Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Summertime Blues" (1958)

4. Eddie Cochran, "Summertime Blues" (Aug. 25, 1958, #8)

Well, I guess this is my favorite hit from the '50s—and if I say that with some bemusement, it's not because I don't appreciate the charms and attractions of the giants who tend to overtop Eddie Cochran, who died when he was just 21. In some cases, such as Chuck Berry, it's a matter of tending to like more the songs of his that weren't hits, as the more familiar tunes have been worn down to nubs. I almost can't hear "Maybellene" or "Johnny B. Goode" any more (and the more's the pity). On the other hand, I have always heard this and seem to like it more every time I do. This may be because I came to it first more or less through the bizarre filters of the Who, Blue Cheer, and T. Rex, none of whom got it particularly right. It may be related to the fact that, even with all its rockabilly signifiers, it's always struck me more as a Coasters type of song—it has that exasperated wiseass teen griping nailed down to fine shtick, notably in the flat booming intonations of the walk-on grown-up parts, e.g., "Now you can't use the car 'cos you didn't work late" or "I'd like to help you son but you're too young to vote" (and I love that he takes "my problem to the United Nations" but ends up talking to his Congressman). But in the end I think the appeal is all sonic, compressed expertly into a scant two minutes: the rolling bass that sets it in motion, the neck-snap guitar chords, the highly inflected yelping of the vocal, counterpointed by the wry, cartoony admonishments, and the way the sound of it opens and closes like a window on a soft summer day. At this point I don't think I'm ever going to get tired of it.


  1. I always thought the lyric was "cos you didn't work a lick," to rhyme with "told the boss I was sick," and because it makes more sense for Dad to insist you put some gas in it before you drive it.

    But since the first version I really got to know was Blue Cheer (which Rush is obviously cribbing), and my favorite version is the Who, my take on it may not be reliable.

  2. You're right! I just noticed that very clearly enunciated in the Flying Lizards version.