The Fourth of July festivities and fireworks have come and gone for most, but summer is just getting started. How do you measure fun in the summer? Do you wander to Georgetown to see a movie at the drive-in? Is a ride on a roller coaster at one of the nearby amusement parks on your to-do list? Will you catch lightning bugs at night or have kettle corn at the county fair? We have different standards for summer fun, don’t we?
Some folks measure summer fun with sparklers and loud splashes of exploding colors in the sky. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, Americans spent more than $1 billion on fireworks this year. Over 90% of fireworks are imported from China and the imports can be measured in weight. About 268 million pounds of fireworks come in for the holidays, roughly a pound for every man, woman and child in our country.
Perhaps you are like Joey Chestnut. Fun in the summer for him is measured in hot dogs consumed. Chestnut took home his 12th Mustard Belt this year for eating the most hot dogs at Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island. Though this year’s win was a little off the world record of 74, Chestnut still managed to down 71 hot dogs on his way to victory. (It was difficult to even type that sentence!) Not to be outdone, the rest of us put away 150 million dogs just on the Fourth of July.
Some of us measure summer fun by the sip or by the guzzle. The Fourth of July is America’s top beer-drinking holiday. Over a billion dollars were expected to be spent on beer alone, with another $568 million spent on wine. Would it be safe to say that these industries might be able to float us a loan?
Music has been a measure of summer fun for many families. “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer” is the first summer song that I remember and it was actually the title of an album put out by Nat King Cole in the summer of 1963. The record was filled with thirteen cuts of summertime fun including “On a Bicycle Built for Two,” “The Sidewalks of New York” and “There is a Tavern in the Town.” The album reached number 14 on Billboard’s LP charts that year.
Speaking of Billboard, the famed music organization listed its top 30 hot tunes with summer-specific themes from their chart’s inception in 1958. The 1962 hit “Surfin’ Safari” by the Beach Boys topped the list. Actually almost any music from the group would conjure memories of the summer. From their beginning in 1961 until now, the Beach Boys have tracked thirty-six songs in the Top 40, the most by any American rock band. Four of their hits have reached number one on Billboard’s charts. They have sold over 100 million records worldwide.
Although the word “summer” isn’t actually in the lyrics, the brassy horns of Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” always make for a “real celebration.” The images alone are priceless: Fourth of July, a man playing guitar, and another selling ice cream. The song was released in 1972 on the album Chicago V. The song reached No. 3 on Billboard’s charts and the single sold over a million units in the United States alone. The group has a steady stream of hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s selling over 40 million records in the States.
As long as we are stuck in the '70s, mention should be made of the song “Summer Nights” by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John from the 1978 movie Grease. The movie was successful critically and financially and produced several other hit songs including the theme song and “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” “Summer Nights” topped out at number five on Billboard’s charts even in the height of the disco era.
But according to Rolling Stone magazine one of the top-selling summer songs of all time is the song, “In the Summertime” by the British group Mungo Jerry. The group’s name was inspired by the poem, “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer” from T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Although they had nine charting singles in Britain, only this song made it to the charts in America, making them a one-hit wonder.
The bouncy tune was written by Ray Dorset, the group’s lead singer and guitarist. He claims the song melody popped in his head and it took him about ten minutes to compose the lyrics. The words take us to summer: “In the summertime, when the weather is hot; You can stretch right up and touch the sky.” One of the verses ends with “We go fishin’ or go swimmin’ in the sea. We’re always happy — Life’s for living, yeah, that’s our philosophy.”
I know some of you were tapping the beat with the words: Chh chh-chh, uh. Chh chh-chh, uh.
In a reader’s poll conducted by Rolling Stone, the most popular summer song was The Lovin’ Spoonful’s 1966 classic “Summer in the City.” The song actually began as a poem by frontman John Sebastian’s brother, Mark, a fifteen year-old. The song was written in the family’s New York apartment. When John read the lines, “Come on, come on and dance all night; Despite the heat it’ll be all right,” he knew that he wanted the song for his group.
The single reached number one on the Billboard charts for three consecutive weeks in August that year. The song may be the only number one hit to feature car horns and jackhammer noises in its tracks. The hit has been used in many movies from Die Hard with a Vengeance to The Karate Kid Part III. It has been covered over thirty times from Styx to Joe Cocker to Isaac Hayes.
From the Catbird Seat, no matter how you measure it, we are cruising with summer fun. Be safe and enjoy your summer.
— Tom May is a freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.