|PUT ON THE SUNBLOCK, JIM. THESE TEN SONGS CAN CAUSE SUNBURN.|
|By Molly Simms||
If youre anything like most Americans, your summer plans involve iced drinks and, if youre lucky, a vacation away from home, spent trying to avoid melanomas. Before you pack up your bologna sandwiches and citronella, though, youll need the proper soundtrack for these lazy, hazy, Im-going-crazy days of the season. For some, summer music means latin-y salsa (for those guys trying to get laid by playing the "worldly" card), and for others it means the island jams of Jimmy Buffet (for those folks just begging to get punched in the face). Either way, these songs should prove to be the perfect accompaniment for the approaching heatwave.
In preparation for summer, corporate monoliths like Sony and Warner Brothers try to market some essential singles thatll have all the low-riders bouncing until September. They shine Beyonces ass to a weapons grade sheen, freshen Nellys facial band-aid and hook you with a sexy chorus and a thunderous backbeat. Not to be all, "their first album was better" about it, but sometimes the most satisfying summer song is a little one from a still unfamous band without a publicity machine behind them. Thats why I freaked like a five-year-old when I first heard the Pernice Brothers song, "Weakest Shade of Blue. Sure, a typical summer song wouldnt include the singer referring to his own death and asking you to bury him, but this melody and chorus positively ooze summer-y heartbreak. The soaring make-you-believe-in-God chorus gives me chills, and Joe Pernices shy, articulate delivery is sharp as Lara Flynn Boyles hip bones. I can go on about the genius of this song forever, or I can leave it at this: you wont come across a better summer driving tune this year. So run, run and buy this gem of an album. And reapply your sunscreen every two hours.
Faces, "Stay With Me"
Ive got a slew of pretend bands that I plan to start someday. My favorite is the all-girl classic rock cover band. Well learn the appropriate Led Zeppelin songs, wont bathe for a week, and drink ten Pabst Blue Ribbons each before we take the stage. The one song well be sure to master, the showstopper number, is The Faces Stay With Me, featuring the inimitable Mr. Rod Stewart. Rod made a lot of music, and used a lot of mousse before he was castrated and made songs like Forever Young. Its hard to remember a time, though, when he had credibility and not craggy wrinkles like a cigar store Indian. The Faces never made it past the "coulda been big" bin, despite heavy-hitter alumni like Rod and Ron Wood. The reason for this slap in the face from the music community? The Faces sucked a whole lot, save for one song that doesnt get nearly enough airplay, but is a rock-and-roll anthem. "Stay With Me" is a messy, drunken kegger of a tune with sweat coming out of every pore. With lyrics like, "Yeah I'll pay your cab fare home/You can even use my best cologne/Just don't be here in the morning when I wake up," were spared all the romantic niceties and given a look at the world of band hag-dom. This songs got the heat of summer nights all over it, of beer covered in condensation and vinyl car seats clinging to the back of your thighs.
Blackalicious, Blazing Arrow
After reading the umpteenth fantastic review of the most recent Blackalicious album, Blazing Arrow, I decided to give in. My knowledge of hip hop is about as basic as fifth grade math, but all the glowing commentary had me saying uncle, bitches. So I went out and bought the album, thinking itd be music I might not love, but appreciate for its worthiness, like rap vitamins. Many months later, its camped out in my stereo and shows no signs of packing it up. The sweatiest track off this hott album is one called Blazing Arrow, featuring a Harry Nilsson sample that lilts along all druggily behind the frenetic rhyming. The words bump up against each other and turn into one long, sexy murmur. Its laid-back, but not comatose. If there was ever music made for sipping spiked lemonade and loafing in the yard with your friends, this is it.
Pixies, Where Is My Mind?
Describing the Pixies is like trying to wrap your hands around the neck of a ghost covered in vaseline: difficult and slippery. You thought you had them pegged the first time you heard them, and as the years go by, they morph all around in your head, taking on different kinds of significance. Frank Blacks screaming is nightmare-inducing and the drumming is epileptic. In fact, thinking about the Pixies as a summer-y band is way too easy -- all their songs seem dipped in a warm, dusty, western motif, like the sun hovering above you at high noon. Some would say the best Pixies song ever recorded is Where Is My Mind and Id be inclined to agree with them. Start a music nerd talking about it and come back in an hour - hell still be blabbering about the guitar work and the eerie moaning. Dont let its presence in the big-money hit Fight Club dull your enthusiasm for these three-and-a-half-minutes of subtle rock perfection. A cross country summer trip with the sun burning your driving arm, and the desert sand filtering in through the window: without the Pixies, whatd be the use?
Magnetic Fields, Strange Powers
When I first play the Magnetic Fields for non-believers, the first response is usually the same: everybodys underwhelmed. The music is keyboard-heavy, and the vocals sound like Lurch from the Addams Family, with extra sleeping pills. But give it a few more listens, and theyre begging to borrow the album and return it six months later. Explaining why the Magnetic Fields songs are so wonderful, too, is like explaining whats great about ice cream. Not much to say other than that theyre sweet, straightforward and addictive as hell. Strange Powers gets extra bonus points for being a song about summer love, in all its confusing glory. Top that with the twisted cum adorable lyrics: On the ferris wheel looking out on Coney Island/Under more stars than there are prostitutes in Thailand, and youve got musical gold. The nerd factor is up to 11 with this band, but in the best way possible. Its music for Mensa members who like to be spanked, and that quirky charm makes it right for this season. Music to write love letters by, and look forward to September, when youll be passing notes and making googly eyes.
