Michael Jackson: We Got a Good Thing Goin’
From Stripped Mixes (Universal, 2009)

I wanted to pick something to end the Summer Songs series with and really, few other songs have haunted me as much as this one this summer (for obvious reasons). This is from Michael’s Stripped Mixes, an album that came out just a few weeks after his death (coincidence?). It’s engineered to strip down any number of classic songs, so that you’re really left with a minimalist musical accompaniment – just enough for a glint – and letting Michael’s soaring vocals do the rest. It’s beautiful, it’s sad, and that, my friends, is how summer often ends.

See you all back in 2010.

September 2009


My man David Ma bringing some choice end of summer tracks..

(end of) summer songs �


(Editor’s Note: Michael and I have been on parallel paths for the better part of a decade or so. I first met him when we were both DJs at KALX in Berkeley and both of us shared the same musical tastes in jazz and soul. I later found out Michael was enrolled in the Sociology PhD program at Berkeley during the same time I was going through the Ethnic Studies PhD program there (and my BA is from Cal, in sociology). Then, we both moved to L.A. around the same time and Michael’s become an adjunct in my department at CSULB. I think L.A.’s tremendously fortunate to have him, especially as one of the best new DJs at KCRW, new audioblogger (Melting Pot), and most recently, half the dynamic duo running the Sunday night party at La Cita, Gris-Gris. When I asked Michael to contribute a piece for this year’s Summer Songs series, he asked to do something at the end of the season and since it’s now the Labor Day Weekend, I decided to run it now. Enjoy. –O.W.)

    Summertime is by far my favorite time of the year. I was born in the late summer and most of my youth was spent playing baseball throughout the South in summer leagues. Ever since I started taking school seriously enough to become an academic, summertime’s importance as a respite and release has only been magnified. Honestly I don’t know where I’d even begin in terms of a complete summer soundtrack, it’s much easier for me to think of just a single day in August, so here’s a soundtrack for various points in my perfect late summer’s day.

    Early morning…three minutes before your alarm goes off.

    Love: The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This
    From Forever Changes (Elektra, 1967)

    Whenever summertime rolls around this is a song that instantly finds itself on my playlists, particularly because of Arthur’s line “Summertime is here and look there’s flowers every…where…”

    According to legend, Mr. Lee composed this song on a bright summer’s day, with his mind focused on “happy thoughts,” while strumming his guitar on the lawn of Dorsey High School here in Los Angeles. Musically and lyrically it certainly has a whimsical quality to it, very much like a dream. Except for that final blast of strings at the very end, which to my post-hip-hop ears, almost sound like they are manipulated by a DJ. That moment reminds of me of what happens to you when you’re asleep dreaming something dreamy and your alarm clock interrupts all that loveliness and brings you back to the real world in jarring fashion, thus it starts our summer day here.

    Late Afternoon

    Rolling Stones – Waiting on a Friend
    From Tattoo You (Virgin, 1981)

    This song and the video for it always made me think of good times spent during the summer with friends. I’ve been blessed throughout my life with having a number of people who I’d call good friends, even though these days we’re not nearly as close as we were or should be, we rarely lose track of each other and once we start talking it’s just like there’s no distance at all. That kind of friendship is exactly what Mick is singing about here.

    Revisiting this track for this list the thing that struck me the most was the beat. As a kid, I just dug the sentiment behind the song, but now, I am enthralled with the beat. It’s got a vaguely island based rhythm, but it’s not really a reggae beat. Similar to the beat on “Heaven,” which is on the same record, it’s very simple in terms of its elements, yet it’s so funky and full of good vibes that I find it incredibly alluring.

    Instead of just posting the song, I wanted to post the video for this one cause really it’s the video that puts this song on this list, with it’s laid back, no frills quality. The video is mostly just Mick hanging out in front of a New York apartment building (inexplicably, I might add, with Peter Tosh!) as Keith takes his sweet time to stroll up before all the boys meet at their local bar. (I’m pretty sure that this video was also the catalyst for my love of a good dive bar). While I guess any season is right for meeting up with the boys at your local spot, for some reason summertime just seems tailor made for these kind of moments.

