BY ERIK CHRISTENSEN
July 18, 2014
I moved to Whidbey Island in the summer of 1987. One of my first and most endearing memories of my 27 summers here is discovering what I’ve come to call the “summertime silhouette.” Want to try it? Get in your car in the early evening of a summer day and, as you drive south on Hwy. 20, check out how the sun dips behind the Olympic mountains to the west. As the sun disappears, the sky reddens and the razor-sharp relief of the Olympics comes in to view—dark, shadowy, a perfect outline, like a child’s shadow-box.
More than barbeque, more than warm weather, more even than the Fort Casey pool, my enduring image of summer on Whidbey is driving in a car on Highway 20, listening to music and watching that sun sink behind those mountains.
It would be easy to make a summer playlist full of breezy, wonderful summer songs: The Beach Boys, Mungo Jerry, Jan and Dean, Jimmy Buffett, and all the rest. But I need some bittersweet with my summer songs, some wistfulness about the passage of time and the promises that summer brings. Musically, it’s that moment between dark and light, the sun slowly fading behind the mountains and giving one last thoughtful tableaux. So roll down that car window, enjoy the warm breeze, and look to the horizon. Here are the All-Time Top Five Songs of Summer:
Number five: “Hot Fun in the Summertime” Sly and the Family Stone were the American ideal to me as I heard their songs blasting out of a plastic AM radio in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. A mix of black, white, male, female, rock, soul, funk, social commentary, and mindless dance music—it doesn’t get much better:
I cloud nine when I want to
Out of school, yeah
County fair in the country sun
And everything, it’s true, ooh, yeah
Sadly, like the American Dream, like the sun going behind the mountains, it couldn’t last—drugs, greed, excess, and bad decisions doomed this amazing group. But, we’re left with a few shining moments.
Number four: “Roadrunner” by the Greg Kihn Band. Originally written by the much-loved Bostonian Jonathan Richman, the Greg Kihn version is the PERFECT song to hear coming out of your car’s speakers. I can almost smell the Dick’s Deluxe hamburgers and feel the warm breeze in the dashboard lights:
Gonna drive past the Stop and Shop
With the radio on
I’m in love with the modern world
I’m in love with the modern girls
Massachusetts when it’s late at night
I got the radio on….
Number three: “Summer’s Gone” by Buffalo Tom. Never a better metaphor used to capture the temporary dreams of summer—“write it in the sand, in the sand.” Bonus points for mentioning my own childhood baseball hero—no summer list is complete without baseball…
Where’ve my heroes gone today?
Mick and Keith and Willie Mays
Broken windows, trails outside
I can take you for a ride
Summer’s gone a summer song
You’ve wasted every day, every day
Summer’s gone, can’t wipe it off my hands
Write it in the sand, in the sand
In the sand
Number two: “Fourth of July, Asbury Park” One of those funky, early-era Bruce Springsteen songs, released long before he became an Americana, flag-waving, fist-in-the-air icon. Powered by an accordion and tuba (on a rock and roll record! Praise Jesus, I miss the 1970s) this song is lonely, hopeful and filled with longing and sorrow. Bruce tackles the clichéd carnival boardwalk scene and injects it with honest feeling and emotion:
Oh, Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us
Those pier lights, our carnival life forever
Love me tonight
For I may never see you again
And the number one, Top Five Song of Summer: “All About That Bass” by Meagan Trainor. That’s right, no nostalgia—the top song is from this very summer. Much like “Pumped Up Kicks” a few years ago, my daughter Hannah has hipped me to the undisputed, all-encompassing song of 2014. More defiant than bittersweet, it rails against stereotypes and pleads with girls to embrace a positive self-image:
If you got beauty, beauty, just raise ’em up
‘Cause every inch of you is perfect
From the bottom to the top
Pointed social commentary wrapped in an absolute saccharine, bubble gum pop song. Genius. Every element of a perfect summer song, never done better since the 1950s: double-hit on the snare drum, doo-wop backing vocals, go-go dancing. Go ahead and click on the link if you dare. You’ll be singing it for weeks. You will dance. You will smile. You will want to drive in a car and watch the summertime silhouette. You have been warned.
Enjoy your summer.
You know I won’t be no stick-figure, silicone Barbie doll
So, if that’s what’s you’re into
Then go ahead and move along
Erik Christensen teaches English at Oak Harbor High School, writes songs and poetry, and prefers a chocolate shake with his Dick’s Deluxe cheeseburger.
Erik plays with the Jacobs Road Band on Saturday, July 19 at the Oak Harbor Tavern, and the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe on Sunday, August 31; the Erik Christensen Band plays at Blooms Winery in Bayview from 3 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, August 10.
CLICK HERE to read more entertaining and informative WLM stories and blogs.
WLM stories and blogs are copyrighted and all rights are reserved. Linking is permitted. To request permission to use or reprint content from this site, email firstname.lastname@example.org.