The Lovin' Spoonful

Summer in the City

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The Lovin' Spoonful are primarily remembered, with good cause, as a good-time pop-folk-rock group. On one occasion, though, they summoned a stomping, menacing rock tune that was not just a little out of step with their usual image, but also turned into their biggest hit, reaching #1 in 1966. It was "Summer in the City," the perfect inner-city urban summer anthem, for those days when the heat and noise become almost unbearable, and even the nights are too hot for comfort. "Summer in the City," though, is ultimately a joyous tribute to city life, one that acknowledges that it's the very on-the-edge tension of the big city (most likely the Big Apple, given the Lovin' Spoonful's New York origins) that makes it so special. The song grips your attention from the opening bars, with its ominous descending two-note organ riff, punctuated by a doom-laden drumbeat. Then it's off into the minor-keyed verses, decorated by stuttering dramatic keyboards and John Sebastian's uncharacteristic (but excellent) urgent vocal, rolling out the lyrics of city images so fast that it seems like his tongue is on the verge of losing pace with them. But with some ascending notes, the song glides into a merrier extended bridge. And the more upbeat tune in this portion is mirrored by more upbeat words, describing the relief when the sun sets and the temperature becomes more bearable, nightlife takes off, and you can find a girl (presumably to go dancing with and, most likely, go further with too). Greater melancholy returns at the end of this bridge, though, when Sebastian muses how it would be so much better if days were like the night when it's summer in the city. After those bridges, there's another great musical hook in the eerie guitar riffs backed by a floating organ, as if to symbolize creeping dangers around the corner (if only the inevitable rising of the sun to mark the end of the night and the onset of another brutally hot day). At one point when we hear that riff, there's a particularly inventive addition of honking horns and jackhammer sound effects, aurally (and, mercifully, briefly) illustrating how the city can get irritating as well as exciting. The minor-keyed stuttering keyboard riff returns to introduce the instrumental fade, which fades completely just as the point where the organ takes the melody into a slightly more chipper place. "Summer in the City" will be a perennial due to its eternal tie-in with the hottest days of the year, but it's also a great rock classic. It also served as the theme song for the acclaimed German filmmaker Wim Wenders's first feature film of the same name, playing as the soundtrack to an incongruous but memorable scene in which the main character walks on a brutally cold day, surrounded by snow. Incidentally, although John Sebastian wrote most of the Lovin' Spoonful's original material, this song was a collaboration between him, the group's bassist Steve Boone, and Sebastian's brother (and non-group member) Mark Sebastian.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
No Image 1966 Buddha Records 2:45
The Best of the Lovin' Spoonful 1967 Kama Sutra
Greatest Hits [Kama Sutra] 1970 Hollywood 2:40
No Image 1974
Original Soundtrack
Arista 2:40
No Image 1979 51 West
No Image 1983 Buddah
Good Old Rock and Roll, Vol. 2 1987
Various Artists
Deluxe 2:40
No Image 1988 Pair 0:00
No Image 1989
Various Artists
Rhino
Golden Oldies, Vol. 9 [Original Sound 1989] 1989
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment
Anthology 1990 Rhino 2:39
History of Rock: The 60s, Pt. 2 1990
Various Artists
Collectables 2:43
Baby Boomer Classics: More Rockin' Sixties 1993
Various Artists
JCI Associated Labels 2:39
Dick Clark's All-Time Hits, Vol. 4 1994
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 2:38
Good Old Rock & Roll: 28 Great Hits 1994
Various Artists
Deluxe 2:40
No Image 1994
Various Artists
Hollywood / IMG 2:41
No Image 1994 Rhino 2:42
No Image 1995 RCA
Sunny Afternoons [Polygram] 1995
Various Artists
Polygram 2:36
Open Top Cars & Girls in T-Shirts, Vol. 3 1995
Various Artists
Temple
Cool Beat: 20 Rock Classics from the Sixties 1995
Various Artists
Castle Music Ltd.
