Summertime, Summertime

The rock and roll movement was well under way by 1958 and it seemed as though teenagers had taken over the music business. They certainly had a reverberating voice when it came to the music they wanted to hear on radio stations, large and small, across America. The long-awaited end of each school year received a new, youthful anthem when the lyrics 'It's summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime!' came blasting out of radios after-the-fact. Originally titled "It's Summertime," it had been written by recent ex-teenager Tom Jameson, who lived in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood with his family and still-teen sister, Serena Jameson, who sang in the choir of the First Baptist Church with a friend, Jeannie Roy. Arthur Blair, a young baritone-bass singer whose doo woppish intro opens the song, was essential to its structure. The quartet, toying with The Double-Daters as a group moniker, began practicing Tom's vacation-time opus, layering the 'summertimes' with Arthur starting on the low end and Jeannie the final, highest-pitched component. Once he felt they were ready, Tom booked a demo session at a local studio.

'Well, shut them books and throw 'em away...say goodbye to dull school days...' Tom knew his intended audience probably wouldn't accept his hot weather cantata (itself a modification, or well-structured parody, of what they'd learned singing in choirs) unless its lyrics were relatably cynical about the institution of (higher, lower: take your pick) education. He connected with 39-year-old Sherm Feller, a former deejay ("Mr. Boston at Midnight") on 115 WCOP (1150 on the AM dial) who'd managed several artists including his wife, singer Judy Valentine (hitless despite having recorded for several major labels including Epic Records a few years earlier). Feller claimed to have written hundreds of songs, though it turns out many of these were other composers' creations with his name suspiciously added to the credits; Jameson's warm weather composition became the latest to have Feller's name tacked on. The Jamies, as they decided to call themselves (short for Jameson), signed away most of their rights to Feller, who shopped the demo to the New York labels; Cadence founder Archie Bleyer passed on it (he admittedly had a hard time "hearing" teen fare unless it had a modicum of maturity a la The Everly Brothers), but Sherm's acquaintances at Epic (slightly less stodgy than Mitch Miller of parent company Columbia) agreed to sanction a newly-recorded, top-rate studio version, even though some of the song's lyrics encouraged wild, non-parentally-approved behavior: 'It's time to head straight for them's time to live and have some thrills...come along and have a ball...a re-gu-lar,!'

Serena Jameson, Arthur Blair, Jeannie Roy, Tom Jameson

There was one problem: they didn't get around to recording the Epic master (as originally conceived but with the addition of a snazzy harpsichord) until the first week in July; Tom's B side, "Searching for You," slowed down the process a bit. Two more weeks had passed by the time copies were pressed, promotion was set it motion and a photo shoot yielded just one glossy pic that will forever identify the quartet. Luckily, radio programmers liked it and sensed the urgency of a summertime song being issued halfway through the school break. Other season-specific releases were also lagging; "One Summer Night" by The Danleers hit its stride in August, while "Summertime Blues" by Eddie Cochran and "Lazy Summer Night" by The Four Preps contributed to a late-season log jam with each single peaking in September; by that time, kids had been re-chained to their classroom desks and deprogrammed of the "school's-out" mindset. The exhilarating feeling of getting in as much fun in the sun as possible (hopefully just near, but not passing, the moment of heat stroke) had even been acknowledged in the song's lyrics: 'Well, are you comin' or are you ain't? You slow-pokes are my one complaint...hurry up before I faint!'

These nice churchgoing kids had done a 180-degree turn into a whirlwind; singing, performing, traveling, promoting, with nary a day, or even an hour, off. Despite being passed over by many stations across the U.S.A., the single reached its top 30 peak near the end of September, an acceptable outcome for such a tight-squeeze situation. A follow-up single was issued near the end of December: "When the Sun Goes Down," another shared-credit song by Tom, retained the tempo (but not the verve) of its predecessor. The Feller-penned flip, "Snow Train," a borderline Christmas tune released too late in the holiday season (old habits die hard), included an obligatory nod to "Summertime, Summertime." The single was over by New Year's. Serena and Arthur quit, taking with them the slightly-more-than-a-two-dollar-bill each had made as their cut of the hit record's royalties. They'd broken ties with the suddenly-richer Sherm Feller, who emerged a few years later with a choice 26-year gig as the public address announcer at Boston's Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox. With replacements Robert Paolucci and Rosalind Dever, the Jamies managed to cut a deal with United Artists Records the following summer. One single produced by Don Costa resulted: "Don't Darken My Door," a 'doo-doo-wadda' ditty, was flipped with "The Evening Star," a sweet but eerie, otherworldly love song featuring Jeannie's dominating signature soprano. The total number of songs the Jamies recorded stands at six (not counting the demo of "It's Summertime," heard by few). But the hit single's lyrics lingered.

'Well, I'm so happy that I could flip...oh, how I'd love to take a trip...I'm sorry teacher, but zip your lip!'...such a bad attitude towards classroom instructors! The song wasn't just a celebration of summer vacation but a vilification of going to school altogether...which is the standard tone for any true rock and roll or teen-centric anthem. Maybe that dissenting element helped it the second time around. In 1962, Epic brass decided the song deserved another chance...and an earlier-in-the-season relaunch. "Summertime, Summertime" was back on the national charts in June and made its return to the top 40 during the peak of August heat. For years afterwards it sold steadily on an Epic "Memory Lane" 45 and has had numerous uses in movies and television commercials, theoretically leading to substantial songwriter royalties; here's hoping Tom Jameson at least got the money he was entitled to for his half of an unfortunate contract signed back in '58. He covered all the bases in the song that gave The Jamies an ongoing place in pop culture, addressing baser urges as well: '...and every night we'll have a dance...'cause what's a vacation without romance? Oh man, this jive has me in a trance''s SUMMERTIME!

- Michael Jack Kirby


Summertime, Summertime