Just like that, the summer’s over. For about nine months, I wish for nothing more than warm weather, sitting outside watching a fire crackle with a cold beer, long road trips, and bright sunshine – only for the three months of actual summer to fly by before I know it. Summer playlists often are the most fun for me to compile because the songs often trigger some of the best memories of my life. That being said, they’re also the most frustrating because it forces me to make tough decisions about the true impact of a song in a relatively constricted period of time.
As a reminder for those who are new to these playlist write-ups, I only have two rules when compiling a seasonal playlist like this:
- In keeping consistent with the fact that I could only fit around 80 minutes onto a CD-R back in the day, the total length of any individual playlist can’t greatly exceed that same mark. I try to keep each playlist to about 20-23 tracks, or about 80-84 minutes long).
- No distinct artist can appear more than once on any individual playlist. This helps diversify what can appear on a playlist, and provide a different palette of musical sounds and memories for future listening.
While reading this, I invite you to think about the songs that you’ve listened to this summer and the memories that they conjure up! Let’s jump in.
“Hey Hey What Can I Do” – Led Zeppelin
Every few months, I fall into a Led Zeppelin hole, and earlier this summer, I fell into another. If you approach me during these times, you’d have a hard time convincing me that there was a better or more consistent band than Zep during the late 60s and early 70s (from Led Zeppelin I through Houses of the Holy). But, it’s Led Zeppelin III that has always had a special place for me – the way that these four talented musicians seamlessly changed from basically being the greatest blues rock band of all time on I and II to bringing the house down with acoustic guitars on III always impressed me. Unlike other bands (looking at you, Beatles), Led Zeppelin pretty much included everything they recorded on their studio albums – while they released singles, more often than not, the A and B side of a single would be from the album they were promoting at the time, so there are only a limited amount of “non-album tracks” from Zeppelin’s heyday. Even the original release of their b-sides compilation, Coda, only had 8 tracks, and most of those were from the band’s later years.
However, the deluxe reissues of Zeppelin’s catalog revealed a hidden jewel among the discarded takes and unnecessary remixes, “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” originally the B-side to the “Immigrant Song” vinyl single in 1970, was finally widely released on the deluxe edition of Coda. The song has the distinction of being the only non-album track the band released during their time together, and it’s on-par with the rest of Led Zeppelin III. It probably should have been included on the album itself instead of being relegated to a B-side, but that’s how on point Zeppelin were during this period. Combining Jimmy Page’s jangling acoustic guitar from that era with Robert Plant’s always amazing vocals, “Hey Hey What Can I Do” combines everything good about Zeppelin together from the Led Zeppelin III era into one succinct package.
“Sky Mall” – Vulfpeck
I’m lucky enough to have a good friend and kindred spirit named Mike who I can talk to about anything related to music. Chalk it up to years of hanging out until 2 or 3 AM, listening to all sorts of things, watching YouTube music videos for hours on end, questioning everything, and sharing our recent favorites with each other, Mike has always understood what I’ve talked about from a musical standpoint even if I was unsure of what I was truly trying to say. Our tastes have always differed, but over time (to his delight), his musical tastes have slowly seeped into my subconsciousness. I’ve learned to appreciate songs outside of the typical 3-4 minute length and/or typical V/C/V/C/B/C structure in part due to his influence. Upon his recommendation and hearing his stories of losing his mind at their shows, I attended a Phish concert this summer. Not only did I lose my mind, I was left speechless – amazed at their arrangements and their ability to musically shape-shift with very little trouble.
Anyone who knows Mike knows that he is flat out obsessed with a few bands – Zeppelin, Phish, and Vulfpeck, a funk group from Michigan. I’ve come to like Vulfpeck a bunch thanks to him (but not as much as he does). Vulfpeck are an interesting band to listen to because their songs are usually based off of very simple keyboard melodies and rely on mainly live takes and minimal cutting/editing to achieve their sound. Take “Sky Mall,” for instance, the fourth track on their wonderful 2014 EP, Fugue State. Combining what can only be described as a retro “Sonic-like” video game sound with some blistering bass, some xylophone, and a solid rhythm section, “Sky Mall” is simultaneously founded in funk, and yet also completely unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Because of their commitment to being a “live” band when possible, “Sky Mall” was created mainly in one take (with some overdubs), meaning that the sound of a metal tube falling in time with the rhythm of the song was captured in both the master recording AND in the video. Mad respect to these guys for what they do (and to that metal tube for falling on the right beat).
So thanks for everything, Mike. You’ve broadened my musical horizons and successfully got me hooked on some Vulfpeck (and the Grateful Dead, and Space Bacon, but those are other stories). Good luck getting me really hooked on Phish.
“Wonderland” – Taylor Swift
Back in 2014, Taylor Swift took all of her music off of Spotify (and most other streaming services), claiming that “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for.” For three years, fans who had previously listened to Swift on Spotify had a few options – sign up for a streaming service that paid Swift what she saw as fair (aka Apple Music), or buy the CD/individual tracks in stores or on iTunes, or pirate her music. There was no indication that Swift would budge on her perception that making around $425,000/month just on the streaming revenue on a multi-platinum album like 1989 (according to Spotify in less detailed terms) wasn’t going to change anytime soon, perpetuating the need for different listening methods based on which artists you wanted to listen to.
But then, earlier this summer, Swift changed her mind, for really no visible reason at all.
Who knows exactly what happens behind the scenes – but rejoice! Taylor Swift being back on Spotify is a huge win for the streaming industry in general, and now her fans (myself included) can hear one of the most talented pop stars of our generation whenever we want. Not only that, we have been treated to her entire back catalog, meaning that we get deluxe (or platinum) editions of her last four studio albums.
Deluxe editions are basically goldmines for fully formed bonus tracks that were left off the main release, and Swift’s deluxe editions are full of riches and surprises, especially her 1989 deluxe set, which includes “Wonderland,” an exploding dub step-based track which bursts at the seams with synthesizers and booming electronic drums. Yes, this is a Taylor Swift song with multiple bass drops, a fact which could be off-putting at first, but it’s important to remember that this track, like the majority of the other tracks on 1989, was produced by resident pop geniuses Max Martin and Shellback. So, yes, it’s worth listening to – over and over again.
“Shark Smile” – Big Thief
There have been a lot of tragic driving songs over the years – “Leader of the Pack,” “Bat out of Hell,” “Last Kiss,” but Big Thief’s “Shark Smile” might be the best one in recent memory. Focusing on the classic Americana themes of lost love revolving around a car accident, lead singer Adrianne Lenker puts on her best “I’m On Fire” Springsteen impression and guides us on a tragic road trip through middle America.
There are some songs where you can’t come up with a story or an anecdote to illustrate the right words to describe how it makes you feel – this is one of those times, so I suppose the only thing you can do is take a listen for yourself. All I know is that this is nothing short of being a beautiful, haunting track that has stayed with me since I first came across it this summer. I’m confident that it will stay with me for years to come.
Thanks for reading! Check out my full Summer 2017 playlist below.
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