    Early Evening / Dinner time

    People Under The Stairs: Anotha’ BBQ
    From Fun DMC (Gold Dust, 2008)

    Summer wouldn’t be summer without a least one barbeque and this track by Los Angeles’ shining example of Black and Brown unity, People Under The Stairs featuring MC’s Double K and Thes-One, captures all the frivolity and foolishness that’s wrapped into a summer barbeque with family and friends. From the beat with those hand claps and the late 70s mid-tempo disco guitar, to the party chatter in the background, to the infectious chorus “You bring the beef (+ the links, wings and ladies) and I’ll bring the brew, aw shit another barbeque.” On a record full of classic storytellin’, this one takes the cake for me. Just remember if you come to a barbeque at my house, don’t bring beer that you wouldn’t drink yourself!

    Dancing downtown just ahead of midnight

    Tim Maia: Nao Quero Dinhero
    From S/T (Polydor, 1971)

    I’m a big fan of soul and funk music from Brazil and my favorite artist is rightly recognized as the father of the Brazilian soul movement, Tim Maia. I’d stack his first 5 or 6 records against anybody’s, and the record from 1971 might be his best one. This track, which loosely translates to “I Don’t Want Money” was one of his biggest hits in Brazil, but it remains pretty obscure in the US. It’s got all the elements that made Maia a star and makes his records so prized today, a super tight upbeat funky rhythm, heavy strings, odd percussive sounds on the accents, and in my humble opinion, Maia’s strongest vocal performance. Plus it has one of the sweetest choruses of all time, where Maia and his back-up singers repeatedly tell you they don’t want no money, all they want is “amor sincero,” a sincere, true love. Besides being a perfect song to sweat and dance to, it’s also on this list because it fits me and my wife and our love (our anniversary is fittingly in August) just perfectly…

    Late-late night

    Otis Redding – My Lover’s Prayer
    From The Soul Album (Atlantic, 1966)

    I’d originally thought of choosing a different Otis Redding song, “Cigarettes & Coffee,” to be the late-night closer of this summer day, but since I don’t smoke and my wife no longer drinks coffee, it doesn’t make nearly as much sense as picking “My Lover’s Prayer.” Whenever I DJ and close out a night, I like to wind it all down with ¾ time slow soul songs and Otis was a master at these, with this one being one of his best along with the expert accompaniment from the Stax players, the Memphis horns and Booker T & the MGs. But what makes this song a classic is the begging, pleading, desperate and tremendously soulful vocals of Otis…

    What you gonna do tonight,
    When you need some lovin’ arms to hold you tight,
    Tell me what you gonna do tonight,
    When you need my heavy voice to tell you goodnight,
    Honey but, you can’t let there be no problem,
    You’ve got to come on home and help me solve ‘em,
    Then I won’t be missing you,
    And honey, my lover’s prayer would be all over.

    Additionally, I actually have an apt late-night summer memory connected to this song. While living in Atlanta in the 1990s, some of my buddies and I stumbled into a local Waffle House at 2 or 3 in the morning. At the time there must have been at least 15 or 20 people in this particular Waffle House, virtually everyone, including the cooks, were completely hammered and talking very very loudly. I went to the jukebox in need of some Southern soul and chose this song. Within 5 seconds of Otis’ opening line, “This is my Lover’s Prayer, I hope it will reach out to you my love…” there was nothing but sweet contemplative silence. When that happened, I remember having the following exchange with my friend Chris Barnes (no relation):

    MB: You hear that?

    CB: What?

    MB: How quiet it got…Otis just chilled everybody the fuck on out…

    That power is exactly what makes this the perfect wind-down song to a perfect summer day.




(Editor’s note: Jeff Weiss is one the most prolific young writers still going the print route, writing for the LA Times and LA Weekly besides running the excellent Passion of Weiss blog where he and friends riff irreverently on hip-hop and pop music at large. For his summer songs post, Jeff takes a hit off the nostalgia pipe and blows smoke rings in ode to his Jamaican weed adventure. –O.W.)

