If you’re like me, as in old, you are probably finding yourself being more and more nostalgic for the past. I think the main reason for this phenomenon is the realization that life is all too short and that memories can provide a sense of perspective, if not contentment, with the never-ending passing of the years. Anyway, before I got overly maudlin, let me get to my point, which is to recall the songs of summer’s past that bring back memories of happier, or at least more carefree, times.
I’ve compiled a list of 20 such songs. They may not all resonate with you, and if you are under 50, you may not even know most of them. But they were all hits in their day, and they filled my summers on the AM radio stations we used to have our transistors tuned to as we sunned ourselves at the neighborhood pool or on the nearby beach or as we cruised the boulevards of our home towns. I list them here in reverse order of my favorites.
20. “Summer Breeze,” Seals and Crofts (1972) – It had that mellow feel to it that most songs by this harmonic duo produced. It was the kind of song you listened to while the sun was setting.
19. “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” Otis Redding (1967) – Recorded just days before Otis died in a plane crash, this song captured the feel of a summer night in San Francisco or Montauk, Long Island.
“18. “Summer in the City,” the Lovin’ Spoonful (1966) – John B. Sebastian was a master at weaving feeling into his lyrics, and on this one, he captured the feel of a hot night in the Big Apple.
17. “Dancin’ in the Streets,” Martha and the Vandellas (1964) – It had to be summer to want to dance in the streets, at least where I grew up.
16. “Surf City,” Jan and Dean (1963) – I was always a fan of this duo, even though most of their harmonies were thin. This song was the perfect beach song. I used to hum it as I swam out to catch a good wave.
15. “Wipe Out,” the Safaris (1966) – Great guitar licks on this one. Years later I became best friends with the lead guitarist on the record.
14. “School’s Out Forever,” Alice Cooper (1972) – This one could have been my anthem if it had been released ten years earlier. As it is, I was just getting ready to start law school when it was a hit, but it still struck a chord.
13. “Theme from a Summer Place,” Percy Faith and his orchestra (1960) – This one isn’t really a summer song. But it was a great song to slow dance to. I first discovered the supreme pleasure in that activity with this song.
12. “Summer of ’69,” Bryan Adams (1985) – I cheated a little to include this one, since I was well into being married with children when it was a hit. But it captured exactly the nostalgic mood I’m trying to express in this column, and it’s a darned good song.
11. “Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer,” Nat King Cole (1963) – An upbeat ode to summer by the master crooner of his day.
10. “The Girl from Ipanema,” Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto (1964) – Talk about a sultry summer vision; this one had every guy I knew day-dreaming and fantasizing. The vocal by Ms. Gilberto was as provocative as any I think I’ve ever heard.
9. “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” Sly and the Family Stone (1969) – Sly and his crew were great at spinning out dance tunes, and this one was perfect for a barbeque or a summer wedding.
8. “Saturday in the Park,” Chicago (1972) – I was driving across the country when this song hit the charts. It was a mix of a catchy tune and a quixotic lyric that seemed at once happy times and message song. But mostly it was just a song that made you feel good.
7. “California Girls,” the Beach Boys (1965) – More than any other song, this one caused me to want to move west, which I did seven years later. It would easily qualify as the group’s signature song if they didn’t have so many others equally worthy. But it conveyed an image that, if, like me, you were a teen trying to figure out how to get a date, was pure heaven.
6. “The Boys of Summer,” Don Henley (1984) – Another one that really doesn’t fit the time frame, but what a great song. And with the built in nostalgia in the lyrics (“Remember how you made me crazy? Remember how I made you scream?”), it captures the passion that maybe we were lucky enough to feel during one of those summers of our youth.
5. “Summertime,” Janis Joplin (1969) – I could have selected the original hit (by Ella and Satchmo) from 1957, but, frankly, I wasn’t old enough then. But Janis’ version, sung in her scratchy soulful voice, was poignant in its complexity and yet beautiful in its simplicity. It’s a great rendition of a great song (from Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”).
4. “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” Bryan Hyland (1960) – From the most innocent days of budding adolescence, when wearing her first bikini could actually cause a young gal intense embarrassment, this song was a novelty at the time. We (the guys) laughed at it, while the gals whom we wanted to pay attention to us understood exactly what the subject of the song was feeling.
3. “That Sunday, That Summer,” Nat King Cole (1964) – I fell in love for the first time when this song was a hit, and it has always reminded me of that feeling, one that can only be felt by the young and innocent. Ah, youth.
2. “Under the Boardwalk,” the Drifters (1964) – She never went under the boardwalk with me, but I fantasized that she did.
1. “In the Summertime,” Mungo Jerry (1970) – I defy anyone to listen to this song and not love life and all that the summers of our youth gave to us.