The Ultimate Summer Playlist And The Stories Behind The Songs

Bring On The Rock N Roll Summer

Summertime and the livings easy… not quite.

     So the other day I am pulling together some songs for what I like to call my ultimate summertime playlist. I find myself thinking of songs that remind me of my favorite summertime activities, which include, but are not limited to; drinking beer by the pool, drinking beer while grilling by the pool, and drinking beer from a keg by the pool while grilling and playing lawn darts or as they are more commonly known, “Jarts”. (Yes I am originally from the Mid-west) Now instead of giving you a clichéd list of summertime favorites put together for your next pool party or cookout, I decided to dig a little deeper and find out the stories behind a few summertime staples. The results speak for themselves.

“Feel Good Hit of The Summer” – Queens of the Stone Age– Conceived after a three-day Millennium party, backing vocals by the metal god himself Rob Halford, and a drug cocktail reference that would make Nikki Sixx blush, here’s my vote for all-time best Summer anthem.

“I Fought The Law” – The Clash – Much-covered classic originally recorded by Sonny Curtis and The Crickets (post Buddy Holly) in 1959 and famously covered by Bobby Fuller Four in 1965. Just as the song became a top ten hit, Bobby Fuller was found dead in a parked automobile near his Los Angeles home. The police considered the death an apparent suicide; however, many people still believe Fuller was murdered. The song was later covered by The Clash and then again by Green Day. The Clash version reigns supreme as it turns out that Green Day had never in fact fought the law, having only brushed against it. 

“Doin’ Time” – Sublime – “Doin’ Time” is a loose cover of “Summertime” by George Gershwin, composed for the opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics tell of a cheating girlfriend, whose infidelities and poor treatment of her lover makes him feel like he is in prison. On a lighter note, when drunk people here this song in public they often start doin’ stupid shit. 

“Schools Out” – Alice Cooper –What’s the greatest three minutes of life asks Alice Cooper?: “There’s two times during the year. One is Christmas morning, when you’re just getting ready to open the presents. The next one is the last three minutes of the last day of school when you’re sitting there and it’s like a slow fuse burning.” I said, ‘If we can catch that three minutes in a song, it’s going to be so big.'” The greatest three minutes of my life during high school can be attributed to the first time I, um, never mind. 

“California Girls” – The Beach Boys – The music for the song came from Brian Wilson’s first LSD experience. According to Brian Wilson himself, shortly after taking LSD, he ran up to a bedroom and hid under a pillow, shouting “I’m afraid of my mom, I’m afraid of my dad.” Randomly, he got up, said “That’s enough of that” and went to a piano. David Lee Roth would later cover the song, which suffering a different form of LSD referred to as Less Significant and Disappointing. 

“Song #2” – Blur – The first time this song was played live lead singer Damon Albarn stated that “This one’s called ‘Song 2’, ‘cos we haven’t got a name for it yet”. The working title ended up sticking and the number two eventually became associated with the song: it was the second track on the album, the second single from the album to be released, it reached #2 on the UK singles chart, is exactly two minutes long, and Woo-Hoo are the only 2 words you remember.

“Born To Run” – Bruce Springsteen – The prior year, Springsteen had released two albums to critical acclaim but with little commercial success. The lyrics to the song are appropriately epic for his last-ditch, all-or-nothing shot at the stars, yet they remain rooted in the universal desperation of adolescence. There is a rumor that the drum track and cymbals are on separate tracks because the drum track was recorded and played backwards (the sound is consistent with backmasking and ‘tape flip’ can be heard during the middle of the first verse). Springsteen has so far offered no comment about the track’s backwardness.

“Dancing in the Streets” – Martha and the Vandellas – Written by Stevenson and Marvin Gaye, the song highlighted the concept of having a good time in whatever city the listener lived. The idea for dancing came to Stevenson from watching people on the streets of Detroit cool off in the summer in water from opened fire hydrants. The song was recorded in two takes. While produced as an innocent dance track, the song took on a different meaning when riots in inner-city America led to many young black demonstrators citing the song as a civil rights anthem to social change. The British press aggravated Reeves when someone put a microphone in her face and asked her if she was a militant leader. The British journalist wanted to know if Reeves agreed, as many people had claimed, that “Dancing in the Street” was a call to riot. To Reeves, the query was patently absurd. “My Lord, it was a party song.”

“Walking on Sunshine” – Katrina and the Waves – Estimates are that the song will have earned $1 million per year for the decade ending in 2010. According to a former employee of EMI, “Walking on Sunshine was the crown jewel in EMI’s catalog,” and it was one of EMI’s biggest earners from advertisers. The song is very popular in commercials and advertisers typically pay $150,000 to $200,000 per year to use the song. To put it in perspective, advertisers can get “Walking On The Sun” from Smashmouth for about the same price as a bag of Skittles.  

“Hot Fun In The Summertime” – Sly And The Family Stone – The single was released in the wake of the band’s high-profile performance at Woodstock, which greatly expanded their fanbase. It reached #2 on the U.S. pop chart and #3 on the U.S. R&B chart. Thematically, the song is a dedication to the fun and games to be had during the summer, although it has also been analyzed as a commentary on the race riots of the late-1960s. On a lighter note, if the riff sounds familiar it’s because the members of Toto have also cited it as the inspiration for “Hold the Line”.

Your comments are welcome below.

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Jason Miller
Jason Miller

Jason Miller is a leading digital B2B marketer, who’s held senior roles at LinkedIn, Marketo, and ActiveCampaign. Before entering the B2B space, he spent ten years at Sony, developing and executing marketing campaigns around the biggest names in music. He is a prolific keynote speaker, digital marketing instructor at UC Berkeley, and best-selling author. Also an accomplished rock concert photographer, his work appears in books, magazines, and album covers.

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