    Jeff Weiss: Summer Smoke–From Cali to the Caribbean

    Superficially, Southern California has little in common with Jamaica. But somehow, we understand each other—like fried chicken and waffles, Italians and Spaniards, Gucci Mane and polysyllabic, pasty white liberal arts students. I suspect it has something to do with the benefit (or burden) of constant sunlight, the omnivorous heat turning even the most lively souls languid, one endlessly slow and unspoiled season.

    Reggae is the purest summer music—the story (perhaps apocryphal) says that parturition occurred during one oppressive Kingston July, when ska seemed far too speedy. Even if the tale isn’t true, the facts line up—Los Angeles struts at a 4/4 pace, a dreamer’s shuffle consistent with the smoked-out votives proffered by those with Natty Dreads. The rhythm stays in your imagination, particularly for those with narcotic aspirations.

    Rita Marley-“One Draw”

    From Who Knows It Feels It (Shanachie, 1981)

    The city of “Indo Smoke,” “Hits from the Bong,” and “The Chronic,” can’t help but bob its head to this beat. Cypress Hill, straight out of South Gate, lifted the hook for “I Want to Get High” from Rita Marley’s “One Draw.” If potheads share a common bond, Jamaica and California, weed capitals of the world, may as well be Siamese siblings—along with Amsterdam, their quirky adopted brother.

    Peter Tosh-“Legalize It” (dubby version)

    From The Ultimate Peter Tosh Experience (Shanachie, 2009)

    Peter Tosh told us to “legalize it” 25 years before we did. Don’t let the High Times beatification fool you, Peter Tosh was a bad motherfucker, who wore his scars proudly and sported the nickname, “Stepping Razor.” Murdered in his home at just 42, Tosh never got the pan-global martyr treatment like his fellow former Wailer, but was massively influential. He is also widely believed to have coined the term “Hell A” to reference the City of Angels—like I said, Kingston and Cali are copacetic..

    Eek a Mouse—“Ganja Smuggling”

    From Wa-Do-Dem (Greensleeves, 1981)

    About a month ago, a fortuitous combination of circumstance and frequent flier mileage, landed me a trip to Sint Maarten, a 40 X 40 square mile, a half-Dutch, half-French strip stranded somewhere in the West Indies. Since federal law continues to consider ganja smuggling a crime, some stoners prescribe skeins of schemes to duck the Department of Homeland Security: hide it in your shampoo bottle, stuff it in a jar of peanut butter, alchemize it into suntan lotion and rub it on your skin. Basically, anything short of pulling a Stoudamire—i.e. walking through a metal detector clutching an ounce and a half wrapped in tin foil. Eek a moron.

    I don’t believe in ganja smuggling for two reasons: the first being that I don’t really enjoy courts, lawyers or possible prison time, the second is that it kills any sense of adventure. There’s something to be said about traveling to a foreign land and being forced to rely on your wits to score pot (that something to be said, is that I probably

    smoke too much).

    When my dreary U.S. Air flight dropped down over the lesser Antilles, my initial impulse was to make like Mittoo.

    Jackie Mittoo-“Hang Em High”

    From Keep On Dancing (Coxsone, 1967)

    It was the 4th of July, Dutch colonial style, and there was only one option for nightlife, a sleazy and cheesy club called “Bliss,” a misnomer on par with this man being named Tiny Lister. A flier hawked a “DJ Mr. Vince” and a “DJ Mr. Kue,” the latter of whom was advertised as one of the hottest DJ’s in upstate New York. Apparently, all you need to do to kill it in Utica is seamlessly transition between FloRida and Akon.

    Two watered down and overpriced whiskeys, four pairs of Apple Bottomed jeans later, a man stepped out of the shadows and introduced himself as Slick. He whispered “Weed, coke, and ex,” not slick.

    Nodding, I followed him to a spot in the corner, where he whipped out two grams stashed inside individual mini-ziploc bags. It was dark, but I didn’t need Junior Murvin to tell me what it was.

    Junior Murvin-“Bad Weed”

    From Police and Thieves (Island, 1976)

    “You don’t have anything better than that?”

    “Nah boyee, this is from Jamaica.”

    Compared to the fluffy, marshmallow nugs currently ubiquitous in marijuana dispensaries across the Golden State, this was stale three-day old bread beginning to mold. But desperate times call for desperate measures when you’re in the tropics and there is penicillin to fall back on.

