Though it's not yet summer, here in Ohio the dog days have descended suddenly so I don't feel the need to wait for further estivation to spotlight Summer in the City, a bit of an anomaly among the many earnest Lovin' Spoonful Top 10 singles that pleased us between 1965 and 1967.
The only "dirty and gritty" Spoonful hit, Summer in the City was notable for its distinctive use of organ, electric piano and rhythm section as well as sound effects mimicking the characteristic noise of a sweltering urban setting. John Sebastian tells the story that they hired an old sound man to punctuate everything with car horns, traffic and a jackhammer. To this day I can't hear the song without feeling as if I'm stewing in my own juices in a hot car, which is especially resonant at the moment as my car's air conditioning has decided to die.
New Yorker Sebastian and Canadian Zal Yanovsky were brought together by one Cass Elliott for a viewing of the Beatles' first appearance on Ed Sullivan. Enjoying their experiments melding folk style fingerpicking with electric guitars, the two for a time were members of the short-lived Mugwumps with Cass and Denny Doherty. The Mugwumps' breakup spawned two new groups, the Mamas and Papas and the Spoonful, with Sebastian and Yanovsky recruiting bassist Steve Boone and drummer Joe Butler to round out the band, which was determined to break through the British Invasion-Motown domination of the charts at that time.
Few record companies exhibited interest until Phil Spector and Brill Building songwriters showed up at their Greenwich Village performances and the spreading word led to a contract and their irresistible first feel-good hit, Do You Believe in Magic?
Indiana boy John Mellencamp, inducting the Spoonful into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, said of Summer in the City's influence, "I never got tired of hearing it. Poetic and beautiful in its course. Sexy and poignant in every breath that the singer sang. The song I assumed was written about New York City. I'd never been to New York City, but here I was in a town of 4,000 people and I related to every word that guy sang."