Summer might mean golf or fishing or taking to the hills.
But a real, red-blooded American summer means driving in a convertible with the music turned up and the top turned down and the cool air blowing and the prospects good for some kind of action.
Cruising on the strip. What better way to spend a day?
Action in the fine old days of the early 1960s meant driving in a convertible at the beach—four or five guys packed shoulder to shoulder with enough gas money to make something happen. The car was a Mercury of some sort, in hot pursuit of a light-colored GTO filled to the brim with four or five girls with their tans glowing, heads turning and interest showing.
From The Dunes through Haven Beach and Brighton Beach Shipbottom to Surf City, we cruised the smooth stretch of highway and blasted whatever AM music Cousin Brucie was peddling and tried our best to make sure that once we passed the GTO, it would hang with us for a while.
The boys in our car were convinced we were the best the girls would ever find.
You might think it was the car that made us so appealing, but it was actually the music. Rock-and-roll music. Played loud. We did the best with what we had. If we had play lists that could be repeated until the sun didn't shine, here is what we might have played to make that GTO come to a stop at the ice cream shop down the road.
Stay with me here. This is a primer for success. Take notes if you like. The five songs here take up about 22 minutes, about the time it takes from Beach Haven Inlet to Barnegat Light in the dead of winter without the frigging red lights. These aren't '60s songs at all. They cover nearly 40 years. And the ride is just getting started:
1—Hello Conscience (2004) by The Zutons.
Three minutes and 54 seconds of pure kick-ass bliss, played by Liverpudlian guys and a kick-ass saxophonist named Abi Harding. Down, boy! Remember, it's all right to go out all night and forget who you are, then get up in the morning and go back to the start. This is the quirky song you play to show the girls in the GTO that you're different and you Jersey Boys means business. Tired of hanging around? Hey, you run your first red light with this one. Watch your speed, baby. You don't want to look TOO cool.
2—Hush (1975) by Deep Purple.
Take it down a notch. Be smooth. By this time, of course, you've got a certain little girl, she's on your mind. Or five girls. This is where you make the sale. When they come up and pass you in the GTO this time, you're not screaming and yelling like you did like idiots from East Orange when "Hello Conscience," was playing. No, you're sitting there, staring straight ahead, hair unmessed by the wind, cigarettes at rapt attention, feet tapping, nothing else moving, totally oblivious to anything but the sounds of the "Hush." This is necessary.
3—Let It Ride (1973) by Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
Goodbye, hard life, the summer is everything and the day is young. And the speed is rising. We're in Harvey Cedars now, not a cop to be seen and the girls still within eyesight. Nobody's spilling drinks in the car anymore. We're hitting our stride. Hey, sorry for what we've done, would you let it ride? When you come up beside us at the stop, you've got to understand that our lives are not complete because we have never seen you smile. We do now. "Hey, where you from?" "Where do you want to go?"
4—Let It Roll (1988) by Little Feat.
Now we know just how heaven feels. The rubber is hitting the road. This day has become like a smooth stretch of highway, and we may indeed lose control tonight. Over to the mainland we go, one car right behind the other, cruise control in overdrive, just like a cool summer breeze. It's simple. You just need to take your baby for a ride. They have the looks that bring you to your knees. Please, please, let it roll tonight. Faster, faster.....
5—Flirting with Disaster (1975) by Molly Hatchet.
Five minutes of pushing the envelope at Southern fever pitch. How far can we take this traveling down a lonesome road, dragging the heavy load of our expectations, pedal to the floor, lives running about as fast as they can go? Hey, we've lost the girls! We're in the pine barrens now, Sopranos country, flirting with disaster. The speedometer is hitting 90. Is that a siren?
6—Change (2005) by Tracy Chapman.
The Mercury convertible is unceremoniously in the weeds, waiting for its punishment. The girls fly by, waving for one final time from the GTO, and we've got to scramble around and see if there is one more trick up our sleeve.
But we're '60s kids, and we believe that the world can be changed and speeding tickets torn up if we used our imagination. So we play "Change," and make our final, vain appeal to the humorless cop. After all, if you'd broken every rule and vow, and hard times brought you down, would you change? Not really. But it was the summer of our lives and we still believed in magic.
Jeff Cordes, Idaho Mountain Express sports editor, grew up in New Jersey.