Those three supercharged months—marked by freedom and possibility
and some life-changing moment of love or lust or longing for something you
might not even know yet—won’t be nearly as vividly defined or so accurately
placed in time. I want (need) a song to immediately dial up what I wore and
whom I loved, what I drove and what I dreamed about.
-- Julia Reed, "Songs of Summer" Garden and Gun, June/July 2015
I'm not sure when the Song of the Summer became a thing. I feel like it might have been mid-90s but maybe that's just when we started calling it that. We've always had summer songs.
The first summer song I remember was Terry Jacks's "Seasons in the Sun" in 1974. My parents let my 10-year-old sister go to Puerto Rico for the summer to stay with friends of the family. Every time the song came on the radio my mom would cry. At the end of the summer, the other four of us flew to Puerto Rico for a week. My dad took a picture of me sitting on the canons in El Morro. Many decades later my husband and I were in PR and I made him re-create the photo. Which I intended to post here but I can't seem to find. I probably didn't save it because it made me look fat or something. But here's a picture i took from El Morro on that adult vacation:
Seasons in the Sun
I don't remember any summer songs again until the summer of 1978. My best friend was Lisa Green, who was an only child, and in the summer after my 5th and 6th grade years, her parents took me with them for their two-week family vacation to Virginia Beach. That second summer in 1978, my family had relocated from Northern Virginia to Long Beach, Mississippi. My parents and I got up way before dawn to drive to New Orleans and they put me on a plane to D.C. It was the first time I ever flew alone.
That summer at the beach, Lisa and I were over the moon for the Grease soundtrack. My parents had taken me and my brother and sister to see the movie that summer before I headed to the beach with Lisa. She got the album for her birthday while we were there, and we listened to it and acted out the musical numbers daily. When her parents took us to see the movie on that vacation, her mom was shocked at the actual storyline, which my Mormon parents had decided to blissfully ignore in hopes that their children wouldn't catch on. (We didn't.) Lisa's mom, Anne Green, swore that Danny Zuko was basically her brother in high school.
The next summer, in 1979, Lisa's parents put her on a plane to come hang out with me in Mississippi. My parents bought a pass to the Long Beach skating rink, and every day they would drop us off and we'd spend the entire day on skates, drinking cokes and engaging in our first actual social connections. To my knowledge, neither of us ever kissed a boy or anything. At least I know I didn't.
There was a blonde named Sherri Bates who was a year younger than me but was way more mature - physically and I imagine every other way. She had all the roller disco moves. Lisa and I would skate round and round the rink imitating her choreography. I specifically remember The Knack's "My Sharona," ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down" and, of course, Donna Summer's "Bad Girls."
The summer of 1981 was the year between my freshman (junior high) and sophomore (high school) years. I had a clock radio and it played WQID out of Biloxi nonstop. I was an extremely un-mature teen and spent a lot of time in my bedroom listening to the radio: Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl," Kim Carnes's "Bette Davis Eyes" (even though I didn't even know who Bette Davis was back then), and the theme from the TV show Greatest American Hero, which only Gen Xers like me will remember.
The summer of 1982, between my sophomore and junior years, I had a full-time babysitting job. The Gotthardts lived in Gulfport, maybe 20 minutes from me, and because I didn't have a car (or even a license), they would pick me up at my house in Long Beach on Sunday evening, then I'd spend the week with them, and they'd drive me home again on Saturday morning. I had my first boyfriend that summer. I would talk to Ricky on the Gotthardt's kitchen phone in the evenings, which I would stretch over into the dining room so they couldn't hear my conversations.
The song I remember most from that summer was Human League's "Don't You Want Me" which the girls' dad Gerry openly scoffed at. I didn't understand his scorn as a 15 year old, but as a grown, women's rights advocate, I applaud him for the two strong women he and his wife Kirsten raised.
By the summer of 1983, I had broken out of my loner existence and had actual, true, cool friends. My best running buddy, Shelley Rickey, had MTV, which we viewed with the passion matched only by the teens of the 50s turned on to the first Rock & Roll. Suddenly, it wasn't just about the song; it was about the visual. David Bowie, Men at Work, Culture Club, and Michael Jackson's Thriller. We had never in our lives seen anything like that choreography in the West Side Story-inspired "Beat It," updated for the gang wars of the 80s.
The summer of 1984, after I'd graduated, Shelley and I loved the songs from Footloose but the real memory from that summer was Billy Idol's "Eyes Without a Face." We had a thing for stoner bad boys and Mario Centobie (who was later executed by the state of Alabama - but that's a whole other story) invited us to get high at Jamie Ladner's house. When we got there, Jamie, who was the much older step-brother of our classmate Joey Hebert, was already high as a kite and was in his driveway kickboxing a body bag in a pair of jeans with no shirt on -- the better for Shelley and I to appreciate his abs. Billy Idol's "Eyes Without a Face" became "Jeans Without a Shirt" to us from that moment forward.
The summer of 1985, even the MTV songs took a turn for the pop, and we weren't having it. But this guy we'd always heard about, Bruce Springsteen, was showing up on our screens. We were a bit confused because, as Shelley put it at the time, "I wouldn't know Bruce Springsteen if I ran over him in my car on the way home." But we did like the way that girl danced in the Dancing in the Dark video:
(Turns out that was Courtney Cox)
By the summer of 1986, I was with my long-haired, head-banging boyfriend. I no longer watched MTV or listened to pop radio. In fact, the next Summer Song I remember was in 2002, Nelly's "Hot in Here." And I actually became aware of it not because I was listening to pop radio, but because I was listening to NPR. They did a story about Songs of Summer that brought the topic to my attention as actually being A Thing.
And being the super cool mom of a 10-year-old, I bought the CD and we all jammed to "Hot in Here" in the backyard while Dad grilled hamburgers that summer.
I don't really recognize any of the Summer Songs since then, as I mostly listen to NPR and Sirius XM On Broadway in the car. I mean, I KNOW a couple of the past Summer Songs because they're so prolific - Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" and Rihanna's "Umbrella" and The Black Eyed Peas "I Gotta Feeling." But I don't think I could identify any Summer Songs since 2009.
If I had to identify my own summer song of 2020, it would probably be CLPPNG "Nothing is Safe."