This will be the first of a series of four entries examining some of the great songs from the artists of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s celebrating the four seasons. We begin, appropriately, with songs of spring.
Tulips and baseball. New hope and rebirth. Spring cleaning. Emergence from winter’s cold darkness.
Spring has sprung!
Popular music lyrics have done a damn good job over the years of describing the events, emotions and nuances of the different seasons. Spring, the season of perennial optimism, is no exception.
New love, hopeful new ventures, new opportunities, new perspectives… Plenty of fine tunes about all these things. And while spring is most often identified with these positive vibes, those who are in their twilight years sometimes find spring to be a depressing reminder of the youth and renewal that they can no longer attain…but there are lovely songs that deftly describe those feelings as well.
“The Rite of Spring,” Igor Stravinsky’s 1913 masterpiece ballet and orchestral concert work, is considered to be among the most important pieces of music of the 20th Century. Its concept, in which a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial virgin and dances herself to death to placate the God of Spring, was thoroughly radical for its time. (Frankly, it still seems a bit over the top today.)
So here we are, one week into the season that began with the vernal equinox on March 20th. Seems like a perfect time to examine some of the songs that capture the many moods of springtime.
There’s a Spotify list at the end for those who would like to hear the songs being discussed here…
“Morning Has Broken,” Cat Stevens, 1971
“Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven, like the first dewfall on the first grass, praise for the sweetness of the wet garden, sprung in completeness where his feet pass…”
British author Eleanor Farjeon wrote lyrics to this old Scottish-Gaelic folk song first published in 1931. It was celebrated as a hymn of thanks for the blessing of the new day, and it was recorded by dozens of artists, choirs and instrumentalists over the years. Cat Stevens (now Yusef Islam) made it indelibly his own when his rendition soared to #6 on the US charts in early 1972. It’s not unlikely you might hear it performed in church services today anywhere from coast to coast.
“Southland in the Springtime,” Indigo Girls, 1990
“There’s something about the Southland in the springtime where the waters flow with confidence and reason, though I miss her when I’m gone, it won’t ever be too long ’til I’m home again to spend my favorite season…”
This folk rock duo of Emily Saliers and Amy Ray came out of the Emory University bar scene in Atlanta in the late ’80s and established themselves as two of the better song craftswomen of the 1990s. Their first six albums went gold or platinum, and 1994’s “Swamp Ophelia” and 1997’s “Shaming of the Sun” made the Top Ten. This country-tinged track from 1990’s “Nomads Indians Saints” nicely captures the lure of returning home as winter turns to spring.
“April Come She Will,” Simon and Garfunkel, 1966
“April come she will, when streams are ripe and swelled with rain, May, she will stay, restless in my arms again…”
In his early years, Paul Simon’s song were laced with angst, sadness and deep sorrow, particularly on his “The Sounds of Silence” LP, released in early 1966. “April Come She Will” at least begins happily with the blossoming of a new romance and a lovely melody line, but like most of the songs he was writing then, it ended with sorrow and death. (The song makes an appearance in “The Graduate” film along with other Simon and Garfunkel classics.) Soon enough, Simon found a more positive muse, and his wondrous catalog is evidence of his growth and maturation since those bleaker days.
“Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year,” Carly Simon, 1997
“‘Cause time heals all things, so I needn’t cling to this fear, it’s merely that spring will be a little late this year…”
This wistful piece about spring’s tardy arrival was written by the great Frank Loesser, celebrated composer of award-winning Broadway and film songs like “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and the “Guys and Dolls” music. A rendition by Deanna Durbin was featured in the 1944 movie “Christmas Holiday,” then recorded by various jazz combos and vocalists including Red Garland, Roland Kirk, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. On her 1997 “Film Noir” collection of ’40s classics, Carly Simon did the song serious justice in a duet with songwriter Jimmy Webb.
“A Beautiful Morning,” The Young Rascals, 1968
“It’s a beautiful morning, I think I’ll go outside a while and just smile… It’s your chance to wake up and plan another brand new day, either way, it’s a beautiful morning, each bird keeps singin’ his own song…”
The Young Rascals hailed from New Jersey, where they honed an R&B-flavored rock sound that served them well in 1965-1968, when they had ten hit singles, including three #1s (“Good Lovin’,” “Groovin'” and “People Got to Be Free”). The joyous mood of “A Beautiful Morning,” released in March of 1968, was a much-needed blast of sunny optimism that helped bring calm to that year’s violent spring of assassinations and riots.
“I Can See Clearly Now,” Johnny Nash, 1972
“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone, I can see all obstacles in my way, gone are the dark clouds that had me blind, it’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshiny day…”
Nash began his career as a pop singer out of Houston in the ’50s, but was also successful discovering and developing other musical acts. During his travels to Jamaica in the late ’60s, Nash was exposed to the struggling group known as Bob Marley and the Wailin’ Wailers, was charmed by their reggae rhythms and signed them to their first recording contract. With his much-covered song “I Can See Clearly Now,” Nash was the first to bring reggae to American ears when the tune topped the US charts in 1972.
“Spring Fever,” Elvis Presley, 1965
“In every town, there’s excitement to be found, so much is happening, don’t miss the joy of spring, the world’s in love, just look around, spring fever, spring is here at last, spring fever, my heart’s beating fast, get up, get out, spring is everywhere…”
After his legendary run as the King of Rock ‘n Roll in the 1950s, Presley’s output in the 1960s was far more erratic. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, persuaded him to focus on a movie career, and the soundtrack LPs were filled mostly with inferior, throwaway songs. But a few classic tracks made the cut, including “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” (from the “Blue Hawaii” movie) and “Return to Sender” (from the “Girls! Girls! Girls!” film). “Spring Fever” wasn’t a hit single, but it was one of the only bright spots in the lame 1965 film “Girl Happy.”
