Got a case of the summertime blues? You’re not alone, and these sad summertime songs are good company.
Waves crashing on a beach, children jingling change as they run out to meet the ice cream truck, clinking glasses and laughter coming from a nearby barbecue… For many, these are the invigorating sounds of summer, the noises that wash away the dark memories of rainy, snowy days spent cramped indoors. Yet for some, no amount of sunblock or self-tanner can hide their summertime blues. The condition, though not technically a medical one, has impacted some of the most prominent pop-culture icons, from Lana Del Rey to the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson (yes, believe it or not, even the king of summertime fun can be a bit salty about the end of carefree beach days).
Go into any club between June and September, and you’ll likely hear Lana Del Rey’s moody “Summertime Sadness” blasting through the sound system as at least one ecstatic person in the background yells, “Shots!” Why is it that some people can revel in the sunshine while others of us are reduced to sweaty puddles of melancholy and despair? Like sand dollars and Popsicle flavors, the answers are varied.
Let’s get one thing straight: Summer simply isn’t the same when you’re an adult. For starters, the majority of us have to punch the clock.
“As children, we looked forward to summer break and having that time off from school to spend with friends and go on vacations,” says Nicole Lambert, LMHC, NCC of Movement Counseling Services. “As we get older, responsibilities increase and our summertime does not necessarily have the same carefree vibe as it once did.”
Ah, Capitalism, thou art a coldhearted beast!
“I’m gonna raise a fuss / I’m gonna raise a holler / About a-working all summer just to try to earn a dollar.”
—“Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran
Gone are the days when you could frolic through the neighborhood, planning water balloon fights and pool parties. Now you’re expected to be a functioning member of society who pays taxes. This harsh reality was at the center of Eddie Cochran’s 1958 hit, “Summertime Blues” in which he threatened to take his grievances with the 40-hour work week straight to the United Nations. Cochran’s song resonated so well with listeners that it reached the number-eight slot on Billboard’s Hot 100 list on September 29, 1958, beating other summer classics like “Lazy Summer Night” by the Four Preps and “Summertime, Summertime” by the Jamies. In the following decades, everyone from Alan Jackson to Joan Jett put their own spin on the temper-tantrum tune.
“’Cause summer here kids / Summer here totally lies / Tourist info said I’d have a good time / Summer here kids / All of them awful lies.… I’m not having a good time”
—“Summer Here Kids” by Grandaddy
Of course, work isn’t the only thing that keeps people from having fun during the summer months.
Psychologist Dr. Wyatt Fisher explained that the summertime blues can be a “result of the gap between expectations and reality.”
“Many people expect the summer season to be a time of joy, adventure with friends, and romance with a wonderful partner,” said Fisher. “However, when their reality pales in comparison and it appears as if everyone else is living the ‘summer dream,’ depression can significantly increase.”
Pressure to have a fantastic summer is everywhere. We’re supposed to have a rocking beach body, fill our calendars with social events, book a dreamy getaway, and still somehow make time to completely relax and restore our souls before autumn. Social media certainly doesn’t alleviate our unrealistic expectations. Each summer, millions of Americans sulk on their couches as they scroll through their friends’ feeds, jealously soaking in every seemingly perfect detail from their travels to Europe or their weekends spent sunning on a yacht. Bananarama was right: “It’s a cruel, cruel summer” when everyone’s left you on your own.
Sadly, your friends aren’t likely to stop posting just because you’ve got a case of the summertime blues. According to Allison Gervais, LMFT, each “like” is a hit of dopamine and, in turn, becomes somewhat addictive over time.
“When people post on social media, expectations are set,” said Gervais. “Individual success is measured by the number of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ received with each post.… After posting, a vacationer may check their phone compulsively, which can foster more hits of dopamine as ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ increase. Meanwhile, a friend or follower can be isolated in their room viewing these ‘perfect’ photos, experiencing envy and inadequacy in areas of appearance, success, social relationships and wealth.”
But as Joni Mitchell warned in “The Hissing of Summer Lawns,” not everyone is always as happy as they appear. Sometimes even the most jovial host at the suburban BBQ craves a different life, one with a greener lawn, sweeter tea and a bigger pool.
“I knew your heart I couldn’t win over / ’Cause the season’s change was a conduit / And we’d left our love in our summer skin”
—“Summer Skin” by Death Cab for Cutie
What would the summertime blues be without a healthy dose of heartbreak? For every hit like Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime,” there’s at least one song bemoaning ephemeral summer love.
It’s a tale as old as time: Two star-crossed lovers meet under the glow of a summer sun. For the next nine weeks, they spend their days sharing soft serve on the beach and their nights cuddled up in front of a bonfire. They might even say, “I never want this feeling to go away.” But when September approaches and reality kicks in, they drift apart, the warmth of a lover’s embrace soon replaced by the comfort of a chunky fall sweater. In the immortal words of Danny Zuko and Sandra Dee, “Summer lovin’ happened so fast.”
Countless songs spanning a myriad of genres have been written about failed romances. For the indie kids in the ’90s, Pavement’s “Summer Babe” blasted through their Walkmans. Now we have Crooked Fingers’ “Sleep All Summer” (and St. Vincent and The National’s cover). Those more interested in pop music might sulk to One Direction’s “Summer Love,” singing along as they croon they’re “trying so hard not to cry.” Even metal fans can find a sad jam about heartbreak in “The Year Summer Ended in June” by Misery Signals. No matter how hard you may be, love bites.
“We laugh, we cry / We live then we die / And dream about our yesterday”
—“Summer’s Gone” by the Beach Boys
Perhaps the most painful summertime blues don’t stem from envy or heartbreak at all; rather, maybe they’re driven by something we can’t control entirely: time. The end of summer is always bittersweet. As you pack away the beach bag and reach for your work tote, you might reflect on the good times you had while tearfully listening to jams like The Doors’ “Summer’s Almost Gone,” Bright Eyes’ “June on the West Coast” and Dirty Heads’ “My Sweet Summer.”
Soon enough you’ll be sipping a pumpkin spice latte and watching the leaves fall, but meanwhile eight words ring true: “There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.”