Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Get it? Deadbeat? 'Cause he's... aw, forget it. You know what we need on this dreary, cold autumn day? A little dose of summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime.

The Jamies were four youngsters from Boston who scored their one and only hit in 1958 with the indelible "Summertime, Summertime," which reached #26 on the national charts. A re-release of the song reached #38 four years later, marking the last time the group ever scraped the Top 40. This is one of those songs I grew up hearing on the radio and in TV commercials (I'm pretty sure it was used in an ad campaign for an amusement park, possibly Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH.) I never really took notice of the song, though, until I saw the 1978 crime drama Fingers, in which Harvey Keitel's sensitive, music-obsessed character declares "Summertime, Summertime" to be the most innovative song of 1958. And he's right, too. Half a century later, it's a song which grabs you with its unique arrangement, utilizing stacked harmonies, a falsetto lead (provided by the songwriter's sister!), and a jangling harpsichord.

"Summertime, Summertime" is proudly secular, even anti-authoritarian ("I'm sorry, teacher, but zip your lip!") but according to the Jamies' brief but intriguing Wikipedia entry, the song's roots may be religious. Supposedly, the members of the Jamies started out as church singers and based their sound on sacred harp singing, a curious form of religious choral music which began in the Deep South. Before seeing the Coen Brothers' criminally underrated remake of The Ladykillers, I had never heard -- or even heard of -- "sacred harp" or "shape note" singing, but it's a genre which has greatly intrigued me ever since. As a scholarly exercise, compare the Jamies' recording of "Summertime, Summertime" with the following example of traditional sacred harp singing. Listen hard enough, and you'll find that there are indeed parallels in the way the harmonies are structured and different vocal lines are layered.

(NOTE: Try to ignore the vocal tune-up which occurs during the first eight seconds or so of this clip. It gets better after that.)

Okay, if sacred harp singing isn't your thing, here's Sha Na Na doing their version of the song on their campy 1970s variety show.

P.S. - Who wears studded leather vests to the beach?

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