So I was out at the beach locker in the pavilion at Spring Lake the other day, pulling out chairs and sand toys and body boards in preparation for our trip to Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks. It was a gray rainy Monday; the boardwalk was silent and the building was unoccupied but for the elderly woman who checks badges at the entrance.
I carted out the first load of stuff to the car and then returned for more. As I was climbing the steps out of the bowels of the pavilion with the second load, the woman looked up from her book.
“Moving out?” she said.
I was about to say, “Oh, no, we’ll be back.” But then I paused and counted the days and realized that, at best, we wouldn’t be back until the few days before Labor Day. The lockers close on the day after Labor Day. They’re tearing this old pavilion down in the fall, this outmoded edifice of ancient yellow brick, warped wood, and flaking paint by the Jersey Shore, and building a new one.
“Well,” I said, instead, “We might bring a chair or two back.” And then I humped the last of the beach stuff out to the car.
That’s the way summer is. One day you’re sitting on the beach in a swimsuit and sweatshirt, marveling as your children frolic in Memorial Day surf that’s still too cold for you to even dip a toe in. And then comes another day when you sense something, the quality of the light or a damp clammy breeze off the dunes at your back, and you think “Oh, right, autumn.” No matter how vigilant you are, the end always sneaks up on you.
At any rate, here’s twenty songs for the end of summer. Because you need these kinds of songs, when the days grow shorter and the shadows lengthen. Text-linked You Tube audio in each entry.
The elegiac piano, the retreating sun, remembrances of people in their season and time, Sunday weeping for a day gone by. It’s all there.
The whole damned arc of the season, framed in terms of an intimate relationship, in just a few choice phrases, over the space of a minute-fifty. Man, that’s economy.
How could I have written the original incarnation of this column and not included The Clientele? Every song in The Clientele canon is specifically about those hours at the end of the day, at the end of the summer, when you’re looking back in regret and forward in trepidation. Every whispered word mustered by front guy Alisdair McLean, every brushed drum and gently plucked string, is meant to evoke the last, lingering sunset moments of summer. Here, he remembers a lost love for two minutes, and then chucks that in favor of singing over and over “So that summer came and went and I became cold,” for two minutes plus.
What? Too melancholy for ya? Slap this slice of up-tempo guitar chime and yearning vocals from wistful fuzz-poppers Wild Nothing onto the turntable. Here, from last year’s Gemini, it’s all about memories of summer holiday at your lover’s parents’ house and sneaking out of your separate rooms in the middle of the night for some quality time. In short, it’s what being eighteen is all about.
Fabares had a #1 single in February of 1962 with “Johnny Angel.” Later that same year, she released a second LP on the Colpix label, The Things We Did Last Summer, that includes a number of “summer’s past” laments (the title track, “See You In September,” a cover of the Brian Hyland summer weeper “Sealed With A Kiss”), none of which appeals to me much. Two years later, transplanted to the Vee-Jay label, she released a non-charting single, “I Know You’ll Be There,” that features “Lost Summer Love” on the flip. I originally encountered it on a Varese Sarabande compilation. “Summer is over/ And we have parted/ Nothing is left of, oh/ The dreams we started.” An almost martial drum beat, ethereal vocals, nifty horn break. What else do you want? (Not on Spotify. Enjoy the link above.)
The great grandaddy of them all in the Autumnal Reminiscences Canon. Sinatra was turning 50 in December of 1965, the season when this LP appeared. Virtually anything here (the title song, “Last Night When We Were Young,” “It Was a Very Good Year,” “When The Wind Was Green”) could fit in this slot on your playlist. This song, with its opening stanza, “One day you turn around and it’s summer/ Next day you turn around and it’s fall/ And all the winters and springs of a lifetime/ Whatever happened to them all?” will do just fine.
Robert Smith in high melancholy mode. Lyrics self-explanatory. No longer on Spotify. Enjoy the YouTube link above.
I skipped this one the first time around, despite its perfect obviousness, for the entirely sensible reason that it wasn’t available on Spotify. And now, 3 years later, it’s still not available on Spotify, but you can listen to it in the YouTube link above. Lee’s voice is really made for that end-of-summer ennui. “Let those ‘I don’t care’ days begin.” Indeed.
