July 30th, 2012 | Published in Featured Articles
A Vivoscene Featured Article by Ben Bengtson
The category of “Summer Tunes” is probably my favourite in all of music. It’s not about summery lyrics per se, but about that musical evocation of the feelings, sights and sounds that summer inspires. Young romance, the fleeting nature of love, heartbreak and opportunity – basically summer tunes are just like every other song about boys and girls kissing and falling out, except summer tunes have the advantage of sounding great while doing nothing but drinking iced tea on a patch of grass, your body covered by nothing but a soiled shimmy cloth; summer tunes are about those ceaseless, perfect moments and oh how we crave them! Here are 10 songs that really put me into a stimulated and inspired summer vibe – enjoy!
“Our Way To Fall” by Yo La Tengo [from And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000)]
One of the first of Yo La Tengo’s slow and soft albums, “Our Way to Fall”, the record’s second track, is a gorgeous piece of summer nostalgia. Led by the band’s dissonant organ drone and soothing rhythm section, singer Ira Kaplan recounts the shyness and quaintness of first love. “I remember sitting next to you / And I remember pretending I wasn’t looking” he recounts. During the chorus the band harmonizes, singing: “So we’ll try and try / Even if it lasts an hour”, evoking the flyby and fleeting nature of love and, of course, summer.
Watch: “Our Way To Fall”
“Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)” by The Beach Boys [from Pet Sounds (1966)]
Elvis Costello, after hearing an orchestral version of this classic Brian Wilson piece played on the cello, is quoted as saying, “It sounded beautiful and sad, just as it does on Pet Sounds. So now you know, if all the record players in the world get broken tomorrow, these songs could be heard a hundred years from now”. Sharing more in common with orchestral composition than traditional “pop” music, this tune from the Boys’ lauded Pet Sounds is a definitive example of those perfect summer moments. “Being here with you feels so right / We could live forever tonight”, sings a tragic Brian Wilson, alluding to those brief summer flashes when everything in the cosmos seems to line up just right; a fleeting moment, to be sure, thus the singer understands that it must be savoured: “Don’t talk, close your eyes and be still”.
Watch: “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder”
“Gold Star For Robot Boy” by Guided By Voices [from Bee Thousand (1994)]
Not a summery song necessarily, but the music itself is pure July delight. Guided by Voices, the masters of low-fi 90s rock, jump straight into this song, with quick, flashy drums and a brutal mess of over amplified guitars whirling in the sun. The song sounds like the embodiment of romping along the highway during a hot June day, driving too fast trying to escape from growing up. Although a lot of Robert Pollard’s lyrics are fragmented gibberish (done for artistic purposes, of course), the line “If I waited for you to show me the actions that I should take / Would I get my break?” is particularly apt. “Gold Star for Robot Boy” is about those hot summer months when you realize that no one can show you the direction you have to take except yourself.
Watch: “Gold Star for Robot Boy”
“Shooting Star” by Bob Dylan [from Oh Mercy (1989)]
“Shooting Star,” the most clear-sighted and touching number on Dylan’s first late-career comeback album, tows the line between summer nostalgia and forward-thinking optimism. This brilliant closing song (written by Dylan at the behest of producer Daniel Lanois), is a testament to those late-night moments of summer reflection. “Seen a shooting star tonight / And I thought of you” begins a nostalgic Dylan before countering this sentiment in the final verse: “Tomorrow will be / Another Day” and falling back into reflection: “Guess it’s too late to say the things to you / That you needed to hear me say”; a spine tingling summer reflection, for sure – one that comes and goes as quickly as (ahem) a shooting star.
