Summer In The City – A Soundtrack

As I mentioned a couple of posts back, London’s absolutely baking at the moment.  We’re in the grip of an intense heatwave, the type of hot spell us Britons spend months and months idolising and yearning for, then quickly despair of and detest once it arrives.  Well, most seem to do so.  Personally I love the hot blue brutality of it all: the certainty of one intensely sultry day following another, and that glorious, stultifying laziness that comes with staggering heat. It’s impossible and pointless to do much more than the bare minimum here.  A little bit of work, a lot of fluid and plenty of sun-soaking – that’s pretty much the order of the day.  It’s a time of barbecues, roof terraces, Pimms, tragic shorts-and-socks combos, boons in Frappucino sales, hosepipe bans, burnt grass, picnics, naughtiness on Hampstead Heath at dusk, sun lotion, festivals, fetes and ice cream vans.  What’s not to like?

These broiling dog days have their own soundtrack, I think; or rather, certain songs instantly come to mind and ear when the temperatures sore so.  Here are five of my favourite classics – and tw0 lesser-knowners:

Lovin’ Spoonful – Summer In The City
It had to be in there right?  John Sebastian’s throaty, chili-sponsored voice is the perfect summer drug, taking us through a fast-paced summary of all the best bits of urban sweltering (the first half at least).  The song captures the languor and stifling silence of hot days – “all around, people looking half dead / walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head” – and the thrill of an evening out afterwards – “but at night it’s a different world / go out and find a girl”.  The best bit’s in the middle, though.  After the first chorus winds down, some old cars honk their horns, and then, ever so gently, a piano starts tinkling and we’re off again.  It’s the slow, reflective pause everyone needs during these warm times.

Don Henley – The Boys of Summer
This is shaping up to be a fairly obvious list, but never mind that.  Making a manly effort to ignore the ruinous DJ Sammy cover version, it strikes me while listening to Henley’s famous hit that here is a tune only ever played in hot climes.  It’s all about driving, man – wayfarers on, the open road stretching endlessly ahead with gleaming possibility (“a voice inside my head saying never look back / you can never look back”), and the way women look so good in sunlight – “and i can see you / your brown skin shining in the sun”.  Most of all though, Henley’s song is all about nostalgia: remembering that perfect summer, much like Bryan Adams’ Summer of 69 and Endless Summer Nights by Richard Marx, and wishing it would come again: “those days are gone for ever / i should just let them go and…”.  Seize the moment kids, or you’ll be all regretful like poor Don.

Manu Chao – Mr Bobby (Live)
Most of Manu Chao’s songs are pointedly political, but they also work on a real joie de vivre level, those groovy Latin beats cajoling you into twirling head and hips.  Here’s one that pure fun, though: Manu’s tribute to Bob Marley, and desperate plea for to the dreadlocked legend for inspiration.  Heard live it’s pure heaven – slow, luxuriant and blissful. Peeling keyboard songs, choral trumpets and the occasional Latin newsreader recordings are all that interrupt Manu’s exulted crowing of “heyyyy, it’s gonna be alriiiiiight / everything, I sayyyyyyyyyy, it’s it’s gonna be alriiiiiight”. A delicious, delicate summery swoon of a song, one irresistible not to join in with.

MGMT – Time To Pretend
A year on and a burst of covers and remixes later, MGMT’s batch of hit songs haven’t lost their stunningly fresh feel for all the consequent familiarity.  Time was last year when this song was on everyone’s lips, every scenester’s iPod, every blog’s must-listen list and even the ultimate badge of cool.  It’s instantly recognisable and synonymous with good times thanks to its chirpy, infectious electric guitar intro, used to its best effect in the opening credits of 21, as the camera sweeps down over Boston’s Charles River, onto hero Ben as he cycles over the Mass Ave. Bridge.  “Do-d-do-do-do-do-dah… I’m feeling rough, I’m feeling raw, I’m in the prime of my life”.  Shamefully 21 neglects to include the song’s concluding peak, as singer Andrew shrills “I said a-yeah yeah yeahhhhh…”  God yeah.

Finley Quaye – Even After All
Finley came, briefly conquered, then disappeared into a career of playing Croydon and Wolverhampton rather than Cardiff or Wembley.  But his brief stint of acclaim contained this slice of heaven, one of the most chilled-out pieces of music ever recorded.  Much of it is purely lazy plucks of a guitar, interrupted by Finley’s Sunday-morning-coffee voice. It’s a song to slowly stroll along with, to toast with a glass of rosé, or swirl to around to beside a bandstand.  I personally adore the middle instrumental section: the guitar plays exotic, seductive notes subtly louder, a drum beats faintly in the background and for a moment every single thing’s destined to be just fine. 

And the two lesser-known ones are:

DJ Skitz – Inner City Folk (Feat. Roots Manuva)
All Roots Manuva songs sound summery and smooth to me, not least Dreamy Days, but this trumps them all if only for the seriously funny, cute lyrics: “I’d be a liar if I said I weren’t affected / Picnic opportunities just cannot be neglected / I’m sitting outside seasoning the chicken / I aint licking my fingers cos it’s unhygenic / We go out to the country where it’s clean and scenic / My face is getting blacker and my belly’s getting fatter.”  Genius. Then there’s the delicious sample cover, as a gorgeous female soul voice purrs “In the heat of the summer”.  Hip hop doesn’t get any smoother.

Fleet Foxes – In The Hot, Hot Rays
One of the Foxes’ less-known lullabies, this is a blissful paean to long, scorching afternoons, painting a picture of steaming sidewalks and exhausted canines: “Heat, like a dead weight / Still coverin’ the street outside / So heavy that the dogs can’t hide”.  I’ve no idea what it’s about – there are hints of gap years, departing lovers and tramps – but I defy anyone not to close their eyes and be swept along by the high guitar whirrs, or by the soporific, gorgeous verse beats.  I like the chorus less, and it’s over much too quickly – like any British heatwave – but it’s a perfect slice of musical summer pie.

NB: The Strangler’s Always The Sun is delectable, with its mmms, but I somehow don’t find it that relaxing, even with the slow, soft beat.  And I’ve ignored Summer Lovin’ from Grease on general principle. 

DJ Skitz – Inner City Folk (Feat. Roots Manuva)
Fleet Foxes – In The Hot, Hot Rays
Manu Chao – Mr Bobby (Live)
MGMT – Time To Pretend

Purchase Links
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (album)
MGMT – Oracular Spectacular (album)


~ by ripamel on 03/07/2009.

One Response to “Summer In The City – A Soundtrack”

  1. Cool!

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