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Sounds of Summer

My List of Great Albums To Play When The Temperature Rises

By Ben Larson

Fort Wayne Reader

2009-07-21


So what makes an album a ďsummerĒ album? Is it the instrumentation? Does the fact that you bought an album during a past summer have something to do with it? Is it the lyrics? For me, Iíd say all of the above, and then some. The fact is, most of us donít know exactly why some albums just sound better in July than they do in January. They just, well, do. And now that summer is officially here (at least according to our calendars), I thought Iíd dedicate this weekís column to discussing some of my favorite summer albums, and Iíll try to make sense of why they belong in this category.

1. Lola Versus Powerman and The Moneygoround - The Kinks
This one is a pure party album for me, which is why I am including it in this list. For one, it has one of the greatest potential for singalongs of any album I have. Whether my friends and I are laughingly swinging our glasses back and forth to ďLola,Ē or throwing our arms around each other and pondering our futures over ďThis Time Tomorrow,Ē nearly every song on this album begs to be sung along to. Itís just a fun album, and thatís what summer is all about ó having fun with friends.

2. A Love Supreme - John Coltrane
I love jazz. I especially love jazz when itís hot outside. That being said, I usually want to hear Coltrane when itís dark outside, and I am trying to stop sweating long enough to fall asleep. In a way, A Love Supreme mirrors in music what it is like to experience summer late at night. Its lush melodic lines and instrumentation seem to act as a companion to the smells of grass and asphalt, the sounds of crickets, and the moist air, all of which travel together on the summer breeze. Itís hard to appreciate that kind of combination during the day, when our lives act as such a distraction.

3. 6 and 12-String Guitar - Leo Kottke
OK, this one is easy. Each song on the album is made up of only one guitar being fingerpicked, with no lyrics. This is music for sitting out on the porch, or maybe taking a walk through the woods with some headphones on. The sound of a solo acoustic guitar, for me, has a certain nature quality to it that cannot be equaled by any other instrument. Itís also the feeling of intimacy, evoked by one performer playing for one listener, that makes me think of a warm day spent sitting on the grass. In much the same way that Coltrane perfectly matches the inherent mood of a summer night, Kottke does the same for a long, lazy afternoon.

4. Madman Across The Water - Elton John
The reason I love this album in summer is that it contains some element of each of the first 2 albums on my list. ďTiny DancerĒ is undoubtedly one of the best songs to sing to with your friends (if you donít believe me, just watch the movie Almost Famous). The melodies are heart-wrenching at times, and combined with the large band used, give the album (especially the title track) the same kind of sonic cacophony that makes jazz such great warm weather music. Added to this is the romantic quality of ďMadman.Ē This is a great album to put in the car stereo when youíre taking that special someone for a drive in the country, or sitting on the porch and spilling your guts to that person youíve been carrying a torch for. Put simply, it oozes love.

5. Fragile Ė Yes
When I ride my bike, or take a road trip, I need to hear Yes. Itís simple, really. Thereís so much going on here that itís the perfect album for travel. It has big sounds, loud guitars, the keyboards are all over the place, and all of that adds up to some music that will keep your mind sharp and your body active while youíre getting from one place to the other. Thatís really it.

6. Born To Run - Bruce Springsteen
This is it. The coup de grace of summer albums. This one has it all. First off, it just plain rocks. Every song sounds like an anthem because of the huge sound made by the charging guitars, pounding drums, blaring horns, and lyrics that command you to take charge of your life. Itís unapologetic, raw, exhausting, emotional, etc, etc, etc. When I hear the title track, I have no choice but to get up and move, and the same goes for ďThunder Road,Ē ďTenth Avenue Freeze Out,Ē and basically the entire thing. For me, this album IS summer. It has all of the same qualities as the season itself. It gives life, punishes you, lifts you up, brings you down, gives you hope, smashes it, itís God and the devil rolled into one. If I had to pick a desert island album, Iíd pick this one based solely on its appropriateness to the climate.

So thatís what I got for a summer playlist. Your individual results may vary, but thatís the great thing about summer albums ó we love them because they speak to us in a way that anything else at any other time couldnít do. Maybe you love certain albums because they remind you of a particular time in your life. Maybe itís something you just canít describe. Speaking for myself, I love summer albums because summer is the only time of year for me that has a specific soundtrack.

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