A "Summer" Shuffle
Lazing on a sunny afternoon, no energy for a full post. A shuffle, then, from a playlist I put together, titled -- such originality! -- Summer. Click on the song titles to see videos . . . .
1. "Master Blaster (Jammin')" -- Stevie Wonder
From Hotter Than July (1980)
A little funk, a little reggae, and you've got this jubilant #1 soul hit from 1980. First track, side two, of Stevie's best-selling LP in the UK. "Everyone's feeling pretty / It's hotter than July / Though the world's full of problems / They couldn't touch us even if they tried." Stevie wrote this ecstatic anthem to celebrate the peace agreement signed in April 1980 to end 15 years of civil war in Zimbabwe. True, this pact put the controversial Robert Mugabe into office, where he's still entrenched, despite economic failures and a shaky human rights record. But the effervescent mood of this song endures, jammin' until the break of dawn.
2. "Summer Skin" -- Death Cab for Cutie
From Plans (2005)
Ah, the summer romance fated to die after Labor Day -- a pop song staple, and Death Cab gives it a particularly haunting treatment, all minor key and reverb and weltschmerz. From the "squeaky swings" to the lovers peeling their freckled sunburns, we know this love won't last. But how delicious to revel in its evanescence . . . .
3. "Number Every Summer" -- Jon Lindsay
From Escape From Plaza-Midwood (2010)
A suburban kid's summer, nostalgically recalled by one of my favorite indie artists -- if you don't know his stuff you should. I love the sound effects of pool splashes and kids shouting, and the dense production quality, as if swimming in a vat of Coppertone. So evocative.
4. "Fourth of July" -- Dave Alvin
From King of California (1994)
More melancholy scene-setting, this time from ace California roots-rocker Dave Alvin. "On the stairs I smoke a / Cigarette alone / Mexican kids are shooting / Firecrackers below." In the throes of a dying marriage, they've forgotten it's supposed to be a holiday; would it make a difference?
5. "Jamming" -- Bob Marley and the Wailers
From Exodus (1977)
No question that this reggae classic song inspired Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster" (see No. 1 above) -- Stevie's lyrics even mention that Marley's on the radio. In Rasta slang, "jammin'" means smoking ganja, which is more than just getting high -- it's a religious act, invoking Jah and Mount Zion et cetera. No pot on hand? This grooving track delivers a pretty effective contact high of its own.
6. "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" -- Vampire Weekend
From Vampire Weekend (2008)
A little more world beat, bouncy and syncopated, with a bracing dose of post-modern irony. Who else but these Ivy League hipsters would rhyme Louis Vuitton and Benetton with reggaeton?
7. "California Sun" -- Los Straitjacket with Dave Alvin
From Sing Along With Los Straitjackets (2001)
At last, some uncomplicated sun and fun. Here's our pal Dave again, singing this vintage surf guitar classic (the Rivieras, 1964) with the instrumental trio Los Straitjackets, known for their goofy luchador head masks.
8. "Watermelon Dream" -- Guy Clark
From Old Friends (1988)
Who needs a beach for summer fun? Guy Clark invites us to a laidback Texas backyard party -- watermelon slices, peach ice cream, roman candles, and a porch swing. Sink into it.
9. "Beautiful Texas Sunshine" -- Doug Sahm's Tex Mex Trip
From Groover's Paradise (2008)
And while we're in Texas, here's the irrepressible Doug Sahm (remember the Sir Douglas Quintet?), sauntering through a twangy ode to the hill country and the girl he left back home.
10. "Long Hot Summer's Coming On" -- Black 47
From Bankers and Gangsters (2010)
Forget the country -- we're back in the steamy urban summer, courtesy of Black 47's Larry Kirwan, honorary president of the Irish Republic of New York City. And -- here's a nifty coincidence -- Kirwan sets this song in the summer of 1980, same as our first song. Dig all the topical references, to arsonist Gasoline Gomez, CBGB's founder Hilly Kristal, rocker Tom Verlaine, rock critic Lester Bangs. Hot and gritty, yes, but a summer to remember.