Hot town, Summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirt 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 alright.
And babe, don't you know it's a pity
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
Dressed so fine and looking so pretty.
Cool cat lookin' for a kitty
Gonna look in every corner of the city.
'Til I'm weezin' at the bus stop
Running up the stairs gonna meet ya on the roof-top!
[Chorus (both parts)]
[Break: Volkswagen horn & jackhammer]
[Repeat 1st Verse]
[Chorus (both parts)]
Though to my ears Summer in the City is more of a straight up goodtime pop record than psychedelic, there are at least three aspects of the song that make it important for inclusion in psychedelic music history. First off, it is the first Number One hit that used sound effects in a manner that wasn't for novelty purposes. Brian Wilson's Caroline No had used sound effects for a more striking (yearning) mood, but the song had hardly broken the Top 40. Traffic noises would continue to serve pop records well; Expressway to Your Heart by the Soul Survivors, though not a psychedelic record, would successfully use of a similar sound effect idea about a year later. Second, in psychedelic history, Summer in the City would prove to be influential as a chord progression. Eric Clapton volunteered the information on a video available on YouTube that the chord progression was used for introducing the wah-wah pedal to the composition of Tales of Brave Ulysses. The progression was also used for Cream's White Room. Lastly, this is one of the earliest examples of the descending baseline (along with Sunny Afternoon by the Kinks, released about the same time), which would become a frequently used psychedelic formula. Out of several available examples of this, Donovan’s The Hampstead Incident and the Beatles’ Dear Prudence come to mind.
Mark Sebastian was the brother of lead singer John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful, and it is reported in Wikipedia that John adapted the lyrics to Summer in the City from his brother's poem written for a high school English class. The music was composed by bassist of the Lovin' Spoonful, Steve Boone. The record was an unusual sound for the Lovin' Spoonful, as the majority of their hits tended to be country-tinged jugband music. Summer in the City was their hardest rocker, and their only Number One hit. Production was done by Paul Leka, known later for composing bubblegum psychedelia like the Lemon Piper's Green Tambourine and Steam's Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye, big hits of the late 60's but not nearly the caliber of this record. I don't know whose idea it was to include in the break the sound of a Volkswagen horn and jackhammer to suggest the heat of an urban summer. It's actually a very light touch, only appearing once in the middle of the song. However, in a Lovin' Spoonful performance that can be found on YouTube, lead singer John Sebastian seems embarrassed by sound effects that are quite evidently not of the group's making.
A great deal of the success of this record is because of the energy-charged interplay between a simple featured electric piano part, played by session man Artie Schroeck, and the drum driven slashing riff of group member Zal Yanovsky's lead guitar. The contrast between the slow piano and the momentum of the group crashing in is so powerful that it serves to create excitement both in the break and in the coda (without sound effects).
The lyrics, which depict a kid's night on the town, a "cool cat looking for a kitty", are heavy on alliteration, and don't communicate much more than a young man's testosterone (on which much of rock music relies). But such horniness is a rare thing this early in the history of psychedelic music. Psychedelia grew to be distant from adolescent sexual excitement, and when eroticism appeared in 1967, it tended to find a more mature voice of experience. However, I can't help but relish the song's sexual exuberance in the lyric "hotter than a match head".