Best Summer Rock Songs from the Sixties and Seventies
I feature five from rock’s greatest decades, plus some honorable mentions.
Summer just opens the door and lets you out.–Deb Coletti, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart
1. Night Moves
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
“Night Moves” is about the freedom and possibilities of summer and young lust. Seger said he was inspired by the movie American Graffiti. “I came out of the theater thinking, ‘Hey, I got a story to tell too.”
The lyrics perfectly capture the awkward wonderment of young hands and bodies in sheer rapture:
In the summer, the days were long, stretching into each other. out of school, everything was on pause and yet happening at the same time, the collection of weeks when anything was possible.–Sarah Dessen, Along for the Ride
2. Rock Lobster
The B-52s, that other band from Athens, GA (R.E.M.), wrote songs with fun, whimsical lyrics along with a speeded-up tempo that seemed a perfect fit for the punk rock scene.
Here’s an early performance of the 1978 song, published by stereomusicvideo via YouTube:
Those fish noises that the two female singers, Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson, make at the end of the song were none other than an homage to Yoko Ono, according to guitarist Keith Strickland in an interview with Q Magazine.
It was said that John Lennon listened to “Rock Lobster” in some disco in the Bahamas and called Yoko to tell her, “they’re ready for us again.” Yoko confirmed that in a 2013 interview, saying, “Listening to the B-52s, John realized that my time had come.” Well…
And so with the sunshine and the great burst of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had the familiar conviction that life was beginning over again in summer.F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Big Brother & The Holding Company
The original version of “Summertime” was an aria composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. Gershwin wanted to create “his own spiritual in the style of African American folk music of the period.”
The song became a popular and much-covered jazz and blues standard. There is said to be over 25,000 recordings of “Summertime.” In 1936, a year after Porgy and Bess opened, the song hit the pop charts with a rendition by the great Billie Holiday. Many successful recordings followed.
Meanwhile, the San Francisco psychedelic music scene in 1965 welcomed Big Brother and the Holding Company. The band had recently hired singer Janis Joplin, who electrified the crowd at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival with an old blues standard, “Ball and Chain.” A star was born.
When it came time to record the band’s first album, Cheap Thrills, another blues standard was given to Janis to sing: “Summertime.” Here is an excellent 1969 version of the song with Janis Joplin fronting her brand new horn band, the Full Tilt Boogie Band, published by Caffeinopolis via YouTube:
Hot weather opens the skull of the city, exposing its white brain and its heart of nerves, which sizzle like the wires inside a lightbulb. And there exudes a sour extra-human smell that makes the very stone seem flesh-alive, webbed and pulsing.Truman Capote, Summer Crossing
4. Summer in the City
The Lovin’ Spoonful
The Lovin’ Spoonful’s lineage can traced to the Greenwich Village folk music scene in the early ’60s. From its origins as a jug band, the Lovin’ Spoonful evolved into pop hit-makers with songs such as “Do You Believe in Magic?” “Daydream,” “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice,” “Rain on the Roof” and the iconic “Summer in the City,” released in 1966.
“Summer in the City” is ranked #401 on Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of all time.
Here is a serviceable video of the song, published by DiscoBar80 via YouTube:
It is believed that the producers of a TV show that would later become The Monkees originally intended to build the sit-com around the Lovin’ Spoonful. The deal-breaker was said to be song publishing rights.
Another fun fact: When Crosby, Still & Nash were poised to add another member, leader Stephen Stills suggested Spoonful lead singer John Sebastian. But Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun prevailed and Neil Young came aboard.
It was June and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.Maud Hart Lovelace, Betsy-Tacy and Tib
5. Catch a Wave
The Beach Boys
It’s quite the dilemma to rank Beach Boys summer songs because, well, most of their songs are about summer and they’re all so damned good. The Beach Boys are about summer. So I selected my favorite.
I eliminated the obvious choice–“Surfin’ USA”–because Brian Wilson freely admits basing the song on Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” (Berry even shares songwriting credit) and Brian Wilson is an original.
“Catch a Wave,” written by Wilson and Mike Love, is off the 1963 album Surfer Girl, whose title track is also a great summer song. Wilson remarked in 1990, “The guitars were clean…and the piano was perfectly synchronized with the guitars. I was ecstatic about that.”
“Hot Fun in the Summertime” – Sly & the Family Stone
“Rockaway Beach” – The Ramones
“A Summer Song” – Chad & Jeremy
“Sunny Afternoon” – The Kinks
“Surf City” – Jan & Dean
“Under the Boardwalk” – The Drifters
Summer Breeze” – Seals & Croft
“Summertime Blues” (Live) – The Who
“School’s Out” – Alice Cooper
“Dancing in the Streets” – Martha and the Vandellas
I know I missed a few. What’ve you got?