There's nothing, and I mean nothing, better than a warm, balmy summer evening. As a child I loved to sit outside until 9, 10pm just enjoying the magic of the sunset and the temperature failing to drop. I still love them. I'm sitting here writing this at my desk, window wide open just enjoying that...that smell. I cannot describe it; it's as if you can smell the humidity.
I think this is why I love the 1980s so much. I've already written at length of my love of Miami Vice and 80s power ballads and soft rock, and both of these things are absolutely, gloriously and shamelessly of their time. There is a reason why cultural epicentres of that great decade were LA, Miami, New York, places that become almost unbearably warm in summer and when the night cools down just enough to remain outside but not roast. I think the first summer in which I was 'awakened' to this twilight beauty was around 2003, when I was 14 and in the Air Training Corps. A kind of scout group attached to the RAF, we undertook field exercises on Friday evenings in Verulamium Park. That was a great summer, one of the warmest on record, and even though I hated the ATC, I loved being out in Verulamium until the 10pm sunset.
Crockett and Tubbs brooding over a summer night...
There's a freedom that comes with summer, and it's a common motif in films and music. Loads of songs have in their title 'summer nights', not least the Grease soundtrack, Richard Marx, Miami Sound Machine...I could go on. I often associate freedom with summer. My best memories of first love were in summer, sitting once more in Verulamium watching the sky get darker, lying next to someone I wanted so much to be with. It was liberation, the ability to be out late and roll in at midnight. Cycling back was a pleasure, and later when working in a bar walking home as the sun rose was equally satisfying. The world sort of reveals itself. The vast majority of people can be themselves again, released into tennis, jogging, evening walks, or just heading out to the pub.
But of course this all sounds like bullcrap to you, true golden Roy prattle. Well, here's a list of songs I associate with summer and summer only. They were written to be played while driving down South Beach with the top down, wearing a pair of Ray Bans and...just...thinking. Not complete, but the ones that make up my canon:
In the Air Tonight - Phil Collins: Let's start with perfection. One song that still has the ability to make me stop cold in my tracks, and that was before I saw it in its most famous context, during this scene from the pilot episode of Miami Vice. I've linked to the scene for that reason.
Rosanna - Toto: in fact, anything off the 'Toto IV' album is gold for this time of year. I first heard this on a 'Summer Sounds' CD from the Daily Mail. Yup, fifteen year old Roy was that cool...)
Zamba - Bryan Ferry: Once again, the man is a summer savant. From 1985 onwards, having guided Roxy Music to perfection, he writes the kind of songs you just have to feel. I can't name a single lyric from Zamba, but it just feels soooo good! Much softer than the rest, but one definitely for the season.
No Lookin' Back - Michael McDonald: One here from the King of Smooth music, now retrospectively christened the father of 'Yacht Rock'. This one was discovered last year just after I'd finished my finals at York. I was ready to move on and this just became my anthem. If I ever produced an 80s style cop comedy-drama, this would be the song that played as the credits rolled over a shot of me and my partner joking around. Yup, I think too much.
Mighty Wings - Cheap Trick: This is a personal one from that summer of 2003. I'd seen Top Gun about five times by this point, and I remember playing the cassette soundtrack until it warbled. This song is awesome.
E.S.P - Bee Gees: Now I was twelve when I first heard this. It must have changed my life, and ten summers later I still long for the moment I can drive with the window down and absolutely blast this song out. Still proof that you can judge an album's quality by its cover, so long as it has at least one guy with a bi-level and a trench coat on it.
Last Summer - LostProphets: Around 2005/6 I went through a phase in which I hated the side of me that relied on 80s music. Why was I different from the other kids? Actually this is a slight exaggeration. Essentially I turned on Xfm for the first time and heard this, and despite myself quite liked it. I still do, even if LostProphets are for fifteen year old girls who have fringes, chains and 'Team Edward' T-Shirts.
Poison - Alice Cooper: For some reason I associate this with another summer activity of mine- Church Bell Ringing. I still have absolutely no sodding idea why, but I remember walking home from school listening to it on my faithful Walkman. I miss cassette tapes, I really do...
Self Control - Laura Branigan: A song about the night and how it comes alive, by a tragically underrated singer, this was a club hit in the summer of 1984. Laura Branigan sadly died of a brain aneurysm in 2004, but she lives on through this haunting, passionate song.
Endless Summer Nights - Richard Marx: Last song on the list is about the eternal memory of Summer Nights., the ones that remain magical even when both the summer and first love has run its course. I first discovered Richard Marx about a week after breaking up with...let's call her Nena Girl (incidentally I ended the relationship in mid-September: how about that for pathetic fallacy!) and even though this song is now devoid of those post break-up feelings, it's still intensely personal.
Here's to those endless summer nights. Looking over the list, they seem to have proved great markers of time, of the passage towards something resembling maturity. There are lots of songs I'd also like to include, but these are the ones that always arrive on my iPod as soon as the nights get warm. Enjoy these summer nights while they last...