As we continue our look at songs with the word ‘summer’ or ‘summer time’ in the title, let’s explore some timeless classics.
In 1958, nineteen year-old Eddie Cochran recorded a song that he and his manager Jerry Capehart penned about the trials and tribulations of teenage life in America. Initially recorded as a B side, the cut “Summertime Blues” peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 on September 29, 1958.
Capehart explained the inspiration for this song in Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 songs issue: “There had been a lot of songs about summer, but none about the hardships of summer.” So with that idea and a seminal guitar lick from Cochran, the two were able to write the song in 45 minutes. This was supposed to be the B-side of the ballad “Love Again,” a song that was written by 17-year-old Sharon Sheeley, who eventually became Cochran’s girlfriend. She was also in the car crash that led to his untimely death in April of 1960.
The handclapping was performed by Sharon Sheeley, who apparently had trouble getting the rhythm, so Cochran helped her out by showing her how to clap. The deep vocals at the end of each verse were done by Cochran. Part of the lyrics addressed the controversy surrounding the voting age, which at the time was 21, and the song became very popular among his teenage fans who could relate to the lyrics about being held back by society (and parents).
Sadly, while on tour in the UK, 21-year-old Cochran died in a traffic accident in a taxi which crashed into a lamp post. Songwriter Sharon Sheeley (she and Cochran were reported as being “unofficially engaged”) and singer Gene Vincent survived the crash, Vincent sustaining such severe injuries that would shorten his career and affect him for the rest of his life. Following the accident Sheeley returned to the United States, where she collaborated with musician/songwriter, Jackie DeShannon on a string of hits. She died on May 17, 2002 at the age of 62.
The song helped define Cochran’s career, but there is much more to the story. His influence on music is very profound and sometimes understated. Eddie was largely credited for introducing rock ‘n’ roll to the Beatles. In fact, George Harrison and John Lennon were both motivated and moved after attending Eddie’s concerts in England before the Beatles formed. Cochran was a prolific performer and unfortunately more of his music has been released posthumously than had been released during his life. His pioneering contribution to the genre of rockabilly has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Countless other musicians loved the cut and the song has been covered by an array of superstar musicians, including Buddy Holly, who tore through the song on his tour of England in 1958. Some say that early rock and roll in the UK was influenced more by Holly and Cochran than the music of Elvis Presley, who never set foot on UK ground.
Let’s look at others who have covered this groundbreaking single. In 1968, the band Blue Cheer covered the song for their LP Vincebus Eruptum. Their version omits all of the response lyrics heard in Cochran’s version in favor of instrumental responses by each member of the band and the cut peaked at #14 on the Billboard Top 40 and spent an impressive 13 weeks on the charts. A follow-up single barely topped the Top 100, making Blue Cheer’s version their only true American hit single. However, their version was featured as one of the first heavy metal recordings in the 2005 documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey.
“Summertime Blues” was also recorded by the Who, although their version was done in a more aggressive (and louder) style than the original. They peaked at #27 on the Billboard charts in 1970 and the cut was a staple in concerts from 1967-1976, however they have not played the song since the death of John Entwistle. Their version of the song featured John Entwistle singing the vocal parts of the boss, the father, and the congressman in his trademark baritone growl, in addition to playing the bass guitar and doubling Roger Daltrey’s lead vocal on the verses in his normal register.
Others who have covered this iconic song include Country star Alan Jackson, who recorded it on his 1994 album “Who I Am.” Alan Jackson’s version reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. When Canadian-rockers Rush perform the song in concert, the crowd sings the lines “No dice son, you gotta work late,” “You can’t use the car ’cause you didn’t work a lick,” and “I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote.” Other acts who have recorded a cover version include the Beach Boys, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Bobby Fuller, Clash, George Thorogood, Guess Who, Ventures, Black Keys, Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Van Halen, Humble Pie, T. Rex, White Stripes; why even soft-pop songstress Olivia Newton-John, just to name a few. Jimi Hendrix used to perform “Summertime Blues” early in his career as well.
