There are just too many great “summer” songs to mention, but my best-of catalog would at least include ‘Summertime Blues’ by Eddie Cochran, ‘In The Summertime’ by Mungo Jerry (what a name), ‘Hot Fun In The Summertime’ by Sly & The Family Stone, ‘Summer Wind’ by Frank Sinatra, ‘Cruel Summer’ by Bananarama, ‘Summer Breeze’ by Seals and Crofts, and ‘Summertime,’ composed by George Gershwin and recorded by Sam Cooke, Janis Joplin, and literally thousands of others. And, of course, this one, which is probably #1 on the list: ‘Summer In The City,’ the cranking classic from John Sebastian and The Lovin’ Spoonful, Rock & Roll Hall of Famers who grew out of the Greenwich Village folk scene cultivated by Bob Dylan in the early to mid-‘60’s.
Want to know why it tops my survey? Dirt. Yup, dirt, as in the second line of the song, “Back of my neck getting dirt and gritty.” Not dirty and gritty, mind you. Oh no, just dirt.¹ That always just captured the summer-in-the-city vibe so perfectly to me. Gritty, of course, brings about it’s own inexorable feeling. Yet, dirty somehow would seem more like a stage, a phase in a process of growing unclean, an “-ish” qualifier likely indicating something less than complete. Whereas dirt, without it’s one-letter modification, is just final. It’s filth, it’s grime, it’s muck. It’s dirt and it’s done. Long before the mid-song break where honking horns and jackhammers create the sought-after sonic imagery for the tune (a pretty funny part of the video, too, where the clearly non-live performing Sebastian and band don’t quite know what to do, mug for the camera, and crack each other up), the deft linguistic precision of “dirt and gritty” has already established the excruciating, steamy, concrete jungle backdrop of the song’s milieu. Or, maybe Sebastian just left the “y” off by accident, what the hell do I know. But a guy from lower Manhattan would at least know something about what a summer in the city feels like, and what gross things can happen to the back of one’s neck.
¹Yeah, I know a lyrics search would tell you the word actually is ‘dirty’ (I did it, and checked three sources). But I’m sorry, I’ve heard the song, you’ve heard the song, and all Sebastian ever says is ‘dirt.’ There’s not even a space for him to fit in the alleged extra syllable in the phrasing of the song line anyway. It’s. Just. Dirt.