    I purchased both sacks. As we shook hands, Slick offered a money-back guarantee.

    “If you don’t like this, come back in heyeah and axe, where Slick be at. I gawtcha brutha,” he said, with a dreadlock-thick Jamaican accent that I look absurd attempting to write out phonetically. Then he wished me a Happy Independence Day, we exchanged daps and pounds and a bunch of chintzy lime and lemon fireworks fizzled into the sky. The most logical option was suggested by Black Uhuru.

    Black Uhuru-“Big Spliff”

    From The Dub Factor (Island, 1986)

    So I rolled a log of the sere brown cess, that made up for in efficacy what it lacked in aesthetics. “Tropic Thunder” came on the hotel television, the air conditioning was turned way up, and Linval Thomson’s prophecies had been revealed.

    Linval Thomson—“I Love Marijuana”

    Available on Don’t Cut Off Your Dreadlocks.

    Or if you prefer a different nomenclature, I was happy that I’d found,

    Bob Marley–”Kaya”

    From Kaya (Island, 1978)

    Or even.

    Black Uhuru, “Sinsemilla.”

    From Sinsemilla (Island, 1980)

    Since this isn’t a travel blog and I don’t own a single pair of Bermuda shorts, I’ll spare the plot details. St. Maartin is a tiny island, ravaged by world recession, ignored by foreign capital, and sinking into a sad sort of tropical entropy. There is a gaudy casino-clotted tourist district or two, but otherwise it’s filled with crumbling banana and guava buildings, abandoned storefronts, unemployed teenagers loitering on motorcycles, and island women hawking license plates and handmade Caribe dolls.

    Sometimes, Calypso beach bands blare Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” during two-for-one well drink specials at the Sunset Bar, and the sun sets purple and maroon and it is some kind of wonderful. The place has a stubborn beauty that no amount of poverty can eradicate, and everywhere, Jamaican culture holds sway—from color schemes, to hairstyles, to patois, to pop culture. I originally had myopic notions of attempting to imitate Calypso ’70 and come home with a crate stocked with obscure Antillean albums, but only found a single music store, adorned in a Jamaican flag, filled with thick tufts of smoke, wool rasta caps and a rack full of Lee Perry, Bob Marley, and King Tubby CD’s priced at $17 a pop.

    When I asked if they had anything native to St. Maarten’s, a stoned clerk pointed me in the direction of The Isis Band with Falasha and offered a money-back guarantee. Upon later examination, the band was revealed to be from Aruba, but I suppose it was close enough.

    The Isis Band with Falasha—“Faya Faya”

    From The Isis Band myspace page

    For the next 48 hours, I listened to nothing but the Isis Band, while circling the island in search of a pulse I only found in fits in starts. By the end of the week, it was doubtful as to whether I really understood Sint Maartin, let alone Jamaica–but at the very least, I discovered that we smoke significantly better weed.


Meaghan Smith: Here Comes Your Man
From 500 Days of Summer Soundtrack (Sire, 2009)

This is a quick addendum to the last post but I just heard this for the first time today (and I haven’t even seen the movie yet). A little voice is telling me I probably should find it just a touch cloying and overly XM-Radio-The-Coffee-House-Channel-ish but I tell that voice to shut the f— up and I’m happier for it.

Keep in mind too, I think the original is the best damn thing the Pixies ever recorded and 20+ years, I still love the original. And somehow, Smith manages to tweak the emotional vibe of the song into something altogether more bittersweet and quirky and the type of pop ditty (I mean that in a good day) that I would have put on a mixtape back when I was in love with, well, anyone in my 20s.

What I’m saying is that this song makes me feel young and old at the same time. And it also seems to fit – perfectly – with the end-of-summer theme.


Please start by reading this first.

Part of why I solicit people for their summer songs posts is because I have a hard time reinventing the wheel for my own sense of what summer means via music. This year, the one song I knew I wanted to write about was “We’re Almost There” by Michael Jackson and in many ways, that song brought me back full circle to my very first summer songs post.