Sly and the Family Stone, Hot Fun in the Summertime
Sly Stone wont be winning a tribute from any womens rights groups anytime soon. He was known for smacking his bitch up, but, more importantly, for being a musical visionary on par with the great funk wonders of the world. Sly and the Family Stone were a veritable factory of fantastic songs, and they seemed to churn them out with no effort at all. Hot Fun in the Summertime is one such easy, swingy track, and it never fails to make you, your mom, and your grandma all say, Aaaah when it comes on the radio. Usually, Id revolt against anything so universally loved, since most music like that is about as revolutionary as warm chamomille tea. In Slys case, Ill let it slide. Hippie fag that I am, its hard not to get all stirred up by his usual message of love and understanding. Though most of the hot fun I have in the summertime involves my internal organs melting while I stand on a subway platform in 94 degree heat, I can still relish the way it paints the season.
Jonathan Richman, That Summer Feeling
Have you seen Jonathan Richman? I could probably smack the crap outta him. He wears jaunty European hats and sings songs about dinosaurs and wanting to be held, with lyrics like, And when I want more holding I can ask for more. So why do I love this little namby-pamby boy? How much time do you have? Jonathan Richman is a songwriter without compare, a true original in a sea of troubadour imitatees. He embraces the girly man within and has dance moves that will knock you flat on your fat ass. The most obviously summer-y of all his very sunny music is the classic, That Summer Feeling. Inside all the plain and jangly guitar work and the schmaltzy singing are ruminations about childhood and memory. The lyrics are easy genius: When even fourth grade starts looking good, which you hated.../And you boys long for some little girl, that you dated/Do you long for her or for the way you were? Few musicians have better captured those months of lemonade and slip-and-slides, and few can approach him. Hes Jonathan Richman, the man after your heart.
Sizzla, Half That Has Never Been Told
Im a short, white woman. In fact, Im pretty short and extremely white, to the extent that you can occasionally see the blue veins through the inside of my arm skin. The boys go wild for it! All this means that when I first walked into a record store to buy the Sizzla album, Good Ways, I was greeted with smirks and looks of confusion all around. What was Miss Whitey McHonkyPants doing here, looking for an album by a semi-well-known reggae artist whos famous for his aggressive views on black oppression? All I can say for myself is that the boundaries of race and creed were hacked to smithereens the first time I heard his song, Half That Has Never Been Told, at a smoky club years ago. The music was simple, keyboardy and drowsy, but the voice was not unlike a man raised from the dead and then set on fire. Sizzla packs dynamite in his voice, and lets it out in a long controlled rant, so much that hes hoarse by the end. Its exhausting. And for a little honky like me, its the kind of record thats full of fever and perspiration. Keep a fan and some ice cubes near by -- youre gonna need em.
Os Mutantes, Baby
Os Mutantes are goddamn insane. Like your spinster aunt with a whole lot of costume jewelry, theyre quirky and fun with that mild undertone of drugged-out lunacy. Unfortunately, they havent been a working band for about four decades now, but weve got their catalog to freak out all over, thanks to the king of mentally ill music himself, David Byrne. Os Mutantes were a Brazilian psychedelic band in the mid-sixties who performed in costumes and elaborate makeup, sometimes as animals, sometimes as what appears to be huge heads of cabbage. Mr. Talking Heads re-found them in the nineties and released a compilation of their best work, called Everything Is Possible. Psycho Os Mutantes fans came out of the woodwork, including Beck, whose album, Mutations was a heavily inspired by the band. But when you take it beyond all the ass-kissing, any of Os Mutantes songs sound summer-y. My favorite is a bossa nova with vocals by the once-very-hot Rita Lee. She whispers a musical love letter, with gentle, English-as-a-second language lyrics like, Look here, read what I wrote on my shirt. If anything, its music for the lighter side of summer for drinking a pitcher of margaritas and falling asleep on the sun porch.
Cheap Trick, I Want You to Want Me
Im not going to sugar-coat the appeal of Cheap Tricks I Want You to Want Me. This is no pretentious opus about world hunger, and it certainly doesnt break any ground with the use of sampling or guitar tricks. At best, this song is formulaic. Boy loves Girl. Boy wants Girl to want Boy. Boy offers to do anything for Girl's love. The summer-y-ness here is all up in the way its carefree and childish, what you were before you ever did drugs or lived through the beginning of World War III. And sure, the song is a little corny, but what differentiates it from, say, Chicagos excruciating Youre the Inspiration, is that it doesnt aspire to be anything its not. Warm and eager to please, it bounces along with a singular purpose. A guy I know used to say that theres two kinds of people: People who like Prince, and People who are assholes. I feel the same way about this song. You know you love it, so stop complaining and add it to the mixtape youre making for your summertime crush.
Molly Simms, the former music editor of Bust magazine, writes for money. Sadly, the Black Table doesn't pay any money. We are now in hiding.