There’s a particular breed of song that’s ideal for the sticky months between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and it has nothing to do with subtlety. Summer is time to open the car window and pound on the rooftop to pop that is obnoxious, crunchy, calculated, or downright frivolous ear candy. With those criteria in mind, here are David Browne’s ideal summertime soundtracks — albums for the beach and for the car, all guaranteed to make the heat and humidity more tolerable.
ON THE BEACH
Whether you’re tossing around a Frisbee, lying on a towel pretending to be dead, or taking a relaxing bike ride, any of the following should keep your mind off the colder, crueler world to which you must eventually return.
MADONNA The Immaculate Collection
It’s impossible to avoid her, so why not give in to this relentless collection of some of the driven singles of the ’80s? Besides, some of Madonna’s biggest hits — ”Papa Don’t Preach,” ”Vogue,” ”Cherish” — have dominated summers past, so they’re bound to bring back any number of happy (or unhappy) memories.
THE RASCALS The Ultimate Rascals
The accordion on ”How Can I Be Sure” and the hazy, lazy feel of ”Groovin”’ evoke the summer as strongly as any Beach Boys song. The rest of this collection, which also includes ”A Girl Like You” and the eternal ”Good Lovin’,” keeps up the pace.
VARIOUS ARTISTS Summer & Sun
The coolest collection of beach anthems — plenty of time-honored favorites (the Lovin’ Spoonful’s ”Summer in the City,” Sly & the Family Stone’s ”Hot Fun in the Summertime,” Eddie Cochran’s ”Summertime Blues,” the Beach Boys’ ”All Summer Long,” Mungo Jerry’s ”In the Summertime”), plus enough goofy throwaways (Annette Funicello’s chirpy ”Beach Party,” Bruce & Terry’s ”Summer Means Fun,” Billy Stewart’s Tex-Mex garage-band rendition of ”Summertime”) to keep the concept fresh.
The power chords and overwrought Lou Gramm vocals on ”Hot Blooded,” ”Cold as Ice,” ”Waiting for a Girl Like You,” and others on this compilation are as crass and bloated as arena rock gets. In other words, they’re perfect for blasting over the sand.
THE RAMONES Ramonesmania
This compilation isn’t essential just for ”Rockaway Beach,” as masterful a seasonal single as was ever made, or for the Ramones’ hyperactive brand of blitzkrieg pop. Music this simplistic and simpleminded is simply a lot of fun during the crazed, pumped-up days of summer.
EDDIE MONEY Greatest Hits — Sound of Money
You see that special someone but can’t get to him or her, so there’s nothing to do but fantasize and pout. For that reason, God (or Eddie Money) created ”Take Me Home Tonight/(Be My Baby),” ”Two Tickets to Paradise,” ”Baby Hold On,” and other mush-mouthed odes to being a proud, romantic klutz.
SANTANA’S GREATEST HITS
The seductive Latin sway of Carlos and company is ideal companionship for hot, stifling days and nights.
VARIOUS ARTISTS The Disco Years, Vol. 1: Turn the Beat Around
Growing a little tired of that tape of Motown hits? If so, this high-stepping collection of ’70s glitter-ball pop songs (“The Hustle,” “Disco Inferno,” “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” “That’s the Way (I Like It),” and, on the CD, 12 others) makes for a fine substitute — and will still keep your toes tapping.
IN A FAST CAR
Highway music has different criteria from sand songs. On the beach, you want continual rhythms; in the car, it often helps to have music with hills and valleys, much like the terrain you’re navigating. Rock & roll and country albums, with their ballads and mid-tempo tracks, seem to meet those demands better than dance records — and each of the following should work just fine. (Then again, you can always turn on the radio; little in life is as exciting as the surprise of hearing a deejay play one of your favorite new or old songs as you’re ripping down the highway, the wind blowing through your hair, the volume turned up to 11.)
JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP Scarecrow
Mellencamp’s tales of hardened lives and broken dreams are themselves ideal for country roads. But what really drives this album home is the Stones-like crack of his band, which pushes songs like “Small Town” and “Rumbleseat” into guitar-band heaven. Besides, you can hit the steering wheel in exact time with Kenny Aronoff’s expert drumming.
BEASTIE BOYS Licensed to Ill
These snotty New Yorkers merged rap and metal into a boorish, juvenile meld perfect for their hometown. Then why does it sound so good on the road? Because you don’t have to know how to sing to yell along with the likes of “Fight for Your Right.”
THE KENTUCKY HEADHUNTERS Pickin’ on Nashville
Good-time, barnstorming sing-alongs, with enough of a twang to satisfy country fans and enough of a beat to get your mojo working. “Dumas Walker” will make you want to pull into the nearest roadside grill for a slawburger and soda.
VARIOUS ARTISTS Philadelphia Classics
Some of the best ’70s Philly Soul (the O’Jays’ “Love Train,” Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ “Bad Luck,” MFSB’s “TSOP”), in creamy, extended versions ideal for cruising highways and byways.
BON JOVI Slippery When Wet
You could bring along a Bruce Springsteen tape — Born to Run, say, or Born in the U.S.A. But as good as the Boss can be, you’re better off with this album of sub-Bruce roof-pounders like “Livin’ on a Prayer” or “You Give Love a Bad Name.”
AC/DC Back in Black
“You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Hells Bells” are better release mechanisms for traffic jams than aspirin ever could be.
THE BLACK CROWES Shake Your Money Maker
This Atlanta band’s debut is derivative and old-fashioned; you’ve probably heard some of these licks and inflections before on old Stones or Faces albums. But that doesn’t lessen the impact of their road-ready riffs and flat-out boogie-blues rock. Long drives were invented for songs like “Jealous Again” and the Crowes’ stomp through Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle.”
HANK WILLIAMS 40 Greatest Hits
It’s late at night and you’re still on the road. You’re feeling a little down and tired, and the last thing you want to hear is anything perky or up-tempo. That’s when it’s time for Hank, with his aching yodel-drawl and his high-and-lonesome songs, all preserved on this essential anthology.