20 Favorite Songs of Summer

Since the birth of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, there has been that one song that was just as important as the #1 Song of the year…and that would be the #1 Song of Summer. Summertime where the living is easy and the children can be naughty until they get punished or course. We are at 69 years of the Hot 100 and to be honest I do not care for the recent #1 songs of summer. So here is list of songs of the Summerover the years that I enjoyed and made the cut. I shall start with the least recent song and move forward from there. All of these songs deemed to be the songs of Summer were determined by Billboard Magazine.

1. “Volare” by Domenico Modugno (1958): The first #1 of Summer and the Hot 100 was only a month old. I do admit however that my first honest exposure of this song was not by Modugno but a cover of it done by the vocal group The Lettermen (sung mostly in English) who recorded the song in 1967 and peaked at #17 on the Adult Contemporary Chart (when it was called the “Easy Listening” chart). Long before The Lettermen, Dean “Dino” Martin was one of the first to cover it and sing it in both English and Italian. I also got to hear versions done by Russell Watson and even Scott Bakula on an episode of the time-traveling series ‘Quantum Leap.’ Recently I checked out Modugno’s version, and hey it should be noted that he co-wrote the song. Personally, I’m not crazy about theHammond organ in the recording, but that is just a personal preference but otherwise I love how Modugno sings it. Now the Lettermen’s arrangement is a combination of Italian guitar mixed with a Tijuana Brass styled backing (Herb Alpert and the namesake backing were popular at the time). Anyway Domenico Modugno did give this timeless classic that was originally titled “Nelblu dipinto di blu” (Translated “In the blue that is painted blue”), but the suits (or so it seems or whoever) were right about “Volare” (or “To Fly”) being THE hook of the song, and thus we know it best as ‘Volare.’ Thanks Domenico Modugno for your part in making this one a classic and one to my list of favorite songs of Summer.

2. “Fingertips” by Little Stevie Wonder (1963): He already recorded this piece by Clarence Paul & Henry Cosby (Wonder’s mentors) in the studio juston the bongos, but it’s the live recording from Regal Theater, Chicago recorded in 1962 that would make Little Stevie a star. In that version, he is not only on bongos but also does some improve singing and plays harmonica which would alsobecome associated with the overall signature sound of Stevie Wonder. Fingertips was a fusion of the sound of Motown and good old-fashioned Jazz and it served Stevie well. It would take a few years for him to prove his worth but Fingertips is among the signatures of Stevie’s catalog of hit songs…and his only song of Summer.

3. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones (1965): Not my all-time favorite from Jagger and company, but I still get my kicks so it does make the cut. In spite of its sexual innuendo and talk of disillusionment of their success in their lyrics, the Stones did make a song that could connect to people with similar situations in spite of their degrees of success during the Summer of 1965. It is still among the Stones biggest hits and one that tells you that it’s the Stones.

4. “Light My Fire” by The Doors (1967): The Beatles may have had their best album in the Summer of Love, but the best single in that Summer of Love and 1967 would go to Jim Morrison and The Doors. The song kicks off with Ray Manzarek’s famous organ line and the soulful vocals of Jim taking over. The single version lasted for only two minutes but it’s the full seven-minute version that everyone prefers (me included) which features ‘Fire’s’ long instrumental break. They could not care less for being family friendly and they would sing the “higher” line on Ed Sullivan’s variety show. They would be banned for life from the program but as Jim said “We just ‘did’ Sullivan.” The Doors would be one of the biggest influences on the growing FM Underground/Progressive Rock stations of the 1960’s, but without “Light My Fire” being the Summer smash that it was…the Underground radio format would not be as big. Here is a piece of trivia. Future Bread guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Larry Knechtel was a session musician playing bass guitar on the track.

5. “This Guy’s In Love With You” by Herb Alpert (1968): It was time for the grownups to take over the Summer of 1968, and the Burt Bacharach and Hal David penned song was perfect for Herb Alpert to sing rather than play trumpet on…but there is bit a Herb’s signature instrument there. The song was perfect for Alpert’s not so awesome vocal range, but it’s truly a timeless classic that I have grown to love. Maybe 1968 should have been the real summer of love, because This is truly a great love song, and not just a song alluding to sex as “Light My Fire” does. Then again José Feliciano put out a great cover of “Light My Fire” that very same year. Come to think of it maybe it was the Summer of Love for the GROWNUPS in 68.

