Top 10 Summer Songs
From Pizza & Pop Culture’s Keith Larsen
When the Ghosts asked me to put this list together I thought, “sure that’s easy”! Until it wasn’t. Narrowing down a list of songs while trying to keep the selection diverse wasn’t as simple as it sounded. Time to cut me in half and count the rings. Just a quick background on your author here: I am a product of the 1980’s. I went to high school during the height of the 80’s hair metal and those songs (as cheezmo as they are) hold a special place for me, as it immediately harkens back to a great era, with great folks in times of no responsibility. That said, I love all kinds of music and fought the urge to include Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass on this list. So there. Take that! Anyway, without further adieu: my Top 10 for Summer 2020…
10. “Summer Nights” – Sam Halen/Van Hagar
Virtually any Van Halen song featuring David Lee Roth can be considered a fun summer song. So much so, in fact, that I decided to skip trying to pair that list down and go with a Van Halen tune from their 1986 “debut” album “5150”. As a fan of Sammy Hagar’s solo career, I was excited to hear what would happen when teamed with the Van Halen brothers and “5150” was downright different for sure. Sammy brought a maturity to the lyrics and song writing to the band and his ability to play guitar added depth to the overall sound. Van Halen became more than just a party band. That said, they could still put together crowd pleasing anthems and “Summer Nights” is one of my favorites. While Van Halen has been muddled in controversy and inactivity for more than a decade, Sammy Hagar is still out there rocking with the same energy and enthusiasm at 72 years old. If you get a chance to see him perform live, go!
9. “10,000 Lovers (In One)” – TNT
80’s rock guy asks, “who else even knows this song?” 80’s rock guy also asks, “who else knows who the eff TNT is”? Well, I’ll tell you. TNT is a Norwegian rock band who burst on the scene in 1984 with the release “Knights Of The New Thunder”. Singer Tony Harnell has an opera background and an 8-octave range that makes him, in my opinion, one of the most amazing rock vocalists ever. Ronni Le Tekro is a guitar virtuoso who has written some downright savage riffs over the years. Yet, nobody knows who they are, or who TNT the band is. Their follow-up album “Tell No Tales” in 1987 featured the single “10,000 Lovers”, a fun, peppy, poppy, sing-along-song that becomes an instant ear-worm. Though dated and corny, the song will always remind me of the summer of 1987 and cruising with my girlfriend.
8. “What Is Hip” – Tower of Power
Oakland Soul from Tower of Power is an intoxicating sound and groove. From the minute I heard TOP at a party in the 1980’s I was hooked. Their legendary horn section led by Emilio Castillo & Steven “Doc” Kupka have been featured on hit albums since 1966 (https://towerofpower.com/horn-section-discography). Their third release became their breakout, the self-titled 1973 album featured the hit singles “So Very Hard To Go” and my selection here, the timeless “What Is Hip?” The band is amazing live and even after 52 years of touring are as tight as ever. If they play a venue near you, get there. I’ve taken several people to their first TOP show and they have all bought their music immediately after seeing the show. “Somehow you know there’s much more to the trip…”
7. “California Dreamin” – Beach Boys
Written by John & Michelle Phillips and originally recorded by Barry McGuire in 1965 with the Mamas & The Papas on vocals, Bobby Womack in 1968 and also covered by the band America in 1979 amongst many others. However, for me, the 1986 Beach Boys version is my personal favorite. The Beach Boys are synonymous with summer music and that’s why this rendition is my favorite. The original is a melodic, folksie rendition, Womacks’ was funky Motown style, while America’s strayed into a disco-esque version of the song. The Beach Boys adaptation brought Brian Wilson’s genius and their classic sound to it, while punching it up with a quicker tempo and energy. While the lyrics state, “California dreamin’, on such a winter’s day…” written as someone in New York in winter, it’s still a summer tune to me.
