When you’re young, summer can be an endless Calvin-and-Hobbes adventure. Once I could drive, my friends and I took on whatever my little corner of suburbia had to offer (as long as I had enough coin in my pocket for the movies and my mom knew where I was). Days didn’t require planning but offered endless potential.
At some point, I aged out of the no-responsibility summer. You’ve probably gotten there too — you’ve stopped going to school, and your boss isn’t that cool about you taking a few months off “just to hang out.” You feel the transition to summer less and may do less to celebrate the warmth and carefree spirit that it provides.
Right now, the way things are, we need to put some of that childhood glow back into summertime. Each day seems to bring fresh proof of a world in turmoil, of people not caring enough about what happens to their neighbors, near and far. Amid the weirdness and darkness, we need to feel the summer’s joy of old — days of possibilities, long nights on the road, and a few bits of wisdom to go with it.
Put down the news for a bit (don’t worry, the world will still be a nutbar tomorrow), and commit yourself to having a throwback summer. Here are some positive summer jams to get things started:
“Summertime” — DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
As if this needs any explanation at all. Are you alive? Can you connect to the internet and find this song? Well then, you understand.
I actually think this song creates fun and joy on its own. I’m no food scientist, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this song is the reason why ice cream tastes good. This song can help you roller-skate really well, even if you don’t know how. Yes, backwards too.
You can blast “Leanin’ to the side, but you can’t speed through/Two miles an hour, so everybody sees you” at the DMV, and everyone will be happy. Such is the power of this song.
“Constructive Summer” — The Hold Steady
If you’re unfamiliar with The Hold Steady, they’re about to become your new favorite band. Huge choruses, massive riffs, and big soaring lyrics about being young and reckless and alive and defiant. Many of The Hold Steady’s songs fit the definition of a summertime super jam (they even have a song titled “Stay Positive”), but “Constructive Summer” takes the cake for its call to action. In a time of massive consumption, binge watching, and Insta-criticism, this song has a simple request of you. Make something. Build something. Put something out into the world, and take an active role in creation, however small. All you need is “love, and trust, and friends, and hammers.”
“Dancing in the Street” — Martha and the Vandellas
Forget the “Oldies” label — this song is off the charts good. I love the way the snare drum and tambourine punch out the backbeats, and the way Martha’s voice comes powering through in a way that Autotune and other studio tricks could never replicate. “Dancing in the Street” shimmers with optimism and creates a vision of community and joy as people celebrate the newness of summer. This song really gets what summer is all about — the belief that things are going to get better. It’s good to be reminded that, time after time, we have made it through the cold and muck, and while there are seashells to be gathered and warm nights to be had, let’s make the most of it.
“I Can’t Wait” — Nu Shooz
Believe it or not, you already know this song. You’ve heard it on the radio, and you’ve given a little light shimmy to it in the dairy aisle of the grocery store. This is the archetypal anonymous jam – you don’t know who sings it or what it’s called, but the minute that weird little synth beat comes through your speakers, you recognize it.
One summer long ago, I was riding to an amusement park with some friends and a serious in-car dance party broke out to this song. Vehicular laws were violated, but this song did not care – it forces you to feel joy. This is not optional. Believe me, you need to be prepared for what this song will do to your body and soul.
Good luck this summer. In ways large and small, I hope you take this opportunity to seize the freedom and potential of the summer again. These songs can help remind you of the energy that once kept you out until way too late, finding joy and happiness in unexpected places.
Originally published on July 20, 2017.