Wednesday, 27 July 2011
61 Now The Summer Album - Various Artists
Purchased : 29 April 1987
Tracks : Groovin ( Young Rascals) / Summer Breeze ( Isley Brothers ) / Do It Again ( Beach Boys ) / Lovely Day ( Bill Withers ) / Dreadlock Holiday ( 10cc ) / The Girl From Ipanema ( Astrud Gilberto ) / Summer ( Bobby Goldsboro ) / Summer Holiday ( Cliff Richard ) / California Girls ( Beach Boys ) / Summertime Blues ( Eddie Cochran ) / Sunny Afternoon ( The Kinks ) / Under The Boardwalk ( The Drifters ) / California Dreamin ( Mamas And Papas ) / San Francisco ( Scott McKenzie ) / All You Need Is Love (The Beatles ) / The Sun Goes Down ( Level 42 ) / Walkin On Sunshine ( Katrina and the Waves ) / Give It Up ( K C and The Sunshine Band ) / Fantastic Day ( Haircut 100 ) / Island Girl ( Elton John ) / Echo Beach ( Martha and The Muffins ) / Summer Fun (The Barracudas) / Here Comes The Sun ( The Beatles ) / The Day I Met Marie ( Cliff Richard ) / In The Summertime ( Mungo Jerry ) / Lazy Sunday ( Small Faces ) / Summer In The City ( Lovin Spoonful ) / Daydream ( Lovin Spoonful ) / Daydream Believer ( The Monkees ) / Here Comes Summer ( Jerry Keller )
This one was bought in Manchester on a Wednesday afternoon. I had taken half a day's leave because the Civic Trust were having an environmental meeting that evening attended by other civic societies and it was being preceded by a walk at 7pm. As I didn't normally get home till 6 it would have been a push to make it. I took advantage of knocking off at noon to go into Manchester where I picked this up in a sale a year after its release. There was nothing summery about that evening ; those of us who did the walk got absolutely drenched in a cloudburst and had to sit through the following meeting at Hollingworth Lake Visitor Centre wet through. At the same time Rochdale were taking another big leap towards safety by defeating Swansea at Spotland another victory in a series of rearranged games that proved our salvation.
This is another milestone, not because it's the first compilation or the first double album in this story ( though it is both ) but because the music on it is predominantly pre-punk. We've had Tubular Bells and Atom Heart Mother of course but I didn't hear the former until 1977 and the latter not at all. This was the first time I was acknowledging that the music of or before my childhood was worth revisiting. This was probably connected with starting work whether because everything prior to 16th February 1987 had acquired an instant nostalgic glow or because I was mixing with thirtysomethings for the first time. It was probably also a result of the serious drop off in the quality of the singles chart in the later eighties.
Nevertheless it was a percentage purchase ; there are some people on it that I didn't really want in my collection at all but the good stuff outweighs the bad. Not everything here really qualifies as a summer record either by virtue of its theme or the time it was released but it is a well-balanced collection. It's hard to believe anyone could not find something they liked here.
It begins with the sultry blue-eyed soul of "Groovin" by The Young Rascals , their only sizeable hit in the UK in 1967. Although not ostensibly psychedelic it's not hard to imagine getting stoned to this one with its mellow percussion , burbling bassline and birdsong. A hymn to just taking it easy with your girlfriend it's only marred by that line "Really couldn't get away too soon" which surely wasn't what writer Felix Cavaliere meant to say.
It makes for a nice segue into The Isley Brothers's celebratory "Summer Breeze" from 1974. Originally recorded by soft rock duo Seals and Croft in a vaguely Jethro Tull style in 1972 , the Isleys toughened it up with a harder rhythm and amazing fuzztone guitar from Ernie Isley which comes in after a striking Oriental intro. Ronald Isley's lead vocal is smooth as silk and his brothers' harmonies spot on throughout the song. I can't think of a more successful meld of rock and soul and 16 was a fairly lowly position for such an amazing piece of work.
