Another summer is now here, and I’m reminded about how, growing up, songs that were hits during the summers of my youth helped to define and more importantly remind me of past summers and the good times I connect to them.
In the summer of 1963, my parents rented a bungalow in Mountain Lodge Park, about 50 miles north of Manhattan off Route 17.
To the many New Yorkers who know that area, part of that drive also included passing by a huge roadside restaurant called the Red Apple Rest. You didn’t want to miss the signs leading up to it because, as a family, someone would need to use the bathroom, or you’d stop to get lunch. The signs were big and told you you were 1,000 feet from the Red Apple Rest, then 500 feet from the Red Apple Rest, then 100 feet from it…
It was kind of like a culinary rite of passage.
After that it was another hour or so to Mt. Lodge Park.
I was 11 years old that summer. It was the summer that Jackie Kennedy lost her baby and it seemed that we all mourned with her.
It was also the summer that I carried a transistor radio everywhere and where I would sit for hours in a tree house I built, listening to my favorite radio station: WABC.
The summer started off with a bang with one of the most unbelievably inappropriate hits that was ever broadcast: “If You Wanna Be Happy” by Jimmy Soul. The song is about the benefits of marrying an ugly girl. The premise being that the girl would be so grateful that she would cook and clean the house happily every day and remain totally faithful, as opposed to the disadvantage of marrying a pretty girl, who would leave you for the next guy and break your heart.
The song is so happy and poppy and I’d never bothered to pay attention (nor did anyone else, apparently) to the lyrics much. I remember my friends and I singing the chorus, however, when we were riding the IRT train on our way to a swimming pool uptown.
“If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife, so from my personal point of view, Get an ugly girl to marry you.” At the end of the song there is a conversation between Jimmy and one of his other singers. Here it is verbatim: “Hey man, I saw your wife the other day. Man, she sure is ugly.” “Yeah, (Jimmy replies), but she sure can cook!”
What an insane message to an 11-year-old (boy or girl)!
That song, along with the Tymes’ “So Much in Love,” followed by “My Boyfriend’s Back” by The Angels, were the soundtrack of that summer.
When I hear any of these songs, it takes me back to the summer of 1963 in Mountain Lodge Park and the treehouse.
Perhaps the greatest memory of the summer of 1963, however, was that it came between three monumental events (at least in the mind of this 11-year-old):
The October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, in which we were all ultimately relieved that the world was not consumed by a nuclear war (remember the bomb drills when we had to shelter under our school desks?)
The assassination of president John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.
Five weeks later, the release in the US of the Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand” on December 26, 1963, which went to Number One the following week and further fueled the Beatlemania that followed.
It really is hard sometimes to remember a time when the Beatles were not affecting the entire cultural zeitgeist of our lives. That is what the music that summer brings me back to.
I was at the Ten Mile River Boy Scout camp in Narrowsburg, NY, with my trusty transistor radio always under my pillow.
The songs that summer were:
“Rag Doll” – the Four Seasons
“A Hard Day’s Night” – the Beatles
“Where Did Our Love Go” – the Supremes
It should be noted that all of these acts are now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!
Back to Ten Mile River scout camp in July. My parents rented a house in Ocean Beach, Fire Island, for August.
“I Can’t Help Myself” – the Four Tops
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – the Rolling Stones
“I Got You Babe” – Sonny & Cher
“Satisfaction” was the Rolling Stones first Number One song, 18 months after the Beatles arrived, contrary to most memories!
I’m back in Fire Island for the entire summer.
“Strangers in the Night” – Frank Sinatra
“Hanky Panky” – Tommy James and the Shondells
“Wild Thing” – the Troggs
“Summer in the City” – the Lovin’ Spoonful
“See You In September” – the Happenings
“You Can’t Hurry Love” – the Supremes
As you can see, the summer of 1966 was pretty volatile in the world of Top 40 radio in New York!
“Can’t Take My Eyes off You” – the Four Seasons
“Windy” – the Association
“Light My Fire” – the Doors
“All You Need Is Love” – the Beatles
I was attending the Shaker Village summer camp in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. My bunkmate was Ben Chaney, the brother of slain civil rights worker James Chaney. It was the summer of my political awakening. This was the summer that FM radio began to gain prominence for rock listeners, and the path to my pop music soundtrack memories took a decidedly different trajectory.
Although never reaching Number One in the US, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum is my song of the summer of 1967, and the entire Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was my album of the summer. That does seem fitting, as that album really ushered in, for most of us, the album as the creative voice of an artist not an under-three-minute single.
Where were you?
Do you remember the songs you grew up with?
Were they important?
I want to read your comments and memories.
All songs are listed in chronological order from the last week of June to the first week of September of their respective years. All chart listings courtesy of WABC Musicradio 77.
Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Patrick Gruban.