I’ve seen more summer concerts than I care to mention,
Vanilla Ice, Hammer, and other cries for attention.
And while it’s easy to say I got caught up in a fad,
The truth is, “summer songs” just make me go mad.
By summer songs, I’m not talking about the [insert “Summer” here] songs that play All Summer Long. The ones that reak of desperation from desperate artists [that means you Kid Rock, Kid Rap, or Kid Country]. And while some titular summer songs like Bananarama’s Cruel Summer, Don Henley’s Boys of Summer, and Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69 do fit my bill, I’m referring to that summer song that’s released in the spring…picks up steady airplay and humma-bility by Memorial Day…and still rings in your karaoke-ear come Labor Day. It’s that pervasive summer song that becomes as much a part of your summer as sunshine, sunburn, and a summons for public drunkenness.
Just listen to the classic songs of summer like The Police’s Every Breath You Take or even Carly Rae Jepsen’s ubiquitous Call Me Maybe (Not). Close your eyes and try not to associate those songs with at least one golden moment from the sun-soaked season of promise that produced it.
As the final summer of my early 40′s approaches…I’ll acknowledge that I haven’t had a real beach vacation in years…and that these days my summer tan is often a whiter shade of pale ale. Even so, the unofficial start to summer this weekend has bewitched me with that whiff of nostalgia and the lure of another summer’s promise.
So this Memorial Day weekend, I’ve decided to “adjust the base and let the Alpine blast…” with the songs that bring back memories of summers past…when love was often in the air…and “those su-uh-mmer niii-iiiiiiiights” seemed to last forever.
Borderline – Madonna (summer of 1984)
I spent the summer after 6th grade daydreaming about my first girlfriend, my first kiss, and how my one true love got away (I was 12). So naturally I was a sun-soaked sucker for Borderline’s poignant opening keyboard lick and infatuation-infused lyrics. It was the first of many summers marked by romantic frustration for me. But at least I had Madonna to “keep pushing my love” to dial six out of my ex-girlfriend’s seven numbers before hanging up the phone. I repeat, I was 12.
Pour Some Sugar On Me – Def Leppard (summer of 1988)
In 1988, “Hold On To The Nights” by the nappy-mulleted Richard Marx was all the summer rage. And while many teenagers were waxing hopeful about a summer fling…or figuring out that spinning the bottle was more fun after you drank the bottle…I was racking my brain trying to figure out the “love me like a bomb” lyrics of Def Leppard’s signature song. I still don’t get the lyrics…I’ve never found myself “living like a lover with a radar phone”…but l really don’t care. I credit Def Leppard for ushering in the sound of those late-80′s summers…where the best bands anywhere were the ones with the biggest hair!
Poison – Bell Biv DeVoe (summer of 1990)
I’ll never forget the summer before my Freshman year in college. So many friendships made, lessons learned, and even more memorable love songs: Mariah’s Vision of Love, Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love [Even Though Julia Roberts Was a Hooker], and Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2U [Because You’re a Bald Chick]. All great, memorable love songs…that bring me back to a summer that bridged the gap between high school boyhood and college manhood. Yet the greatest lesson I learned that summer was to “Never trust a big butt and a smile.”
Summertime – DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (summer of 1991)
In the summer of ’91, I became intoxicated by the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s “new definition of summer madness.” I summoned the courage to Dippity-Do my hair like Vanilla Ice…then I zeroed the sides of my head and annointed myself The Fresh Prince of Bad Hair. I popped in my Summertime cas-single…put my ’79 Camaro on cruise control…and laid back like Vanilla Ice Cube driving straight out of Compton (by way of Morris Plains). Somehow my new-found summer confidence (and identity crisis) lead me to the Rockaway Townsquare Playhouse where I auditioned for, and won, the role of Stanley in Neil Simons’ Brighton Beach Memoirs. It was my first-ever acting experience, and I owe it all to a “groove slightly transformed” by the artist formerly known as The Fresh Prince.
All I Wanna Do – Sheryl Crow (summer of 1994)
The most mindless summer song of all-time is the one song I didn’t want to get out of my head. At the start of my PR career in Manhattan, Cheryl Crow’s party anthem played on my Walk-Man (remember those?) and helped me endure the daily, dehumanizing, sardines-in-a-can grind of the NJ PATH train. If you had asked me back then, I’d have said ”all I wanna do is get the hell out of Manhattan, propose to my girlfriend, and live happily ever after in Morristown.” Thanks, in small part, to Sheryl Crow…that’s all I wound up doing by summer’s end.
Waterfalls –TLC (summer of 1995)
Sad stories from the ghetto, a buoyant hook, and images of water — so of course this is the song that most reminds me of my wedding day. The song and video were inescapable during the months leading up to my September wedding. Hell, it even turned up at my wedding (and we hired a Portuguese band). It also became the song of choice from the Indigo Girls-inspired folk chicks who serenaded honeymooners at our Key West resort. I’ll never forget Waterfalls, or the amazing honeymoon I spent with the love(s) of my life…Chilli, T-Boz, Lisa Left Eye Lopez, and the girl I married.
You’re Still the One – Shania Twain (summer of 1998)
Although it peaked at #1 on May 2nd, I’m willing to bend the rules here because You’re Still the One owned the airwaves throughout the summer of 1998…and it still owned my wife’s heart throughout her pregnancy with our son. On December 22nd of the following year, Helena gave birth to the youngest Shania Twain fan on Earth. I reckon our firstborn heard that Twain song in the womb more than I heard that Twain song (Hey, Soul Sister) in 2010. Twain and Train…get it?
I’m a Believer – Smash Mouth (summer of 2001)
“Somebody once told me”… that when I had children my taste in music would change. Thanks to my firstborn—and Shrek—I fell for this drek during the summer of 2001. Worst of all, it was only 2 short years after Smash Mouth’s other summer smash, All Star. I had banked on Smash Mouth following in the footsteps of other one hit summer wonders like EMF (“You’re unbelievable….Ohhhh!”) and The Proclaimers (“I would walk 500 miles…just to be the man who walked 500 miles” to turn off that fu**ing song!). But I’m still a believer in cherishing your child’s first movie-going experience. And for me, I’m a Believer is a small price to pay for watching Shrek scare the donkey out of my 2-year old son.
American Idiot – Green Day (summer of 2005)
Bending the rules again. During a long, hot car drive to and from a pre-Snooki Jersey Shore….my sons were introduced to modern rock…compliments of Green Day. What began as lispy, backseat whispers (“…here comes the part where he says f-u-c-k”) turned into the love of one song, then the entire CD, and ultimately a whole genre of music. So American Idiot is 2005′s “CD of summer.” And thanks to this American Idiot dad who allowed his young sons to listen to a CD with explicit lyrics….my boys still treat rock as more than just a passing fad. And it’s best enjoyed when they’re rocking out with dad.
Big Girls Don’t Cry– Fergie (summer of 2007)
Fatherhood was supposed to have matured me. And while the births of my two sons definitely helped turn me into a more responsible adult….the jury was still out on the maturity claim until my daughter was born. Fergie’s song played out like the soundtrack to my daughter’s 2-year-old summer. She was becoming a big girl, my boys were growing into their roles as big brothers, and daddy became a bigger (yet, more mature) moosh.
That’s it. My all-time summer top 10. Now “pop in [your] CD and let me run a rhyme…and put your car on cruise and lay back cuz it’s summertime.”