Spring into Summer, Sonically

Spring is here. Summer might be on the way. It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference these days. In any case, here’s some music for sunny days and balmy evenings, whether gloriously relaxing or painfully oppressive.

‘All Summer Long’ by The Beach Boys. There’s not really anywhere else to start. The Beach Boys pretty much invented the concept of summer music, and while this song isn’t necessarily among their best-known, it includes lots of their usual themes and has a beautifully wistful take on long youthful summers. Marimbas, mmm.

‘Die in the Summertime’ by the Manic Street Preachers. Endless summer isn’t for everyone, clearly. And just having the word ‘summer’ in the title is no guarantee of cheer – Blonde Redhead’s ‘Spring and By Summer Fall’ is three seasons of elegiac indie sadness. For the Manics, “whole days throwing sticks into streams” is an unrecoverable innocence, provoking an adult ‘Fall’ and the prompting of an accelerated death impulse. Why? Because “the hole in my life even stains the soil”. Summer, here, doesn’t fix that; instead it casts the difference between the child and the adult in stark chiaroscuro.

‘Our House’ by Madness. This song manages to be relentlessly optimistic while having really mordant undertones. It’s not especially summery in content but Madness are most definitely a sunshine band, and this is a fine soundtrack to accompany a walk around North London on a bright, breezy day. Perhaps its the nostalgia that lends it the sunny air – is there something particularly summer-focused about childhood memory? The previous songs suggest this too. Also, everyone in the video is dressed like me. This is pleasing.

‘Good Weekend’ by Art Brut. Unlike the Manics, Art Brut’s Eddie Argos has no problem reconciling the weight of adult life with childish impulse. This song brims with gauche teenage boasts, rendered sweet by their serene enthusiasm rather than seeming boorish or simply priapic. The shots of the happy couple on the beach in deck chairs are somehow exquisitely English.

‘Surprise Hotel’ by Fool’s Gold. One of my favourite songs of recents years, this coincided with my first few weeks in Mexico last year when the skies were crystal azure every day and lizards basked outside the windows as I worked. It’s probably my most frequently-used musical pick-me-up, and rarely fails to put a smile on my face. The video is a surreal summer classic too.

Ice Cream Man’ by Tom Waits. Something about ice cream seemed appropriate, and Tom Waits is so deliciously inappropriate for almost everything that this devilish confection was perfect. It sounds like he’s leering out of a New Orleans veranda, where summer is sticky and exhausting.

Weekends and Bleak Days’ by The Young Knives. This was all over the airwaves in 2006 and was the single that brought the Young Knives to a wider audience. Great video, and the whole package speaks in weary, knowing tones to a generation of jobbing clerks – there’s something beyond the unopenable double-glazing. Henry Dartnell reminds me of Noel Edmonds in the running-across-the-field bits.

‘Dancing Barefoot’ by Patti Smith. This sounds like the sun falling over a field somewhere after too much wine and homespun philosophy. Somewhere there’s some water trickling (hopefully not this water) and despite the dark melody and rich earthy chords, there is an air of optimism. Defiant and honest, the version linked here is a stripped-down acoustic effort from Later… which really cranks up towards the end with Patti intoning, channelling some unseen spirits.

‘Mushroom’ by CAN. The song itself doesn’t exactly scream summer, as this cover by J&MC shows, but there is something in the uncurling spring-beats and Damo Suzuki’s delivery which has the unsettling motive energy of the wild outdoors – and in a way that contrasts beautifully with the subterranean, concrete and dark ‘Paperhouse‘, one of the all time great track juxtapositions.

‘Let England Shake’ by PJ Harvey. This could be what the coming summer sounds like. I always associated Harvey with Autumn, but the new album demands the reclamation of long light airy days. I’ve come round to being much more of a fan of her recent work, and the new album is fantastic – something akin to what Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was (conceptually at least) in terms of integrating a ‘native’ musical tradition into a unique artist’s style.

Published in: on April 18, 2011 at 4:31 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Excellent. Lovely to see Patti on Later again. You should read Just Kids if you haven’t yet.
    Hotel Surprise is a jig and a half. Further listening? Talking Heads 1988 album, Naked (the one that everyone forgets about). A clear signpost.
    My favourite summer song?

    (The smell of gently charring meat / The kept lady of suburbia sighing with a cocktail on the lawn / The great moment at 2:20, when it turns out she’s been given “a room full of Chippendale that nobody sits in”…)

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