It’s here. It’s hot. Time to hit the beach for some; time to close the curtains and hibernate till fall for others. Here are a bunch of songs that reflect our mixed feelings on the hot season. (Click here to play the Spotify playlist.)
“Vacation,” The Go-Go’s
Summers seemed to last forever when we were teenagers, didn’t they? The upside was you didn’t have to wake up and schlep to school, but there was also a downside: being stuck on your own with nothing to do for days on end whenever friends and significant others went away with their families. “Two weeks without you” — in the middle of August?! BOR-ING! But this being the run-up to Memorial Day, let’s focus on the positive, shall we? Whenever I hear this song, I want to get up and do the Belinda — you know, that side-to-side dance move with the snaps? I am a huge fan of the Go-Go’s: every album, every video, every band member. And every single song sounds like summer vacation (see “Surfing and Spying,” “Beatnik Beach,” “Our Lips are Sealed”…). If the stories are to be believed, then the ladies very likely crawled out of a drug den on all fours in order to make it to the video set, yet they all look so fresh-faced and pretty here (particularly Belinda, whom I always preferred with a modicum of baby fat).
“Rio,” Duran Duran
Sun, sand, and Simon Le Bon in a speedo! What else could one possibly want?! “Rio” is a spirited romp however it’s delivered: on record, via video, or live in concert, where it’s almost always the last song — a literal showstopper. Everything about it is iconic: the lyrics, the bassline, the image of the boys on the front of the boat. And don’t forget Rio herself: the Nagel image on the single and album covers, and the gorgeous girl come to life who gets the best of the guys every single time, whether she’s giving Roger Taylor crabs (not that kind) or causing our Simon to fall on his bon-bons. John Taylor famously hates to name his favorite Duran songs, but in Mad World he lists “Rio” as one the band’s top-three tunes, and, really, who could disagree? Everything you love (or hate) about the band is right here.
“Suddenly Last Summer,” The Motels
The song title is taken from a Tennessee Williams play that was made into a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, about a young woman being considered for a lobotomy after witnessing her cousin’s death. The music and lyrics are appropriately dark, with a sense of foreboding. Pouty, full-lipped Martha Davis — herself a sort of new wave Liz Taylor — brings the drama, both vocally and in the video. Oh, and there’s an eerie ice cream truck that sends everyone running. This summertime tune is the opposite of a day at the beach…which is why I like it!
“Come On Eileen,” Dexys Midnight Runners
“Call Me Maybe.” “Get Lucky.” “Come On Eileen.” All songs of summer in their heyday. “I liked songs that reminded you of the summer,” Kevin Rowland says in Mad World of the inspiration for “Eileen.” “Like the Beach Boys, like ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ by Eddie and the Hot Rods, like ‘Concrete and Clay’ by Unit 4+2 — good songs that sounded good in the summer.” FYI the “Eileen” in the video is played by Máire Fahey, sister to Siobhan of Bananarama, who make an appearance in JB’s picks below.
“Pulling Mussels From a Shell,” Squeeze
JB wrote a book about British slang, so he probably knows that “pulling mussels” is code for having sex. I had no idea. I just thought this was a sweet song about kids eating dinner while at summer camp. At least I got the camp part right! Curiously, this was released the same year as the movie Little Darlings and a summer after Meatballs. Guess the “horny kids at camp” theme was having a moment.
“She’s On It,” Beastie Boys
A main plot point is the Three Stooges-like Beasties’ plan to use a homemade bomb to blow up a hot blond in a gold bikini. Only in the 80s, folks!
“Cruel Summer,” Bananarama
At their best, which they are here, Bananarama gave off the air of a clique of cool girls eternally cracking up at a private joke you were never going to be let in on. IRL, that’s infuriating but, as pop stars, that air of insouciance kept them alive a lot longer than any other British girl group of the era. It’s not that they couldn’t sing; they just couldn’t be bothered to put in the effort to do more than chant in unison. It’s not that they couldn’t dance; they just thought it was funnier to stumble and slouch. A smidgeon of their attitude was detectable in the DNA of the Spice Girls and Girl Aloud, but the British band in whom the schlumpy, workshy chemistry of Bananarama lives on is One Direction.
“Long Hot Summer,” Style Council
Paul Weller really went out of his way to alienate any remaining Jam fans with this soft-focus odyssey into homo-erotic waters. It didn’t take long before Weller was winning back the faithful with characteristically taut anthems of class inequality and bloodshed in the streets of Britain, but in the summer of 83, this torch song is the sound of a guy relishing the fact that he can do anything he wants.
“Here Comes the Summer,” The Undertones
As I’ve mentioned before, the war-torn streets of 70s Belfast were a breeding ground for a remarkable number of powerpop groups who specialized in songs about broken hearts and girls-next-door rather than police brutality and sectarian violence. I can’t imagine summers in the Undertones’ hometown of Derry were any less cloudy and damp than those I enjoyed in Glasgow, but they tear into this 90-second throwaway like they were walking on sunshine.
“Fun at the Beach,” The B-Girls
Jangly lo-fi Toronto trio whose ridiculously catchy record I remember playing to death over a particularly drizzly Scottish July.
“A Place in the Sun,” Marine Girls
In her excellent memoir, Bedsit Disco Queen, Tracey Thorn has this passage about how, as a young artist, she took it for granted that someone was always going to want to put out her records and take her picture and interview her. That’s because when she was a teenager, she formed a group with two of her friends, and even though they barely did more than mumble into a tape recorder, hit things and strum along, an indie label was happy to put out a record, late-night radio stations played it, journalists wrote about them, promoters gave them shows, and people like me paid money to hear them. Obviously, I’m overstating the Marine Girls’ ineptitude for comedic purposes. Even as a teenager, Tracey Thorn’s husky sullen vocals transcended their surroundings. The Marine Girls still have a certain clunky charm, but I hope even the non-famous portion of the group appreciate what a charmed life they led back in the day.
“Tantalise,” Jimmy the Hoover
Amid the post-Adam and the Ants explosion of cultural pillage that included Bow Wow Wow, Haysi Fantayzee, Wide Boy Awake, and Malcolm McLaren, one-hit wonders Jimmy the Hoover used their African influences to craft a sinuous summer song that sounds fresher today than it did back in 1983.
“In the Sun,” Blondie
From the fantastic first album, a perfect mixture of heartfelt love for the innocent surf-loving 60s and the arty disdain of too-cool Lower East Siders. The accompanying clip is a perfect example of why America initially ignored them and Europe immediately loved them.