In honor of today, the first day of summer—the summer solstice—the day the northern hemisphere gets more daylight than any other day of the year, the astronomical first day of summer (as opposed to the American first day of summer, which is Memorial Day), we celebrate that seasonal genre of music known colloquially as the “Summer Jam.” I asked some Awl contributors to name their favorites, and it turns out that the scope of the Summer Jam is much broader than I anticipated. There are four distinct types of Summer Jam: the Bouncy Summer Jam, for dancing at barbeques; the Languid Summer Jam, for falling asleep in the grass; the Peppy Summer Jam (broken into Soft and Loud), for just kind of whenever; and the Contemplative Summer Jam, for being quiet (and maybe having a cigarette) off to the side someplace on a rooftop or rocky breakwater.
All of these selections, plus a whole bunch picked by Summer Jam connoisseur Justin Purnell, will be featured over the next couple months on Awl Music, and will be available all the time on Awl Music’s Summer Jam microsite, and also on a Spotify playlist. (That Spotify playlist, by the way, is a collaborative one, so add your own!)
BOUNCY SUMMER JAMS
Naughty By Nature, “Feel Me Flow”: This song has exactly the right amount of bounce to it, and the video is perfectly on the nose for what you expect from a bouncy summer jam. It’s too hot to think, and then an impromptu party breaks out that somehow cools everyone off. Like a beer commercial.
Montell Jordan, “Somethin’ 4 Da Honeyz“: This is the ultimate summer jam because me and my 5th-grade girl posse recorded it off our boom box and would play it on a little cassette player while we walked down to the liquor store to shoplift and buy otter pops.
I love this Crazy Frog track because it represents everything I love about trashy Euro-pop, which makes for a terrific Summer Jam. Plus, it’s got an animated frog with visible junk in the video. When I first went to London in the Summer of 1988, I bought a 45 on Carnaby Street of “Popcorn” by Hot Butter. So “Popcorn” comes full circle as a Summer Jam for me.
I decided, like, four days ago that “Move This“ by Technotronic was totes gonna be my summer jam, because it’s a great song and also it’s apparently 1987 again. (It’s actually always 1987 in my head.)
Terror Squad, “Lean Back.” I didn’t ever know anyone who actually DID the Rockaway when this song came on, but still, it’s a pretty much perfect Summer Jam. Fat Joe and Remy Ma trade verses, and Remy raps one of the simplest, greatest I’m-hot-shit lyrics ever: Listen we don’t pay admission/And bouncers don’t check us/And we walk around the metal detectors.” (Too bad about that “fa**ot ni**as” reference, though.)
One more. LL Cool J, “Loungin (Who Do Ya Luv).” This song was an important part of my childhood.
LANGUID SUMMER JAMS
A summertime jam should sound like the season—hazy, slow, wasted, sweaty. The bass notes in Jane’s Addiction’s “Summertime Rolls” bend and stretch themselves out and seem to take longer coming around every time than they should. Like how night doesn’t fall until 9 o’clock on a summer day, and it feels like 11:30 by then because you’ve been doing nothing but watching fireflies for the past three hours already.
“Summer Madness” by Kool and the Gang. For me it always seems like it’s at night and you are outside looking at the sky and all is quiet as you reflect upon your day and how awesome you are for being alive. It got sampled by ERRBODY.
David Axelrod, “Holy Thursday.” I once met a girl while this was playing. She moved away at the end of the summer.
I have two summer-jam possibilities, both by Galaxie 500 on THIS IS OUR MUSIC. “Summertime“ is about the the languid but sultry romance that often arrives with the stultifying heat. [The other one falls under "Contemplative."—Ed.]
PEPPY (SOFT) SUMMER JAMS
Joanna Newsom, “Good Intentions Paving Company.” My love of this song is well documented, and I still stand by it. You can’t help but bop your head and sway your hips to Joanna’s perfect summer voice, aided by the bouncing piano.
Freddy Cannon, “Palisades Park.” For whatever reason, I associate peppy organs with summer… maybe it’s a kind of association in general with The Rivieras’ classic version of “California Sun,” which is also an Ultimate Summer Song of the Early 60s. And also features awesome use of the organ. At any rate, this song is stupid visits to summer amusement parks, or just blaring it out a boombox while day-drinking at an amateur baseball game. Whatever.
I wasn’t even a New Order fan at the time, but I spent eleven straight days in a car that summer, and by day twelve “Regret” was imprinted in my brain. It’s weird to think of New Order as producing either a Summer Jam or a driving song, but there it is. Also, The Gin Blossoms, “Hey Jealousy“ (same reasons as above).
And last Summer, my wife and I were totally addicted to Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks.”
As tribute to my habit of listening to country music in summer and summer alone, I nominate David Frizzell’s “Gonna Hire A Wino,” which might just epitomize everything great about cheesy old country. My roommates are dancing to it right now.
Traveling Wilburys, “End Of The Line“: This song was on The Boat Tape growing up, sandwiched in between Bonnie Raitt and Billy Idol. The Boat Tape was the soundtrack to Doritos-fingers and fluorescent pink and purple life jackets and trying to kneeboard on the Snake River, getting my parents cans of Coors Light and fighting my brother for the last can of Grape Shasta, begging to keep my swimsuit on for 24-hours-straight. Clearly, “Boat Tape” is 1980s-speak for “Summer Jam.”
PEPPY (LOUD) SUMMER JAMS
Blur, “Song 2” (on the grounds of sheer ubiquity).
The Undertones, “Here Comes The Summer.” This, I guess, is what summer sounded like in Northern Ireland in 1979. It is surprisingly cheery!
Japandroids are two very young and nice Canadian fellows. They sound like a version of the Foo Fighters that doesn’t suck. The song, “Nights of Wine and Roses,” is about smoking and drinking and being young and nice.
FIDLAR, “Wake Bake Skate”: It’s loud, stupid, and fun as hell.
St. Vincent, “Cruel“: It’s fast, yet slow; synthy, yet soft; distorted, yet smooth; awfully
disturbing, yet playful. That’s what summer is all about.
CONTEMPLATIVE SUMMER JAMS
The one that springs immediately to mind is “Fake Empire” by The National. It’s moody but the early line “Put a little something in our lemonade, and take it with us” (as well as the song as a whole) reminds me so much of summer nights in Brooklyn, walking from the park in the afternoon to rooftop party to rooftop party. It’s, to me, “THE” New York summer song; it’s moody, contemplative, a little wearing-dark-colors-in-summer and buzzed and bleary but the ultimate NY city song.
“Fourth of July” by Galaxie 500 perfectly encapsulates the malaise of summer in the city, when everyone is going out and doing supposedly fun things, and, despite your best intentions, you end up staying in bed with the curtains shut.
This is hopeless but I can’t help myself. Glenn Gould in the 1981 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. You could sit and watch the grass grow and the wind move the trees, and think this music explained it all.
The Arcade Fire, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)“: Someone—an acquaintance on Facebook, I don’t remember who—said this song neatly summarized the last four decades of pop music. My own musical knowledge isn’t expansive enough to bullet-point the references, or even enthusiastically confirm that he’s right even making that statement. But it feels just about right.
Eric Spiegelman is a web producer in Los Angeles.