I started my summer song series back in 2005, mostly because I was trying to work through what it is about summer songs that I found so evocative and haunting. I admit, my explanation back then was exceedingly purple in prose but I think the main thing I was trying to capture in words is how summer songs—like the season itself—are always tinged by melancholy in knowing that, no matter how endless we want summer to be, it will inevitably end. As I wrote five years back, "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."
So, for example, that means "Don't Worry Baby" wins over "Good Vibrations" (even if the latter is truly genius in it production). The Isley's "It's Your Thing" is a favorite dancefloor cut but it's "Footsteps in the Dark" that I really look forward to spinning by evening's end.
But if I had to anoint the summer jam to end all summer jams, there's only one choice:
William Devaughn: Be Thankful for What You Got
From Be Thankful For What You Got (Roxbury, 1974)
The craftsmanship on this song is impeccable and impervious to improvement. Every element is exactly as it should be: the quiet conga slaps that open the song, the gospel-like solemnity of the hushed organ, the interplay between the signature bassline and the sweetness of the guitar, and of course, DeVaughn himself, whose relaxed delivery and evocative lyrics are haunting in the best way possible. As I wrote for NPR last year, "This is no high-noon groove; it's a low-rider sunset, a time for quiet contemplation during the slow cruise home." I don't care if it's Memorial Day or Labor Day, throw this on and no one can resist its sway.
I don't think this song can be improved on...but that doesn't mean there aren't other versions of it worth checking out (as people soon learn about me, I'm a covers junkie).
Start with DeVaughn's own disco 12" remix from 1980. All the right components are still there but now he adds a heavier backbeat and female singers for the hook.
WIlliam DeVaughn: Be Thankful For What You Got (1980 Re-recording)
From Figures Can't Calculate (TEC, 1980)
And I've yet to hear a cover of this song that's better than Donovan Carless'. The song practically begs to be given a reggae makeover and Carless just nails the essence of DeVaughn's original.
Donovan Carless: Be Thankful For What You Got
From 7" (Impact, 1972). Also available on Randy's 50th Anniversary
For the rest of the week, I'll try to devote at least one post a day to my other summer song favorites.