There are people who take take the first opportunity to run to the nearest beach or park and sit in the sunshine all day as soon as clouds start clearing up and the weather gives an indication that summer is on its way. Other people take to sitting in the shade and consuming huge amounts of ice tea, lemonade, and ice cream. As soon we approach the end of the school year, everyone starts making some sort of plans or dreaming of a holiday. Whether that means a road trip or just staying home with the air conditioning on and a full season of your favorite TV show on Netflix, one thing is always true: a nice summer definitely needs a good playlist with summer musical theater songs.
Now, you may have no idea what a clambake really is, and maybe the entire premise of this song isn’t something that modern day teenagers can really connect with. It’s absolutely impossible, however, not to get excited when Nettie sings about how beautiful everything looks in June, and the chorus comes in, celebrating the way in which “June is bustin’ out all over!!!”. The hilarious innuendos only make the song better, and I can assure you that come June 1st, you will be tempted to burst into that chorus every time you’re in a good mood.
“Summertime” is one of those songs that exists outside and beyond the context of the musical it comes from. It’s not uncommon to hear people quoting the lyrics, or humming the melody, without having any idea that the song is from Porgy and Bess, and that the rest of the show is actually… well, absolutely heartbreaking, really. Even then, though, “Summertime” is still one of the most beautiful, enchanting songs about summer. It is also a testament to the power of musical theater to seep into the broader popular culture until practically everyone knows the lyrics to a song, and it’s impossible not to add “and the livin’ is easy” every time someone mentions summertime.
Even if you’ve never really been one for summer flings or gossip, “Summer Lovin'” is the kind of song that just makes you want all of it. Once again, it’s one of those songs that everyone can sing along to, and do so with a passion. If any of your friends are into musical theater, you know it only takes one person to casually say “tell me more, tell me more–“, and a full-blown musical number can be happening a moment later. Honestly, it’d be a lie if I told you that I didn’t wish I had a poodle skirt and boys in leather jackets singing about summer and teenage love around me every time I listen to “Summer Lovin'”.
(…like my man Cole Porter said.) Now, summer is awesome. It’s always nice to have lots of free time and generally nice weather… but sometimes, it simply gets too darn hot. And when that happens, it’s good to have a good, Golden Age musical theater song to express your feelings through. While mosts songs about summer celebrate some aspect of the season, “Too Darn Hot” is simply about the weather, about heat… and about love. Of course.
Picking just one song from In the Heights for a summer playlist proved to be incredibly hard. Following Cole Porter’s lead (and even giving him a direct shout out!), the entire show revolves around heat and love, in one way or another. Throughout the entire musical, there are many references to the heat, the fire hydrants trying to cool down the streets, and people singing and yelling about how hot it is in multiple languages. “Carnaval de Barrio”, however, is the moment where none of this really matters. (Because, as Daniella asks, “since when are Latin people scared of heat?”). It’s where everyone tries to come together, regardless of — or maybe, because of — the heat, and just party into the summer evening.
When Mrs. Lovett describes her imagined life by the sea, it is absolutely idyllic. There isn’t anything not to love in the way she describes the quiet beauty of the seaside cottages she dreams about. The lyrics of this song have always reminded me of a postcard: they’re just a pretty snippet of the seaside, the kind of picture you can show (or sing!) to your friends when you talk about a perfect holiday. It’s all pastel colors, calmness and summery beauty… and whether your friends would meet your picturesque descriptions with enthusiasm, or they’d just be as bored as Sweeney, is entirely up to them.
A lot like “By the Sea”, something about “Bathing Beauty” reminds me of a postcard; you know, one of those old-time post cards with pin-up girls drinking Coke in pretty swimsuits. The vague narrative of the song is practically irrelevant, and all that matters is the description of the beautiful girl, posing under her parasol and looking all gorgeous and attractive. Something about the way that picture is created is incredibly appealing, and definitely creates a sense of a perfect summer day on the beach.
“Our Last Summer” has the incredible ability to make me miss a summer that never happened to me. It’s absolutely perfect in its description of those young, free people in Paris and the great time they had. Songs about summer are either incredibly cheerful, or bear an undertone of melancholy. In this song, there’s just a hint of sadness, and of fear, as well as longing for that summer which is in the past and cannot be relived. Even though it’s all in the past, however, it is a great song about young people, the City of Love, and summertime.
9. “Summer in Ohio” (The Last Five Years)
Talking about ideal beaches and beautiful summer nights is great but sometimes, you end up stuck in Ohio. Or whatever your personal equivalent of Ohio is, but for Cathy, Ohio is practically the worst thing that could be happening. She lists every single place she’d rather be, and everything that’s wrong with Ohio, and there’s something weirdly romantic about the way she just randomly mentions Jamie as one of the things that are missing. Even if this particular situation is not too relatable, there’s something nice about knowing that you can still have a song about summer, even if you don’t end up on a perfect beach like most songs suggest you should.
There’s only one image that, for me, is connected to the song “Holiday”. Throwing a change of clothes into a backpack, jumping on the next bus out of town with your best friend, and just taking a road trip, because getting away is nice sometimes and roadtrips are always fun. There’s nothing not to love about imagining a long road ahead of you, the promise of a great time and summer memories in the making as you think about it: “this is the dawning of the rest of our lives, on holiday”.
So maybe summer isn’t always all about fun and happiness, as much as we’d like it to be. “The Song of Purple Summer” paints a sort of melancholic picture of summer, while still managing to make it sound beautiful, and even somewhat appealing. There is something really curious and strangely interesting about the way this melancholic summer seems so gorgeous. The promise of knowing the “wonders of purple summer” sounds hopeful, and somehow balances the somber mood of the song and the beauty of the summer it describes.