Summer (The First Time) lyrics © Emi April Music (canada) Ltd., Rectum Renovator Music/sum 41,
Hipgnosis Sfh I Limited
For many years I have wondered what became of Billy Ray and his red Chevrolet.
For our storyteller it seems he didn’t care much about Billy. He wandered off to ‘think’ on that hot afternoon, the last day of June. Set to the background of an ocean, thunderous waves, and the melancholic mew of seagulls in flight, so this glorious record of pure, unadulterated schmaltz unfolds…
It is pop syrup without a doubt, but accomplished, nevertheless. A repeating piano riff, 12-string guitar and orchestral string arrangement lends itself to the atmospheric layers. This is the story of a 17-year-old boy who ‘saw the sun rise as a man’. The crashing waves onto a beach at daylight, a symbolic crescendo of this momentous occasion: that of vanquished virginity.
It’s as well Billy Ray and that red Chevrolet wasn’t the biggest pull on that hot afternoon, the last day of June, when the sun was a demon.
I was 13 years old when Bobby Goldsboro released Summer (the first time) in June 1973. As the record climbed to number 9 in the UK charts, it was our July/August school holiday and my brother Russell and I were staying with our cousins in Ferndown, Dorset. I vividly recall Paula, my cousin, 3 days older than me and I sitting in her bedroom listening to what must have been a transistor radio – all hissy and mono sound – and the pop chart countdown early Sunday evening. A ‘must be there’ situation.
Even in our girlish years Paula and I deduced that this record was about that thing called….sssssh…sex (when released there was a murmur of controversy surrounding its suggestive content: clearly the music censors had not quite envisaged what lay in store in the coming years. A climatic crashing wave on the beach, however rich its symbolism was never going to match Donna Summer’s simulated sex symphony two years later in Love to Love You Baby (1975).
The chart countdown was the ingredient of a staple diet when I was a teenager, and it was nothing short of a minor catastrophe when a record I did not care for landed in the top 10 of the UK’s best-selling records. There were plenty in the ‘70’s, after all this was the decade that championed a catalogue of desperately awful novelty songs.
The year started with Little Jimmy Osmond squeaking about his Long Haired Lover from Liverpool (a record we bought, unbelievably for my 3-year-old brother as a singalong (the torment, I vaguely recall, incurred an intermittent and irritating purple rash).
A few years later we found the warped 45 disc unceremoniously dumped onto a bonfire in the garden. One of Philip’s better life decisions for sure…
An indubitable catalogue of cringeworthy dirge emerged in the years between 1971 and 1980 than arguably ever in the history of pop music – a feat of musical mortality. There are plenty to choose from: offerings such as Mouldy Old Dough (Lieutenant Pigeon 1973), My Ding-a-Ling (Chuck Berry 1972), The Funky Gibbon (The Goodies 1975), (I’ve got a brand new) Combine Harvester (The Wurzels 1976), Disco Duck (Rick Dees 1976).
It is quite extraordinary that the disco duck might have appeared on the same Top of the Pops as one of the renowned and timeless classics Hotel California (The Eagles) or If you Leave me Now (Chicago). Mercifully it didn’t enjoy airtime after its brief foray into the charts of September ’76.
Maybe we should celebrate the idiosyncratic lunacy of British pop history? It certainly gives us something to talk about, recall through grimace and gritted teeth, occasionally chuckle or simper with embarrassment perhaps? Especially when future suitors in the dating years were desperately keen to flick through our record collection only to be met with a few rogue additions, who can honestly say they never rushed out to buy at least one or two dodgy 45’s (maybe Bridget the Midget (Bowie) or The Streak (Ray Stevens).
‘Don’t look Ethel. Too late. She’d already been mooned.’
For the most part the decade of ‘bad taste’ as many commentators have observed ended musically (loosely termed) with the never-to-be-equalled brilliance of Grandma got Run Over by a Reindeer (Emo & Patsy 1979). I somehow cannot imagine that Bing Crosby was compelled to add this woeful splatter platter to the White Christmas album.
