It’s July 3rd, and it finally feels like summer has hit New England. Maybe it’s just me—I’ve been hacking away at a dark, “wintery” novel—but I don’t think so. The weather simply hasn’t been typical of summer until now. Yes, we’ve had a few hot days and some humidity, but it hasn’t stuck around long. Just last Sunday, my husband and I went on a little boat cruise in Boston Harbor (more on that below) and were chilly in jeans and sweatshirts. Some people on the boat were actually wearing winter jackets. In late June.
But scratch all that. Because now it’s July, and I’ll bet even that nasty pile of snow in Boston’s Seaport District has melted. Temperatures are in the 70s, and I awoke today to the sound of reggae music playing from a car stereo in my neighborhood. The windows are open and the ceiling fans are spinning. What’s missing? A summer playlist, of course.
OK, so first of all, I’m no kid, and I’ve never claimed to be cutting edge. Even as a teenager, new bands and singers usually took a while to grow on me, but once they did, they’d integrate into my body chemistry or something. And although I’m always interested in new music, I never toss out old favorites either. Hence, my playlists tend to be blends of newer and older albums, often with some genuine classics tossed in. And if you missed that, I said albums, not singles, because I come from a time when you bought an entire album and listened to it all. Singles are fine for working out and dance parties, but if I’m going on a summer road trip or playing music at a vacation house, I like listening to the album in order. Sorry if that makes me a dinosaur, but I think there’s value in hearing the songs the way the artist intended. So here I go, loading up the old iPod, and sharing with you in case you’re interested.
Please feel free to comment and add your suggestions. The only thing better than a summer playlist is an interactive one!
- Courtney Barnett—Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit (March 2015) This is Courtney Barnett’s debut album, and I think it’s pretty amazing. The first time I heard Courtney was on the radio a while back with the single “Avant Gardener.” It was such a cool, original song; somehow it reminded me of Bob Dylan and the 60s, but also sounded so modern, and I loved its confessional style. When I heard she was planning to release a full-length album, I knew I’d want to hear it, and it doesn’t disappoint. Courtney’s fast becoming an international sensation, and she deserves to be. The woman’s got it all: talent, youth, spirit, humor, beauty. David Bowie recently said that Lourde sounds like the future to him, but in my humble opinion, Courtney Barnett sounds like the future. My favorite song from the new album right now is “Depreston.”
- Robyn Hitchcock—The Man Upstairs (June, 2014) My husband introduced me to Robyn Hitchcock for real back in the mid-90s. At the time, I knew Hitchcock’s name because he’d had a radio hit in the 80s called “Balloon Man,” but thinking you know Robyn Hitchcock after hearing “Balloon Man” is like saying you know Bobby McFerrin after hearing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” In other words: neither of those songs is representative of those artists’ catalogues and genius. For some reason, however, Robin Hitchcock has never become huge in the United States. Many of his albums of original songs are among my all-time favorites (especially 1990’s Eye), but recently, (thanks again to my hubby) I’ve become aware of his 2014 album called The Man Upstairs, which is mostly a collection of cover songs. The only ones I’ve heard so far are his version of the Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost in You,” The Doors’ “The Crystal Ship,” and Roxy Music’s “To Turn You On,” (which is a beautiful song, regardless of who sings it) and I already know this album will be an essential part of my summer. Plus, Gillian Welch did the cover art for the album. How cool is that?
- Talking Heads—Stop Making Sense (Audio CD, 1994, soundtrack to the 1984 concert film) Yes, I’m aware that Talking Heads are now most frequently heard on classic hits radio stations, but somehow that’s always seemed wrong to me. Because unlike most bands from the 70s, 80s, and 90s that get played on those stations, Talking Heads always tend to sound new, no matter how many times I hear them. Maybe it’s because I went to college in the mid-80s, and partied to the band way too many times with people at my very first job. But here’s something else: that Harbor cruise (mentioned above) that my husband and I went on last week featured a really good Talking Heads tribute band called Start Making Sense. Oh no, you think. Not a tribute band. I thought the same thing until I heard them and was once again reminded of how many great songs Talking Heads wrote and performed. Even stranger, my husband and I were probably the two oldest people on the boat! Everyone else appeared to be in their twenties or thirties, and it was packed, despite the bad weather. What does that mean? I’m not sure, but I think it means Talking Heads never get old. And boy, did that music ever sound great out there on the water with the spray flying. If you need your memory jogged, here’s “Swamp” with some concert footage.
- Tame Impala—Currents (June, 2015) Damn, I love this band. They’ve been around since 2007, but I only discovered them a year or two ago when I heard their song “Elephant” on the radio and said, “What the hell is this?” It was psychedelic, hooky, and adventurous, and it kind of blew my mind. So when I heard they were playing at the Boston Calling Music Festival this past spring, I was so excited to see them live. Yes, it was a chilly, windy night out on City Hall Plaza, but with the wind blowing thorough their long Aussie hair, Tame Impala heated up the crowd with “Elephant,” their new hit, “Let It Happen,” and a whole bunch of others. Can’t wait to listen to the rest of the album on the beach this summer.
- Bruce Springsteen—Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ (1973) What’s a summer playlist without a little Bruce? This album was released in 1973 when I was about nine years old, but I made it my own it during one of my high school summers, when I was doing some serious “Growin’ Up”(and definitely check out this video, recorded at Max’s Kansas City in 1972), so to me, it will always remind me of summer and rebellion. Sure, some of the songs are upbeat and some are slower and darker, but hey, that’s summer too. And the cover art is a postcard from Asbury Park, one of the East Coast’s most iconic beaches. “When they said sit down, I stood up.” Tell ’em, Bruce.
- The Vivs—The Odds (2015) This is a brand new album coming out soon from my favorite local band. Great people and great musicians who’ve been on the Boston scene for a while (they’re made up of former members of Tribe, Edith, and several other bands) they sing harmony like nobody else and write funny, sad, intelligent songs. Can’t wait to hear what they’ve got in store this time. Here’s the first single they’ve released; it’s called “Ouch Wow.” Can’t you hear this playing at your next party? Or maybe on the soundtrack to a great summer movie?
- Bright Eyes—Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (August, 2002) Conor Oberst is yet another artist I didn’t really know about until he’d been making albums for a while, but now that I’ve seen him in concert multiple times and listened to pretty much everything he’s recorded, this album has risen to the top as my favorite. Call me immature, but if I live to be a hundred, summer nights will always be laced with memories of teenage angst, and this album vibrates with angst from start to finish. Even better, there’s not a bad song on it. Not familiar? Here are two samples, Laura Laurent and Lover I Don’t Have to Love. If you don’t like these, this record probably isn’t for you.
- Bettie Serveert—Palomine (1992) Sigh. I don’t know what it is about this record, but every time I hear it, I want to cry sentimental tears. And yet, it makes me so happy too. Lead singer Carol van Dijk’s voice has a way of tugging at all the right heartstrings. What could be better to listen to on the drive home from the beach? Want a sample? Here’s the title song, “Palomine.” “Yes, the sun will always shine….”
I could go on, but this post is getting long, and it feels like a good time to head outside and catch a little of the afternoon beauty. Again, please add any of your summer faves in the comment section. Thank you, and happy 4th of July!