In March 2005, Q magazine placed it at #77 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks and the song is ranked #73 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It’s also in the Grammy Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not bad for a B side.
Part of the British invasion, Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde (as the folk-singing duo Chad and Jeremy), hit #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964 with the cut “A Summer Song.” The melody bears some resemblance to Buddy Holly’s “Words of Love,” which was covered by The Beatles the same year. Chad and Jeremy had seven U.S. Top 40 hits during 1964-66.
Some may remember the duo from their many TV appearances in the mid 1960s. Chad and Jeremy appeared as themselves in the episodes of the television series Batman, played a fictional duo called ‘The Redcoats’ on an episode of the TV sitcom Dick Van Dyke Show that satirized Beatlemania and they also had a guest appearance on the Patty Duke Show.
Additionally, Stuart (Chad) voiced Flaps the vulture in Disney’s 1967 film The Jungle Book. Clyde (Jeremy) appeared as a bachelor contestant on the The Dating Game, where he won. In 2003, PBS reunited Chad and Jeremy with a 1960s Pop Reunion Special which also prompted a tour. They also performed at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah in January 2009 and are still actively touring.
In 1984 Don Henley reached # 5 on the Billboard charts with the summer cut “The Boys of Summer.” It was the lead track and first single from Henley’s album “Building the Perfect Beast.” The song was written by Henley and Mike Campbell (guitarist and record producer, best known for his work with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers). In fact, Campbell offered it to Petty, but he turned it down and the song went to Henley, who wrote the lyrics (Campbell also played guitar and produced the cut). The title comes from a baseball book by Roger Kahn called “Boys Of Summer,” which is about The Brooklyn Dodgers, who broke the hearts of their fans when they moved to Los Angeles.
According to Campbell: “I used to have a 4-track machine in my house and I had just gotten a drum machine – it’s when the Roger Linn drum machine first came out. I was playing around with that and came up with a rhythm. I made the demo on my little 4-track and I showed it to Tom, but at the time, the record we were working on, Southern Accents, it didn’t really sound like anything that would fit into the album. The producer we were working with at the time, Jimmy Iovine, called me up one day and said he had spoken with Don, who I’d never met, and said that he was looking for songs. He gave me his number and I called him up and played it for him and he called me the next day and said he put it on in his car and had written these words and wanted to record it. That’s kind of how it started.”
The opening lyrics (“Nobody on the roads, nobody on the beach”) may be in reference to the California coast as summer turns into fall. It becomes a much quieter place when the weather gets cold. Lyrically, the song appears to be about the passing of youth and entering middle age, with the obvious theme of ‘summer love’ apparent in the choruses, and of reminiscence of a past relationship. In a 1987 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Henley explained that the song “is more about aging and questioning the past,” a recurring theme in Henley’s lyrics.
The song’s most famous lyric: “Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac” is rumored to be inspired by Henley- who saw Joe Walsh driving a Cadillac Hearse with a Grateful Dead sticker on it while on Sunset Boulevard. Henley was well-known to be a rabid fan of the psychedelic icons, and was often seen backstage hanging out with Jerry Garcia and other band members.
The music video for the song was a French New Wave-influenced piece directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino and shot in black-and-white. It depicts the main character of the song at three different stages of life (as a young boy, a young adult and middle-aged), in each case reminiscing about the past relationship. This is shown during the line “A little voice inside my head said don’t look back, you can never look back” at which point, each of the three people look back in turn.
The song was also a hit in the United Kingdom, reaching #12 on the UK Singles Chart. A re-release of the single in 1998 also reached #12. Hardcore college radio darlings Codeseven did a cover of the song and in 2003, the rock band The Ataris covered “The Boys of Summer” for their album “So Long, Astoria.” DJ Sammy (with vocals performed by Loona) covered the song in 2002. Henley won the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance for the song. “The Boys of Summer” was ranked #416 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
More Top Rock Songs Articles