Feel Good Hits for the Summer

Daniel Selwood sweats over the best soundtrack for having fun in the sun

Enjoying hot weather in a quality boozer is not without its dangers – as this writer discovered recently while sitting in a high-end beer garden in south London.

Across the way perched a bloke who was talking to his chums while strumming on an acoustic guitar in a faux-casual manner, the adult equivalent of those teenaged brats who play tunes out loud on buses.

One of his mates took a turn to twiddle a few strings, and then a second guitar appeared. Soon, the two needy tosspots were jamming together, playing nothing recognisable while getting louder and louder and more and more distracting.

Yeah, ok. This may not be a typical beer garden, but it was a good night, take it from me.

Enough was enough. This wasn’t their frigging living room; it was a pub, and people were trying to mind their business. A complaint was made. It turned out that Posing Pillock #1 was the landlord, who when asked politely to pack in the noise threw a tantrum and stormed off in a sulk. He remained out of sight for the rest of that Saturday evening. The big girl.

His wannbe-musician carrying on wouldn’t have been go galling had he played summat decent, summat summery. It’s what that sunny garden needed. There so many appropriate tunes.

Some are bleedingly obvious: Summer Breeze (Isley Brothers), Summertime (DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince), Summer in the City (The Lovin’ Spoonful) are as seasonal as wasp stings, peeling nose-skin and British disappointment at Wimbledon.

Other tracks seem to be about the season but fail to capture its mood. Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks is too cynical, too smug; the junk-fuelled Feel Good Hit of the Summer by Queens of the Stone Age is apt only if you’re Pete Doherty, and The Sundays’ Summertime is sunny, but it’s also brittle like an autumn leaf.

Speaking of the fall, that’s the setting for Wake Up Boo! by the Boo Radleys (‘Summer’s gone…’). But – damn! – it’s a sunny, sunny song. You need it now! You see, a track doesn’t have to be explicitly about summer to be summery. It just needs the right vibe. This Town by The Bees, for instance, has that lazy, hazy feel of a late afternoon in August with ‘lemonade on the sidewalk’. Blur’s Boys and Girls reeks of a Club 18-30 holiday: all frosty lager, Ambre Solaire and spermicidal lubricant.

Some tunes are even less obvious in their summerishness. Nevertheless, they provide the perfect soundtrack to waft across any tosser-free beer garden between now and September.

Download a bunch from Spotify

  1. Summertime – DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
  2. This Town – The Bees
  3. Wake Up Boo! – Boo Radleys
  4. Summer Breeze – The Isley Brothers
  5. Deadbeat Summer – Neon Indian
  6. Strawberry Letter 23 – Shuggie Otis
  7. Summertime – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
  8. Summer in the City – The Lovin’ Spoonful
  9. Summer is the Champion – Laura Veirs
  10. Sunday Shining – Finlay Quaye
  11. Girls and Boys – Blur
  12. Stoned Soul Picnic – Roy Ayers
  13. Graveyard Girl – M83
  14. You Set the Scene – Love
  15. Sunset People – Donna Summer
  16. Smooth Operator – Senor Coconut
  17. Staying Out For the Summer – Dodgy
  18. Summer Wind – Frank Sinatra
  19. Hot Fun in the Summertime – Sly and the Family Stone
  20. Give it Up – KC and the Sunshine Band
  21. On the Beach – Chris Rea
  22. Fun Fun Fun – The Beach Boys
  23. Porcelain – Moby
  24. Make Luv – Room 5 feat. Oliver Cheatham
  25. Dancing Girl – Terry Callier

A closer listen: Shuggie Otis

You’ve probably already heard Shuggie and not even realised it. Over the decades, the cat has worked with Frank Zappa, Ray Charles, Billy Preston, Al Kooper, Mos Def and Etta James – and he’s been sampled by Beyonce, Black Eyed Peas and no end of hip-hop producers. Hell, in the 1970s he was invited to join the Rolling Stones. (He turned down the offer to record instead with Quincy Jones.)

Shuggie started out as a musical prodigy, playing guitar professionally from the age of 12. As a young man he found minor success as a singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist who straddled the genres of jazz, blues, funk, soul, electronica and R ‘n’ B over four albums released between 1969 and 1974 (before he lost his record contract and vanished into semi-retirement).

The one you need is the dude’s final work of his solo career, Inspiration Information. It’s sometimes summertime-gorgeous – especially in the title track – and sometimes it embraces freakiness (like on XL-30). Buy the 2001 rerelease for a clutch of additional tracks, including the classic Strawberry Letter 23, which was covered by The Brothers Johnson to great success, and the far-out Freedom Flight.