Boston's Songs Of The Summer

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A man listens to music on the beach. (Flickr/raissaviza)
A man listens to music on the beach. (Flickr/raissaviza)

Summer music is a little different than the kind of music we listen to the rest of the year. Or maybe it's the way we listen to it that's different.

It's that tune you play on a summer drive to the Cape or use as the soundtrack for a backyard barbecue. It's the music you hear blasting through the open windows of cars stopped at red lights. Sometimes summer songs are chart toppers, like this year's summer hit "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea, and sometimes they're songs specific to a certain time, place or memory.

WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with a local music journalist about the summer songs specific to Boston.

Jamie Bologna produced this story.


Maura Johnston, music journalist and Boston College journalism fellow. She writes for the Boston Globe and publishes Maura Magazine. She tweets @maura.


On what distinguishes summer songs:
Maura Johnston: It ranges from the jingle of the ice cream man that you first hear — that's sort of the bells tolling for summer — to people having the temperature being high enough that they can roll down their windows and share not just the music they're listening to, but also the fact that they don't have to wear eight layers to walk around! I think there's something to be said for that aspect of summer being really liberating. It's funny, because I've mentioned that before and I've gotten blowback from people who have said, 'Well, it's noise pollution,' and I'm like, it's communal listening! It's the way that people interact with pop music on a day-to-day basis.

On where the Beach Boys fit in the summer music canon:
MJ: I have really good memories of being in my backyard pool listening to the Beach Boys in the summer...I do think the Beach Boys have a definite association with summer. They've been a presence, certainly, on the summer tour circuit for a very long while, and their songs obviously paint a picture of this idyllic Californian summer paradise where the surf never ends and you can always roller skate down the beach or the boardwalk.

On whether summer songs vary regionally:
MJ: With radio play lists on the pop level being more homogenized around the country, it's probably less so. But I do think that there are regional rap hits and regional country hits that might make more of an impression. And obviously in Boston 'I'm Shipping Up to Boston' [by the Dropkick Murphys] is going to be a mainstay no matter what, because it gets played at pretty much every outdoor event that I've attended this summer, and also 'Dirty Water' [by The Standells] — songs that are associated with Red Sox games.

On songs often associated with summer:
MJ: One of the songs that I associate most with summer I actually heard at the One Direction show two weeks ago very unexpectedly. It is a 1996 hit that also inspired a dance craze. It was sung by a duo called Los del Rio and it was the 'Macarena,' which I heard for the first time in the car driving from Chicago to Washington, D.C., where I was starting an internship. [It's a dance done at] every wedding — back to back with 'I Gotta Feeling' [by the Black Eyed Peas]...I kind of miss the novelty hits of that ilk, like I kind of miss the days when a song from left field could make it on the radio and could really become [a hit]. I mean, I guess we have that now with YouTube sensations, but I kind of like that it was this really cool, old-style track...It certainly put a smile on the faces of a lot of people who I think had not even been born when I first heard it in 1996 at the One Direction show!


The New York Times: The Real Song of the Summer

  • "As Top 40 monoculture has dissipated and fractured into various niches in the wake of streaming outlets like Spotify and YouTube that offer huge swaths of popular music, the notion of “the song of the summer” has stubbornly persisted. But it’s a popularity contest that is defined by the charts, and not whether the songs have anything to do with the beach, boardwalks, surfing, convertibles, bikinis or, in fact, with any notion of summer at all."

NPR Music: The Songs Of The Summer

  • "A song is 'infectious,' an 'earworm.' It 'gets under your skin.' It's not summer without little annoyances — sunburn, mosquito bites, sweat — just as it's not summer without the Song of the Summer. We're talking about a song (or two, or three) that explodes and quickly permeates pop culture. It runs rampant up and down your radio dial, around your parties and deep in your brain. Perhaps this is why such pop music is described in terms usually reserved for the plague."

This segment aired on August 22, 2014.

Headshot of Sacha Pfeiffer

Sacha Pfeiffer Host, All Things Considered
Sacha Pfeiffer was formerly the host of WBUR's All Things Considered.



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