While growing up on the other side of the country, the sounds of the summer were waves crashing, seagulls chirping and the songs of the season. There is still nothing as soothing as laying on a blanket being lulled to sleep by the surf touching down while kissed by the gentle ocean breeze.
I won’t have that experience this summer, but I will have the songs at my disposal. There’s always a debate about what to play in the car with my children. Jane, 12, is down with Cardi B’s “I Like It,” which was ubiquitous the summer before the pandemic. But there are so many great songs that scream summer.
It’s summer playlist time, and it draws some eye rolls and shrugs from my kids, but whatever. Here’s what my children will be listening to on long drives during the dog days.
It all starts with the Hold Steady’s “Constructive Summer”: “We’re gonna build something this summer. … We’re gonna lean this ladder up against the water tower / Climb up to the top, and drink and talk (this summer).” Hold Steady singer-lyricist Craig Finn paints a vivid picture of what kids will do once school’s out. The song’s sturdy riff and relentless energy has no burn factor.
Milo was 7 when he initially heard Best Coast’s “The Only Place” and was instantly smitten, and it’s easy to hear why. It’s not only the ultimate summer song, since it’s breezy and light. “The Only Place” celebrates California, which feels like the epicenter of the season.
“Why would you live anywhere else / We’ve got the ocean, got the babes / Got the sun, we’ve got the waves / This is the only place for me.” Who can argue with that? Milo certainly can’t. “This song is so great,” Milo said when he was 8. “I can’t believe I didn’t write it.”
Well, we’re still waiting for Milo to write his first song, and eight years have passed. Milo loves Best Coast so much that he caught the duo when the L.A.-based band opened for Green Day in 2013.
Eddie, 20, prefers the wistful indie rock anthem “Summer Babe.” The Pavement classic feels like a lazy, humid afternoon. If you want to bring the energy, reach for Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”: “Nineteen eighty-nine! / the number / another summer.”
Memories of P.E.’s turbulent tour from the summer of 1989 come rushing back at the start of the sample from Jesse Jackson, which kicks off the track. A number of P.E.’s shows were canceled, and folks were afraid of the greatest hip-hop act in history coming to town.
When I step back farther, I dial it down with Seals and Croft’s “Summer Breeze,” which is forever serene. Around the same time, the summer of 1976, when I became acquainted with “Summer Breeze,” I heard Wings’ “Silly Love Songs.” The catchy tune was a radio staple, and it’s burned into my brain whenever the mercury reaches 76 degrees. I love Paul McCartney’s bass line.
A couple of Condran family favorites were part of our cross-country drive in 2020, such as Velvet Underground’s gorgeous “Who Loves the Sun,” Peter, Bjorn and John’s deep and compelling “Young Folks” and Car Seat Headrest’s epic “Beach Life-in-Death. Sometimes, Milo will just sing “I spent a week in Ocean City” from “Beach Life” out of nowhere.
My daughter Jillian, 23, finds her summer groove courtesy of the Mamas and the Papas’ “Dedicated to the One I Love.” She discovered the classic during the summer of 2016, and it’s her summer song.
The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk,” the criminally underrated Kink’s “Sunny Afternoon” and Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancin’ in the Streets” and “Heatwave” are also seasonal gems.
Such classics set the tone for the day and for the season, which is the time of year we all wait for as we persevere through the long winter. “With love, and trust, and shows, all summer / Let this be my annual reminder that we can all be something bigger” are lyrics penned by the Hold Steady’s Finn, which are indeed words to live by.
Have an endless summer, which hopefully will be filled with music – live and of the recorded variety!
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