The Playlist: July’s Instant Music Classics
Bring on the summer mixtape with these sunny, sultry hits.
The follow-up to the fantastic 2009 Juno-winning album Fantasies is a collection of stadium-size tunes that alternate between glam-rock anthems and soaring pop. Frontwoman Emily Haines’s quicksilver voice floats over the proceedings like glitter thrown in a tossing ocean.
Standout track: The propulsive and dreamy “Breathing Underwater.”
The Bravest Man in the Universe – Bobby Womack
Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer and hotshot guitarist Bobby Womack’s first album of original material in almost two decades is a triumphant showcase for his ragged-heart songwriting and unfettered vocals.
Standout track: “The Bravest Man in the Universe,” a deceptively stately synth-soul breakdown that opens with a mournful cello solo.
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do – Fiona Apple
After a seven-year hiatus, the wild child of dark pop is back, and so are her circuitous brainteasers (Exhibit A: the album title), frayed-wire voice and enigmatic lyrics.
Standout track: The heart-churning ballad “Every Single Night.”
For steamy evenings
“Summertime” by Billie Holiday (Click to Listen Now)
This slow-burning torch song has been beaten into submission by countless American Idol competitors and second-rate jazz-club singers. Still, it’s not officially summer until you open the windows to let the dusk air in while Billie Holiday croons her iconic, sublimely sultry version.
For driving with the wind in your hair
“Summer Babe” by Pavement (Click to Listen Now)
Stephen Malkmus’s serenade to the sunshine girl in the title is only peripherally about summer, but the glorious swirls of crunchy electric guitar and singsongy refrain make this a killer choice to crank in the car.
For your umpteenth attempt at starting a bonfire
“July Flame” by Laura Veirs (Click to Listen Now)
It’s a literal interpretation to be sure, but the insistent drumbeat will assist in maintaining your fire-starting momentum, while the hazy, wistful vocals help you keep your cool.
For an unconventional campfire sing-along
“Summer Nights” by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta (Click to Listen Now)
OK, so this goofy tune from Grease is more of a campy anthem than a camp anthem, and its gender politics are a bit wobbly. But it’s impossible to overstate how much fun it is to belt this out-Pink Ladies vs. Greasers styles-after a few fireside beverages.
For the bittersweet end of a summer fling
“Summerlong” by Emm Gryner (Click to Listen Now)
This delectable pop nugget by David Bowie-approved Canadian singer-songwriter Emm Gryner is a perfectly bittersweet counterpoint to Grease’s upbeat kiss-and-tell-a-thon. It’s a winsome reflection on a whirlwind seasonal romance.
For lighting fireworks on Canada Day
“July, July!” by Decemberists (Click to Listen Now)
It’s explosively peppy, the guitar riffs are vaguely reminiscent of “Sweet Home Alabama,” the chorus is a joyous shout, there’s a heady burst of Hammond organ, and singer Colin Meloy mentions a mysterious “crooked French-Canadian” uncle. One hell of a celebratory anthem.
For skinny-dipping after dark
“Summer Skin” by Death Cab for Cutie (Click to Listen Now)
R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming” is too obvious. And this sigh of a song, buoyed by the smart rat-a-tat of a snare drum and an elastic-band snap of a bass line, will send shivers up the nape of your neck and coat your arms with goosebumps.
For steppin’ out in your Canadian tuxedo
“Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams (Click to Listen Now)
Nothing says denim-on-denim like Bryan Adams’s stadium-sized classic. These are the best days of our lives.
For a nostalgic nostalgia trip
“Summer Girls” by LFO (Click to Listen Now)
During the summer of ’99, this breezy little pop-rap jam-which references Home Alone, Alex P. Keaton, New Kids on the Block, Abercrombie and Fitch, Pez candy and more-was a Top 40 radio hit. Soak up its pre-millennial references and transport yourself to a kinder, gentler, goofier time.
For the summertime blues
“Summertime Blues” by The Beach Boys (Click to Listen Now)
As the song says, there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues. But if ever a band represented the essence of the season, it’s the Beach Boys-and their version of this vintage ditty will lift your spirits.