Each and every summer millions of people around the world flock to gigs and festivals to watch some of the world’s greatest guitar bands, and yet, when we think of summer it’s hardly guitar rock that springs to mind.
Pop, dance, rap and the softer end of the indie spectrum inevitably soundtrack each passing summer. After all it’s hard to look beyond The Beach Boys and the legions of sun soaked pop stars that have followed in their wake.
It’s hardly a surprise, the ideal summer is light and carefree, the perfect territory for the transience of the thoughtless three minute pop song. Cast your mind back a year to when Katy Perry’s tepid “California Gurls” and “Teenage Dream” dominated the radio waves and music television; simple, easy to understand, and incredibly accessible sunshine pop.
The mere fact that the term “sunshine pop” exists is, in of itself, testament to the genre’s summertime dominance. Most guitarists would baulk at the label “sunshine rockers” as rock often dwells in a far darker and gloomier domain. However, this hasn’t stopped guitar bands from penning some of the greatest tracks to listen to while basking in the blazing heat of July and August.
It’s easily forgotten today that the great summer single archetype came courtesy of Eddie Cochran and his infectious marriage of basic three-chord rock and tubular baselines. With 1958’s back-to-back releases of “Summertime Blues” and “C’mon Everybody” he laid the foundations for generations of summertime hits based on humour, simplicity and infectious rhythms.
Lynyrd Skynyrd offered an entirely different approach for an entirely different type of summer time anthem. Proud sons of the south, Skynyrd specialized in sun-drenched guitar work, long strained notes, loose grooves and mind blowing solos that were perfect for lay back appreciation rather than head banging insanity. This was the sound of summer on the range, in the country, at a sweltering whiskey bar, and for slow dancing beneath the stars.
“Sweet Home Alabama” proved such an effective summer anthem, that Kid Rock sampled it for his tactless August 2008 smash “All Summer Long”. However, for all “Sweet Home’s…” nostalgic slow summer evening charm, Lynyrd Skynyrd truly captured the sound and feel of summer on their wistful debut Pronounced Leh-Nard Skin-Nerd, one of the summer greats that goes sadly under appreciated on this side of Atlantic. The album offers the brilliant bar room waltz “I Ain’t The One”, the perfect end of summer lament “Tuesday’s Gone”, the folksy stomp of “Mississippi Kid”, the insatiable whiskey in hand jaunt “Gimme Three Steps”, and the atmospheric end of night howl along “Simple Man”. Simply put, when it comes to summer, Pronounced Leh-Nard Skin-Nerd has all the bases covered.
Surf rock is almost by definition summery, killer guitar riffs that capture the sensations of riding waves and watching them crash. The original largely instrumental surf rock sound of the 60s had a wonderful cinematic quality. While Dick Dale’s “Riders In The Sky”, Jerry Cole’s “Pipeline” and The Rip-Chords “Big Wednesday” will always belong by the beach, their rolling guitar odysseys proved ideal for sound-tracking inland adventuring; conjuring images of great red rock mountain ranges and dynamic chase scenes. Today’s surf rock, typified by Best Coast’s Crazy For You, is a more laid back affair as outdoor adventure gives way to apathetically lazing in a smoky haze on Santa Monica beach.
California has always been the home of the summer sound but in the late 80s Axl Rose and Slash set about redefining the home of surf rock. Instead of the summery dreams of beach bums, Gun ‘n’ Roses and their legendary debut album Appetite For Destruction depicted the sad realities of life on California’s urban drug fuelled streets.
At heart Appetite For Destruction really is a horrible record; it's disgusting, it's dirty, it's sleazy, it's debauched, it's full to the brim with psychopaths, crack hounds, alcoholics, drug dealers, and people who'd sell your soul just as easily as they'd sell your body, hell they'll probably do both a the same time, and cut you up for the privilege. To make matters worse it's played by a bunch of dirty and despicable street rats from L.A's grimy underbelly. The whole album is trapped somewhere between a hellish nightmare and a state of pure ecstasy. You're never quite sure whether Axl is crying out for help, warning you to stay the hell away, or enticing you in, with crooked bloody fingers.
This really should be one of the most depressing and sorrowful records of all time; but of course it's not. Appetite For Destruction is one of the greatest records ever made. It's 53:48 of pure hedonistic sin, and ultimately it's what great summers are made of. Even if you'll be praying for death to carry you away to the "Paradise City" by it's climax. By capturing the thrill of living for the moment with it’s blistering solos and howling verses, Appetite For Destruction became the soundtrack to a million perfect summers, even if it was spawned out of a hellish existence.
Few 21st century guitarists are as iconic or prolific as Josh Homme. He’s a riff machine, and as the driving force behind Queens Of The Stone Age he often appears a master of the dark arts. Merciless pummelling, bleak atmospherics and dark macabre imagery; it’s hardly the sound of summer.
However, there is more to Josh Homme than the haunting psychedelia of Rated R and the bleak artwork of Songs For The Deaf. Since 1997 Josh Homme has been retreating to the Palm Desert to indulge his other love, his obsession with sweat and sex. The Desert Sessions are simply hotter than anything his peers can offer; the guitar work is warped, as if the sweltering heat of the desert is melting and deforming each eerie tone. The vocals, the bass, the drums, the guitars everything is drenched in this thick almost impenetrable haze. On The Desert Sessions 8 & 9 you can feel the sweat dripping off PJ Harvey and Homme as “A Girl Like Me” and “Crawl Home” restlessly churn.
At his best Homme offers a demented take on the slow jam, his guitar work feels clammy and baked. This is the sound of an awkward summer, it’s hard work, it’s being stuck in on a motorway in sticky and sordid old convertible, it’s walking endlessly with the unforgiving red sun at your back; it’s the sound of just giving up, drifting away and melting in your surroundings. Most of all it’s a glorious contradiction, it’s Desert Rock; the sound of being soaked from head to toe in slimy sweat but being absolutely parched and raw throated. The Desert Sessions should be miserable, but they’re not, “Subcanteous Phat” and “I Wanna Make It Wit Chu” entice like flickering mirages in the middle distance.
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