Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August 2: The Lovin' Spoonful, "Summer In The City"

Artist: The Lovin' Spoonful
Song: "Summer In The City"
Album: Hums Of The Lovin' Spoonful
Year: 1966

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

To make a pop-rock hit in the early and mid 1960's seems in retrospect like a rather simple task, as countless bands found "one hit" or greater success with the formula during that era.  However, when one looks at the bands that accomplished this task, it is clear that those groups originating from the U.K. had an edge in comparison to their U.S. counterparts.  Furthermore, the actual sound and approach that U.S. bands took during this period was far different, and this is no more clear than in the rising psychedelic sound that was coming from both coasts of the U.S.  A number of groups were creating an exciting fusion between folk, pop, and this new sound, and few groups better displayed this combination than one finds in the music of The Lovin' Spoonful.  Scattering a handful of iconic hits throughout the mid-1960's, the impact that the group had on the "Summer of Love" is undeniable, and yet in comparison, the group receives little of the credit they deserve for their contributions.  Bringing together soaring melodies, amazing atmosphere, and stellar vocals, few groups had as potent a musical package as The Lovin' Spoonful, and this was further proved by the range found within their memorable singles.  To this end, one can choose from a handful of songs that define the band in different ways, yet one cannot deny the lasting impact and enjoyment one can find within The Lovin' Spoonful's unforgettable 1966 single, "Summer In The City."

Musically, "Summer In The City" is almost shockingly experimental for the time in which it was created, and yet this stands as one of the most overlooked aspects of the song.  From the strangely unsettling opening noise to the sounds of car horns and jackhammers, the group went further than most of their peers insofar as creating a complete atmosphere to surround the listener.  Following the opening, Artie Schroeck delivers what is without question one of the most memorable riffs in all of music history, and the tone of his electric piano is nothing short of perfect.  It is in fact played on a Honer Pianet, and the way in which this blends with the Vox Continental organ is in many ways the very definition of the "mid-1960's" sound.  Guitar greats Zal Yanovsky and John Sebastian are brilliant throughout the track, though their playing is somewhat buried in the overall mix of the song.  However, the almost ska-like rhythm and slightly aggressive tone give a fantastic level of depth to "Summer In The City."  Similarly, bassist Steve Boone is placed behind the keyboards, and yet he is able to give the song a sway and rhythm that is completely unique.  Roudning out the band is drummer Joe Butler, and the way in which he is able to incorporate so many different elements and fills is the ideal finishing touch on the masterful work that is "Summer In The City."

However, while the musical experience of "Summer In The City" is nothing short of astonishing, it is the vocals of John Sebastian that have risen to an absolutely iconic status.  Easily working the entire vocal scale, the slight "twang" within his voice provides an ideal balance between a number of different influences, and it would be his work on this song that would become his most memorable performance.  There is an understated beauty within his voice, and this is most apparent during the bridge sections, where Sebastian deviates from a more spoken approach, and this almost airy delivery style would be copied countless times throughout the remainder of the decade.  It is also the fact that Sebastian has an absolutely perfect, yet uniquely simple lyric with which to work that makes "Summer In The City" so magnificent.  The song began as a poem by Sebastian's brother, Mark, and there are few songs from any point in history that are as universal in theme as one finds here.  Even as the decades pass, the sentiments found within the song remain relevant, as one can still experience the sweltering heat that runs in the verses, as well as the cool, lively themes that dominate the bridge sections.  The idea of relaxing from a hot day by finding a girl to dance all night with is as timeless an idea as one will find anywhere, and the way that John Sebastian conveys it on "Summer In The City" is nothing short of perfect.

As the decades have passed, countless artists have taken their turn at recording "Summer In The City," as cover versions have been released by everyone from Joe Cocker to Quincy Jones to The Butthole Surfers.  This massive range in alternate versions is a testament to just how widespread the bands' influence was, as it stretched across both genres and generations, remaining one of the most important songs in recorded history.  Along with these full-on covers, "Summer In The City" has been sampled heavily throughout hip-hop and electronic music, making appearances in songs from Massive Attack, The Pharcyde, and De La Soul among many others.  The song has also been used consistently within television and film throughout the decades, and this serves as a testament to not only the quality of the music on the song, but also to the fact that it remains just as fresh and relevant today as it did more than five decades ago.  Yet even in its time, "Summer In The City" was a song that knew few peers, as it quickly climbed the charts, knocking the equally unforgettable "Wild Thing" from the top spot in August of 1966.  Truth be told, there are few songs that are as sonically adventurous from the time period as one finds here, and one can easily make the case that it was "Summer In The City" which served as one of the primary catalysts for the entire psychedelic movement.  From the uplifting music to the gritty, yet sanguine lyrics, there is simply no other song that can compare to The Lovin' Spoonful's unforgettable 1966 single, "Summer In The City."

No comments: