Thursday, July 22, 2010

All Summer Long: My Favorite Warm-Weather Songs

Music and summer mix wonderfully. They have a symbiotic relationship – on their own, each is lovely, but together, they form a bond that can inspire spontaneous dance parties and turn the average road trip into the adventure of a lifetime. When you’ve finished your schoolwork and you’re ready for summer, it’s time to crank up the tunes.

I’ve put together a list of my 10 favorite summer songs to facilitate a June, July and August full of everything from surfing to sleeping in. They have served me well in the past and I hope they will do the same for you. At the risk of undermining my whole post, however, I encourage you to remember one important thing about music: songs are only as important as you make them. The best songs will be the ones that you have the most fun with – say, the ones you play at that awesome bonfire, or a sick 4th of July banger, or while drinking a brew on the beach. Those are the ones that go down in history. So go ahead, sample my tastes; but when August comes to a close, make sure you have found your own as well.

10) ‘Even The Losers’ – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

After the long lead-up to June finally ends, it often seems like anything is possible. Tom Petty, perhaps the coolest loser in rock, sums up that feeling in a self-righteous declaration that anyone can get lucky. Since we're all losers in our way, it's nice to be reminded that being lame won't necessarily prevent us from having a rad summer.

9) ‘Time Is A Runaway’ – The Alternate Routes

This alt-pop tune didn’t make much of a splash when it was released, but it’s a personal favorite. The sound is simultaneously huge and sweet, with cascading guitar chords drenched in reverb and delay to create a mood reminiscent of the first few minutes of a summer sunset. Detractors would call it over-the-top pop, but it’s really just a warm reminder that summer doesn’t last forever.

8) ‘Anytime’ – My Morning Jacket

'Anytime' is appropriately titled – it's one of those tunes that fit every mood. It'll wake you up if you're sleepy, pick you up if you're heartbroken, and feed your fire if you're ready to rock out. Since you never know what's going to happen during summer, it's a great choice for a mix. Beyond that, it really is a fantastic song; Jim James and MMJ have an uncanny feel for making modern rock that draws on southern influences like the Allman Brothers and The Band. But their sound is all their own, and this song is a perfect example of what makes them special.

7) ‘Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangster’ – Geto Boys

This song has only one purpose – to make you feel cool. In my adventures with silly hip-hop songs, 'Damn It Feels Good' is the best at changing one's demeanor from average homeboy to original gangster. You might recognize it from the cult-classic film Office Space, in which Peter turns G and decides not to come to work anymore…which eventually leads to a raise. Warning: results not typical.

6) ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ – Thin Lizzy

For those of us lucky enough to be in college, summer often means going home. This is the perfect track for hitting up your old stomping grounds or reminiscing with friends about how cool you were in high school. Though they're occasionally roped in with heavy metal acts like Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy distinguish themselves by adding colorful melodies and funny narrative lyrics to their power chords. In this case, the result is a track that rocks, but in a strange, sweet way. They never matched the success or quality of this song, but then again, most bands don't write anything this good at all.

5) ‘Surfin’ USA’ – The Beach Boys

Any of the Beach Boys’ classics will do just fine for fun in the sun, and the ballads (namely “Warmth of the Sun”) are ideal for evening strolls in the sand. But this one holds a special place in my heart. Mankind has often asked what would happen if “everybody had an ocean”, and in this Chuck Berry-inspired piece of rock candy, Brian Wilson and Co. answer: we’d go surfing. Plan to hit the sand during the sunny months, but if you don’t make it, you can always listen to the Beach Boys – which, in truth, may be the next best thing.

4) ‘In a Big Country’ – Big Country

There are those of us who have explored the great outdoors, and there are of those of us who should. Summer is the prime time to go camping with friends or take a long road trip, and this song is an essential travel accessory. A true gem that has never received its due, I believe this is one of the more underrated rock songs of all time, not to mention the perfect track for an excursion into the wilderness. It’s hard to have more fun than exploring nature and blasting ‘Big Country’.

3) ‘Summer In The City’ – The Lovin’ Spoonful

From the slam of the opening keyboard riff to the distant car horns in the bridge, “Summer in the City” is a mosaic of warm-weather sounds. The Lovin’ Spoonful mix a cup of blues-inspired rock, a batch of pop perfection, and a pinch of attitude to concoct a true classic. You don’t have to be in a city to enjoy it, but no song presents a better picture of metropolitan summer – from the muggy, hot days, to the cool, magical nights. Mark Sebastian’s thoughtful lyrics, though presented playfully, are timeless: “Don’t you know it’s a pity the days can’t be like the nights in the summer, in the city…”

2) ‘1979’ – The Smashing Pumpkins

There’s something magical about being young in summertime. Perhaps it’s the absence of responsibility, or the freedom that clear skies afford – or both. In any case, the Smashing Pumpkins flawlessly capture the upside of youthful angst on this, their magnum opus. Breezy guitar riffs combined with a soothing electro-beat provide the ideal background for appreciating those lazy summer days when having nothing to do feels divine.

1) ‘Born to Run’ – Bruce Springsteen

Summer is about being adventurous, and no song in the popular music catalog incites more youthful bravery than this classic. As masterful as he is at crafting rock tunes, The Boss can get long-winded at times, and it’s obvious when he’s trying too hard. But there’s none of that here. Every drum roll, every wail of the sax, and every howl Springsteen lets loose are perfectly placed. Together, they make something greater. “Born to Run” is rock n’ roll at its peak – in four and a half minutes of blazing passion, it inspires us to seek out the mystical parts of existence that make life beautiful. You can’t ask for much more in a summer song.

A few honorable mentions, and their function:

‘4th of July’ – Robert Earl Keane

Great for getting the patriotic juices flowing on Independence Day.

‘Walk In The Park’ – Beach House

Pretty self-explanatory.

‘So Hard To Find My Way’ – Jackie Greene

Forget your worries and embrace the warm weather.

‘Boulevard’ – Jackson Browne

Inspiration for exploring a new city.

‘The Frog Prince’ – Keane

Uplifting if things aren't going exactly as planned.

- Jesse Javna

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