RAMBLIN: Listening to' Summer's End' and 'The Boys of Summer'

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Sep. 10—Sure, there are plenty of songs about summer, but what about songs addressing the end of that illustrious season often associated with fun in the sun?

I'm not talking about autumn songs per se, but songs about the period when summer is effectively ending, even if the calendar does not say it's quite over yet.

Any number of songs address the subject in different ways and formats, ranging from tender ballads to hard rock rave-ups and just about everything in-between.

While songs about summer find lots to celebrate, from going to the beach, cruising the strip or finding a summer love, songs addressing the season's end often reflect a touch of melancholy at yet another season's completion — not only the end of summer, but sometimes the transition to another season of life. Many have minor chords included in parts of the song, adding yet another shade to the transitional feeling.

Summer 2022 officially began on June 21 and is set to extend until Thursday, Sept. 22. Autumn begins the following day on Sept. 23. So, as summer 2022 begins the countdown to conclusion, here are a couple of songs addressing the end of that celebrated season.

"Summer's End" — John Prine

One of the best songs about the season's transition is "Summer's End" by the celebrated songsmith John Prine. We lost Prine on April 7, 2020, due to complications from the COVID-19 pandemic. Ironically, he had scored a major comeback with his first new studio album in 13 years with "The Tree of Forgiveness," released just two years earlier on April 13, 2018.

The album garnered Prine a slew of awards and nominations at 2019 awards ceremonies, including winning Album of the Year at the Americana Music and Awards Show and Song of the Year for "Summer's End," for Prine and the song's co-writer, Pat MacLaughlin.

While it's poignant enough in its own right, those close to Prine said he also wrote "Summer's End" in reference to the opioid crisis. The song's lyrics don't directly mention the situation, but many of his lyrics have different levels of meaning. An official video of the song makes the result of many opioid addictions heartbreakingly clear, but it's also just as effective lamenting the transition of the season — whether referring to the seasonal cycle of the year or a season of life.

"Summer's end is around the bend just flying; the swimming suits are on the line just drying," Prine sings as he begins the song.

As the lyrics unwind, Prine ups the emotional ante: "Well you never know how far from home you're feeling, until you watch the shadows cross the ceiling." He also delves into the theme of recklessness: "Well I don't know but I can see it snowing. In your car the windows are wide open."

Interspersed between the verses, Prine repeats the refrain: "Come on home; come on home. No you don't have to be alone. Just come on home."

Prine delivers the song's eloquent but understated payoff in the final verse: "The moon and stars hang out in bars just talking; I still love that picture of us walking. Just like that ol' house we thought was haunted, summer's end came faster than we wanted."

It's difficult for me to hear that song without thinking of Prine himself, and how we lost him so much sooner than expected — and I'm not the only one who feels that way.

The night after Prine faded from this life in a Nashville hospital, singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile posted a late-night tribute to the man she admired as both an artist and a friend, playing her guitar and singing "Summer's End" — with the pain of the loss evident on her face as she sang.

Phoebe Bridgers cut a studio version of the song, with Jackson Browne on backing vocals, also as a tribute to Prine.

Prine himself is featured on his own officials video of the song, with one of his sons stepping up to accompany him on acoustic guitar as it nears its conclusion. It looks as if "Summer's End" is well on its way to becoming yet another John Prine standard.

"Boys of Summer" — Don Henley

I first heard the phrase "The Boys of Summer" in connection with the title of Roger Kahn's now-classic book about the Brooklyn Dodgers. Kahn grew up near Ebbets Field where the Dodgers played, became a reporter ad ended up covering the Brooklyn Dodgers for the New York Herald Tribune. His book covers the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1940s and 1950s, including the Jackie Robinson era, before the team packed up and moved to LA and became known as the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Henley, the Eagles drummer, vocalist and sometimes guitarist must have liked the title of Khan's book, because he ended up using it as the title of the opening track on his second solo album, "Building the Perfect Beast."

Henley's use of "The Boys of Summer" has nothing to do with baseball, per se, except perhaps as a symbol of summer's end.

Henley co-wrote "The Boys of Summer" with Mike Campbell, best-known as a guitarist with Tom Petty's Heartbreakers — although Campbell and Henley had never met prior to their working together to create the song.

Campbell has related how he had purchased a drum machine and started recording tracks on his own. He had written, played and recorded some music he liked, but when he presented it to Petty and producer Jimmy Iovine, they decided it wouldn't work on "Southern Accents," the album Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were working on at the time.

Iovine must have heard something he liked in the track though, because he soon contacted Campbell and suggested he play it for Henley, who was trying to get songs together for a solo album. Henley liked what he heard, asked to borrow the tape and by the next day had completed the lyrics and other contributions that ended up being the hit song, titled "The Boys of Summer."

Henley's recording also begins with summer's end: "Nobody on the road; Nobody on the beach. I feel it in the air, The summer's out of reach."

His thoughts soon turn to the end of a summer romance: "But I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun. You got your hair combed back and your sunglasses on, baby." He then works in the end of summer reference: "I can tell you my love for you will still be strong after the boys of summer have gone."

My favorite lines also deal with the passage of time: "Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac," Henley sings. "A little voice inside my head said: Don't look back, you can never look back." In the song, Henley admits he's having a difficult time forgetting those summer days. "Those days are gone forever. I should just let 'em go," he sings. But Henley adds he can still see that image of the girl with her blonde hair pulled back and those "sunglasses on."

"The Boys of Summer" proved to be a massive hit for Henley. It won him the 1985 Video of the Year Award from MTV, along with a 1986 Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Video Performance.

Both the John Prine and Don Henley recordings address the passing of summer — but so much more as well.

Following Tom's Petty's passing in 2017, Mike Campbell went on to join Fleetwood Mac as a replacement for Lindsey Buckingham in 2018 and 2019. These days he's performing as a member of Mike Campbell and the Dirty Knobs.

By the way, don't feel too bad for Petty because he decided not to work with Campbell on the musical track that became Henley's huge hit "The Boys of Summer."

They did work together on some other songs that Petty scored with in a big way, including "Refugee" and "Runnin' Down a Dream."

A poignant feeling at summer's end is a sentiment shared by many — although with this summer's drought and multiple days with 100 degree-plus temperatures, I think some may be ready for the seasonal change this time around.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.