Summer In The City

Album: Hums Of The Lovin' Spoonful (1966)
Charted: 8 1


  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Andy - Arlington, VA
  • The song was a collaboration between John Sebastian, The Lovin Spoonful's bassist Steve Boone, and the frontman's brother (and non-group member) Mark Sebastian. Mark was 15 years old when he wrote a poem that John used as the basis for the song - John especially liked the part that went, "But at night there's a different world."

    "That song that came from an idea my brother Mike had," John Sebastian recalled to Uncut magazine June 2014. "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."

    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.
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Patrick - Tallapoosa, GA
  • From 2006-2007, the piano portion was used in various Gatorade ads depicting the history of the sports drink, which was created in 1965. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Patrick - Bremen, GA

Comments: 19

  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn October 3rd 1966, the Lovin' Spoonful performed "Summer in the City" on the week-day afternoon ABC-TV program 'Where The Action Is'...
    Nine days earlier on September 24th the song was at #37 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart, and that was also its last day on the chart...
    It had entered the Top 100 chart on July 10th at position #53; four weeks later on August 8th it would peak at #1* {for 3 weeks} and it stayed on the chart for 11 weeks...
    Between 1965 and 1969 the quartet had fourteen Top 100 records; with five making the Top 10...
    They just missed having two more #1 records when "Daydream" and "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" both peaked at #2...
    Sadly, lead guitarist 'Zal' Yanovsky passed away on December 13th, 2002 at the young age of 57...
    May he R.I.P.
    * The three weeks "Summer in the City" was at #1 it prevented “Lil’ Red Riding Hood" by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs and "Sunny" by Bobby Hebb from reaching #1, both those records peaked at #2 right behind the Spoonful.
  • Anthony from Fareham, United KingdomBrings back those lost years :)
  • Fred from Laurel, MdOK, on that descending bass line (DBL) thing, how about "Walk Don't Run '64" by the Ventures (1964), or "Runaway" by Del Shannon (1961)? Admittedly, these differ from the line in "SITC," but only slightly. Transposing everything to Am, the "WDR" DBL goes, beat-by-beat, A-A-G-G-F-F-E-E; "Runaway" goes, measure-by-measure, the same; while "SITC" goes, A-A-G-G-F#-F#-F-E. The insertion of the F# does give it a bit of a different flavor. Also note that, of the examples given earlier, "Lucy" (Beatles) is in a major, not minor key, and again, transposing to A(major), the DBL is, A-A-G-G-F#-F#-F-F, another variation. And "While My Guitar...", once again in minor, matches "Lucy". "Sunny Afternoon"s DBL goes, A-A-G-G-F#-F#-F-F-E-E-D-D-C-C-B-B. **** Another, even earlier example of the DBL, A-G-F-E, is found in Josh White's "One Meatball" (written by Hy Zaret & Lou Singer, 1944), a song with roots that predate the American Civil War (George Martin Lane, 1855), though not with the 1940's music, I'm sure.
  • Fred from Laurel, MdAnd, OBTW, I'm certainly not knocking this song -- it's truly outstanding, and I still find it so after all these decades. Another sign of the genius(es) of this band!
  • Fred from Laurel, MdDescending bass line? 1966? I can't think of an earlier example right off the top, mainly because I was plugged in to other musical genres before 1965, but I absolutely refuse to believe this bass line didn't originate MUCH earlier than that! Prior to the mid-60's, rock tended to be musically quite formulaic, with 3- and 4-chord songs predominating, but surely, at least there had to be some jazz or big-band era songs with this bass line. I defer to the musical experts on this one.
  • Joyce from Tonyrefail Nr Cardiff , United Kingdomlove this song it takes me back to the 60s loveit
  • Joe from Cleveland, OhGood point about the similarity between the descending baselines of this song and the Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon," both released in the summer of 1966. I've also wondered if one song was inspired by the other, and which one? The Kinks seemed to like the descending bassline, which turns up in lots of their songs ("Dead End Street, "Waterloo Sunset," for example). Either way, 1966 was certainly blessed with two great "summer" songs!
  • Eric from Camas, WaThis song's prominent descending bass-line was the inspiration for Cream's "Tales of Brave Ulysses," according to Wikipedia. I would venture also that the song is the grandfather to several other songs which came after it using the same descending bass-line idea, including:

