This buoyant tune was written by Ray Dorset, who was the group's lead singer and guitarist. He penned the song in 1968 when he was working for Timex in the UK - his band was just getting started and music was more of a hobby at the time. Dorest says that the famous melody just popped into his head one day, and the next day he wrote the lyrics very quickly.
"It's got no chorus; all it's got is a melody that goes over and over again with a set of lyrics that conjure up a celebration of life," he said. "Especially if you're a young person: it's a great day, you've managed to get a car - preferably with the top off - you're cruising around, and if you're a guy you're picking up girls."
The band was known as Memphis Leather and The Good Earth before getting a record deal and changing their name to Mungo Jerry (after the character Mungojerrie from the T. S. Eliot book Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats - later the basis for the Broadway play Cats).
Barry Murray, a producer at Pye Records, was a friend of Ray Dorset's and signed the group to the label's more adventurous imprint, Dawn Records, which released "In The Summertime" as their first single. The song took off, going to #1 in their native UK and making #3 in America. The UK fortunes of the song were aided by the group's appearance at the Hollywood Music Festival in Staffordshire England on May 23, 1970, shortly after the song was released. Playing on low on a bill with the Grateful Dead, Black Sabbath, Free and Traffic, the song got the attention of the 35,000 or so fans in attendance, giving it a huge lift.
The American appeal of this song can be attributed to the lyrical inspiration: American beach movies that lead singer Ray Dorset grew up watching. "That was the teenage dream," he said. "What more can you want?"
There is some very interesting instrumentation on this track. Ray Dorset did the vocals and played guitars (acoustic and electric), as well as a shaker instrument called cabasa. Paul King played banjo and jug; Mike Cole played string bass; Colin Earl played piano.
Note that there are no drums, although you can hear Dorset stomping his foot to the rhythm. This was influenced by John Lee Hooker, who often used his foot as a percussion instrument.
Another structural anomaly: the title is repeated just twice in the song.
Few songs have endured like this one, which finds its way onto playlists every summer and is constantly being commissioned for movies, TV shows and commercials. "It's an honor for me to have a song that I wrote that people want to associate with so many different moods and feelings and events," Ray Dorset said. "The longer it goes on, the more it becomes like 'Happy Birthday
,' because when everybody thinks of the summer, they think of 'In The Summertime.'"
Around the two-minute mark, the song stops and we hear a car drive by, punctuating the line, "we'll all go into town." This was a recording of the engineer's sports car driving by the studio.
In the UK, this was issued as a "maxi-single," which was a 7-inch record played at 33 1/3 RPM instead of the standard 45, which allowed for more music in the limited space. Also included on the single were two other songs: "Mighty Man" and "Dust Pneumonia Blues."
In the US, "In The Summertime" was issued as a standard single and also included on the album of the same name. In the UK, the group's first album was called Mungo Jerry, and did not include this song.
The band made a video for this song, which some UK groups did to promote their wares on European TV shows. Like most videos of the time, it's a performance piece, but thanks to the jug and upright bass it was a very unusual performance. Also distinguishing the video: lead singer Ray Dorset's sweet mutton chops, scarf and fishnet shirt.
The Reggae artist Shaggy covered this in 1995. His version, which features the singer Rayvon, reached #5 in the UK. Ray Dorset re-recorded his guitar part for Shaggy's version. (thanks, Jerro - New Alexandria, PA)
Mungo Jerry never again charted in the US, but fared very well in the UK, where the following year "Baby Jump" went to #1 and "Lady Rose" made #5. The group scored five more Top 40 UK hits by 1974. They have since been sporadically active under Ray Dorset's guidance with a number of different lineups.
This sold over 16 million copies worldwide and was Britain's biggest-selling single in 1970. In that territory, it really was the "song of the summer," peaking in June that year. By the time the song caught on in America, summer was coming to an end - it reached it's peak position on September 12.
Some of the many TV shows to use this song include:
The Simpsons (2004)
Life on Mars (2007)
New Girl (2014)
The Substitute (1996)
Breaking Out (1999)
Mr. Deeds (2002)
Anita and Me (2002)
Wedding Crashers (2005)
Despicable Me 2 (2013)