UPC All-Stars: Don’t Get Discouraged
From 12″ (Soul Cal, 1971/2005)

Amerie: One Thing (Siik Remix)
From (Siik, 2005)

Shuggie Otis: Inspiration Information
From Inspiration Information (Epic, 1974)

Given that the 4th of July is already upon us, I’m trying to kick off a mini-meme by asking folks the simple(?) question: What does a summer song sound like to you?

I don’t mean songs that happen to become popular during summer, though I respect the institution of the summer hit. I’m talking about songs that invoke summer – the type of song where you could be neck-deep in snow, in the middle of February, with the heat broken but once you hear it, you can almost see the sunset or smell the scent of backyard BBQs or feel the hot, humid air of nights where it’s 2am and no one’s ready to go home yet.

My favorite memories of summer are droplets of reality dissolved into a vat of fantasy. After all, what else is summer if not a delicious swirl of nostalgia and idealism, a lemonade cup filled with what we want summer to be rather than what it is. The perfect summer songs are the ones that invoke a sensation of innocence, optimism, and beauty yet also tinged with the slightest daub of melancholy. For what else is summer if not the feeling of sadness from knowing that summer will eventually pass, consigned into the darkening days of autumn? I guess that’s why my favorite summer songs are rarely brash, loud anthems. I prefer tunes with a hint of fragility in their melody, a vulnerability in their sensibility.

The three songs I picked out and not necessarily my all-time favorites but right now, they’ve managed to capture the anticipation of summer’s onset. The first is the UPC All-Stars’ “Don’t Get Discouraged,” a previously unreleased song from the same folks who brought you Omaha’s L.A. Carnival (the song even features Leslie Smith from the Carnival). This is an incredible song…I can’t believe no one put it out before. It opens with this beautiful, mellow keyboard riff and then the brass section blares in from nowhere and the song ramps up into a funkier jam that sounds perfect for a late-night outdoor party. The song is so positive, like something that should be the anthem for a scrappy Little League team.

As for Siik’s remix of Amerie’s “One Thing” – I know ya’ll are probably sick of the original already but I swear to God/Jah/Allah that hearing this made me think it was a completely new song. Especially compared to the forceful funkiness of Rich Harrison’s original, Siik takes it in the other direction with that sublime guitar melody. I can’t stop listening to this remix – it is so perfect to me and most definitely on a summer vibe. Makes me want to go trade my Prius in for a drop top just so I can play it out (but alas, foggy as hell right now in S.F.).

Last but least is a song out from the archives – Shuggie Otis’ “Inspiration Information.” The production on this is simply gorgeous – it’s full of life and joy and sparkles in a way that I never tire of. I hate to abuse an oft-used metaphor but the song really does sound like a ray of sunshine. Get lit by it.

I’ve invited some guests to contributed their own summer songs and I’ll put them up as they become available.

Hope everyone enjoys the long weekend.