6. “In The Year 2525” by Zager and Evans (1969): It was the peak of the space age, and song writer Rick Evans(and half of the duo) might have wondered what the far future would be like. If so ‘2525’ was the perfect song that he wrote about this. He recorded this with Denny Zager and this speculation of life in the future was perfect for the Summer of 69 and as one decade was ending and a new one was at the dawn of beginning. Each verse of 2525, advance 1010 years into the future (with a few exceptions) and ending in the year 9595. The predictions are very disturbing. In 3535 the actions of your day will be predetermined by a pill you consume. In 5555 your limp and lazy because a machine is doing all the work, and in 6565 eugenics will finally be perfected cause you will choose the son and or daughter to care for…and no need for marriage or perhaps sex (I doubt that part). The song does not end on a happy note (“Now it’s been ten thousand years Man has cried a billion tears. For what, he never knew, now man’s reign is through”) and the song begins at 2525 as the song repeated the cycle again…but we do have the fade out before we get out of 2525…maybe we can change this bleak future…who knows?One of those few pop songs that actually makes you think. However, that thinking might be too much for this duo as their time in the spot light quickly did come to an end. Still their song about the bleak future is among my favorite songs of Summer. For the record Denny Zager does make an honest living making acoustic guitars in Nebraska.

7. “(They Long To Be) Close To You” by Carpenters (1970): Burt Bacharach and Hal David did it again, and it was this song that helped make Karen and Richard Carpenter superstars of the 1970’s. The melody and the music you knew was Bacharach and David, and still at the height of their partnership and success (although the song was composed in 1963 and recorded by the likes of Richard Chamberlain and Dionne Warwick) before Karen and Richard were finally adults. The song was intended for Herb Alpert but he passed on it and gave to The Carpenters instead. Smart move Herb, and Richard was going to allow him on the recording. Herb was busy, so the trumpet solo went to Chuck Findley and man he could emulate Herb Alpert’s signature trumpet style very well. This Bacharach/David song finally because a very popular song because of The Carpenters, and you can say that it’s their signature. A great Song of Summer to kick off the 1970’s.

8. “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” by Bee Gees (1971): If it were not for disco that would have been their only Number One song of their career, but their younger brother might have not gotten his Songs of Summer either and I do mean SONGS. This would be the Only Song of Summer for the elder brothers Gibb. The song was originally intended for Andy Williams (who was popular with the Middle of The Road/MOR music fans of the time) but eventually they recorded it for themselves. It was that popular balladeer song of the 1970’s with lush strings and piano. However, it also put the Bee Gees in a bind and typed casted as balladeers. They would have to rough it out untilRobert Stigwood got the Gibbs in touch with famed producerArifMardinand exposed them to the changing sounds of R&B, Soul and Funk to get them in the right direction. This song of heartbreak however, proved to be the song of Summer 1971.

9. “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan (1972): Another #1 sad song of summer and back to back. This time it comes in the form of English singer Gilbert O’Sullivan. The song written by O’Sullivan makes you believe it was truly about him. But it was not. The song talks about being stood up at the altar, but he would not marry until 1980. Also, he cried about losing both his parents to natural death, but O’Sullivan’s father was very abusive to his mother and died when Gilbert was 11 and does not miss him at all. His mother would be alive long enough to see her son score with this not so autobiographical hit song. The strains of the Bee Gees and even the Beatles are heard quite clear in this song. Maybe it was the height of the Vietnam War that made this the song of Summer in American in 1972. It topped the Hot 100 for six nonconsecutive weeks and also appealed to adult audiences as the song also spent six weeks on the Adult Contemporary radio airplay chart.

10. “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce (1973): After two summers of sad songs, you finally get an up-tempo song, but you do have one negative aspect. Leroy Brown was known for being a mean person due to his size and personality. However, he gets his comings after he makes a pass at a married woman named Doris and her husband decided to give Leory a good beating in the process. Leory Brown was inspired by a man who Croce meet while serving in the Army who decided to go AWOL, and they caught him. Yet he bragged about being bad, and Jim promised one day he would write a song about him. Only he changed the story from a man gone AWOL to a man trying to flirt with a woman he should have not made contact with. I really love Jim Croce and his music, and sadly we lost this folk-rock talent too soon. Then again, his untimely death only magnified his legacy and “Time In A Bottle”likely would have never been released as a single had it not been for his death. However,‘Brown’ would be Croce’s only #1 in his lifetime. Bottle would be his second (overall) and only #1 posthumously.