I had a chance to revisit that theme for a post written for NPR’s Summer Songs Series:

As much as I like classic summer anthems — bright, splashy, exuberant — they rarely capture what I think of as the essence of the season. Summer wants to be immortal and endless, and that beautiful delusion has birthed countless pop songs. But for me, summer is always a tangle of conflicted emotions: hope and disappointment, desire and frustration. It’s the season of promises that, at their core, are impossible to realize.

Summer is more about what we want it to be than what it actually is — what I once described as “drops of reality dissolved into a vat of fantasy.” Idealism may make a potent brew, but we know the season inevitably ends. That’s why my favorite summer songs are almost always tinged with fragility and marked by melancholy. This is music that admits the painful truth about summer: Even the best times won’t last, as long days fade with autumn’s encroaching dusk.

And here were the four songs I picked to illuminate those ideas:

Michael Jackson: We’re Almost There
From Forever Michael (Motown, 1975)

Like millions, I’ve spent the summer of 2009 revisiting the Michael Jackson catalog. The song that continues to haunt me is “We’re Almost There,” from 1975′s overlooked Forever, Michael. I keep getting stuck on the idea of being “almost there.” The song aches with the yearning to complete, as Jackson sings, “just one more step,” but it’s that “almost” that lingers. “Almost” teases and tantalizes, but it’s as much a threat as it is a promise. Almost means maybe we won’t make it. Almost means maybe “one more step” is, as Aretha Franklin once sang, “a step too far away.” That’s summer in a nutshell: an ambition within reach, but also one step from being lost.

William Devaughn: Be Thankful for What You Got
From Be Thankful For What You Got (Roxbury, 1974)

Has there ever been a smoother, more sublime summer jam than this? William Devaughn’s ability to paint with such vivid lyrical imagery — “Diamond in the back / Sunroof top / Diggin’ in the seam with a gangster lean” — is perfectly matched by the slick insouciance of the song’s bass lines and conga slaps. This is no high-noon groove, though; it’s a low-rider sunset, a time for quiet contemplation during the slow cruise home. Be thankful for what you got, Devaughn keeps instructing. Take nothing for granted. But even in the fading light, Devaughn’s ultimate message is one of hope: “You may not have / a car at all / but remember / brothers and sisters / you can still stand tall.”

Ice Cube: It Was a Good Day
From The Predator (Priority, 1993)

If Devaughn opens solemnly but closes on an up note, Ice Cube goes the other way on this 1993 hit. He ostensibly celebrates a halcyon day of basketball games, lucky dice and a late-night motel romp. But it’s the turnaround at the end of each verse that tells the true story: “nobody I knew got killed in South Central L.A.” & “I didn’t even to have to use my AK.” Those sobering afterthoughts carry an unease echoed in the somber mood of the music itself. The sample source is The Isley Brothers’ “Foosteps in the Dark,” which has all the feel of a classic seduction jam: the slow tempo, the syrupy strings. But there’s a sadness that flows through; those “footsteps,” after all, are of a sneaking lover. “It Was a Good Day” wisely taps into that implicit discomfort. (For a contrast, listen to the far sunnier remix, which uses a different sample.)

I should add: “It Was A Good Day” was inescapable in 1993, and even now, 16 years later, it still resonates with the summer.

The Heath Brothers: Smilin’ Billy Suite Part 2
From Marchin’ On (Strata East, 1975)

If I had to score summer’s end, this early Heath Brothers song from 1975 would be an easy choice. It positively drips in melancholy, especially through Stanley Cowell’s use of an African mbira (thumb piano) to play the memorable “Smilin’ Billy” motif. I imagine the song patiently playing out as September days drift quietly towards the fall equinox. There’s one last, rousing gasp of life that unexpectedly sparks at the end, but with one dramatic thump, it’s all over. Summer’s gone


(Editor’s Note: Adam Dunbar runs one of my favorite new blogs – Musica Del Alma – dedicated to the crossroads between Latin, funk and soul. Top-notch stuff and filled with the kind of tropical sabor that I thought would be perfectly matched to the summer season. –O.W.)

    First off, hats off to O-Dub for doing a great guest post on my Latin blog, Musica del Alma.

