Irish summer songs. This might not come as a surprise but that’s one small playlist. Up there, as I discovered after the rugby, with 'Legendary Kiwi Bands'. Two very short lists for which there are no CD compilations.
When I approached this on radio I decided to start aggressively, flying a kite as a politician might say. I stated that the entire canon of Irish Sunshine Songs consists in fact of just two: The Undertones’ 'Here Comes the Summer' (1979) and the Blades' 'Hot for You' (1980).
There followed a flurry of corrective posts but very little outrage. You could sense the collective head-scratching. This is not a genre that will contribute much to the poor carbon footprint of our vinyl pressing plants. It was a struggle to reach double figures.
But then I spotted an odd thing! There seemed to be a direct correlation between good summers in Ireland and songs about summer. It emerged that experts believe we’ve only had five really good summers in the last fifty years (no surprise there). These are, in ascending order: 1989, 1976, 2006, 2018 and, the best, 1995.
It was 1976 that struck a chord. I remember it well, in fact, ‘experts’ (different ones now to the ones I mentioned earlier, completely different set of lads these) believe that when anyone who grew up in the 70s thinks back to their youth, this is the summer they remember. It has become the dominant summer, the alpha summer.
It was the summer when The Undertones and Paul Cleary of the Blades were teenage boys. For the Undertones this translated to a ‘time to discover what fun was about’ with ‘girls covered in sand.’ For the Blades, it was a girl with ‘brand new shades’ and ‘jeans so tight.’ You could almost smell the ice cream.
When Liam O’Reilly formed Bagatelle in 1978 this would have been the summer he harked back to for 'Summer in Dublin'. When Gaye Woods formed Auto Da Fe with Trevor Night in 1980, it would have been the same summer for their superb single 'All is Yellow, Hot, Hot, Hot'.
At this point it's worth quoting Van: “Imagine if it was like this all the time.” Imagine if the summers from 1977 to say 1983 had been spectacular. Imagine the vast array of optimistic summer-based songs this would have produced. Imagine the damage to the Sean Nos industry.
Of course this didn’t happen. The next notable summer was 1989, arriving just in time to inspire The Hot House Flowers’ 'Don’t Go'. 1995 gave us both Mundy’s 'July' (1998) and Damien Dempsey’s nod to the summers of his youth in 'Chillin' (2000).
After that it all gets a bit more esoteric. U2’s 'Staring at the Sun' (1997) may take inspiration from ’95 (and 'Something Happens') but is more existential in nature. So too The Divine Comedy’s 'Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count'. They’re good but they aren’t that simple blue sky inspired, good to be alive, ELO 'Mr Blue Sky' fun.
There are more great songs: The Four of Us’ 'Sunlight', The Walls’ 'Bright and Shining Sun', Villagers’ 'Summer Song' but it runs thin quite fast. In fact, it falls to Aslan to nail it, ‘Where is the Sun?’ they sing. Yes, where indeed.
For therein lies the problem. Summer is not a dependable season in Ireland. You can’t base a musical genre around it. Unlike the USA, the home of hot summers and hot songs about hot people making hot dogs.
Summer songs in the US range from the gritty realism of trying to escape the heat in boiling US cities ('Livin’ for the City', 'Summer in the City') to songs from the cool of the evening, like 'Sitting on the Dock of the Bay' or 'Summer Breeze'.
The stand out, for me, is Don Henley’s 'Boys of Summer' with the sublime lyric, “Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac.” This references the Grateful Dead, once America’s most loved live band. They would play for hours on end in a haze of marijuana smoke as audiences, danced, barbequed and got high. For generations of Americans, this was summer.
We’ll probably have to wait until 2023 to see if our recent record temperatures inspire new Irish summer songs. I’m not optimistic. Unless the Undertones revisit it with, 'Here Comes The Climate Change Tipping Point', which, to be honest, I can’t really see as a crowd pleaser.