11. “One of These Nights” by Eagles (1975): The California Country Rock sound fused with the emerging sounds of disco and that gave birth to this song about finding love in the night life. Throw in some lyrics related to the Supernatural and Horror themes and you got yourself the perfect Summer song of the exact middle of the 1970’s. ‘Nights’ is still Country Rock enough not to offend their loyal fan base, but the Bee Gees musical direction that they were taking with the likes of “Jive Talkin” did make their mark on “One of These Nights.” In fact, the Eagles were working in the same studios in Miami, Florida that the Bee Gees were also using. You may not like the Brothers Gibb, but don’t knock them too much if you love “One of These Nights.” Just one of the disco songs that is not really disco that even the anti-disco crowd loves.

12. “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John &Kiki Dee (1976): Ann Orson wrote the music and Carte Blanche wrote the lyrics. In reality Ann was Elton John and Cartle was Bernie Taupin. The female pennames were a pun on the term “an horse and cart, blanche.” However, those pen names kind of sounded like they were from Motown, and the intent of the song was to show their love of the Motown sound in a 1970’s way. They also wanted to recreate the duets that were recorded by the team of Marvin Gaye &Tammi Terrell (and some lesser known names that got the chance to sing with Marvin). After being turned down by Dusty Springfield and unable to get Sue Cameron due to her illness, Elton turned to his backing singer Kiki Dee (who did have her own music career) and the paring would pay off. While the song sounded more disco than Motown it was truly an awesome song of the Summer of 76. Here is another fact about the record before we move on; Future movie composer James Newton Howard was involved in the string and orchestra arrangements and planed the Fender electric piano on the recording.

13. “I Just Wanna Be Your Everything” by Andy Gibb (1977): Andy Gibb proved to be the trouble maker of the family but still wanted to follow in his elder brothers’ footsteps. Their manager Robert Stigwoodwould sign little bro to his RSO Records label and the luck of the Akabeko(the red cow logo of RSO) would be good for Andy Gibb as well. ‘Everything’ was written by Barry Gibb, and Joe Walsh who just joined the Eagles contributed his guitar riffs for the recording. The song would be certified gold, and this passionate love song that Barry wrote for his brother would be his song of the summer…but lighting was going to strike twice. You just needed to dance in the ‘shadows’ while under the ‘Saturday Night Fever.’

14. “Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibb (1978): Andy Gibb would be the first artist to have two #1 songs of summer and at least for a while he would be the only one. That would change in the 21st Century when Usher got his second one (“Confessions Part II” and before that “U Remind Me” which came out three years earlier) follow by Mariah Carey (“Vision of Love” and 15 years later “We Belong Together”) and then Katy Perry (“I Kissed a Girl” and two years later “California Gurls”). But one thing they could not do and has yet to happen once again, is have Two Number One Songs of Summer consecutively. Only Andy Gibb pulled that one off. “Shadow Dancing” was the only song which EVERY Gibb brother was involved in the writing process. RSO was able to take advantage of “Saturday Night Fever” and the popularity of the songs that were contributed to the soundtrack and had Andy ride on its success. Andy not only rode it he overtook it and not only got the #1 song of Summer but the #1 song of 1978. Andy however being the young rebel that he was, would turn to drugs and alcohol and his career declined more so than the career of his elder brothers (but they would be able to weather it out). Sadly, Andy would pass away in 1988 after he just turned 30.

15. “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me” by Billy Joel (1980): Billy Joel had to work hard to gain the respect of the music industry and he worked very hardto earn the fans, and get the record deals to make him successful (Thank You Artie Ripp, who gave Billy his break but tried to screw him as well). His ‘Glass Houses’ was a reaction to the punk and hard rock trends in music, but yet he was able to incorporate those styles and do it his way. He also claimed the first Song of the Summer in the 1980’s, and he did it by putting himself in the shoes of an aging musician confronting his manger about his need to change with the trends. His only response is that is all sounds like Rock music to his ears. It’s also a song about being yourself and not becoming something, you may later regret. It’s not the top fav from the “Piano Man” but it’s truly among my top favs of Summer.

16. “Every Breath You Take” by The Police (1983): I now skip a few years to 1983, for this one which is not only the #1 Summer song of 1983 but the overall #1 song of the year. It won Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at the Grammys. The song truly became the signature song for The Police, but they decided to break up at their creative zenith. The song itself talks about a possessive lover who just can’t let go of the women he really wants. The music video was inspired by the 1944 short film “Jammin’ The Blues” shot in Black & White with the band playing the song and accompanied by a pianist and strings as a window washer focuses on his work. Everything about that song, was a great work of Pop Art and Great Art that was Pop. I always loved this song from the time it first came out. The guitar riff in this song would be later used in the Hip-Hop tune that Puff Daddy (now Diddy aka Sean Combs) quickly recorded soon after the untimely death of Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, which also become the Song of Summer in 1997 (“I’ll Be Missing You).

