Summer Rocks! 10 Classic Guitar Tunes
Rock ‘n’ roll and summer have been inextricably linked since Dick Dale first turned his amp up to 11. Since then songs about surfing, sun, romance and hot city nights have been part of America’s self-generating musical mythology. Here are 10 great guitar driven entries in summer rock lore:
• “Wipeout,” the Surfaris (1963): Surf rock had been ignited by Dick Dale’s first two singles in 1959. The Beach Boys followed in 1961, albeit in an initially mellower vein. But the definitive surf rock tune of 1963 was the garage rock classic “Wipe Out,” which remains a litmus test for aspiring drummers and guitarists with a taste for the retro-hip. With more than a million copies sold during its initial release, negotiating “Wipe Out” ’s guitar riffs is a recommended rite of passage for budding pickers looking to build basic dexterity.
• “Summertime Blues,” Blue Cheer (1958): When Eddie Cochran first cut this ode to teenaged frustration, it was squeaky clean, tongue-in-cheek. But the howling, feedback drunk version recorded by Blue Cheer in 1967 was a far more dangerous beast. Billed as the loudest band on Earth at the time of the single’s release, Blue Cheer were such dark and determined sludge-noise makers that this rendition of the tune has been acknowledged as the first heavy metal track to make the pop charts.
• “School’s Out,” Alice Cooper (1972): Fast forward a half-decade, and hard guitars were no longer strangers to the pop charts. Cooper’s enduring nod to escaping the tyranny of education is the perfect soundtrack for summer adolescence. Guitarist Glen Buxton’s mercuric riff is one of rock’s most indelible song intros.
• “Surfin’ USA,” Beach Boys (1963): Rewriting Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” for this song probably seemed like a good idea at the time, and when Berry got his post-lawsuit settlement, he was probably happy about it, too, considering that the Beach Boys’ single reached number two on the pop charts and the album that bears its name hung 10 on the U.S. album sales chart for 78 weeks. For its breezy melody, evocative sound and urgency without edge, “Surfin’ USA” remains perhaps the most definitive idealized portraits of Southern California beach culture.
• “Sunny Afternoon,” the Kinks (1966): While this tune sounds like a lovely seasonal idyll, Kinks songwriter Ray Davies is far too clever for that. It’s actually a satirical skewering of Britain’s progressive tax code. But when it comes on the radio, Davies’ easy delivery and the song’s lazy chord progression make any version of harsh reality seem irrelevant.
• “Nightswimming,” R.E.M. (1993): This single helped R.E.M. redefine southern rock as a genre that needn’t depend on power chords, bellowing vocalists and screaming six-string solos to evoke the region’s lifestyle. Michael Stipe’s lyrics pine for youthful innocence while evoking the warm waters and long hot nights of summers below the Mason-Dixon Line with beauty and grace. Sure, this tune doesn’t actually have any guitar in its arrangement, but it’s too magical to overlook.
• “Long Hot Summer Night,” Jimi Hendrix (1968): This funky, ebullient track from the double-disc masterpiece Electric Ladyland ripples with mystery via its slinky six-string strumming. On the summer night in question, confounded romance is in the air — and the air is thick, hot and psychedelic.
• “Summer In the City,” Lovin’ Spoonful (1966): With it blaring car horns and lyrics capturing the heat, sweat and milling pulse of the urban world, this song sidesteps the nature themes of most summer numbers. The chiming guitar tune reached the top of the pop charts and continues to appear regularly in movies and on television in presentations ranging from The Simpsons to Die Hard With a Vengeance to Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary.
• “Rockaway Beach,” the Ramones (1977): Even punk rock has its beach songs. This number by the Ramones immortalized the sandy strip in Queens that was once called the “Irish Riveria” due to the large population of that ethnicity on the shoreline of the New York City borough. If you like your summer songs loud and snotty — with a blast of Marshall power — this is your anthem.
• “Surfin’ Bird,” The Trashmen (1963): One of the oddest hits of all time, “Surfin’ Bird,” with it’s geeked-up vocals and garbage can studio sound, miraculously reached number four on the pop charts. Surfing was nowhere to be had around the Trashmen’s hometown, but with the song’s ascent the long, illustrious history of maverick Minneapolis rock that would spark the Replacements, Prince, the Time and others began.