Summertime I

Ricky Nelson Summertime 45 (Imperial, 1962)

I am not quite sure when I first heard the song "Summertime" but I do remember that the first version that lead to my obsession with the song. That was the one Nina Simone did on the At Town Hall album (which I will get to posting up here some time in the next three months). Since hearing Simone's take, I've made it a point to pick up every version that I come across. Since this is one of George Gershwin's most covered songs, there are hundreds if not thousands of "Summertimes" out there. Yeah yeah I do pass up some versions. Since I very much doubt that either Celine Dion or Cher did anything interesting with it and that their yowling isn't gonna top an Ella Fitzgerald or a Sarah Vaughn, I don't waste my time. But even without the Vegas moderne schlock, I've got probably a hundred different takes of the song. I could easily fill the summer up with "Summertime" but, as great as the song is, that would be tedious. So what I am gonna do is drop a dozen or so on you, ones that are extra special, have something unusual going on or are just plain good.

Our first venture into "Summertime" is by the very underrated Ricky Nelson. Though extremely popular from the late 50s to mid 60s, Nelson had the misfortune of lurking in the historical shadow of Elvis, as well as being written off as some bubblegum, teen teevee star. And all that is true, but he also made some great records. I am very partial to his early '60s singles on Imperial. Many of them have a nice tuff sound, propelled by a strong band. Ricky's voice was never totally polished and the rough edges really lend themselves to his rawer works. Don't believe me? Track down his version of "Milk Cow Blues." Its a b-side of some poppier number and it is great. Or just click the link below and hear his rockin' version of "Summertime." The bass and drums roll in like something off a "Back from the Grave" comp. Ricky's vox are flat and restrained but that is fine. Most singers get all wacky with the song, so flat is fine. Great echo on the harmonica. Just a fine fine rock & roll version of Gershwin's baby and a stellar Ricky Nelson performance.

This version is appeared on the b-side of the "Young World" 45.


...great idea Scott to post a "special Summertime selection" and you're absolutely right about the really astonishing performance by Ricky

thanks a lot

I also have a pretty intense attraction to this song in it's many forms. I think my favorite versions are the two by Sam Cooke. I actually wrote about that a little bit on my own blog.

also, just wanted to say that crudcrud is great! keep up the good work.
I like Miles Davis, from the Porgy & Bess album, though Sarah Vaughan is good too.

I never thought of it as a rock and roll song, but Ricky Nelson makes it work.

Thanks, Scott, for the posts.
"Summertime" and "My Favorite Things": two of the worst songs ever conceived, scored, performed, acknowledged, in my opinion. But if you must hear all versions of the former, don't miss the first Stereophile test CD (no vinyl, alas): http://www.musicdirect.com/product/76505. The "Lesley test" is a recording of an audiophile gear reviewer's wife intoning the "tune" for comparison of equipment. So bad it's good.
That riff is "We Aint Got Nothin Yet" by the Blues Magoos! But if this is from '62 that's a few years before "We Aint Got Nothin Yet." Hmmm...
Surely one of the greatest songs ever written in any genre, has an air to it, I can't pin it down what it is exactly that makes this song so magical. Scott, I am sure you are aware of the Billy Stewart dynamic version of it, just thought I d namedrop it for some people here who might not be so well versed in this song's history, very different version than the Nina Simone slow type I like but great all around.
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