Watch: “Shooting Star”
“Michicant” by Bon Iver [from Bon Iver, Bon Iver (2011)]
Funny, but after my initial infatuation with Bon Iver, their second album began to tire tremendously. Was it the hype that did it in? The melancholic music? Not quite. But for whatever reason the soundscapes that Justin Vernon admirably explored – while fascinating at first – now sound worn and repetitive to me. That’s not to say that “Michicant”, the album’s middle song, isn’t anything but completely gorgeous. This may not be my favourite song on the album, but it certainly captures what Vernon was going for best. “I was unafraid, I was a boy / I was a tender age” sings a despondent Vernon, a perfect preamble to the beautiful summer dream Bon Iver conjures. Everything from the sound of the bike bell, the washes of swirling electric percussion, the gloomy synthesizer – they harken to the darker side of summer, that reflective point that is confusing and contemplative, but still striking.
“In The Summertime” by The Rural Alberta Advantage [from Hometowns(2008)]
I’m so mad that the Rural Alberta Advantage had to miss the mark so badly on their follow up to 2008’s gorgeous Hometowns, because that certainly was an amazingly perfect debut. The closer, “In The Summertime”, features the bands most sparse arrangement, with Amy Cole on organ, Paul Banwatt on drums and the vocals of Nils Edenloff. The light arrangement, however, only serves to push Edenloff’s flawless summer lyrics to the forefront of contemplation. Every line from this tune is quotable as seamless summer kitsch, with Edenloff finishing the song with: “And once in a while / I know our hearts beat out of time/ And once in a while / I know they’ll fall back in line”, before Cole comes in with an outro verse, singing “Our love is strong / While my heart’s still pumping blood”. These lines are testament to a real summer truism: that during the summer months you often realize how out of touch you’ve grown with those around you, those you once loved, but we take solace in knowing that while our hearts are still pumping, we’re destined – one day, at least – to fall back in line with each other.
Watch: “In The Summertime”
“Darling” by Girls [from Album (2009)]
“I was feeling so sad and alone / But I found a friend in the song that I’m singing”. Thus is the opening line of the closing track from Girls’ phenomenal debut LP. Borrowing much of their sound and image from 50s rock nostalgia, Girls’ music is about the redemptive powers that Rock N’ Roll can have on a soul that is trying to find itself. After on album’s length dissection on the harrows of love, loss and heartbreak, “Darling” finds lead singer Christopher Owens finding solace in the music itself. Using dissonant, over charged electric guitars and a booming drum sound, “Darling” is a pure 50’s-esque summer rocker, equally gorgeous, simple, evocative and honest. This song sounds best in the summertime because it is the sound of something coming to an end and a realization that for all love’s heartache, the music itself can be the perfect summer companion.
“Jack Straw” by The Grateful Dead [from Europe ’72 (1972)]
“We can share the women, we can share the wine” goes the opening line of this live track from the Dead’s early-7os euro tour. This slow, jammy number blossoms with the gorgeous harmonizing between Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia where the festive and celebratory nature of the tune takes full force. A beautiful piece to throw on while lying on a freshly cut summer lawn, twiddling the day away.
Watch: “Jack Straw”
“Lookin’ For A Love” by Neil Young [from Zuma (1975)]
This track from Neil Young’s return to a “commercial” sound after the restless Ditch Trilogy is a relatively minor song in the Young canon, but a wonderfully lazy summer rocker nonetheless. Young and the backing Crazy Horse rip this number off effortlessly, with Young’s verse practically gliding over the smooth guitar lines and chill rhythm section. Young’s carefree demeanor is juxtaposed with the darker lines in the chorus: “I hope I treat her kind / And don’t mess with her mind / When she starts to see / the darker side of me”. Be that as it may, this song does not require deeper penetration – it simply just sounds perfect blasting out of your car speakers while tripping down a sticky summer highway.
Watch: “Lookin’ For A Love”
“Hallogallo” by Neu! [from Neu! (1972)]
The opening groove on Neu’s debut album, “Hallogallo” still sounds ridiculously ahead of its time even after 40 years. Any good summer tune is only as good as it sounds while driving too fast along a highway, or – in the case of Neu! – while speeding along the autobahn. “Hallogallo” is about hitting cruise control, feeling futuristic and looking cool while sailing by the freeway in the summer. Try not to groove to the jammy guitar licks or the tight, repetitive drum kit – just try! It’ll be a good summer.