This is quite a mysterious song - one that leaves us wondering what exactly happened last summer. According to Motels frontwoman Martha Davis, it was not a specific relationship that inspired the song, but something more complex. She explained in Beyond Race magazine: "'Suddenly Last Summer' woke me up at 3 a.m. one morning. It seems that it is a time travel tune because it conjures up images as far back as when I was 12. I believe the song to be about irrevocable change, the loss of innocence, the melancholy associated with not being able to go home again. When I was still living in Berkeley, in my early 20s, I remember sitting in the back yard of the little house I bought after my parents died. It was the end of summer. From down the street, I heard the sound of the ice cream truck with its haunting little song. As I lay there, the first cold wind of autumn started to blow and I knew I would not see the truck again that year, and that summer was over. That incident resonated with me and I think the bells from that truck became the concept for repeating melodic line that runs through 'Suddenly.'"
"Suddenly Last Summer" ties with their previous hit, "Only The Lonely," for The Motels' highest-charting single. However, it is also their only #1 hit, albeit on the Mainstream Rock chart. The Motels came out of the burgeoning Los Angeles punk scene and released their first album in 1979. They went through several member changes, and in 1987 they broke up when Martha Davis started her solo career.
The Motels were one of the first American bands to have videos on MTV in its early startup days. In the book MTV Ruled the World - The Early Years of Music Video, Davis reflects on the '80s: "Everybody just went their own way. Nobody wanted to look like anybody else. Everybody wanted their own identity. And I think the diversity of the era is what made it so fantastic and wonderful."
She added, "Sometimes I'll look back on the '80s and go, 'Was it all frivolous? Was it all crazy?' A lot of it was just fun."
Val Garay, who was the producer/manager of The Motels at the time, directed the music video, which features one of his daughters. Look for the ice cream truck in the video, which reflects the symbolic end of summer.
Suddenly Last Summer is also the title of a 1958 play by Tennessee Williams.