We then return to the sixties for the first of two Beach Boys numbers. "Do It Again " became their second British number one in 1968 but has never had a good press because it represented panto villain Mike Love's backward-looking vision for the band. Nevertheless the sainted Brian Wilson co-wrote it and continues to speak well of it. There's an interesting phased drum effect on the intro before Love comes in with his unashamed lyric about wanting to turn the clock back. The chorus is a mainly wordless eruption of harmonies before Carl Wilson sings a quiet interlude and plays a mean guitar solo. It isn't right up there with the best BB singles but if you take away the context there's nothing wrong with it.
"Lovely Day " is something of an interloper as it was released in the depths of winter in 1977 and the reference to "sun light " in the first verse doesn't tie it to any particular season. In fact the whole point of the song is that Bill Withers's girl makes it a lovely day regardless of what's going on outside. Although mellow soul is not really my thing and the chorus is more than a little repetitive I can see why it's a classic with the nudging bassline, economic strings and best of all the ascending brass lines that lead into the chorus. It's also notable for Bill's long note towards the end which was . for a long time a record holder, and if memory serves me correctly we'll be meeting the man that beat it in the next post.
"Dreadlock Holiday" from 1978 conjures up a darker image, perhaps appropriate for the supremely wet summer it soundtracked. I shall ignore any Howard Kirk-esque deconstruction here; go to Popular if interested. This was number one when I started at my last school and it was classmates' enthusiasm for this that persuaded me to re-listen to what I originally thought was a disappointing effort from one of my favourite bands. Over the years nostalgia has steadily lifted it up the pantheon so it now stands as a superb swansong ( there can't be many other well established bands who've gone straight from a number one to being unable to crack the Top 40 again ) . It's based on an unpleasant incident suffered by the band's friend Justin Hayward in Barbados although Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman shifted the location to Jamaica to avoid an unwelcome linkage with another cod-reggae hit, Typically Tropical's Barbados from three years earlier. As a song about a mugging it makes a strange companion to The Jam's Down In The Tube Station At Midnight released just a month or so later perhaps reflecting the violence in the air in the late 70s. Musically it's Duncan McKay's keyboards that take the honours from that unmistakable doleful intro to the proto-synth twiddles on the chorus.
Almost as an antidote comes a song about another notoriously violent holiday destination but without a hint of menace. "The Girl From Ipanema" was originally written about a Rio teenager ( who's lived off the song ever since ) lusted after by its male writers but Gilberto's smooth vocal makes it a piece of cool social observation with no suggestion of impropriety. It's actually one of the smaller hits on here peaking at no 29 in 1964 ( when it was actually credited to saxophonist Stan Getz and Gilberto's husband ) and probably owes its place here to being feted by Gary Crowley and the Rock Is Dead crowd in the summer of 1984 as the ultimate in pop cool. Of it's type it's unbeatable inventing the early Everything But The Girl sound with its limpid guitar , mix of samba and jazz and slightly doleful vocal.
The first side peaks with what for me is the ultimate summer record ( there is a track to come that I rate higher but don't really associate with the season ) . From that unmistakable intro - Swooosh. Diddle-iddle-iddle-oo - the appeal of "Summer ( The First Time ) " hasn't dimmed since it first soundtracked a family holiday in Lytham St Anne's on its chart run in 1973. It helps that, like Gilbert O Sullivan , Bobby Goldsboro didn't make it out of the seventies commercially speaking so his voice is an immediate rush back to a happier world. Which is ironic as its greatest strength is the ability to convey bottomless depths of melancholy behind a manly stoicism. The song is really about a man recalling the loss of his teenage virginity to an older woman on a hot summer's day and alhough Bobby was only 32 at the time ( he knocks five years off in the song ) he delivers it like it was a lifetime ago. The vocal performance is matched by the music with the wave noises, that insinuating piano riff and the stunning orchestral arrangement which suitably climaxes just after the key line ( or punctum as another blogger might term it ) " I saw the sunrise as a man". As a musical representation of orgasm it tops even Trevor Horn on Relax. Then you get that last verse of bittersweet recollection and the song fades as he starts the story again. This is a man whose life has delivered nothing better since ; he's doomed to recycle this golden moment for the rest of his days. An utter classic from start to finish.
There are one or two tracks here which are so much a part of the cultural fabric that any comment by me seems rather redundant and "Summer Holiday" is one of them. Its parent film never seemed to be off the telly in my youth ( and obviously inspired my favourite kids TV programme Here Come The Double Deckers ) but not in recent years . It seems that Cliff's films ( like those of Elvis ) are now deemed irredeemably kitsch and no more likely to be shown than Love Thy Neighbour. We still all know the song though.
