Lovin’ Spoonful – Summer In The City

This is one of those transport songs. It takes me to a time when I wasn’t around…the mid sixties…at least my interpretation of it.

They were a great singles band but had a short window. From 1965 to 1967 they had 7 top 10 hits. This single peaked at #1 in the Billboard 100, #1 in Canada, #11 in the UK, and #3 in New Zealand in 1966.

The song was a collaboration between John Sebastian, Steve Boone (bass player), and John Sebastian’s brother Mark. Mark was 15 years old when he wrote a poem that John used as the basis for the song – John especially liked the line that went, But at night there’s a different world.

Steve Boone came up with the middle eight, which John thought sounded like the Gershwin composition “An American in Paris,” where the orchestra implies the sound of traffic and city noises. This gave him the idea of incorporating car horns and other city ambiance into the track

Things started to fall apart due to repercussions from guitarist Zal Yanovsky and bassist Steve Boone’s 1966 pot bust in San Francisco. They were pressured into a deal where they agreed to introduce an undercover cop to partygoers in the city, one of whom got busted. A backlash ensued that damaged their reputation in the counterculture.

In 1967 Zal Yanovsky left the band citing musical differences with John Sebastian. Yanovsky would later become a  Chef in Kingston, Ontario, Canada in his restaruarnt Chez Piggy. His daughter Zoe Yanovsky took over the restaurant after Zal’s death in 2002 and still runs it.

In 1968 Sebastian left for a solo career and the band carried on until 1969 without a significant hit.

The original group (John Sebastian,  Zal Yanovsky, Joe Butler and Steve Boone) reunited briefly in the fall of 1979 for a show at the Concord Hotel in the Catskills for an appearance in the Paul Simon film One Trick Pony.

John Sebastian: “That song that came from an idea my brother Mark had, he had this great chorus, and the release was so big. I had to create some kind of tension at the front end to make it even bigger. That’s where that jagged piano part comes from.”

From Songfacts

This song contrasts what it’s like to live in a large city during the day and during the night. According to the song, it’s difficult to walk around a crowded and hot city during the day, but it’s great at night because you have plenty of opportunities to chase women. This particular city is New York, where the band formed. 

.The band was rather particular about the traffic sounds. Instead of just using what was available on the sound effects records in the studio, they found an old-school radio engineer – a guy who used to create the soundscapes for shows, so if a guy was riding a horse, you’d hear the hooves hitting the ground and the wind whistling by. This guy, whom John Sebastian referred to as a “hilarious old Jewish sound man,” came in with a huge library of street sounds, which the band went through for hours. They wanted the scene to build, so it starts softly (the horn at the beginning comes from a Volkswagen Beetle), and grows to a gridlock nightmare. To close the scene, they used a pneumatic hammer pounding away at the pavement.

This was recorded over two days: At the first session, they put down the instruments: guitar, bass, autoharp, drums, organ, electric piano and percussion. The second session was for vocals and sound effects.

The sound of car horns and traffic was the first time these sounds appeared on a hit song. A year later, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff used the idea when they produced the Soul Survivors track “Expressway (To Your Heart).”

Appropriately, this song was released in the summer of 1966 – July 4, to be exact. It quickly climbed the chart, reaching #1 on the chart dated August 13, where it stayed for three weeks.

This is used during the looting sequence on The Simpsons episode “Poppa’s Got a Brand New Badge.”

The song served as the theme song for German art-director Wim Wenders’ first film, 1970’s Summer in the City. It plays during an incongruous scene in which the protagonist Hans is seen walking on a brutally cold day, surrounded by snow.

This was used at the beginning of the movie Die Hard: With A Vengeance. The song plays throughout the opening credits, showing different scenes of New York City until a building blows up. 

From 2006-2007, the piano portion was used in various Gatorade ads depicting the history of the sports drink, which was created in 1965.

Summer In The City

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity?
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

But at night it’s a different world
Go out and find a girl
Come on, come on and dance all night
Despite the heat it’ll be alright

And babe, don’t you know it’s a pity
That the days can’t be like the nights
In the summer, in the city
In the summer, in the city

Cool town, evening in the city
Dressing so fine and looking so pretty
Cool cat, looking for a kitty
Gonna look in every corner of the city
Till I’m wheezing like a bus stop
Running up the stairs, gonna meet you on the rooftop

But at night, it’s a different world
Go out and find a girl
Come on, come on and dance all night
Despite the heat, it’ll be alright

And babe, don’t you know it’s a pity
That the days can’t be like the nights
In the summer, in the city
In the summer, in the city

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity?
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

But at night, it’s a different world
Go out and find a girl
Come on, come on and dance all night
Despite the heat, it’ll be alright

And babe, don’t you know it’s a pity
That the days can’t be like the nights
In the summer, in the city
In the summer, in the city

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

23 thoughts on “Lovin’ Spoonful – Summer In The City”

    1. Something I found out about him…his voice is pretty much shot now…and it was shot in the mid eighties on…he struggles with his voice…don’t know why.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This is such a great pick, Max. I’ve always loved that tune. Quite catchy, and how they incorporated the traffic and city noise is cool! My only point of contention is the song’s end. Just like The Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” to me, it feels like they faded it out in a somewhat arbitrary fashion. I guess it was the end of summer, in the city, of the summer, in the city!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. During the summer of 1974, a friend of mine and I went to downtown Chicago to see *Blazing Saddles*. As we got out of the subway, he said “You know that song by The Lovin’ Spoonful?” Every time I hear this song now, I think of that day. Wonder where Danny is?

    Liked by 1 person

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