Depending on where you live, it’s probably freezing right now. And for that, I’m very, very, very sorry. Because as a native of frigid central Illinois, I feel your pain acutely. All of which got me thinking about my favorite summertime songs: the music that, no matter what time of year it is, gets me into a warm-weather mood.
Several songs come to mind for me, but the one I thought of first was Bananarama’s 1983 hit “Cruel Summer.” Forever tied to its inclusion in the following year’s The Karate Kid, one of the ultimate 1980s SoCal films, “Cruel Summer” doesn’t just conjure up summertime vibes. It articulates the freedom and hormones that teenagers experience when the school year is over and they’ve got more time for friends and love.
As the band’s Sara Dallin once said, “The best summer songs remind you of your youth: what you did in your holidays, how it felt when you first kissed a boy, going away without your parents.” But the song also has a sting in its tail. Dallin noted that Bananarama’s radio smash “played on the darker side: it looked at the oppressive heat, the misery of wanting to be with someone as the summer ticked by. We’ve all been there!”
Indeed. It’s funny that “Cruel Summer” doesn’t just make me think of summer — all these years later, it still brings back memories of the unrequited crushes I had during that time of year, which often ended in rejection and disappointment. Lots of summer songs are about being with your friends or that special someone. “Cruel Summer” is about being alone. It makes me both long for the season and also a little melancholy.
Below, other members of the MEL team offer their picks for the best summertime songs. We’ll get through this miserable winter together, people.
“Hate, Rain on Me”
“I wish I had a bullet big enough to fucking kill the sun,” Sean Bonnette of AJJ (formerly Andrew Jackson Jihad) sings on “Hate, Rain on Me,” my favorite song on the band’s best album, 2011’s Knife Man. “I’m sick of songs about the summer, and I hate everyone,” he adds. All right! Finally, an honest summer anthem, heavy-handed, angry and unapologetic, fully embracing the anger and frustration of summertime depression — that is, feeling like dogshit during the season when we’re socially obligated to soak up the sun, love everyone and lighten up. “Summer is supposed to be the best,” Tracy Moore wrote for MEL last year. “So when you’re depressed in the summer — because it’s summer — it’s particularly unbearable.” In the winter, I keep coming back to this folk/punk band, their endless list of bops about white privilege and lethargy, and this particular chorus, which chews up and spits out the Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me” and reminds us that hey, maybe the cold ain’t so bad. — Cooper Fleishman, New York Bureau Chief
Summer IS the best. And summer songs capture the feeling of bestness, which can best be described as a kind of easy, languid repose mixed with antsy anticipation for the things that might happen only in the summer: parties (but warm out); shows (but warm out); movies (but warm out); hanging out (but warm out); and love (but warm out). Fuck fall or winter: It’s summer where everything good and long-lasting ever happened.
Long before music criticism ever went populist, I’d always loved and defended the ability of Billboard hits and pop in general to bottle this feeling like nothing else. Pop music understands things like this better than Serious Music ever has: That it’s Saturday night, and I’m getting ready with my best friends to go out somewhere, like the mall, the skating rink, a party or a date, and I want my eyeshadow to look just right, and I want to believe something great is possible.
This is why chillwave is so good: In spite of the limitations of the genre name, it’s called summer music or day-glo for a reason: It’s laid-back but anticipatory. It sounds like music you drive around to aimlessly on days so pleasant you could end up anywhere and still like it. It’s not raw youth; it’s restless youth. The inbetween. Summer is an inbetween season, and the music should feel transitional yet hopeful.
To that end, the song “Bicycle” by Memory Tapes, which is some dude from New Jersey, does this perfectly. It combines the loopy, circular guitars of New Order and the Cure with the lift-off gang vox of Arcade Fire. It’s both nostalgic and transcendent at once, and it’s impossible to listen to and not get so caught up in it that you’re surprised when you remember again that it’s 50 degrees out. Happy dazing. — Tracy Moore, Staff Writer
“Hunting for Witches”
Summer in England only happens for a couple of days before going back to grey skies and drizzle. So for the rest of the year, it’s all about recapturing those glorious golden 48 hours for as long as possible. For me, that song is “Hunting for Witches” by Bloc Party.
Released in the summer of 2007, at the height of British indie-pop, the track marked the end of the George W. Bush era by commemorating the culture of fear-mongering and the disillusionment with the neoliberal politics that heralded trickle-down economics and subprime mortgages for all. In the U.K., Bloc Party also had ushered in an era of American-influenced hipster “cool,” complete with the promises of hope and change heralded by a young, charismatic African-American senator from Chicago.
When I listen to “Hunting for Witches,” for example, I’m taken back to the summer of 2007, when that moment of hope seemed omnipresent, where it really did feel like the dark and destructive era unleashed by the War on Terror could have come to its final act. The song, with lyrics like, “The newscaster says, ‘The enemy’s among us’ / As bombs explode on the the 30 bus” and “All reasonable thought is being drowned out by the non-stop baying, baying, baying for blood,” illustrate the dystopia of the mid-2000s with a self-awareness that few musicians have been able to master. And it’s in that self-awareness that Bloc Party allowed hope to be an option — that things could get better. It’s so affecting, in fact, that its feeling of hope can even puncture the dreary, rainy winter days in Brexit Britain, where things seem darker than ever. — Hussein Kesvani, Contributing Writer
Winter in Los Angeles? Oh, woe is me. And before L.A., I spent four winters in Florida. That wasn’t too bad, either. But before I began to strategically design my life around Seasonal Affective Disorder, I lived in Massachusetts for 18 years. Winter there fuckin’ sucks. Snow on Christmas rules, but from that point on, winter is a dark, depressing hell. So some summer longing is absolutely essential.
One song that helps bring summer to mind is “Butterfly” by Crazy Town. I realize that it’s widely considered a bad song by an even worse band, but I’m exactly the type of bitch who wears a crop top and has a bellybutton ring. So you know, I have poor taste in general. The song was certainly written to evoke summer because, duh, butterflies aren’t around in the winter, but also because something about that guitar rhythm evokes a sense of humid delirium. A delirium for me that includes breaking out the crop top and bellybutton ring. — Magdalene Taylor, Editorial Assistant