REVIEW: Chasing The Sun – The Greatest Songs Of Summer

There has been a lot of attention paid lately to the Summer Of Love and its 40th anniversary, accompanied by a number of special albums and DVDs featuring the music of that era. That might have been part of the motivation for this boxed set, Chasing The Sun – The Greatest Songs Of Summer, from Time-Life. However, in this case they’ve put together a huge collection of music that is not specific to 1967 – in fact it covers several decades – and in doing so, they’re provided something for almost everyone.

As the title suggests, this is a collection that moves across the country while celebrating Summer, and it consists of three CD’s stuffed like an undersized bikini with 59 songs, accompanied by a fourth disc, a special collectible DVD. It contains a PBS documentary about surfing and its history, Liquid Stage – The Lure Of Surfing, and is a nice bonus in the set, which is cleverly packed into a miniature red and white beach cooler. Also inside the little cooler is…no, not tiny bottles of cold beer, but a very nice booklet with pictures and text about many of the artists and their era, along with complete info on each song.

The natural assumption might be that the music included in this set is specific to the California beach scene, especially with the inclusion of the surfing DVD, but an examination of the tunes included confirms that the producers have pretty much adhered to the theme of Summer songs in general. However, that created another question in my mind. Would so broad a subject, one that included so many songs from so many different eras, lack focus?

I’m happy to report that it appears some real thought was given to organizing this eclectic mix of music, and it works pretty well. The whole thing keys off the titles of the CD’s themselves, which are each packed with an amazing number of outstanding tunes.*

Disc one is titled Surf Songs, which would seem to contradict what I said earlier about the diversity of this set. And it does include some of the traditional surfing tunes you’d expect, such as “Surfin’ USA” by The Beach Boys and a rousing “Miserlou” by Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, a terrific song that enjoyed a revival a few years back when it was used in Pulp Fiction.

But there are surprises too, including one or two cuts with a distinctly R&B flavor, such as The Rivingtons’ delicious “Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow”. There are also songs that stretch geographically and relate to the overall theme of the set, Chasing The Sun. Among these are “New York’s A Lonely Town” by The Tradewinds, and The Ramones’ retro hit from 1978, “Rockaway Beach”.

DIsc two shifts gears a little – OK a lot – as you can tell from its title, Shag Songs. For British readers (or fans of Austin Powers) I need to immediately make the point that this disc is not named for the kind of shag that’s in your mind right now. Instead, it’s meant to continue with the geographical diversity of this set by moving to the Southeastern surf scene and the area’s signature dance, the Carolina Shag.

This disc’s content is rich with music that was well-suited to the dance, but it’s a sound that also fits into the whole beach scene in that area, which was often as vital and active as the more publicized California happenings. The music here is also more tilted toward a definite R&B sound, and with the inclusion of groups such as The Drifters and The Platters, even doo wop is well-represented. In fact, not only is the Drifters’ big hit “Under The Boardwalk” included, but also a lesser-known tune of theirs, “At The Club”. Add to that such songs as “Girl Watcher” by The O’Kaysions, “Hello Stranger” by Barbara Lewis, and 1976’s “Hold Back The Night” by The Trammps, and you begin to get a sense of the sound represented on this disc.

The third disc of the set is simply titled Summer Songs, and serves as a good anchor for the set by giving us a gazillion tunes that relate pretty directly to Summer in one way or another. The obvious ones are all here, including Billy Stewart’s “Summertime”, and The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City”, but I was happy to find a wider range of dates than that of the first two discs, which are mostly from the 1960’s. This disc’s content ranges all the way from 1958’s Eddie Cochran megahit, “Summertime Blues”, to 1991’s “Summertime” as performed by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince.

In between are a number of tunes from almost every decade, with pieces from artists such as Linda Ronstadt and Seals and Croft from the 1970’s, and at least a half-dozen from the 1980’s. Just to name a few: “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama, “That Summer Feeling” by Jonathan Richman, and “Vacation” by The Go-Go’s.

Time-Life has put together a rich collection with Chasing The Sun – The Greatest Songs Of Summer. In fact, the little ice chest could just as easily have been made into a treasure chest.

*Complete track listing here.

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