The Beach Boys crop up again with "California Girls". For me this song is unfortunately tainted by the execrable David Lee Roth cover and its hideous video. Even in the surer hands of its creators it's not a song I find appealing. The wrong-footing intro is great but once that lurching fairground organ starts up and Mike Love starts salivating over various regional female stereotypes it loses me.
Eddie Cochran's much-covered "Summertime Blues" follows. A song of teenage frustration at least co-written by an actual teenager it continues to amaze with Cochran's tightly-wound rhythm guitar and the caustic cynicism of the lyric - "I'd like to help ya son but you're too young to vote". Cochran's demise in 1960 is still over-shadowed by that of Holly the year before and it's hard to work out why that's so.
Next up are The Kinks with "Sunny Afternoon" a number one in 1966. I must admit to never being a great Kinks fan, Ray Davies's knowing smirk being too obviously reflected in the music. This one's no exception, a character study of a distressed aristocrat pleading to be allowed to hold on to his indolent lifestyle. You have to credit them with integrating music hall styles before Sgt Pepper had come out and Pete Quaife's booming descending bassline brooks no argument but it still leaves me pretty cold.
The Drifters are next with the much-covered "Under The Boardwalk" ( the original wasn't a hit in the UK ). It's rather suggestive lyric escaped the censors perhaps because its unhurried grace hardly suggests sexual urgency ; only the barked backing vocals hint at that. The hypnotic rasp of the guiro throughout the song makes it one of the band's most distinctive recordings.
We then have two of my favourite oldies both written by the same man. "California Dreamin" is not a summer song at all ; it's a wintry song about longing for a summer which may never arrive. Denny Doherty's lead vocal is optimistic but the girls' response is full of foreboding. Bud Shanks's alto flute solo is diverting but really you just want to hear those glorious harmonies again.
"San Francisco ( Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair) " will eternally be the anthem of the summer of 1967 despite the relative obscurity of its singer. Papa John Phillips wrote, played on and produced the song but left it to McKenzie's plaintive tones to carry the achingly gorgeous melody. It's easy to scorn the naivete of the lyrics but the acid-fried guitar and steely bassline give it the sturdiness to endure.
There's a big surprise at the end of side two not that "All You Need Is Love" isn't thematically apt but because EMI doesn't normally licence Beatles tracks for use on compilations. Still the best attempt at the universal pop song ( unlike the agenda-laden Imagine ) it doesn't need further comment.
Side Three is mainly devoted to the eighties. It begins with Level 42's "The Sun Goes Down ( Livin It Up ) from the summer of 1983. When it first came out I still had a bit of a downer on the band because of the "world's best bass player" hype around Mark King ; New Romantic loyalties meant I favoured the late Mick Karn of Japan. However by the end of its chart run I'd developed a sneaking affection for this paean to nightclubbing with its loping groove, ambitious structure and endearingly clunky lyrics. This is a slightly different version to the hit single with an extra smoothly sung verse from Mike Lindup replacing the third of King's scat interludes.
The most recent track on the LP is Katrina and the Waves's "Walking On Sunshine" from 1985. a brassy Northern Soul pastiche from the Anglo-American band. Katrina Leskanich's rich vocals and Hammond playing and Alex Cooper's heavy drumming bring real conviction to offset the self-conscious retro stylings of the song.
Next up we have a trio of tracks that I didn't want at all. From 1983 again we have the lightweight disco of "Give It Up" which somehow got to number one marking a triumphant but short-lived comeback from KC and the Sunshine Band ( although only Harry Casey himself remained from their seventies hey-day) . Nor did I have much more time for Haircut 100's "Fantastic Day" from a year earlier; the band's blend of white funk and sixties pop was perfectly acceptable ( and I enjoyed their 1981 debut hit "Favourite Shirts" ) but I found Nick Heyward's pretty boy persona and glibly meaningless lyrics indigestible. He'd make some good and under-appreciated solo singles in the nineties but he wasn't my cup of tea at this point. Worst of all is Elton John's " Island Girl" a 1975 US number one that we had the good sense to bumper at number 14. It's a sensitive ode to a Jamaican prostitute working in New York and Taupin's wildly un-pc lyrics are matched by John's dodgy accent and gruesome jaunty calypso chorus. James Newton- Howard's wobbly synthesiser solo in the middle eight is the only plus point. I can take some of the old diva's seventies stuff but not this one.