17. “Shout” by Tears ForFears (1985): In their native UK, it was released in the Fall of 1984 and before “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” was ever released as a single. ‘World’ did go to #1 in America and Canada, and with that success, Polygram Records (which folded into Universal Music Group years later) decided to follow up that song with “Shout” in the States which was composed not as another primal scream theory type of song which TFF was known for,but according to founding member Roland Orzabal; “It is actually more concerned with political protest. It came out in 1984 when a lot of people were still worried about the aftermath of The Cold War and it was basically an encouragement to protest.” Who knew that such a political protest could be a Song of Summer…you had your protest songs of the 1960’s, but I doubt “In The Year 2525” was a protest song but rather a bleak look into future, so “Shout” accomplished something those songs did not do. Score the #1 Summer hit. TFF’s 15 minutes of fame would soon end after “Head Over Heels” but they pressed on as musicians, especially with their follow-up album “The Seeds of Love” which was influenced not only by the Beatles but the styles of Jazz and Blues. So, I can say along with The Police, Tears For Fears were among honest rock musicians that were successful in getting enough mass appeal to get that important song of Summer. Something that is truly lacking these days.

18. “Alone” by Heart (1987): Songs like “Magic Man,” “Crazy on You,” and “Barracuda” come to mind when you think of the band Heart. Maybe “What About Love,” “These Dreams” and “Never” as well, but the one song that might get lost in the shuffle is their Hit of the Summer titled “Alone” from their 1987 album “Bad Animals.” The song was floating around as a song featured on Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly’s (co-writers of “Alone”) album “Taking A Cold Look” as I-Ten. The short-lived sitcom “Dreams” had future “Full House” star John Stamos singing the song as part of a duet with one of the cast leads, but the song would achieve much greater glory when the Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy recorded their own version and took it to #1 in the Summer of 87 and stayed on the charts long enough to be Song of Summer in 1987. Statically its their biggest hit of their career. So, while you may not associate“Alone” with Heart at first the song is still on musical radar to be covered by various American Idol contestants. It was also covered by Celine Dion and by the Classical/Hard Rock stage show Rocktopia. So, while it may not be Heart’s best song as in the Wilson Sisters and company, the song itself took a life of its own. So, getting to “Alone” is indeed one of my songs that makes my favorites list…barely.

19. “Roll With It” by Steve Winwood (1988): Steve Winwood just turned 40 years old when this throwback to the Motown sound was released, and unlike “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” “Roll With It” is a close emulation of the Motown sound musically. So close that the Motown song writing team of Holland–Dozier–Holland was credited…especially with similarities to their song “(I’m a) Road Runner.” While there might be elements/samples of ‘Road Runner’ in “Roll” I still say it’s very much a song in its own right, and I say slightly better than the former. I admit I was on a Christian Music diet at the time, but I did find the song catchy and eventually it became a strong favorite of mine. Glad this one is one of the songs of Summer.

20. “Can’t Help Falling In Love” by UB40 (1993): The French melody of this song goes back to the 1780’s, but it got popularized in the mid-20th Century when Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weisswrote English lyrics and called it “Can’t Help Falling In Love” and proved to all the Elvis Presley haters (I admit to recently joining that club) that he could do ballads and man did he do them. However, no Song of Summer for Elvis and he had to be content of the runner-up spot of this ballad. The artist that was able to take it to #1 and the #1 song of Summer of 1993 would be the British Pop Reggae band UB40. UB40 could compose their own songs, but their biggest hits especially in America were cover songs(“Red Red Wine” was originally written and recorded by “Neil Diamond”) andcover songsare quite common in reggae due the fact there were able to incorporate its rhythms and cords into songs that did not have them before. When UB40 got a hold of ‘Can’t Help’ they not only incorporated those respected elements, they also turned up the tempo just a tad bit while staying true to the song’s heritage. Since Elvis’s version gave it a Hawaiian Tropical element, UB40 keeps those tropical elements and magnifies them as well. UB40 will never replace Elvis’s recording of the song, but it’s a still a great upbeat version of the ancient love song.

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