Music for a Summer Romance

Golden oldies about summer romances and their effects

The beauty, joy, and pain of the summer romance lies in its (often unspoken) brevity -- a fling that you know can't last, and is both wonderful and horrible for just that reason. The oldies of rock's early years often focused on this subject from the teen's point of view, what with summer camp and summer vacations forcing a change of scenery on even the most dedicated young lovers. But it can also mean a young boy or girl's first brush with infidelity... or a full-grown man or woman's, for that matter. Here are ten hits from the Sixties and Seventies that deal with the cultural rules of the summer romance.
Yeah, you expect the Beach Boys to be on this list, if only because Brian Wilson's trademark production has come to epitomize surf-and-sand drama. But this early work is practically a little film all unto itself, or at least a montage: she spills Coke on her blouse, they play miniature golf and ride horses, etc. Brian paints quite a picture with just a few strokes, so much so that even the simple line "T-shirts, cutoffs, and a pair of thongs" makes you long for the beach. ("Thongs" in the flip-flop sense, of course.) And that production, utilizing the same kind of tricks made more famous on "California Girls," is actually quite complex -- the threat of winter keeps popping its head up, and getting slammed back down. Pure joy.
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"A Summer Song," Chad and Jeremy

The aural equivalent of strolling through a verdant grove with your significant other, a gorgeous yet understated ballad rhythmic enough to be folk yet ornate enough to pass as early chamber-pop. Chad and Jeremy's first hit (and another initial victory for the British Invasion) sports alliterative lyrics as lush as their surroundings: Sweet. Sleepy. Silver. Soft. Swayin'. Starry. Almost like a dream, and while the bridge recognizes the obvious encroachment of fall, rainclouds, or both, the overall effect is a pleasant one. A reverie that, like the best summer songs, realizes the magic is in the moment.
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"Summer Rain," Johnny Rivers

That rare example of a summer romance which lasts! Written by folk artist James Hendricks and covered by Rivers in that blink of an eye between his go-go days and his pop-soul era, this beautifully descending, minor-key song actually has a happy ending. And the oddities don't stop there -- this was released in 1967, and the bridge cannily mentions Sgt. Pepper, which was released that summer, being played over and over. Conclusion? This song is happening right now. Or was then. At any rate, it may sound strange to wax so sweetly rhapsodic over a memory that's a few months old, but not if you've still got the girl. And as Johnny reports, "she's here by me!"
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"Night Moves," Bob Seger

After an early career as a ripsnorting Detroit road rat of a rocker, Seger decided to start looking back -- and, ironically, found his place in the pop mainstream: no other musician in America has ever found so much gold in regret. Likewise, this folksy epic of sorts uses summer as a metaphor for youth, intimating that all romances are brief. And even if this wasn't a strict romance, given the line about how they weren't in love, just "young and restless and bored," it does show how much youth itself counts as a factor. Think of it as a man who had a summer fling with life. (With autumn closin' in.)
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"Theme From A Summer Place," Percy Faith and his Orchestra

No words, but who cares? The creator of the easy-listening sound scored a remarkable hit in 1960 with this instantly-recognizable bit of mood music; not only was it a huge smash at a time when rock was establishing a permanent foothold, but it was the number one single of the year! You only need to listen to those opening strings to be transported into the heady, warm, giddy, and ultimately fleeting series of emotions that is the summer romance. The Sandra Dee-Troy Donahue teen soaper this came from is barely remembered now, but the song lives on, used in countless TV shows and movies, albeit usually as parody. But if you need proof of its power, know only this: it hit the top of the charts for nine weeks. In February.
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"Summer Nights," John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John

Released in 1978, and written for the stage long after America had lost its innocence, this bouncy, funny number appealed to Seventies teens with lines like "Did you get very far?" and "Could she get me a friend?" But as a production number, it actually does a clever job of showing the Rashomon-like way budding boys and girls react to the same summer fling. And ironically, what started out as a parody of all those swoony Connie Francis films of the pre-Beatle days eventually became a rite of passage for generations of teens (mostly girls) who never had a beach flick of their own. And what's gonna take its place, anyway? From Justin To Kelly?
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"Sealed With A Kiss," Brian Hyland

Probably the best-known of the "reverse summer romance" top 40 trilogy completed by "See You In September" and "Save Your Heart For Me," this puppy-dog-sad little number finds teen idol Hyland no longer concerned about the size of anyone's polka-dot bikini. And this kid's really fallen hard: he sees her in the sunshine, he hears her voice everywhere, and the summer is actually cold without her. (Which is becoming a increasingly attractive idea, these days.) His plan, as evidenced by the back-of-an-envelope title, is to write her every day so she doesn't forget him. And that seems a little clingy -- although a modern update might find him texting her every five minutes.
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"See You In September," The Happenings

If this vocal group already sounded a bit behind the times in 1966, it's because they were: their glee-club style of singing was already on the way out, and this, their biggest hit, had first been recorded back in 1962 by the Tempos. But summer romance -- or, in this case, the effect they have on year-long romances -- was still a hot-button issue with kids carted off to summer camp every year. It's a bit overdramatic, with talk of "danger in the summer moon above" and the repeated thematic couplet of "I'll be alone each and every night / While I'm away, don't forget to write." Guaranteed to manipulate through guilt, in other words. But what teenager isn't passive-aggressive?
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"Save Your Heart For Me," Gary Lewis and the Playboys

You either love Jerry Lewis' most famous progeny or you hate him. Yet this agreeable ditty, free from the drama of its peers, is brimming with Lewis' trademark sunshine pop, even if the subject matter finds him fretting over the strength of his relationship. Actually, he seems pretty secure for someone who's essentially ordering his best girl to stay with him, adopting a sort of "Don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding possible summer flings. In fact, he recognizes the flirting as a fact of life, and get this: "I won't think it's wrong if you play along." Progressive or just creepy? You make the call.
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"Wonderful Summer," Robin Ward

Although this ballad is nearly forgotten now, don't shed any one-hit-wonder tears for Robin (actual name Jackie), who sang the female parts on all those Partridge Family records, not to mention endless TV themes and studio work with big names like Bing and Streisand. But Jackie actually got the name Robin from her daughter: that's right, the girl who sounds 16 on this starry-eyed piece of vinyl was actually 22 and quite versed in the ways of the world. She had her acting chops down, apparently; this ode to a summer romance sounds ripped right out of a high-schooler's diary.