Relief is at hand with one of my favourite records of all time. Like "California Dreaming" , "Echo Beach" is a song about longing for the beach from another place ( white collar drudgery ) but also ( as in "Summer " ) the beach represents an unreachable past - "Echo Beach far away in time". The Canadians hit our Top 10 with this in March 1980 but their follow-up "Saigon" had an all-too well-enunciated "bastard" in the second verse and without airplay their chart career was over as soon as it had begun. But "Echo Beach" is deathless , the crowning achievement of the new Wave pop sound with it's tight drumming, urgent bass, questioning guitar arpeggios, swirling keyboards and Andy Haas's breakout saxophone solo. Martha Johnson's downbeat vocal conveys all the crushed hope of the lyric and Martha Ladley's semi-hysterical backing vocal at the song's end voices the inner panic that her salad days have been and gone. A hit in my own "golden years" and played at my wedding reception it only resonates the deeper as the years zoom by.
The closer "Summer Fun" is a minor hit from the summer of 1980 ; I recall it getting heavy play from Simon Bates though he always skipped the spoof car ad intro. The Barracudas were a serious Anglo- Canadian nouveau psychedelic outfit and "Summer Fun" , which is very reminiscent of comedy punks The Dickies's Banana Splits from the previous year , is unrepresentaive. Unfortunately it was their only hit.
The Beatles are back to open Side Four with George Harrison's "Here Comes The Sun" a late composition from Abbey Road and it's very tempting to equate George's optimism with the imminence of the split. Now we know that the coming decade was a pretty dark one ( and not great for George either ) it seems quaint. It's also notable for the discreet use of a synthesiser (played by George himself ) ; a revolution was near but they weren't going to lead it.
There's also a second helping of Cliff with "The Day I Met Marie" one of his most frustrating singles and a Top 5 hit in 1967. The superb acoustic intro , Cliff's sober vocal and the rising brass as the tale of his encounter with a rural prick teaser progresses make for an excellent couple of verses which are then utterly betrayed by an oom-pah major key chorus in the same vein as "Congratulations". Nine years later Slik would pull off the same con trick with Forever And Ever and reach number one.
Then comes "In The Summertime" an ugly song by ugly men and the big summer hit of 1970. My first exposure to it came from a ketchup commercial. I loathed it then and I loathe it now. Moving swiftly on to "Lazy Sunday" which reached number two in 1968 and established the Cockney accent as a viable option in rock music. Steve Marriott vents his Mod frustration at the intolerance of his neighbours while Ian McLagan's Hammond chops dominate the music. It's still the only hit record I can think of with an explicit reference to going to the toilet and for that alone you can forgive it for influencing the horrors of Parklife.
We stay with the Sixties for a brace from The Lovin Spoonful. Always a bigger deal in the States these were their only Top 10 hits in the UK. "Summer In The City" is the better of the two capturing the tension and discomfort of a sweltering day in the urban jungle complete with pre- Roger Waters sound effects of car horns and pneumatic drills and John Sebastian's stabbing electric piano. "Daydream " , a hymn to indolence was the bigger hit peaking at number two but I'm not so keen on Sebastian's Randy Newman drawl or the jug band sound.
We stay with the Sixties for The Monkees's "Daydream Believer" an irresistible piece of pop cheese written by John Stewart complete with a bit of studio banter for an intro. It's a fairly meaningless song but the breezy optimism of that killer chorus demolishes all cynicism.
That just leaves us with the oldest track, Jerry Keller's "Here Comes Summer" one of the earliest self-penned chart-toppers in 1959. Capturing a lost world of soda fountains, drive-in movies and pony-tailed girls from the dawn of pop it distils the essence of the summer hit in just over two minutes and thus makes a perfect conclusion to the LP.
Compared to the main series of "Now... " albums it was a modest seller and according to wikipedia is now rare. Perhaps the public prefer their compilations to be chronologically rather than thematically bound ? It's still a pretty good LP.