Summer Songs, Part One

The RealPlayer hummed along the other day as I did a little housekeeping in the study, trying to do something more substantial than simply move stacks of books, paper and 45 rpm records from one flat surface to another. Not much got accomplished, especially after the RealPlayer settled on “Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway.

For just a few moments, it was the summer of 1972: A half-time janitor gig on campus, my sister’s wedding, my first car and a road trip to Winnipeg. While there are other records that bring back portions of that summer – “Alone Again, Naturally” has me cleaning venetian blinds and “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” has me driving north to Canada – there’s something about the Flack/Hathaway single that somehow sums up the feel of the whole summer. The record was inescapable (though I never wanted to escape it) as it went to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to No. 1 on the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts.

As the mp3 played, I found the video above and posted it at Facebook and then sat and wondered what other records have such visceral connections with specific summers of my younger days. It seemed worth some digging, both in reference books and memory.

Paging through the Sixties, no records really say “Summer!” until I get to 1968. I wasn’t listening to Top 40 at home yet, but that was the first summer I worked as a setter at the state trap shoot, spending about ten hours a day for four days straight placing clay targets on a scary machine. As did the other setters, I brought a radio, and my semi-subterranean corner of the world was filled with KDWB’s Top 40 most of the day and Minnesota Twins baseball for a couple of hours in the afternoons.

Four records trigger memories as I page through Fred Bronson’s Billboard Book of No. 1 Hits and look at a late July 1968 survey from WDGY, KDWB’s main competitor: “Indian Lake” by the Cowsills, “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams, “Turn Around, Look At Me” by the Vogues and “Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela. The Vogues’ single has a niche of its own in my memory, but the 1968 record that to this day says “trap shoot” (and thus “Summer of ’68”) is “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors, which spent two weeks at No. 1 in early August that year.

Looking back to 1969, the memories of my RCA radio at the trap shoot have to compete with the memories of the radio in the training room at St. Cloud Tech, as the last weeks of summer were my first weeks of being both a manager for the Tigers football team and a dedicated Top 40 listener. But checking Bronson and a late July survey from KDWB, it’s the trap shoot that wins. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James & The Shondells are in the running, but nothing says “Summer 1969” for good or ill – and many folks will think it ill – like “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” by Zager & Evans, a record that sat atop the Hot 100 for six weeks and on top of the AC chart for two weeks.

The summer of 1970 was my third and final trap shoot summer, but by the time the four-day event rolled around, I’d been listening to Top 40 for nearly a year. That means there are many more songs I recall from that summer with only a little help needed from Bronson’s book or a KDWB survey. Near the top of the list (in memory and quality) are Bread’s “Make It With You,” Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold,”  “Ride, Captain, Ride” by Blues Image, “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon & War and the 5 Stairsteps’ “O-o-h Child.” But the top spot  in my Summer of ’70 list goes to a record that I’ve mentioned numerous times in six-plus years of blogging: “Are You Ready” by Pacific Gas & Electric. The record peaked in the Hot 100 at No. 14.

That’s a good place to stop. We’ll pick up this slender thread next week and see – beyond “Where Is The Love” – which records defined summers after my high school days. In the meantime, any readers who wish can answer this question:

What are your summer records?

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8 Responses to “Summer Songs, Part One”

  1. jb says:

    Well you know I gotta pick up that challenge.

    Here’s a strange one: “My Girl” by the Temptations, despite it being a hit in the winter, and well before I started listening to the radio. When The Mrs. and I were first together, one of the radio stations we listened to in the car one whole summer played “My Girl” all the time, so to us, it’s a summer song.

    Off the top of my head from the period you mention in this post: how about “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again” by the Fortunes and “Too Late to Turn Back Now” by the Cornelius Bros and Rose?

  2. Yah Shure says:

    “Where Is The Love” and those other AC-friendly songs from ’72 take me back to the birth of the new “Number One Hit Music” station in the Twin Cities, WLOL/1330. They’d just dumped their long-running talk format, and to hear those same seasoned talk hosts gamely playing disc jockey made for one oddly compelling listen. You can probably guess how long that all lasted.

