Special summer songs provide that cherry popsicle moment
"I Can't Get No Satisfaction" always makes me think of summer.
In fact, if I happen to tune in to '60s music on cable (it's on one of those high channels), and happily happen to hear that Rolling Stones classic, I am immediately transported back to the summer of 1965, even if it's the middle of January and I'm freezing my little pinky toes off.
Likewise, when I hear "Light My Fire" (by The Doors, not the Jose Feliciano version), I recall the summer before my senior year in high school (when I looked like I was trying out for a supporting role in "Revenge of the Nerds"). Though "Grazing in the Grass" by Hugh Masekela is largely forgotten (or never remembered) by anyone under 50, it still reminds me of the summer before I started college.
"Rock the Boat" by The Hues Corporation, which topped the charts in the summer of 1974, will forever be associated in my mind with the impending resignation of Richard M. Nixon and good times at Fort Sill cheerfully typing away for Uncle Sam. Even though Nixon is long gone from the White House and is, in fact, long dead, the rare occasions when "(You're) Having My Baby" by Paul Anka is brought out of cold storage still bring me close to tears of pity for Nixon's fall; you see, three days after his departure, I heard that song on the car radio while I was en route to a watermelon festival.
"Afternoon Delight" by The Starland Vocal Band brings to mind the bicentennial summer of 1976 (in addition to other things, of course). Because "Undercover Angel" by Alan O'Day was played over and over again in the summer of 1977, it always rekindles memories of the gala Locust Gap sesquicentennial celebration of that year. Donna Summer's "Bad Girls" conjures pleasant images of hanging out at the Jester Club in Shamokin in 1979 (if not happy memories of disco itself).
"Alley Oop" by The Hollywood Argyles isn't exactly etched into the American consciousness anymore, but when I heard that favorite from the summer of 1959 the other day on the high channel, it reminded me of eating a cherry popsicle while watching "American Bandstand." Sheb Wooley's "The Purple People Eater" of a year earlier generates much the same vibe, although the popsicle was probably grape-flavored.
Be aware that summer songs are not the same as songs about summer. "Summer Breeze" by Seals and Crofts, "School's Out" by Alice Cooper and "Cruel Summer" by Bananarama all rank in the top 100 on my personal hit parade, but I have no idea what I was doing or where I was when I first became aware of them playing in the background.
Summer songs are special. Other songs are remembered just as well, but how often are people able to identify what season of the year they dominated the air waves? Very seldom, I'd reckon. My theory: Because we so desperately want to remember the summers of our lives, our brains help us to do that by encoding certain song lyrics onto specific memory pathways. The songs themselves become the triggers that help us remember. We want to remember the times when we were lounging around in short sleeves, not the times when we were shoveling out the driveway.
The memories generated by summer songs aren't always happy ones, of course. For example, when I hear "Love Will Keep Us Together," the hit by The Captain and Tennille that was played ad nauseum in the summer of 1975, all I can think about is covering four-hour meetings of the Centralia Borough Council in the pre-mine fire era. 1972's "Lean on Me" by Bill Withers reminds me of traveling by bus to the New Cumberland Army Depot for my draft physical.
There was a five- or six-week period last summer when "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen was a constant presence. Indeed, it was downright insidious in its "catchiness." If you heard it once in a 24-hour period, you heard it a million times, and even if you heard it only once, the words kept going through your head until sweet sleep came along to release you. It was not unlike saturation bombing.
But that seems like the good old days compared to this summer when "I Love It," a charming little ditty by the duo Icona Pop, is threatening to fry our neurons. In case the title doesn't ring a bell, this is the "I crashed my car into a bridge and I don't care" song. Apparently, their daddies must still pay those girls' automobile insurance. A guy told me the other day that his grandchildren - little kids! - were walking around singing those lyrics. Yikes! One day that song could be their orange popsicle memory.
(Betz is an assistant editor at The News-Item.)