Every day in the sun deserves a fitting soundtrack, and since everyone can’t wait for the summer to begin already, here are the albums to prepare you for the next season:
Blonde On Blonde, Bob Dylan: Dylan capped off perhaps the greatest trilogy of albums in rock and roll history. Blonde On Blonde was Dylan finally achieving the wild, sloppy pop of Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. There’s the surreal epic “Visions of Johanna,” the blazing electric blues of “Leopard-Skin Pill-box Hat,” the pure pop of “I Want You,” the ease of “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again,” the swirling grace of “Just Like A Woman,” and the wonderfully bitter “Absolutely Sweet Marie.” There is also the gorgeously messy “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later),” one of his most underrated songs, and the closing testament to his wife “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.” If you want an album perfect for the summer sun, this is a good place to start.
Odessey and Oracle, The Zombies: The Zombies were one of the best British Invasion bands and perhaps the most sophisticated, with musically complex structure. However, they didn’t sell nearly enough and by the close of the ‘60s, they had to split. Their swansong is Odessey and Oracle, a combination of breezy pop and quiet psychedelia. The album opens with the gleeful “Care of Cell 44,” about a man writing to his love who is in prison. There’s optimistic pop continues in “I Want Her, She Wants Me,” “This Will Be Our Year,” and “Friends of Mine.” But, there is also remarkable pain in many of the songs, like “Maybe After He’s Gone,” “Beechwood Park,” “Changes,” “A Rose For Emily,” and “Hung Up On A Dream.” The most famous song, “Time of the Season,” was a huge hit, but the band had parted by then. It took years for this masterpiece to receive its due credit. Rod Argent’s baroque piano and ferocious keyboards, Colin Blunstone’s whispery, choir-boy vocals, and Paul Atkinson’s trippy guitars make for the perfect record for a summer evening.
Exile On Main Street, The Rolling Stones: Recorded in France as the Stones were dodging taxes, this double-album is notable for delivering no singles. Recorded in a blistering hot French mansion, the record gives the kind of great riffs you’d come to expect from the group in “Rocks Off,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Torn and Frayed,” “Let It Loose,” “Happy,” “Loving Cup,” and “Rip This Joint.” But, the band also delves into calypso (“Sweet Black Angel”), gospel (“Shine A Light”), and country (“Sweet Virginia”). This was the last album in a great run by the Rolling Stones and the variety is perfect for a drive in July.
Green River, Creedence Clearwater Revival: The album that got the world’s attention, Green River is John Fogerty at his best: shredding vocals, tight guitar, and lyrics of disillusion. The band’s best song, “Bad Moon Rising,” is here, as is the blazing “Commotion,” the laid-back “Sinister Purpose,” the fervent title track, the working-class anthem “Wrote a Song For Everyone,” and the pondering “Lodi.” This is the album made for rides to the river.
Music From Big Pink, The Band: The Band emerged from Dylan’s shadow with a distinct voice, marked by Americana, wise lyrics, and profound musicianship. Levon Helm’s southern drawl, Richard Manuel’s angelic tenor, and Rick Danko’s soulful proclamations uplifted these lyrics. “The Weight” is among the best songs ever and “I Shall Be Released” might be the best Dylan cover ever recorded. There are also gems like “To Kingdom Come,” “This Wheel’s On Fire,” “Chest Fever,” “Long Black Veil,” “Caledonia Mission,” and “We Can Talk.” Robbie Robertson’s guitar and Garth Hudson’s organ give the songs more depth, but sometimes it’s the simplicity that reels us in.
The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle, Bruce Springsteen: The album that made Bruce an unignorable force was the first album in which he found a true band. “The E Street Shuffle,” “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight),” and “Incident on 57th Street” are all prime Springsteen. But, it’s “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” that brings us the feeling of youthful summer. Springsteen has made a lot of summer albums, but this one exudes the yearning to stay young more than any other.
The Harder They Come, soundtrack: Competing with Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly as the greatest original soundtrack of all-time, Jimmy Cliff heads a glorious reggae compilation with three of his best songs: “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” “Many Rivers To Cross,” and the title anthem. The songs of oppression are balanced by the songs of redemption. The Slickers, The Melodians, and Scotty also pitch in to create the rare soundtrack better than the film.
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Neil Young and Crazy Horse: The first solo record where Neil could plug in, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere is filled with loose proto-Grunge and feedback, but not without quiet moments. The title track is the best one, possibly Young’s best track period, but “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down by the River,” and “Cowgirl in the Sand” are the heavy rocking perfect for the summer. Being from the cold northern Ontario, Neil must appreciate the heat more than any of us.
Loaded, The Velvet Underground: The Velvets final album (we won’t mention poor Doug Yule’s stab at continuing the band alone) was pure pop, departing from the aggressive experimental work that had brought them their name. While their eponymous third album hinted at the pop to come, these slick riffs and twinkling guitars were something completely new. The flowery “Sweet Jane” and the tight, rhythmic “Rock and Roll” brought the VU their only hits. Other highlights include “Who Loves the Sun?,” “I Found a Reason,” and “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.” The crystal clean guitar and blissful harmonies provide a jovial summer record from the most unexpected place.
Endless Summer, The Beach Boys: Any summer album list without The Beach Boys would be incomplete. While this 1974 compilation of early hits doesn’t contain summer anthems like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Sloop John B,” “God Only Knows,” or “Good Vibrations,” it has the songs that made them everyone’s favorite summer group. “Surfin’ Safari,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “Surfer Girl,” “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Fun Fun Fun,” “I Get Around,” “Help Me, Rhonda” and “Be True To Your School” are all enough to make you look past the presence of rock’s biggest jerk Mike Love (find passages of his autobiography to see for yourself). Even better is the early sign of Brian Wilson’s genius arrangements in “California Girls” and “All Summer Long,” a perfect song for summertime if there ever was one. Forgetting an album titled Endless Summer would be a glaring blind spot on a list like this.