6. “Aja” – Steely Dan
While Steely Dan has a huge catalog of great songs, none remind me of a late summer day like Aja. Clocking in at just under 8 minutes, this jazz fusion, progressive rock song is a mesmerizing, sophisticated exercise in structure changes and off beat complexity. While not a song filled with chorus hooks and a memorable riff, Aja is just a riveting listen while relaxing on the beach or lounging in the backyard on a sticky August afternoon. When the song was released on the album of the same name in 1977, the track was considered by Donald Fagen & Walter Becker as the most ambitious song that they have ever attempted. I’m not a big jam band guy, but this interlude/bridge jam kicks ass. Steve Gadd destroys it on drums!
5. “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” – Tears For Fears
When this song debuted in March of 1985 I was up to my aquanetted big hair in hard rock & metal and wanted nothing to do with “whiney bitch bands from the UK”. Yet, I couldn’t escape it in my travels. Well, in time, tastes change and this song is one of my all time favorites. It’s got the classic new wave sound with a driving beat that propels the song along at a brisk tempo. Curt Smith’s haunting vocals immediately vaults you back to the 1980’s and for me paints a tapestry of memories and nostalgia as tears well in my eyes. Beautifully arranged and produced by Chris Hughes, this song is a timeless time capsule to the Reagan-era America of the 1980’s. “Welcome to your life There’s no turning back…”
4. “Overkill” – Men At Work
Australia’s prog rock band Men At Work featuring Colin Hay’s velvet voice was one of my favorite bands in the early 1980s. Hot off the success of their 1982 breakout debut album “Business As Usual”, their second LP, “Cargo” features the stand out “Overkill”. A brisk up-beat new wave pop rock song anchored with lyrics of loneliness and desperation that are antithetical to the tempo and tone of the music. Men At Work at their best. This is a song that reminds me of going to the beach as tween/teen. This year the song takes on extra meaning for me, “I worry over situations…I know will be alright…It’s just overkill…”
3. “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” – Billy Joel
Much like Van Halen or The Beach Boys, you can grab just about any Billy Joel song for your summer playlist. This year for me it’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” for some very personal reasons that I won’t get into here. This song is a foot-tapper from Joel’s 1976 album “Turnstiles”. Joel says that the inspiration came from Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes’, “Be My Baby” and the similarities are definitely there. A fun, up-tempo song that definitely plays to this year’s pandemic shut down of the entertainment business. I’ve seen Joel in concert and he’s truly an American treasure. “Say goodbye to Hollywood, Say goodbye to my baby…”
2. “Nights On Broadway” – Bee Gees
Before the “Saturday Night Fever” cemented the Bee Gees as disco gods, they were a solid rock/pop band. The album “Main Course” was released in 1975 and contained the single “Nights On Broadway”. This song just might be the best Bee Gees song ever recorded and gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. The song evokes visuals of the era captured in the eerie melodies. Written by the brothers Gibb and produced by Arif Mardin, the song is a haunting composition with a driving groove with a trucking rhythm section & keyboards, topped off with the poignant vocal stylings that they are famous for. This song will blaze images of summer nights in New York City into your mind. A masterpiece of raw emotion. “Make it like it was before. Even if it takes a life time, takes a life time. Blaming it all on the nights on Broadway…”
1.“Detroit Rock City” – KISS
I’m a monster KISS fan. Like a HUGE KISS fan. I’ve been obsessed with KISS since I was 7-years old in 1976. So, while it might not be the top summer song for many people, or ANY people, “Detroit Rock City” is my favorite KISS song. Therefore, my favorite KISS song, becomes my favorite summer song by default. Written by Paul Stanley & producer Bob Ezrin for the 1976 album “Destroyer”, the song is about a teen who dies in a car wreck on the way to a KISS concert. Stanley says, “ I remember thinking how weird it is that people’s lives end so quickly. People can be on their way to something that’s really a party and a celebration of being alive and die in the process of doing it.” So while the song has a dark meaning, it’s really a celebration of rock and roll and, for the purpose of this list: living life to the max on beautiful summer nights. “I hear my song and it pulls me through…”