Monday's Summer Song: The Anthem


>by Oliver Wang

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, 197

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.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Hunting With Poison Darts

An indigenous forest dweller in Borneo explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe.

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Hunting With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe


A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

The story of an action figure and his reluctant sidekick, who trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.


I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."


Juice Cleanses: The Worst Diet

A doctor tries the ever-popular Master Cleanse. Sort of.


Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion


What If Emoji Lived Among Us?

A whimsical ad imagines what life would be like if emoji were real.


Living Alone on a Sailboat

"If you think I'm a dirtbag, then you don't understand the lifestyle."



More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In