    For many out there summer can mean travel to exotic locales for adventure or relaxation. I have made it a point in the past to take long excursions whenever possible to places like South America and Indonesia in search of excitement and exploration. This summer, however, is my first as a contracted employee in the “real world”, after recently graduating from college. With no prospect of travel on the horizon for quite a while (yeah, life is rough), I have instead focused my time this summer on exploring new styles of music and “digging deep” for hot records in the Bay Area. So for me, the summer song is a lifestyle and what I am constantly in search of hearing, whatever the season.

    Richard Ryder and the Eighth Wonder: “PHASE III”
    From the PHASE III 7″ EP (Y’Blood Records, 1972)

    The Phase III track represents the perfect song that I want to start off my exceptional summer day: one that can be played first thing in the morning and PLAYED LOUD. The moment those drums kick in over that majestic piano, you know this is going to be something special.

    “I ain’t singing no more sad songs
    Gonna have to sing the whole day long”

    So dope…

    Exit 9: “Fly”
    From the Straight Up LP (BRC Records, 1975)

    Recorded by a teenage band from Canada, “Fly”‘s youthful exuberance is both infectious and inspiring. If things weren’t already hype, the Caribbean stylings of the second half of the song really heat things up!

    Ray and his Court: “De Eso Nada Monada”
    From the S/T LP (Sound Triangle, 1975)

    ¡Ay, que Tropical! A great song from a great record. I get the urge to fly south every time I drop the needle onto the grooves. ¡Vamos a bailar, mi gente!

    Jorge Ben: “Criola”
    From the S/T LP (Philips, 1969)

    Heading further south brings us to Brasil and Jorge Ben Jor, the king of Tropicalia. The guitar of “Criola” really reminds me of the intro to Marlena Shaw’s “California Soul”, another classic summer song, and is a similarity which further establishes the track as quintessential to my ears.

    The Chakachas: “Hot Hands”
    From the Eso Es El Amor LP (RKM, 1977)

    An old favorite of mine that does the job every time, whether horizontal in a hammock or feelin’ the stress at work. They key is to relax. Love the way the song builds up and breaks down with ease as the drummer adds his style.

    Poor Righteous Teachers: “Word Iz Life”
    From the Word Iz Life 12″ (Profile, 1996)

    Word iz life, people! No Hip Hop songs gets me more hyped. Period.

    Get out there and connect!

    -Adam D.


(Editor’s Note: Andrew Mason, aka DJ Monk-One,is one of the hardest working DJs/journalists/label dudes you’ll ever meet. I probably first got to know him through his extensive writing for Wax Poetics and it wasn’t until later that I realize, “duh, he and Monk-One are the same guy,” and his music-making as scarily prolific as his writing. He helps run NYC Trust which is home to, among other things, the excellent Greenwood Rhythm Coalition and Midnight Lab Band. (There’s going to be a big NYC Trust Remixed album this Sep. so keep an eye out for that and meanwhile, make sure you peep E’s E’s “Scratch Skank single.) That, of course, is when he’s not busy putting out his own compilations or hitting off the Underground Railroad with soul and funk mixes. For his summer songs post, Andrew takes us to Brooklyn for some plush, funky BBQ tunes. If these whet your appetite, you can get another heaping helping this Friday at the Lincoln Center. –O.W.)

If one activity sums up summer, it’s a barbecue. In Brooklyn, that means a secret passage from baking streets to the humble jungle confined in the corridor unseen between blocks. Step from the sidewalk through a cramped apartment out into a matchbook backyard where your host has wiggled a grill into the corner and bottles jostle in a cooler. Speakers are wedged in windows and neighbors peer from third-floor perches.

Since appropriate musical accompaniment is essential for a summer soiree, here’s a few tested suggestions.

Pieces Of A Dream: Warm Weather
From S/T (Elektra, 1981)

Waking up on the day of your backyard fiesta, you’ll need something to set the mood. This superb cut from the Philly-based Grover Washington, Jr. protégés is laid back and lyrically uplifting. As vocalist Barbara Walker notes, “I like the warm weather, it’s like a natural high.”