    "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" (Led Zeppelin)
    "Temptation Eyes" (The Grass Roots)
    "25 or 6 to 4" (Chicago)
    "Bert's Blues" (Donovan)
    "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" (Beatles)
    "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (Beatles)
    "Dear Prudence" (Beatles)
    "Brain Stew" (Green Day)

    There are undoubtedly many others, but those are the more famous examples.

    Note: During the same year this song was released (1966), the Kinks released "Sunny Afternoon," which also had a prominent descending bassline, the pattern of which "Summer in the City" uses only half. I haven't as of yet been able to find out which of the two songs was released first. If "Sunny Afternoon" preceded "Summer in the City," then the Kinks can take the credit (as far as I have been able to find) for the spate of songs done later by other groups that used the descending chord sequence theme.
  • Goug from Biot, FranceThis song is brilliantly "lowdown" covered by Quincy Jones, with just a few bars of Chorus' vocals at the end. Instrumental part of this version was then sampled in Nightmares on Wax's legendary "Les nuits" or "Night Inter(tro)lude", first track on their first three albums
  • Jay from Brooklyn, NyMost of The Lovin' Spoonful's songs have a country-folk feel, but not this one. Here, John Sabastian celebrates his hometown, New York. Listen to how Sebastian pronounces the words: he sounds like a New Yorker. He usually hides his accent, but here, he loudly and proudly proclaims where he is from. Even the music sounds like the City. I must disagree with Bob in San Francisco. I was in San Francisco a couple of summers ago and I had to wear long pants and a jacket. Come to New York in late July or early August when the sun is beating down, radiating off the glass and steel and concrete and you will know what it is like to walk on a sidewalk hotter than a match head.
  • Sara from Greenville, AlCo-written by Mark Sebastian, John's brother, who, according to legend, submitted the lyrics as a poem in his high school English class.
  • Lester from New York City, NyRay Gomez does a rockin' version of this song.
  • Bob from San Francisco, CaThis song was written about the Spoonful playing at a club here in San Francisco in North Beach with a one armed Go-Go dancer.Bob McDowell San Francisco.
  • Pj from Okc, OkThis song reminds me of hot summer nights having fun. I love the Lovin Spoonful!
  • Jon from Oakridge, OrPretty good song. Can lift your spirits, in a weird way.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaI can't imagine Joe Cocker doing this.
  • Eric from Vancouver, CanadaThis song is often mistaken to be performed by Three Dog Night, even though that band never played it.
  • Christoph from Graz, AustriaThere's also a cover version by Joe Cocker!
  • Mike from Chicago, IaThe part when they switch to "But tonight it's a differeent world, go out and find a girl" was part of a poem written by John Sebastions's brother. He received an "F" for the poem in school so to prove a point John added it to this song, which of course was all over the radio.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of WayneSongwriter Interviews

The guy who brought us "Stacy's Mom" also wrote the Jane Lynch Emmy song and Stephen Colbert's Christmas songs.

The Truth Is Out There: A History of Alien SongsSong Writing

The trail runs from flying saucer songs in the '50s, through Bowie, blink-182 and Katy Perry.

John Lee HookerSongwriter Interviews

Into the vaults for Bruce Pollock's 1984 conversation with the esteemed bluesman. Hooker talks about transforming a Tony Bennett classic and why you don't have to be sad and lonely to write the blues.

Zakk WyldeSongwriter Interviews

When he was playing Ozzfest with Black Label Society, a kid told Zakk he was the best Ozzy guitarist - Zakk had to correct him.

The PoliceFact or Fiction

Do their first three albums have French titles? Is "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" really meaningless? See if you can tell in this Fact or Fiction.

Scott StappSongwriter Interviews

The Creed lead singer reveals the "ego and self-fulfillment" he now sees in one of the band's biggest hits.