Each year, I wrap up the school year and head into summer. But summer break for me doesn’t mean days lounging by the community pool or exotic vacations to beachside towns; it means work. Work on the house, work entertaining the kids, work at the brewery.
How I long for those lazy days of unstructured relaxation, when the looming school year was not even a pinprick in the distance.
In order to try and recapture the nostalgic feeling of those carefree times, each year I make a playlist that can bring me back to simpler times. I title this list Summer of Sam, and it features a combination of throwback tunes and new hits that summon the winds of summer to my otherwise grueling adultness.
Here’s my Top 5 tracks from those playlists. If you want to check out this summer’s list on Spotify, you can follow it here.
5 – I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore – The Rascals
This is the first track on Time Piece: The Rascal’s Greatest Hits, and every time I hear that drum roll fade into Eddie Brigati and Felix Cavaliere’s harmonized YEAAAAAHHHHHH, it gives me chills.
This album was a staple at my house as a kid, and we’d listen to a dubbed cassette of it in the car on the way down to the shore. It brings back memories of that ride, the anticipation of the beach, the smell of steamed mussels and clams, the cooler of beer wedged between my dad’s ankles in the front seat.
There’s some fucking Americana for you.
4 – Playlist – Kid Quill
The dark horse of the list, this Indiana rapper came out of nowhere for me. My friend Matt discovered him by chance on Spotify, and Quill’s album, 94.3 The Reel, instantly went into heavy rotation at the brewery. The beat of this song is light and soulful, with lots of piano and callback hooks to songs of my youth: Kanye, Nelly, Akon, 50 Cent.
Quill has a new album coming out this summer, and I can’t wait to hear what he has in store.
3 – Intro/Reset – Set Your Goals
I first met this California pop-punk band at a rest stop on the Mass Turnpike. My band was on our first tour, and they happened to be doing an east coast tour of their own. We chatted and traded demos, and this is the first track on that EP. They also taught us that if you go to rest stop gas stations late enough, you can steal cases of water from the front of the store without anyone noticing.
This isn’t their best song — my favorite is probably Mutiny! — but those guitars at the beginning remind me of that first summer tour, the excitement of being on the road, and the envy I felt about Set Your Goals living out their dream on the other side of the country.
It was a few more years before I got to see California from the backseat of a van, but when I finally did, I put on this song as I crossed the border.
2 – All Star Me – Saves The Day
Another opening track that makes my head swim with nostalgia. The buzzing of an open lead being plugged into a guitar followed by a chunky three-chord riff kicks off this song and album, which my buddy Bill and I nearly wore out during the summer of 2001.
I don’t have a lot of good summer stories, but between my junior and senior year of high school, I somehow convinced my parents to let me live in Ocean City, NJ with two of my best friends. I got a job as a stock boy at the 34th Street CVS, and the three of us did the whole coming of age thing on the boardwalk a decade before Jersey Shore made it cool.
We rode our bikes a lot that summer, but Bill had an old Ford Ranger with a subwoofer the size of a kindergartener in the backseat. We’d drive around and blast this song with the windows down, the smell of salt and sea in our nostrils.
1 – Barbara Ann – The Beach Boys
Come on. Did you really think you could get through this list without a fucking Beach Boys song? I know there are people out there that don’t like them, but they’re just wrong. The Beach Boys ARE summer…and drug addiction, and weird sandboxes, and Charles Manson…but mostly SUMMER.
When I was young, the oldies station in Philly would play a Beach Boys marathon for the entirety of the 4th of July weekend, and at once point, my dad taped it for me on our boom box. I listened to it every summer while I played Frogman in our pool and stained my teeth with Fla-Vor-Ice.
Any of their tracks could be on this list. My all time favorite Beach Boys song is “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” But that song reminds me of college, when I took every schmaltzy lyric as gospel and dreamed of a life with a girl that was too far away.
“California Girls” is another contender, but even that one is too trite for me. No, “Barbara Ann” tops the list because it was my favorite Beach Boys song to sing when I was a kid. I thought it was about a guy going fishing — bob-bob-bob, bob-bobberin — and didn’t realize until much later it was about a girl with a not-so melodic name. Plus, The Beach Boys also sang this song during a cameo on Full House, and I’ve come to realize that basically every seminal moment in my childhood can be attached to a scene in that show.
Honorable Mention – I’m The One – DJ Khaled feat. Quavo, Chance The Rapper, Justin Bieber, Lil’ Wayne
This song is on every summer playlist I’ve created since it was released two years ago. As the kids say, this one “bops.” Am I using that right? It bops?
Chance’s verse is by far my favorite. It’s got the right combo of lyrical dexterity, allusion, and his signature little whoops and squeals. Wayne’s verse feels a little mailed in (he rhymes “somebody” with “any-fuckin-body”), but it’s not a bad effort. Even the Biebs’ hook is solid.
The reasons it doesn’t break the top 5 is because a: I have no idea what DJ Khalid does other than yell his name, and b: a Kidz Bop version of this song exists.
In their rendition, there’s no Quavo or Chance verse. The only verse the Kidz try to re-create is Wayne’s, where they replace the line “and when she’s on the molly she a zombie/she think we Clyde and Bonnie but we more like Whitney Bobby” with “and when she hears this song she dances crazy/she thinks I’m like a party but I’m really more a smarty.” Hard pass.