Yeah, what’s your point? Damn right, it’s hard to die “when all the birds are singing in the sky.” I cry everytime I hear this song. Technically, “spring is in the air,” but not for Rod McKuen, the wordsmith here.
Not everyone’s regretting lost opportunities and good times slipped away. Twee-poppers Belle & Sebastian know the values of loafing, and they’re perfectly okay with “Seven weeks of river walkways/ Seven weeks of reading papers/ Seven weeks of feeling guilty/ Seven weeks of staying up all night.” “I Know Where The Summer Goes,” from one of the early B&S EPs, would also fit nicely here.
I never heard of these guys until their only LP was reissued by Polyvinyl Records this year, and now it’s been in my car CD player all summer. Each one of the nine songs on the record stubbornly refuses to cohere into anything remotely like a chorus or catharsis. Sometimes the guitarists seem to playing two different songs before finding their way back to each other. And yet, each song manages to evoke a kind of free-floating sadness without ever quite landing anywhere specific. “The Summer Ends” is a goodbye song with a lovely trumpet. “We’ve been so unhappy, so let’s just see what happens when the summer ends.”
Dave Alvin replaced Billy Zoom in X just in time to participate in sessions for the lackluster See How We Are LP in 1986. Dave brought “Fourth Of July” with him, however, and it was easily the best song on the record. Even better was the version he cut for Romeo’s Escape, the solo album he released in the same year. And don’t be deceived by the date, this one’s definitely about the end of everything.
Spanish Johnny’s slipping out the window, Kitty left with Big Pretty, the circus is pulling out of town, and the boardwalk life for Bruce is through. Everybody’s leaving in Springsteen’s The Wild, The Innocent, and the E- Street Shuffle. Even the album itself came out at the end of summer. September 11th, 1973. Time to roll down the security gates on the Asbury Park arcades, and drag the lifeguard chairs under the boardwalk. Season’s over.
Dig that tinkly chamber pop electric piano from Ray Manzarek on the intro. Wistful, eh? Then Robby Krieger starts twisting guitar notes into yearning shapes, and we’re good to go.
Suggested by my friend Linda. The “end of summer” theme here is pretty much confined to the title, but I especially like Peter Mayhew’s trancy, churchy organ sound and Sam Fryer’s guitar, which calls to mind the chimey, yearning sound of Galaxie 500-era Dean Wareham. Also, the video clip for this song (see the link above) looks like every Labor Day in New Jersey. It might be 80 degrees through most of October in New Jersey, but you always know you’ll be huddling in a sweater, under an umbrella, on Labor Day, when it’s a perversely unseasonable 50 degrees with cold showers.
Here’s one to send your Labor Day Party guests scrambling for the exits. March 21st is the last gasp of summer in Southern Australia, in some dusty nowhere station between Melbourne and Adelaide.
“Summer days and summer nights are gone,” but Bob Dylan “know[s] a place where there’s still somethin’ going on.” His Bobness has been engaged in his Never Ending Tour for more than twenty years now (appearing at every minor league ballpark, state fair, bowling alley, and laundromat across America) and he’s got no quit in him. He’s “standing on the table,” he’s “spending every dime,” he’s “got [his} hammer ringin’,” he’s “got eight carburetors … and [he’s] usin’ ’em all.” Probably scare Belle & Sebastian half to death.
Everybody thinks they can improve on Calvin Johnson’s robot vocal and dinky one-note synth riff, and, though seemingly dozens of bands have tried, no one ever has. (Luna probably came closest.) As for the song, well, “Breakfast in cemetery/ Boy tastin’ wild cherry/ Touch girl, apple blossom/ Just a boy playin’ possum/ We’ll come back for Indian summer.”
They say you can find anything on the Internet, and here’s your proof. The 15th and last track on the Town Topic EP, buried behind a list of B-sides, instrumental versions, and unlikely ringtones, “Green Cotton Sweater” is an archetypal tale of a summer’s romance ended.
And, finally, Dusty. I’m writing this on the breezy porch of an Ocracoke Island house in late August. There’s a flock of ducks waddling across the street to drink from the air conditioner run-off beside the back stairs, the wife and kids have walked off to get some ice cream at the harbor store; it’s time to fire up the grill for dinner; and the living is good.