bar opposite a carwash in Los Angeles. Sheryl Crow and her best buddy Billy will be there, setting fire to peeled-off Budweiser labels and jeering at passing suits until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard. The slide guitar sounds as drunk as they are and the handclaps will. not. quit. Cyndi Lauper only dreamed of having this much fun. Please enjoy alcohol responsibly.
Beautiful Day (2000)
Seas fished out? Oil fields on fire? Traffic stuck? Rent due? Always sticklers for redemption in dark times, U2 made a jolly convincing comeback in a series of verses about hardship continually interrupted by favourable weather reports. It’s the little things. The fact that the monster hook kicks in just as you’ve backed your car out of the drive, wound the window down and caught the green light onto the main drag is doubtless more design than accident.
Summertime Sadness (2012)
Lana Del Ray.
"Kiss me hard before you go," Lana Del Rey commands as spooky church bells chime. She's got her hair up big and her red dress on, dancing alone in the pale moonlight and then, suddenly, hooning it down the coast at reckless speed and oh god the drums are marching like death and a flock of evil seagulls is soaring with the strings high in the crackling wires. "Even if you're gone I'm gonna drive," she sings. She may only have sadness left, but there's endless comfort in knowing that it'll be right back, every summer.
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