by Eric Peterson
Stacey and I had a blast creating our Perfect Summer Playlist during this week’s podcast. Admittedly, we spend most of our time on the show talking about movies and TV, so we were itching to talk about pop music and this seemed like a perfect time to do it.
It occurred to me about five or six years ago that “summer music,” like holiday music (aka Christmas Carols) was a thing. But just as the B-52’s remind us that summer has a taste (specifically, “orange popsicles and lemonade”), I’ve become convinced that summer has a sound – or more accurately, lots of sounds … but sounds that particularly belong to this sunny season.
SONGS ABOUT SUMMER (duh)
The obvious place to start is songs that specifically reference summer, or where the word “summer” is right in the title. Other tunes, like Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun” don’t quite sound right when the tulips are just beginning to pop in April or when the leaves are falling in mid-October, but couldn’t sound more perfect on a hot, July day.
SONGS ABOUT WARM PLACES
“The Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric is a favorite summer tune of mine, probably because the first verse casually name drops both the Bahamas and Tahiti. Any song called “California Girls,” whether sung by the Beach Boys or Katy Perry (featuring Snoop Dogg) is bound to sound a little summery. I’m not sure where the Mermaid Café in Joni Mitchell’s “Carey” is supposed to be, but it’s close enough to Africa to get a hot wind, and close enough to the sea to put beach tar on Joni’s feet; it’s a classic summer tune. And even though the band is practically synonymous with Ireland, U2’s “Where TheStreets Have No Name” is so evocative of a hot desert landscape that it seems right at home on a summer playlist. “California Dreamin’” by the Mamas and the Papas is pointedly about a winter’s day, and yet it just sounds like summer.
The syncopated counterpoint to a bass and drum downbeat is really all it takes to send a listener on a direct route to Jamaica, home of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Jimmy Cliff. The lyrics can be about injustice, intoxicants, or three little birds pitched by my doorstep – it’s bound to sound just like sunshine and a sandy beach. On the show, I picked a song by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, comprised of four of Bob & Rita Marley’s children – and I like them so much, here’s another one.
Like reggae, songs either sung in Spanish or featuring a delicate Latin guitar can transport a listener to another land, and to a white kid from the Pacific Northwest, it often feels like the musical equivalent of a frozen margarita. My favorite new song of the summer is “Despacito,” by Luis Fonsi (featuring Daddy Yankee, not featuring Justin Bieber). In it, Fonsi sings, “Despacito/Vamo a hacerlo en una playa en Puerto Rico/Hasta que las olas griten "¡Ay, Bendito!" … which is basically an invitation to get down and dirty with Fonsi on a beach in Puerto Rico until you scream to a higher power. Yeah, I’m just going to let you ponder that for a while ... (translation: hold on a minute; Eric has the vapors).
Anything by the Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas, TheGo-Go’s, or Jimmy Buffett sounds like summer. Period.
ANYTHING FROM THE SUMMERS OF YOUR YOUTH
Music has a strange ability to attach itself to memories in a powerful way. So the perfect soundtrack for your summer, no matter what Stacey and I tell you, are the songs that take you back to the summers you remember, particularly the ones that remind you of long summer vacations, for those of us lucky enough to have enjoyed those. As a child of the 80’s, that can sound like a little Toto, a little Joan Jett, a lot of Madonna, and maybe a splash of Def Leppard.