Jessica Cleaves: I Really Envy The Sunshine
From Plush Funk (P-Vine, 1992)

Any discussion of Summer Songs has to include a “sunshine” selection, and though I enthusiastically recommend Nancy Wilson’s song of that name, mine comes courtesy of Jessica Cleaves. One quarter of the vocal group Friends of Distinction, Cleaves also sang on two of the early Earth Wind & Fire LPs before teaming up with the Parliament Funkadelic crew in the mid-‘70s. This track comes from a 1980 session that didn’t see daylight until it appeared on a 1993 P-Funk rarities comp. The languid bump would perfectly accompany a chilled beverage and the readying of a grill. Do you have one of those chimney charcoal starters?

Choc Quib Town: Somos Pacificos
From Somos Pacificos (Rue Bleue, 2007)

Now that the marinated morsels are sizzling and guests are easing in, this cut from Choc Quib Town goes down lovely. One part laid back marimba riff and one part popping drums, add Gloria “Goyo” Perea’s Lauryn-esque rap and you’ve got an irresistible concoction. CQT represents Colombia’s Pacific coast culture hard—like the man says, “Colombia es más que coca, marijuana y café.”

De La Soul: Thru Ya City
From Art Official Intelligence (Tommy Boy, 2000)

The chorus is a lift from the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City,” but what puts this firmly in the warm weather category is Jay Dee’s amicable beat, all chubby synth bass and fizzy keys, elements I suspect would come off cornball in the hands of 98% of the other chefs out there. Probably cooked up around the same time as Common’s Water For Chocolate, the drums sound ?uestlove-ish and are loose in the unquantized style Dilla perfected. Without giving away the exact ingredients, I’ll add that the sample source for this is an electro-tropical dream that could’ve made the menu just as easily.

Tabu Ley: Maze
From Rochereau Vol. 6 (Star Musique, 1982). Also on This is Africa Vol. 2 Part 2

Something about the twining chimes of soukous guitar calls out “summer.” Maybe it’s the resemblance to the Dominican Bachata omnipresent in the Brooklyn bodegas where I grab dewy Presidentes, maybe it’s an exoticized image of steamy Zaire, but regardless, there is something that makes the sweet sound perfectly apt. Tabu Ley was already a superstar when he had a big hit with this track (pronounced “mah-zay”) in 1980, and has since achieved status nothing short of legendary. This easy swinger just bubbles along, getting funky right around the 3-minute mark when band switches up the groove. When “Rochereau” (Ley’s nickname) breaks out the winning English-language chorus “I love you, baby touch me” a few minutes later it’s pure perfection, no translation required.

Willie Colon: Ah-Ah/O-No
From El Juicio (Fania, 1971)

Not far musically from Willie Colon’s earlier, more blatantly African “Ghana’e” (a neglected back-in-the-day Bambaataa banger, BTW), this lead-off cut from the magnificent El Jucio album is a simple boy-tries-to-get-girl tale that vocalist Hector Lavoe elevates to art with his cool, clear delivery and clever come-ons. The last minute or so is given up to an irresistible itinerary of all the locales he’ll take his gal: “we’ll dance Cumbia in Colombia,” and so on.

P-Funk All-Stars: Hydraulic Pump Pt. III
From 12″ (Virgin, 1983)

If I ever had doubts about this one as a bonafide summer slammer (as the cover of PE’s “Brothers Gonna Work It Out” single proclaimed itself back in June of ‘89), they were obliterated one sultry afternoon a few years ago at a barbecue in Los Angeles. You might say the essence of DJing is matching songs to scenarios, and when the puzzle pieces fit perfectly it’s a truly transcendent experience for listener and selector alike. When I recall the reaction as I ran this track, there’s no doubt this was one of those times. “Jump up in the air and stay there,” the chorus commands, advice the backyard bunch in LA did their best to follow. The version that got ‘em levitating was part three on the 12-inch, a segment that sagely strips the track to the octave-leaping bass line that gave the song its name and a sassy brass riff from the Horny Horns.

Wendy Rene: Bar-B-Q
From 7″ (Stax, 1964). Also on Smokin’ Soul Picnic.

