Music Thursdays with Tony Sarabia: Summer Songs

June 21, 2012

Tony Sarabia

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The playlist above has been updated to include listener-submitted suggestions, so take a listen!

Well, summer is here. Time for care free days, al fresco dining, Frisbee, outdoor music festivals, road trips and a soundtrack for the season.

Summer is our focus for this week’s Music Thursday. My usual partner Richard Steele is dodging the heat in New Orleans so in his stead we have Mia Park.

You may be most familiar with Park as creator and host of the kids TV dance music show Chic-A-Go-Go; there’s a famous episode that features a "band" with members Jerome McDonnell, Ira Glass, Peter Sagal and Gretchen Helfrich. Mia is a real musician. She plays percussion/drums in rock bands. Park also produces benefit music shows and theater productions.

Our task was to come up with a few of our favorite songs either about summer or tunes that remind us of the short season. For Mia, summer music is music that not only rallys activity, but also boosts her mood in an upbeat, positive way.

Here are Mia’s picks:

In general, I think of anthemic songs when I think of summer. Music that not only rallies activity, but also boosts my mood in an upbeat, positive way.

"Funky Town" by Lipps Inc. is the ultimate summer dance song. Grooving to this song, you can easily do the robot, disco, roller skate, pop & lock and play the meanest air violin and air cowbell, ever. Also, this song has great electronic sounds and voices in it that remind me of kraftwerk and their ground breaking electronic music movement of the late '70s.

I very much love American music from the '50s and early '60s and spent over a decade immersed in the rockabilly scenes of Philadelphia and Chicago. There are so many faster paced rockabilly songs that are driven by teen angst longing for summertime fun, but "Sleep Walk" by Santo and Johnny has that swaggering sway that reminds me of slow walks on hot sticky summer nights under midnight shady trees with someone you can't wait to kiss.

Ohmygawdiloveduranduran! Duran Duran was my ultimate high school band. I spent a lot of energy loving this band. "Is There Something I Should Know?" is such a great representative of '80s pop new wave that makes me feel summery year round. Thinking of cute British boy musicians always makes me feel giggly summer time girly. I can't listen to them late at night or I can't sleep. I get too excited.

Kathleen Hanna fronted this great female punk band from Washington state and Bikini Kill was my favorite of the riot grrrl groups. Her songs are terribly catchy with smart feminist lyrics. Her "statement" reminds me of the energy of restless youth that the rockabilly’s captured so well. Her voice is as bright as the summer sun and "Statement of Vindication" is a great summer road trip song for me, especially if the road trip is only an hour and fifteen minutes.

So Mia ends with a reference to road tripping, but unlike Mia, I love a long meandering road trip; pack up and head out without an agenda. One song in particular always reminds me of a summer road trip.

Joni Mitchell’s "Coyote" comes from the album Hejira which loosely means "journey." All the songs on the album were written while Joni was traveling cross country and "Coyote" hits it on the mark as a chance encounter while on the road. But it’s not only Joni Mitchell’s usual poetic lyrics ("a prisoner of the fine white lines of the freeway"), but the breezy and spacious  feel of the music; the opening tuning of her guitar and the fretless bass playing of Jaco Pastorius; like an open road “in the middle of nowhere."

Supposedly the song is not about just any chance encounter but a brief affair Mitchell had with playwright Sam Shepard — oh the intrigue.

You can’t do a show about summer songs and not include the Summertime: Gershwin’s "Summertime."

The challenge is choosing just one of the many superb versions. I was leaning towards the Billy Stewart’s rendition with his rolling of the tongue and scatting. Instead I picked The Zombies take on the classic.

The British Invasion popsters’ "Summertime" comes from the group’s 1965 debut and it sticks to the dirge like quality of the original with some the somber vocals by Colin Blunstone and keyboard work by Rod Argent. Very nice.

The year was 1975; the month was June when one of the hottest summer singles hit the airwaves. Low Rider was one of two singles released from the seventh studio album by WAR. The other single was the title track "Why Can’t We Be Friends?" Low Rider went to number seven on the Billboard Pop chart, number one on the R&B chart. One of the lesser known songs is "Heartbeat." It most likely didn’t get played on the AM stations because it clocks in at seven-plus minutes.

The song is a funky workout for the whole band as vocalist and drummer Harold Brown calls out each member to give the listeners a taste of their playing. This is the type of summer song you want to slowly groove to in order not to work up a sweat; pace yourself during those seven minutes.

Like most of WAR’s music, Heartbeat always conjures summer. Heartbeat was a big hit in Brazil when it was released. The song has been sampled numerous times.

I love the idea of dancing on a beach during the summer months even though I’ve never done that myself and Latin boogaloo would be my choice for such an occasion.  More specifically the song to start the Latin beach party would be "Spanish Grease" by the great percussionist Willie Bobo. Like WAR’s "Heartbeat," Spanish Grease is a slow cooker; a “sway back and forth maybe a few cha cha steps” tune.

"Spanish Grease" is from Willie’s 1965 release Uno, Dos, Tres 1.2.3.

Okay so there you go; some songs of summer that hopefully will allow you to have one of those lazy hazy crazy days between now and September 22nd.