The sun is staying up later, the temperatures are getting warmer, and the Orioles (the Orioles? Yes, the Baltimore Orioles!) have the best record in baseball. In must be the cusp of summer. The kiddies will be out of school soon, which means most all of us will be getting on the road and driving away from the heat and humidity of our towns to the heat and humidity of other towns. Before we don a Hawaiian shirt, plaid shorts and flip-flops, we need to pick out our summer music. (This afternoon we’ll pick out our summer reading.) This is my list of recommended tuneage for the summer months, which means it’s an infallible listing. Buy them all, cranking up the sound on your Victrola, and let that smile grow into a great big grin.
There are car tunes for driving on the freeway (otherwise known as mileage disposal units) and car tunes for driving on the backroads. A good selection for the former is Pearl Jam’s Backspacer. Now, I’m not a huge PJ or Eddie Vedder fan, but this 2009 album by the Seattle band has the right mix of surf and rock to make it a very good summer travel album. Yes, you can buy it through the Amazon link provided, but if there is a Target store nearby, pop in there to buy it for $4.99. That’s what I did. Ok, I was already at the Target as I work there, but you get the idea.
(I love the people who tell me they don’t shop at Target because it’s French-owned. When I tell them that Target is based in Minnesota, they tell me, “That’s what the French want you to believe.” Really. I’m not making this up. When people tell me this, I direct them to the nearest WalMart where, I think, they will be right at home.)
Another really good interstate freeway album is First Base by the group Babe Ruth. Released in 1972, this is the best album by the British band featuring Alan Shacklock (now a record producer in Nashville) and Jenny Haan. They were very well received in Canada in their day, which is strange for a British group that played a lot of Mexican rock and roll. But it works. It is loud and fast rock, so watch your speed as you drive to this.
If you are going to drive on rural highways through our beautiful countryside, you’ll want a different selection of music. Start with The Head and the Heart, the self-titled debut album by a fairly new indie group from Seattle. If you like Civil Wars, The Decemberists, or Iron and Wine, you’ll love this band. A great backyard album all summer long. My niece introduced me to them recently, and I’ve been listening to them steadily since.
Another great “byway” album is Jackson Browne’s Love Is Strange. Beautiful live acoustic arrangements of some of his greatest songs. Note I didn’t say his biggest hits. But slow down songs like Late For The Sky, Call It A Loan and These Days and you have a record to listen to on the hottest and laziest of summer days.
Jack Johnson is producer of surf movies (and a surfer himself), so it is only natural his surf songs are among the best out today. Jack Johnson & Friends: Best of Kokua Festival is a collection of songs recorded live through the years at a festival Johnson hosts each year. His “friends” include Taj Mahal, Jackson Browne, Ben Harper, Willie Nelson and Eddie Vedder. Nice friends. This is the perfect album for a beach or a pool party, or if you just want to pretend you’re at the beach or at a pool. (Which makes you a little weird, but I won’t tell.)
Ok, let’s pick up the pace once again with what I consider one of the five greatest albums of all time: Eat a Peach by the Allman Brothers. This was the last album to feature Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, both of whom died in separate (by one year and three blocks) motorcycle accidents. Eat A Peach is one album I could listen to over and over from June 21 to September 20 and never grow tired of it.
Ok, two more and then I’ll let you get to buying and listening. These last two albums have yet to be released, but you can still add them to your shopping cart in preparation for the day they’re released. (Both will be released on June 5.) The first is Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s Americana. While many washed-up rock stars (for “washed-up” read “Rod Stewart”) are releasing albums of tired standards, Young—who is no where near washed up—and the Horse are taking a trip much further back in time. Hey, the album kicks off with Oh Susannah. That’s right—order this today.
And then there is the aptly-named That’s Why God Made the Radio by the Beach Boys. Yes, a new studio album by the surviving ‘Boys. Brian Wilson is the greatest composer of our day, and the harmonies are still crisp and tight. Summer is not summer without the Beach Boys. If you only buy one album mentioned, it should be … well, ok, you shouldn’t buy only one album I’ve mentioned. But be sure this is included.
Get a good start on summer with good tunes. Your ears and heart will thank me.