Dressing So Fine and Looking So Pretty

‘Summer in the City’ is a song that was recorded by The Lovin’ Spoonful and written by John Sebastian, Mark Sebastian and Steve Boone.  It came out on their 1966 album Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful and the single reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went to #8 in the UK.  The song became a gold record and it is ranked #401 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  It features car horns and jackhammer noises during the instrumental bridge, to represent the sounds of a noisy city street.

The group found an old-school radio engineer who worked for Columbia that used to create the soundscapes for shows.  This guy Roy Halee 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.  Roy Halee was best known for producing several albums with Simon and Garfunkel, including the Grammy-winning Bridge Over Troubled Water.  Roy has also worked with other groups such as The Byrds, Journey, Willie Nile, Laura Nyro, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Blue Angel.  Halee was named to the TEC Awards Hall of Fame in 2001.

The song discusses what it is like to live in a large city contrasting the differences between the day and the night.  The city is depicted as being crowded and hot in the day, making it difficult to walk around then, but when night comes it’s great, because the temperature got cooler and everyone is ready to party, providing a lot of opportunities for you to chase after women.  The band formed in New York City, so that is most likely where this tales place.  John Sebastian’s brother Mark Sebastian was 15 years old when he wrote a poem that John used as the basis for the song.  John especially liked the bossa nova part of this tune that included the chorus, “But at night it’s a different world, go out and find a girl.”  John added the verse, “Hot town, summer in the city Back of my neck getting’ dirt and gritty.”  The Lovin Spoonful’s bassist Steve Boone came up with the middle eight.

The Beatles and The Lovin Spoonful were contemporaries, but they lived in totally different countries and they played different styles of music, however the Beatles became fans of Spoonful.  On April 18, 1966 the Lovin’ Spoonful played the Marquee Club in London and George and John were in the audience.  By this time the Lovin’ Spoonful had made quite a name for themselves and they had several hits including, ‘Do You Believe in Magic’, ‘You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice’, and ‘Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind’.

John Sebastian started writing this song when he returned from England, and the recording starts out with session man Artie Schroeck playing piano and a whack-o drum smash.  John Sebastian sings lead vocals, and plays Vox Continental organ, acoustic guitar, autoharp, and sound effects, while Zal Yanovsky does backing vocal, and electric guitars.  Steve Boone is on bass, and he plays a Vox Continental organ, while Joe Butler also does a backing vocal, as well as playing drums and percussion, and Artie Schroeck plays a Hohner Pianet electric piano.

‘Summer In The City’ was the only #1 song that The Lovin Spoonful had.  During the summer of 1966, a heat wave boiled New York City at the most brutal temperatures recorded since 1869, the year weather data began to be consistently collected.  For 34 days it was 90 degrees or higher.  The war in Vietnam continued to escalate, NASA’s Project Gemini was completed after ten manned launches, and the USSR successfully landed a vehicle on the Moon.  The summer of 1966 was a time of riots over racism that started to break out.  A guy in Austin climbed a clock tower and shot dozens of people.  In New York City, everyone was walking around, sweaty and stressed out.

‘Summer in the City’ was the #19 single for 1966, coming in behind the #1 by Frank Sinatra ‘Strangers in the Night’, #2 Nancy Sinatra ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’, #3 The Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’, #4 The Beatles ‘Yellow Submarine’, #5 The Beatles ‘Paperback Writer’, #6 The Rolling Stones ‘Paint it Black’, #7 Simon & Garfunkel ‘The Sounds of Silence’, #8 The Mamas & The Papas ‘Monday Monday’, # 9 The Beatles ‘Michelle’, #10 The Beach Boys ‘Sloop John B’, #11 The Rolling Stones ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’, #12 New Vaudeville Band ‘Winchester Cathedral’, #13 Herman’s Hermits ‘No Milk Today’, #14 The Four Tops ‘Reach Out (I’ll Be There)’, #15 The Beatles ‘Eleanor Rigby’, #16 Percy Sledge ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’, #17 The Troggs ‘Wild Thing’ and #18 Los Bravos ‘Black is Black’.

The Lovin’ Spoonful were never able to duplicate what they did with ‘Summer In The City’ and the group didn’t last much longer.  That same summer, Yanovsky was arrested with weed while leaving a San Francisco party, and because he was afraid of being deported back to his native Canada, he ratted out the friend who sold it to him.  Word got out about Yanovsky being a snitch, and there was a massive backlash against the band.  Yanovsky quit soon after.  And by the time Sebastian played a solo set at Woodstock three years later, the band was done.  This song proudly remains as a blueprint of Rock and Roll and the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

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

Written for Love Is In Da Blog where Bee asks us to find a song about love in summer.

13 thoughts on “Dressing So Fine and Looking So Pretty

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