    For me, 1963 was the magic pixie dust summer. Once school let out, the General Electric Project 2 transmitter kit I’d gotten for my birthday the previous Fall became the source of hours of entertainment for the neighborhood kids. The sound quality was pretty lousy (the kit’s “microphone” was basically just a speaker in a clear plastic box) and the range was pretty much limited to whichever house it was located in at the time. Long distance reception was accomplished by holding one’s transistor radio next to the neighbors’ electric meters. That all must sound downright primitive to any cell phone-toting pre-teen today, but to us, it was sheer magic.

    The records we spun as junior DJs ranged from surf to folk to novelty to instrumental and beyond; our playlist constrained only by the limitations imposed on our collective weekly allowances. “Wipe Out”/”Surfer Joe”, “”Blowin’ In The Wind”, “Green, Green”, “Martian Hop”, “More”, “Scarlett O’Hara”, “If I Had A Hammer” and “Washington Square” filled the airwaves, along with the golden oldies. In our version of playing the hits, hot new 45 acquisitions were as treasured as ball games on the neighborhood field, fort-building in the woods, riding bikes to Shady Oak beach and Lik-M-Aid expeditions to Glenview Market. It truly was one “Wonderful! Wonderful!” summer.

  3. Yah Shure says:

    Upon further review: scratch “Washington Square”; that one came along shortly after school started in September. But Freddy Cannon’s “Everybody Monkey” and the Raindrops’ “The Kind Of Boy You Can’t Forget” did make the end-of-summer cut. So would Jay & The Americans’ “Only In America”, had Bud’s Music Center not been out of stock the day I asked for it (that one would have to wait ’til the cut-out album bins at the St. Cloud Zayre/Shopper’s City, some fourteen years later.)

  4. Phil says:

    1972: a ground zero year for me, I started buying records and in the Summer I had my first girlfriend!

    In the UK in the Summer of 1972, no WDGY or KDWB for us, we only had BBC Radio 1. But I was an avid Top THIRTY listener and instead of a Mac full of mp3s, I had a clutch of vinyl singles in a plastic bag!

    Some of the records you mention didn’t travel over here (Pacific Gas & Electric??) but then the one that is my “time machine” to Summer 72 wasn’t a hit at all.

    A DJ named Johnnie Walker would play a lot of American Top 40 tunes and so I can only think that was where I heard it. (He did a stint working in the US at the end of the 70s – Wiki says he worked for KSAN in San Francisco, WHFS in Bethesda, Maryland.)

    Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) by Looking Glass was/is that record!

  5. Steve E. says:

    I started listening to the radio in June 1968, so that’s my first summer of music. The songs that take me back there include “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “”Reach Out of the Darkness,” “Classical Gas,” “People
    Got to Be Free” and especially “Pictures of Matchstick Men.” The wah-wah guitar on that last one was just the grooviest thing to ever hit my 10-year-old ears. For summer ’69, it’s, yes, “In the Year 2525” (I loved the bleak futuristic imagery), “Tracy,” “Sugar, Sugar” and “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” For summer ’70, “Ooh Child,” “Close to You,” “In the Summertime” and “Make It With You.” And summer ’71, “Liar,” “Beginnings,” “The Story in Your Eyes” and McCartney’s “Ram” album, which I played almost every day for weeks. It’s still my favorite Macca album.

  6. […] pick up today with summer songs, continuing from last week’s post that looked at the years 1968-70 as well as at 1972’s “Where Is the Love” by Roberta Flack […]

  7. […] was a record that showed up in this space a little more than a week ago in one of our posts about summer records: Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525 (Exordium & […]

  8. […] couple of weeks ago with 1975’s “Wildfire” and “I’m Not Lisa.” (The first two posts are here and here.) After that year, I spent two more summers at St. Cloud State before heading off to the […]

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