by Donny Kutzbach
Picking your ultimate song of the sunny season
In the back of your head, you know you’ve got one.
Perhaps it’s the song and artist that defined the best summer of your life…or maybe it was the worst summer you ever had and this was the song that got you through it. Maybe you heard this song at a summer concert and it changed you. Maybe it was the soundtrack for your first love. Or maybe it’s the tune that has simply always sounded good blasting of the car windows.
Somewhere, there’s that one track that makes you think of the sunny days and warm breezin’ nights. Remember how old you were? Remember how you first heard it? Remember what it meant? What does it still mean?
I’ve got one:
The opening lines frame it all: “1989/ The number/Another Summer/ (Get Down!)/ Sound of the “Funky Drummer.”“Fight the Power” was a jam that was sweaty, boisterous, and badass as well as militant, thought-provoking, and political, where Public Enemy managed to first post the date and name-check one of James Brown’s greatest songs. They weren’t afraid to dis Elvis Presley and John Wayne? I mean, they weren’t afraid of anything. Despite all the message and fervor in “Fight the Power,” like James Brown, it stays funky. It was the musical centerpiece to Spike Lee’s charged epic Do the Right Thing that year, where Bill Nunn’s character Radio Raheem blares it through his massive ghettoblaster. That single and PE’s 1988 masterpiece It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back barely left my slightly smaller double cassette deck box. All of it was ever so appealing to a 14-year-old suburban white kid who believed he was fighting the power of the so-called system, his parents, and an all-boys school on Kenmore Avenue.
I asked some notable Buffalonians to tell me about their ultimate summer songs and it seems that everyone does indeed have at least one…
Geoff Kelly, Artvoice editor
The Replacements—“Unsatisfied”/Velvet Underground—“Temptation Inside Your Heart”
It was the summer of 1985 at Chautauqua Institution, where I washed dishes in the summer school cafeteria. I made friends with an art student who was headed to Cooper Union that fall. (He looked exactly like Thurston Moore, a comparison I was unequipped to make at the time.) One day he said, “You’re a cool kid, you’ll like this,” and gave me a TDK cassette tape that comprised two full albums and part of a third: The Replacements’ Let It Be, Husker Du’s Zen Arcade (both fairly new releases), and a collection of tracks by a band I’d never heard before called the Velvet Underground. What had started the summer before was now inevitable: That fall I learned of a place called Home of the Hits, which would help me track the timeline from Lou Reed to Paul Westerberg and to discover a hundred other pop music tributaries and backwaters. More important, perhaps, the shop’s bulletin board soon led me to local bands who, like me, seemed to be looking to create those sweet moments of discovery that were, at that age, still so abundant.
Chris “Bulldog” Parker, radio talk show host, Schopp and the Bulldogg on WGR 550
The Who—“Summertime Blues”
The first things I think of are songs I would have heard in the car while on vacation with my parents: Sniff ’n’ the Tears’ “Driver’s Seat” or Eddie Rabbit’s “Driving My Life Aways,” which were the soundtrack for the backseat ride of vacations. But the ultimate for me is the Who’s version of “Summertime Blues” from Live at Leeds. I first heard it in probably 1978 when I came to own a copy of that record. In the spring and summer every day before I would go out for the bus, I would listen to that song with the headphones on. I don’t know if it was the whole “man keeping me down” vibe of it or the most giant guitar riff I had ever in my life, but it was just completely tremendous. It totally got me in the mood for the day, and not to go to school and learn but to be done with it all! It’s still the tune for me.
Bruce Eaton, booker, Albright Knox Art of Jazz Series and author of 33+1/3: Big Star—Radio City
As a teenager growing up in the 1960s, I got to spend part of every summer at my grandmother’s beach cottage on Long Island. Those were the halcyon years of Top 40 radio and no station was mightier than WABC out of New York. Every kid had a transistor radio locked on 770 AM and the hits of the station’s “Go Go Survey” were in the air everywhere you went. The Beatles, Stones, Lovin’ Spoonful, Motown—pop music that’s never been equaled—all served as an unfolding soundtrack to each summer day. For me, no song captures the vibe of a lazy summer day at the beach—that time in the middle of the afternoon when the sun turns from hot to warm and the world slows down—than “Groovin’” by the Rascals. From the Bronx to the shores, the Rascals were New York soul personified. California had the Beach Boys but the Rascals were a New Yawk band. The Latin-tinged, laid-back groove of “Groovin’”—replete with the loping bass line and congas, unfussy piano, and plaintive harmonica—made you forget that the East Coast waves weren’t right for surfing. You could close your eyes, imagine yourself walking down a crowded avenue back in the city, and then wiggle your toes in the sand. What was better than sitting back and groovin’ to the radio?
Erich Foster, artist/proprietor, Rise Above Tattoo
“New Direction”—Gorilla Biscuits
My summer jam is “New Direction” by Gorilla Biscuits, first track on Start Today. It takes me back to a time when all that mattered was going to shows, skateboarding from dusk till dawn and late night summer hangouts. It embraced all of my sentiments in one lyric: “What might seem dumb to you, is pounding in my heart!” It’s the perfect road trip record while traveling to hardcore shows, because it’s the universally known record. The horn intro just kicks off, in my opinion, one of the few timeless, always listenable, hardcore records. I’ve listened to that record a few times every week for 20 years, and likely will for 20 more. Summer is here, time to pull out some GB and feel 16 again! Go!
Susan Tanner, Righteous Babe Records
Tom Petty—“Running Down A Dream”/Van Morrison—“Astral Weeks”
The first one that comes to mind is Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream,” for no other reason than whenever I hear it, I just want to turn it up loud, roll down the windows, and go for a long drive in the sun. I think it’s the guitar line. It just gets me moving every time. I have another one that’s a bit more romantic. I always make the joke to my husband Marty that whenever I come home from work in the summer and he’s playing Van Morrison—usually “Astral Weeks”—he must be in a good mood. We’ve spent many nights sitting on the glider on our porch, watching the stars and the fireflies and listening to the toads and frogs with Van the Man. I think that’s why I like Van Morrison now. Whenever I hear him, it makes me think of those nights and hope summer comes soon when we are deep into the winter.
Nick Mendola, radio talk show host, The Late Nick Mendola on WECK 1230
The Beatles—“Golden Slumbers”/”Carry That Weight”
My ultimate summer song is technically two songs, but it’s hard to imagine listening to them out of sequence. Coming off an album with two songs with the sun in the title, the combination of the Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry That Weight” represents one of my favorite cases of eisegesis: Paul McCartney wasn’t writing about love or acceptance—his band was imploding—but the Abbey Road songs remind me of the happy decision to propose to my wife in the summer of 2007. “Golden Slumbers” made me think about waking up with the same woman for the rest of my life. “Carry That Weight” hammered it home that life wasn’t going to get any less complicated or less wonderful. It was a weighty, emotional summer in my life and all I can think of is hearing those songs on a shared drive home from Canton, Ohio, thinking, “You don’t even know I’ve decided to propose to you.” Those songs are summer drives, eternal optimism and the sincere trust that everything’s going to be alright, no matter how much of an oddball screw-up I was.
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