MUSIC / If you can't stand the heat . . .: It's summer-time, and making a living is easy if you know how. Lloyd Bradley looks at 10 blueprints for seasonal chart success

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The Independent Culture
WHAT makes a summer hit? What must a song do to become a holiday soundtrack, to fuel that long walk back from the taverna to the self-catering apartment, accompany the flight home and trigger appalling melancholy whenever re-heard, deep into the autumn? Could just anyone do it? The following survey indicates that the big summer number is altogether less formulaic than the Christmas record. It's not enough to take any old ditty and sprinkle it liberally with sea noises and beach effects. Our selection of 10 Sunshine Smashes illustrates as many ways to succeed.

Soul II Soul: 'Back to Life' (July 1989)

That their work sounds 'well-cool' floating out of a stuck-in-traffic Escort XR3i may not be of uppermost consideration to most record producers, but it's a definite short cut to a summer hit. Jazzy B understood this concept so absolutely that the first Soul II Soul album became that summer's automotive soundtrack, with 'Back to Life' the best top-down entertainment since 1978's 'Mind Blowing Decisions' by the appropriately named Heatwave.

The Kinks: 'Sunny Afternoon' (July 1966)

As well as being one of the best British pop songs ever written, this scored enormous bonus points by taking the trouble to tell its prospective audience exactly what it was. Nobody ever went broke on overstatement, so when hoping to sell a single during July and August such titles as 'Summer in the City' (Lovin' Spoonful), 'Summer Nights' (Olivia Newton John & John Travolta), 'Summer (the First Time)' (Bobby Goldsboro), and 'Long Hot Summer' (the Style Council) won't do you any harm. As if to prove an unerring understanding of how such signposting works, the Kinks did the same thing 15 months later with 'Autumn Almanac'.

The Beatles: 'All You Need Is Love' (1967)

Capturing the mood of the people is far easier to achieve when sounds get out in the open-air. Scott McKenzie's 'San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)' found success by a similar route the same year. A decade later the Sex Pistols' 'God Save the Queen' summed up an entirely different mood; in 1980 Junior Murvin's 'Police and Thieves' became an anthem for that summer's urban disturbances; and the next year the Specials' 'Ghost Town' and 'One in Ten' struck chords that made nonsense of the notion that summer hits must be happy.

Inner Circle: 'Sweat (A La La La La Long)' (1993)

Reggae is a summer perennial, as demonstrated by Inner Circle, whose current hit first came out in November and couldn't raise itself above Number 42. It's also no coincidence that, once the weather turned cold, Janet Kay couldn't follow up 'Silly Games' in 1979, and that Boris Gardiner's July-released 'I Want to Wake Up with You' was the third biggest selling single of 1986. UB40 usually have a hit about now (spectacularly so this year). Notice how ragga, reggae's more boisterous offspring that was prominent in the charts earlier this year, has now fallen back a bit. It's too energetic for these times.

DNA featuring Suzanne Vega: 'Tom's Diner' (1990)

Because this time of year is about taking things easy, cover versions, re-releases and rehashes go over well. Just ask the River City People ('California Dreaming'), Heavy D ('Now that We've Found Love'), Big Fun ('Blame it on the Boogie') and Lindy Leyton ('Silly Games')

England World Cup Squad / New Order: 'World in Motion' (1990)

If you want a Top 20 hit in early summer - say, between May and July - you could do worse than be a football team. It will weigh in your favour if, like England and New Order, you have a song that sounds more at home on Top of the Pops than on the terraces.

Yazz: 'The Only Way Is Up' (1988)

During the agreeable weeks of the year (on average, three), the 'feel-good' record becomes almost legally enforceable listening. Yazz's anthem was so unstoppably optimistic that it became the year's best selling single. 'Young at Heart' (The Bluebells), 'Young Hearts Run Free' (Candi Staton), 'Groovin' ' (Young Rascals) and 'Gold' (Spandau Ballet), are among other examples of summer-time cheerfulness as sound commercial sense.

Dexy's Midnight Runners: 'Come On Eileen' (1982)

Songs that fare best in the singalong category are those with little more, words-wise, than a lusty, easily accessed chorus: the Dexy's ditty is a bit of a classic.

Black Lace: 'Agadoo' (1984)

Success in Mediterranean discos is a fairly cast-iron guarantee of a chart hit back home. Why the market tends to only support one a year is because all resort discos play the same record. Beneficiaries of this Continental leg-up include 'The Chicken Song', 'Tarzan Boy', 'Viva Espagna', 'Ooops Upside Your Head', 'The Birdy Song', 'I'm the Music Man' and 'El Vino Collapso'. Not quite so novel, but just as unlikely, were 'Call Me' (Spagna), 'Live Is Life' (Opus) and most of Boney M's career. What made Black Lace so frighteningly consistent in this area is that they quite literally road- tested their records. Shortly after Easter, they would tour the package holiday playgrounds with a selection of songs in various mixes. DJ's would try them out and the duo released whatever was best received.

Billy Idol: 'White Wedding' (1989)

'White Wedding' is an almost unique example of a hard rock record doing well at this time of the year. Conventional wisdom has it that heavy metal doesn't work while the clocks are on British Summer Time as it gets dark far too late for devil worship. So maybe anything does go.