Die Hard with a Vengeance 1995 RCA Victor / RCA 2:44
The Complete Kama Sutra Singles, Vol. 2 1996
Various Artists
Buddah 2:39
Hi-Octane Hard-Driving Hits for the Roadious 1996
Various Artists
RCA 2:39
Only Rock 'N Roll 1965-1969: 20 Pop Hits 1996
Various Artists
Rhino / Essex 2:41
I Love Rock & Roll: Hits of the '60s, Vol. 2 1996
Various Artists
Priority Records 2:43
The Very Best of the Lovin' Spoonful [Music Club] 1996 Music Club Records
Daytrippers, Vol. 1 1997
Various Artists
Dressed To Kill 2:39
Do You Believe in Magic & Other Hits [Rhino] 1997 Rhino Flashback 2:42
Nick at Nite: Beach Blanket Bash 1997
Various Artists
Nick At Nite / Sony Music Distribution 2:41
Good Time 60's 1997
Various Artists
Coyote Records 2:41
Summer In The City 1997 BMG Special Products 2:42
Rockin' 60's [BMG Special Products] 1997
Various Artists
BMG Special Products 2:42
Greatest Hits [Delta] 1998 Delta Distribution 2:42
The Very Best of Lovin' Spoonful [Camden] 1998 DJ Specialist 2:42
#1 Hits of 1965-1969 1998
Various Artists
GNP / Crescendo 2:39
Killer Classic Rock 1998
Various Artists
Original Sound Entertainment 2:38
The Best of B-103: Long Island's Oldies 103.1 FM 1998
Various Artists
Mayhem 2:39
Classic 60's: The Beat Goes On 1998
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:42
Disraeli Years 1998
Various Artists
Dressed To Kill 2:39
The 60's, Vol. 2 [Platinum] 1999
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 2:40
Jukebox Hits of 1966, Vol. 1 1999
Various Artists
Jukebox Records 2:38
The Best Summer Album in the World...Ever! [1999] 1999
Various Artists
Virgin 2:40
60's Box Set 1999
Various Artists
Cleopatra 2:39
Bikini.Com: More Summer Groovin' 1999
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 2:38
Best of the Best: 60's Pop & Rock, Vol. 1 1999
Various Artists
Primary Colors 2:41
No Image 1999
Various Artists
Starday Records / King 2:41
Classic '60s [Time Life] 1999
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 2:42
No Image 1999
Various Artists
Collectables 2:41
Greatest Hits [Buddha] 2000 Buddha Records 2:43
Battle of the Bands: The Turtles Golden Hits/The Lovin' Spoonful Greatest Hits 2000 Delta Distribution 2:42
25 All-Time Greatest Summer Songs: The Ultimate Collection 2000
Various Artists
Varèse Vintage / Varese 2:44
Casey Kasem: America's Top 10 Through the Years 2000
Various Artists
Top Sail Productions 2:41
City Rocks: New York 2000
Various Artists
Cityrocks 2:42
No Image 2000
Various Artists
BMG Special Products 2:40
Casey Kasem: America's Top 10 Through Years - The 60's 2001
Various Artists
Top Sail Productions 2:41
No Image 2001
Various Artists
Rhino 2:41
Entertainment Weekly: The Greatest Hits 1966 2001
Various Artists
Buddha Records 2:42
Dick Clark's #1's: 50's to 70's "When AM Radio Was King" 2001
Various Artists
Rhino 2:42
A Decade in Sound 2001
Various Artists
Dressed To Kill 2:39
A Year in Your Life: 1966, Vol. 2 2001
Various Artists
Definitive 2:41
Rolling Stone Presents: The Early Years 2002
Various Artists
Rhino 2:43
Chartbusters USA, Vol. 2 2002
Various Artists
Ace 2:40
Sunsplashin 2002
Various Artists
Madacy 2:38
Pure 60's: The #1 Hits 2002
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 2:40
Rewind the Sixties 2002
Various Artists
Camden 2:40
History of Rock Box 2003
Various Artists
Collectables 2:43
1966: The Soundtrack 2003
Various Artists
Castle Music Ltd. 2:40
Top Hits of the Sixties: Coolest Hits 2003
Various Artists
Collectables 2:41
The Sixties [Platinum Disc] 2003
Various Artists
Platinum Disc 2:40
Biggest Hits of Summer 2003
Various Artists
Collectables 2:41
Platinum & Gold Collection 2003 BMG Heritage / Buddha Records 2:42
I Love Rock & Roll, Vol. 10 2004
Various Artists
Collectables 2:41
Good Morning Vietnam: A Soundtrack for a Generation 2004
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 2:39
Lost & Found in the Sixties 2004
Various Artists
Liberty 2:42
Sixties Classics [BMG] 2004
Various Artists
BMG Special Products 2:41
Classic Hits of the 60's 2004
Various Artists
San Fran 2:42
Sixties Rock 2004
Various Artists
Passport Audio
Very Best of the Lovin' Spoonful [BMG] 2004 BMG 2:44
Freestyle [Sony] 2004
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 2:41
In the Summertime [Crimson] 2005
Various Artists
Crimson Productions 2:37
History of Dance, Vol. 10: The Eurodance Edition 2006
Various Artists
Collectables 2:41
40 Legendarische Hits Uit: 40 Jaar Top 40 [DVD] 2006
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
Life and Times 1964-1999 2007 Raven 2:41
Heartbeat Summer 2007
Various Artists
Virgin 2:39
100 Hits: 60s 2007
Various Artists
DMG / DMG TV 2:42
Top Hits of the 60s: Coolest Hits 2007
Various Artists
Collectables 2:41
Top of the Pops: 1966 2007
Various Artists
BBC Music / EMI 2:41
Peace And Love [Madacy] 2008
Various Artists
Madacy 2:40
Super Hits 2008 Sbme Special Mkts. 2:41
Sounds of the 60's Generation 2008
Various Artists
Destra 2:42
Essential Chillout [Sony] 2010
Various Artists
Sony Music 2:40
What's Up, Tiger Lily?/Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful 2011 Edsel 2:44
60's Summer Party 2011
Various Artists
EMI Gold 2:40
Pure... Psychedelic Rock 2011
Various Artists
Sony Music 2:40
Haynes Ultimate Guide to the 60s 2011
Various Artists
Sony Music 2:40
The 60s: The Lovin' Spoonful 2014 BMG / Sony Music / Sony Music Entertainment 2:41
Jon Savage Presents 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded 2015
Various Artists
Ace / Kent 2:42
100 Hits: Rock Jukebox 2016
Various Artists
100 Hits / Demon / Edsel 2:40
100 Hits: The Best Rock & Power Ballads
Various Artists
100 Hits / Sony Music 2:41
Good Morning, Vietnam
Various Artists
Disky
The California Sound of the 60's
Various Artists
Scana 2:42