New York Series: The Lovin’ Spoonful “Summer In The City”

While thinking about all the phrases across the American songbook which define moments or places recurring through time, perhaps one which quickly comes to mind is “summer in the city.” The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City” is an ode to their hometown, inspired by New York City. Appearing in 1966’s Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful, the song eventually became synonymous with the excitement and liveliness of a bustling metropolis pulled between blistering days and cool nights of summer.

“Summer In The City” chronicles the range of highs and lows that come with living in New York City during the summer. Using the dogged heat of the day and the cool night breeze as scenes for each verse, John Sebastian shares a vignette of how the city and its people transform as the evenings set in.

During the day the heat is oppressive, reducing walking to a lethargic shuffle, with “people looking half dead.” Sebastian sings about the dense humidity accosting the back of people’s necks, and the sun baking the sidewalk until it can light a matchstick. Everything transforms as the evening rolls in; life becomes about going out, meeting someone and dancing the night away. People who start in the afternoon heat as panting dogs, become “cool cats,” looking for somebody to hang with. Much like the repeating nature of the song’s lyrics and chorus, summer in the city is a cycle, perpetuated by people’s desire to survive the day, only to take the night.

The Lovin’ Spoonful is: lead vocalist John Sebastian, guitarist Zal Yanovsky, bassist Steve Boone and drummer Joe Butler, with pianist Artie Schroek joining on “Summer In The City.” Sebastian and Yanovsky founded the band after years of being a part of the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk scene, crossing paths with the likes of Cass Elliot and Denny Doherty, who would later form The Mamas and the Papas. Many of their first songs played and recorded were representative of Sebastian’s origins in a jug-band folk style. It wasn’t until 1965’s single, “Do You Believe in Magic,” that the band began exploring a more popular, broad sound.

The band’s heyday was from 1965 to 1966, culminating with Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful, which was a deliberate attempt to experiment with various sounds and techniques. The following years were met with personnel changes within the band and the production team. Guitarist Yanovsky left the band largely due to a marijuana bust in the late ’60s as well as creative differences with the songwriting direction. Following a couple of records after 1967, Sebastian began a solo career, effectively causing the end of the band. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, bringing all four original members together before Yanovsky’s death in 2002.

“Summer In The City” climbed to number one on the Billboard chart during a time when folk music filled the still cigarette-stained air of bars and cafes, and traversed a majority of pop airwaves across the country. Though presented as a shorter, popular folk song, the circular and repeating nature of the lyrics positions the song as a jam, or even a mantra. “Summer in the City” is more than a season out of the year, it’s a state of being, represented by surviving the trials of the day in order to let loose at night.


Summer in the City” lyrics

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity?
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

But at night it’s a different world
Go out and find a girl
Come on, come on and dance all night
Despite the heat, it’ll be all right

And babe, don’t you know it’s a pity
That the days can’t be like the nights
In the summer, in the city
In the summer, in the city

Cool town, evening in the city
Dressing so fine and looking so pretty
Cool cat, looking for a kitty
Gonna look in every corner of the city
Till I’m wheezing like a bus stop
Running up the stairs, gonna meet you on the rooftop

But at night it’s a different world
Go out and find a girl
Come on, come on and dance all night
Despite the heat, it’ll be all right

And babe, don’t you know it’s a pity
That the days can’t be like the nights
In the summer, in the city
In the summer, in the city

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity?
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
All around, people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head

But at night it’s a different world
Go out and find a girl
Come on, come on and dance all night
Despite the heat, it’ll be all right

And babe, don’t you know it’s a pity
That the days can’t be like the nights
In the summer, in the city
In the summer, in the city