Now that things are well underway, let me introduce Wendy Rene who’s going to break it down for you. Hang on, first let’s get Booker T & the MG’s to lay down a snapping groove. Alright, how about some handclaps… OK Wendy, tell ‘em: “I smell something in the air/You know it smells like a barbecue/If I had some I wouldn’t care, because I like a barbecue/You like a barbecue/We like a barbecue.” Who could argue with that?

Derrick Harriott: All Day Music
From Reggae Disco Rockers (Wildflower, 1975)

Around here the backyards are right up against each other, and if you’re getting too loud, too late, your neighbors will have a few choice words for you. So in the interest of stress free living it’s best to bring things back down a little as we move into evening. War’s “All Day Music” is already a self-evident summer anthem, and taking it for a spin on the Jamaican music machine that was Derrick Harriott’s musical chariot only intensifies that vibe.

Bill Withers: Can We Pretend?
From +’Justments (Sussex 1974)

When the sun has set and the embers are glowing in the grill, it’s time to kick back with the closest of friends. “Can We Pretend,” found on Bill Withers’ oft-overlooked +Justments album, is a premier league Quiet Storm classic. It was also the final song when the Greenhouse, my nine-year old Brooklyn weekly, concluded earlier this summer: a hopeful goodnight and a promise to do it all again soon.


A podcast with Sasha Frere-Jones: Online Only: The New Yorker


(Editor’s Note: I met Gaye through the Experience Music Project; her and Jeff Chang were giving a phenomenal talk about music in New Orleans, post-Katrina, and I discovered that her work closely aligned with many of my own interests, namely looking at cross-ethnic relations through musical activity. She has a forthcoming book called, The Future Has a Past: Politics, Music and Memory in Afro-Chicano Los Angeles which I’m eagerly awaiting. For her post, Gaye flips through six songs that capture a variety of summer rhythms from East Harlem to Southwest Louisiana with stops between at Monterey, Strong Island and more. –O.W.)

Ray Barretto: El Hijo de Obatala
From Indestructible (Fania, 1976)

The best part of this song comes after the band announces, “Damas y caballeros, ahora con ustedes, las manos duros de Ray Barretto. Y como TOCA!” The ensuing dialogue between the Edy Martinez on piano and Barretto on congas is one of the most beautiful conversations I’ve ever heard.

The Jacksons: Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)
From The Jacksons Live (Sony 1981)

This song makes my husband Chuck want to rollerskate, and jump up in the air when the Jacksons sing, “Let’s dance, let’s shout (SHOUT!)” What always strikes me about this song is the intensity of energy next to the effortlessness of MJ’s vocals. The tempo on the live recording is faster than the studio version; it makes you wish you were listening live and dancing with strangers on a hot summer night. Beautiful.

Charles Lloyd: Forest Flower (Sunrise and Sunset)
From Forest Flower (Atlantic, 1966)

This is a most powerful combination of the talents of Keith Jarrett (piano), Jack DeJohnette (drums), and Charles Lloyd. The high notes on the piano at the end are almost too much to take. Hard to get better than this on a summer evening.

Public Enemy: By The Time I Get to Arizona
From Apocalypse ’91: The Enemy Strikes Black (Def Jam, 1991)

The temperature of “Two Sisters of Mystery” sample (Mandrill) changes in this context to an intimate, steely heat. Every time I hear Chuck D say “AriZONA” I see him throw a punch in my mind’s eye, and hear the lyrical punch in my ears. Reminds you to get your summer protest on. “Go Go Go Go Go…” Evan Mecham must have heard this deliberate, inevitable fury and updated his NRA membership.

Brand Nubian: Wake Up (Reprise in the Sunshine)
From One for All (Elektra, 1990)

This song is a two-fer, because you really can’t get through a summer without listening to Roy Ayers. This is a “word of wisdom to the groove from the wise” whose lyrical ease makes you want to sit back and enjoy the heat. Everybody loves the sunshine.

Keith Frank: What’s His Name
From What’s His Name (Maison De Soul, 1994)

There are few songs that make me want to two-step, waltz, or jig. But everything Keith Frank does in this song makes me want to break with my vegetarian, one-step sensibilities; eat gumbo, and take on the Louisiana heat for a live performance. There are no tricks in this song, just an easy, fun song that inspires love for what Zydeco is for the human spirit.