“Can’t Stop the Spring,” Flaming Lips, 1987
“So you can put the clouds up in your own little way, but the sun is gonna come up the very next day… You can crush the flowers, but you can’t stop the spring, no matter what you say…”
This inventive, peculiar band from Oklahoma City, who debuted in 1986 and just released a new album last month, is labeled on some websites as “post-punk, alternative-psychedelic-experimental rock,” and that pretty well describes their oeuvre, which is wildly eclectic. “Can’t Stop the Spring,” which revels in the season’s inevitable entrance, came from their second LP, “Oh My Gawd!!” It’s a bit out there, but lots of fun.
“Spring Affair,” Donna Summer, 1976
“Ooh, something’s coming over me, ooh, I think’s got a hold on me, ooh, just the man I hoped you’d be, ooh, just the man to set me free, spring affair, and I’m hung on you, spring affair, and we’ve got something new, me and you…”
Disco diva Summer and her producer Giorgio Moroder were a formidable team in the mid-to-late 1970s with lush dance tracks and platinum-selling singles like “Last Dance,” “Hot Stuff” and “Bad Girls.” The 1976 LP “Four Seasons of Love,” a concept album with four lengthy tracks devoted to each of the four seasons, didn’t do as well as others in her catalog, stalling at #29. “Spring Affair,” boiled down from 8+ minutes to 3:39 and released as a single, could manage only #58 on the pop charts, but was a huge hit in the dance clubs.
“Here Comes the Sun,” The Beatles, 1969
“Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter, little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear, here comes the sun, and it’s all right…”
George Harrison needed a break from the contentious Beatles recording sessions in early 1969, so he visited his friend Eric Clapton’s lovely country estate, walked out into the garden with his guitar on an unseasonably warm February day, and this song came pouring out. It perfectly captures the exhilarating feeling of having made it through another winter, with spring just around the corner. It became one of “Abbey Road”‘s most popular tracks.
“Spring Again,” Lou Rawls, 1977
“It’s spring again, I can hear the birds sing again, see the flowers start to bud, see young people fall in love, well it’s spring again, thunder showers, they are here again, an extra hour for you and me to spend together…”
Rawls had been performing and recording soul and jazz tunes since the late ’50s with the likes of Sam Cooke and Les McCann, and won a Grammy in 1971 for his recording of “Natural Man.” In the late ’70s, he signedd with Philadelphia International, where he had his biggest success singing richly produced tunes by the songwriting team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, including “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.” From his R&B middle-of-the-road “Unmistakably Lou” LP in 1977 came this breath of fresh air about springtime romance.
“Waiting for the Sun,” The Doors, 1968
“Waiting for the sun, can you feel it, now that spring has come, that it’s time to live in the scattered sun…”
The Doors had depleted their reservoir of songs on their first two LPs, so progress on the third LP was slow. Ultimately, the “Waiting For the Sun” LP was their only #1, spurred on by their #1 single “Hello I Love You.” Curiously, the expectant song “Waiting for the Sun” wasn’t included, held back instead for their bluesy 1970 LP, “Morrison Hotel.” It is one of a handful of Doors tracks without the shadow of doom lurking in between the lines.
“Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,” Bette Midler, 1990
“Morning’s kiss wakes trees and flowers, and to them I’d like to drink a toast, but I walk in the park just to kill the lonely hours, spring can really hang you up the most…”
Lyricist/poet Fran Landesman wrote the words to this song in 1952 for the short-lived Broadway play, “The Nervous Set.” She was inspired by the legendary T. S. Eliot 1922 opus, “The Waste Land,” which opens with, “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain…” It lays out a bonafide paradox: April symbolizes spring, which means rebirth and youth, but if you’re already old, seeing rebirth and youth can be depressing…
“The Lullaby of Spring,” Donovan, 1967
“Spring has flowered from a drip, slash and trickle running, plant has flowered in the sun, shell and pebble sunning, so begins another spring, green leaves under berries, chiff-chaff eggs are painted by mother bird eating cherries…”
This simple English folk track, which features Donovan accompanied by only his acoustic guitar, celebrates nature’s spring happenings. It was a deep track on the “For the Kids” Disc 2 of the double album package “A Gift From a Flower to a Garden,” released late in 1967. The multi-talented Donovan was a much more celebrated artist in England than in the States, but he still enjoyed several hit singles and albums here in the 1966-1973 era.
“Silver Springs,” Fleetwood Mac, 1976
“You could be my silver springs, blue green colors flashing, I would be your only dream, your shining autumn, ocean crashing…”
“Rumours” is one of the biggest successes in recorded music history, and this superlative track has the dubious distinction of being recorded for, but left off, the LP because it ran too long. (In 1976/77, albums couldn’t run past 35 minutes…) Stevie Nicks has said it’s one of her three or four favorite songs she’s written, and was miffed it was relegated to the B-side of the “Go Your Own Way” single. But she was thrilled when it was finally released in a live rendition on the #1 LP “The Dance” in 1997, and on the expanded deluxe CD in 2004. Both versions are brilliant.
Honorable mention: “Daydream,” Lovin’ Spoonful, 1966; “So Early, Early in the Spring,” Judy Collins, 1963; “Season Suite: Late Winter, Early Spring,” John Denver, 1972; “Beautiful Day,” U2, 2001; “Spring Vacation,” The Beach Boys, 2012.
And for mordant laughs, don’t forget “Springtime for Hitler,” Mel Brooks’ outrageous parody from his classic film “The Producers” (1968).