In Lake Wobegon Days, Garrison Keillor described a cold Minnesota morning by saying that the temperature was something like 18 below “according to old guys who get up to pee.” This is something farmers in the Upper Midwest have always done—on the way to or from the privy on a winter’s night, they check the thermometer because they want to know how cold it is. (In the summer, they don’ t bother.)
This morning, it got down to 17 below at the airport here in Madison, and it was colder out in the country—one of the TV stations said it had unofficial reports of 30 below from places west of here. So yeah, it’s cold. And while people up here complain about it, secretly, deep down, we like it. We suspect that having 70-degree weather every day, like California, Arizona, and Florida, can turn you into a pussy. We think you should put on two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, three shirts, gloves, insulated boots, and a big-ass hat with flaps and suck it up like your ancestors did. Your Vikings, your Saxons, your random Germanic hordes—they didn’t let a little thing like cold weather interfere with their regular pillaging and looting, did they? No sir. In fact, nobody from a warm country ever conquered anything worth a damn.
But let’s not be fanatical about it. Here are five songs that I hope will warm things up.
“Hot Fun in the Summertime”/Sly and the Family Stone. One of the greatest summertime records ever, but with a bittersweet vibe, like the band knows summer is almost over. That’s because for them, it was. “Hot Fun” didn’t make the Top 40 until around Labor Day 1969 and peaked at Number Two in October. (Live version here.)
“Too Hot”/Kool and the Gang. Someday I’m going to write at length about Kool and the Gang, who served up an uninterrupted string of pop pleasures during the first half of the 80s, thanks largely to the cool ‘n’ soulful vocals of James “J. T.” Taylor. (A live performance of “Too Hot” circa 1980 is here.)
“Hot Love”/T. Rex. This was not exactly a big hit anywhere in the late spring of 1971 (except in Vancouver, where it made it all the way to Number Two). In Billboard, it made Number 72, and even on WLS, where I was hearing it, it only stayed on the chart three weeks and reached Number 24. But I bought the 45 anyhow, hypnotized (then and now) by its endless “Hey Jude”-style fadeout. Here they are doing it on The Midnight Special in 1973:
(On the same episode of The Midnight Special, T. Rex also performed a thoroughly ass-kickin’ extended version of “Bang a Gong (Get it On),” with Marc Bolan putting on the sort of guitar-god performance that only happened in the 70s. Pay homage here.)
“Summer Days”/Partridge Family. A hit single that never was but should have been. I could spend time here debating the merits of this and “One Night Stand” from the Sound Magazine album versus “I Woke Up in Love This Morning,” which was the lead single and a relative stiff, but no one has the patience for that other than me. “Summer Days” also has one of the greatest singalong refrains in the whole Partridge oeuvre. (I love writing stuff like “Partridge oeuvre.”) Here it is, as performed on the show aired October 29, 1971:
“One Summer Dream”/Electric Light Orchestra. This is a track from Face the Music, and it gives me an excuse to ask the following question: Why are Metallica and Run-DMC getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when ELO, Chicago, Heart, Yes, the Moody Blues, and the Doobie Brothers aren’t in yet? On the basis of influence, Metallica and Run-DMC probably belong—Metallica as thrash-metal pioneers, Run-DMC as pivotal figures in rap’s mainstream acceptance—but let’s not get carried away honoring those come-lately genres just yet. Besides, influence is clearly not a major criterion. The inductions of people like John Mellencamp and ZZ Top indicate that the prime criterion is longevity, and each of the bands I just mentioned have more going for them than that. Nobody took the Beatles’ melodic innovations further than ELO and the Moodys did, nobody rocked a horn section better than Chicago, Heart was the first superstar band led by women, Yes typifies the entire prog-rock genre, and the Doobies fused country with California at least as well as the Eagles.
If there’s anybody else who’s either unjustly missing or unnecessarily inducted, add ’em in the comments below, but be prepared to show your work.