Putting together a summer playlist that has staying power is harder than it seems. A few shades too breezy and it veers toward unbearable lightness; a few shades too serious and it becomes leaden and ponderous. In what follows below, I’ve abandoned any attempt to follow a coherent pattern or unifying theme. In short, although I have no idea how to define my summer, I think I know what it sounds like.
Hold Steady, â€œConstructive Summerâ€
Craig Finn searches for reasons to believe in the Church of St. Strummer, while Mouldy guitars recall HÃ¼sker DÃ¼â€™s “Celebrated Summer” and mighty mighty Boss-tones echo Springsteen’s early days as a little hoodrat. Prayer theme: the “annual reminder that we can be something bigger.”
Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, â€œMisirlouâ€
The former Richard Monsour does his Lebanese father proud. Call it surf-rock if you want, but I prefer to think of it as oud-inspired heavy metal.
Tinariwen, â€œCler Achelâ€
While journalists love the storied biography of these Touraeg rebels from Mali, it’s the music that continues to fascinate. The explosive “Cler Achel” leads off 2007’s Aman Iman (Water is Life), which ranks among my favorite albums of the Zeroes.
Magic Sam, â€œMagic Sam Boogieâ€
Whether you come from Chicago or Timbuktu, the extra hours of daylight are perfect for a little West Side soul.
Blitzen Trapper, â€œWild Mountain Nationâ€
Only in Portland will you find a modern urban pastoral jam. But unlike Phish or the Dead, they know how to jam econo.
Marty Robbins, â€œEl Pasoâ€
The ultimate gunfighter ballad has everything I could want in a summer song: lonesome travelers, love, sex, murder, and hot hot heat. Cutting to the chase: “My love is stronger than my fear of death.”
Vampire Weekend, â€œMansard Roofâ€
Haters, get over yourselves. It’s inauthentic, it’s insubstantial, and I couldn’t care less. Put on those docksiders and dance your Shins off.
The Kinks, â€œSunny Afternoonâ€
Ray Davies soaks up the sun in a summer anthem made for recession years: ‘Save me, save me, save me from this squeeze.”
Eddie Cochrane, â€œSummertime Bluesâ€
Graham Parker and the Rumour, â€œHeat Treatmentâ€
Even before he contracted mercury poisoning, Graham Parker’s idea of a summer love song was to channel Van Morrison and croon about cannibalism and indigestion. Tag line: “Let’s get out while the getting’s good.”
Martha and the Vandellas, â€œHeat Waveâ€
This isn’t summer music for poolside lounging. It’s summer music for opening up the fire hydrants and dancing in the streets.
Ramones, â€œRockaway Beachâ€
The late Joey Ramone was a medical miracle. Unlike his only West Coast peer, Brian Wilson, he could spend endless summers on the beach without the slightest hint of tanning.
Love, “Bummer in the Summer”
Back in the day, before we had Cee-Lo or Prince or even Sly, Arthur Lee let his freak flag fly higher than anyone’s.
Stevie Wonder, “Master Blaster (Jammin’)”
At the tail end of an astonishing run of classic soul sides, before he turned himself into a Rose Bowl float, Stevie delivered the goods on this timeless Marley tribute. Sadly, the line about peace in Zimbabwe may need a bit of revision.
Replacements, “Can’t Hardly Wait”
Paul Westerberg turns impatience into an art form. “I’ll write you a letter tomorrow, tonight I can’t hold a pen.”
Billie Holiday, â€œSummertimeâ€
I can’t claim to have heard all 2600 versions of this Gershwin standard, but this is my favorite so far. How it got in the hands of the nutcases who made this video will remain a mystery.