There were no classics recorded in 1973 (illustrative of Tie a Yellow Ribbon (round the ole oak tree) being the best-selling record of the year, but it did herald the start of the glam artists. Style icon David Bowie and his alter ego Ziggy Stardust arguably set the trend and suddenly Top of the Pops was parading bands like Slade, T Rex, The Sweet, Wizzard and Alvin Stardust. Glitz and glam in pan stick, blusher, and lashings of lip gloss. Flares and frosted blue eye shadow were the norm for the guys – in an otherwise grey year at least we had the bands of the day bringing a bit of camp and colour into our daily lives on the TV and radio. The BBC dressing rooms must have been a curious place to be in 1973 – The Sweet’s bassist Steve Priest, Wizzard’s Roy Wood and Alice Cooper all clamouring for the make-up artist’s attention.
Gary Glitter, the fallen god of Glam rock was strutting his sparkly platform-booted stuff with three tracks in the top 100 selling records of the year. Never likely to be publicly heard again – pity really, The Glitter band musicians could blast out a cracking pop tune. The lyrics, however, linger long in the memories of the ‘70’s teenager I’m the Leader of the gang I am, I’m the man who put the bang in gang…. There followed the decidedly dubious Do You want to Touch (Me, Where? There? Yeah).
Operation Yewtree took root right here*
That mucky geezer Paul Gadd and his penchant for paedophilia earning him a pretty pound almost 50 years ago. All that glitters is now just old – and no-one it seems really wanted to be in his gang after all…
Many young teens were in love with Donny Osmond – and furiously disputed that their ardour was much more than just Puppy Love. I was unashamedly a David Cassidy groupie and spent many an hour locked in my bedroom gazing lovingly into my hero’s eyes on the numerous records, both albums and singles or at the posters plastered over every wall. One wistful look at this beautiful androgynous Californian pretty boy and I was mouthing back to him Could it be Forever.
My first ever concert was a scream-fest at The Empire Pool, Wembley: Cassidy fever had taken over the nation. My memory of that momentous evening (in April 1973) was hysterical girls with bloodied knees, scrapping for roses our hero was hurling from the stage. Perfectly pitched histrionics for his pubescent audience. Annoyingly my brother had a front-line seat – purely by chance as my dad, who had driven us to Wembley had bumped into an old journalist pal after they had dropped me and my fellow Cassidy-loving-chics at the door of the Upper Circle. It transpired this mate of Dad’s was managing the PR for the UK tour of our American superstar and gave Dad 3 tickets out of his pocket to slip into ringside seats! Russell has always teased me about how he was able to make eye contact with my teenage heartthrob as he breathily sang a half-whispered How Can I be Sure? as thousands of us mere mortals were dots in the far distance: giddy girlies in the gods of the now (long gone) Empire Pool, Wembley.
As unspectacular as 1973 was in the pop charts, Summer (the first time) stands out on many levels. Firstly, it was well done. Its production values are reasonably high for the time, it blends piano, strings and guitar effortlessly and the repetitive riff at the start of the track cranks up the mood of the moment.
Our chaste young man is captivated by the nonchalant yet enticingly sexy older woman. The lyric manages to draw the listener in to his adventure. As the sun swelters and the sweat trickles down the front of her gown – we know where this tantalising tale is heading.
Before the invention of google lyric search, I always believed I heard she slipped on a tulip in the build-up to the seduction scene. This conjures a comical interlude: an American beach on a hot afternoon, the last day of June. The actual words are she sipped on a julep.
Aaah! So happily, no accidents involving spring bulbs, thankfully it was only the bourbon on ice…
Young teenagers in my day had little knowledge of anything quite so exotic – the nearest to ‘julep’ – or any cocktail in fact we ever encountered was Campari & lemonade (with a maraschino cherry naturally) at The White Hart in Romford on a Friday night. The taste of ‘paradise’ (as Lorraine Chase would have had us believe).
As our lascivious 17-year-old was led away to be de-flowered amongst the sand dunes and sea anemones of a sun-drenched Laguna Beach, my 13-year-old self was probably floating without a care in the shallows of the English Channel on a dolphin-shaped lilo, at Alum Chine in Bournemouth – lusting only – I imagine – for a bag of chips and a Mivvi.
By odd coincidence on the misheard lyric, Bobby Goldsboro’s 1975 hit Honey (saccharine by name and content), did involve a ‘slip’ and not a ‘sip’ on this occasion.
The eponymous Honey had slipped and almost hurt herself as she had come runnin’ in (after a planting a twig see the tree how big it’s grown – and our storyteller had laughed ‘til he cried, in this 3:58 minute tale of woe, a man mourning his wife’s death – befitting of the Everly Brothers’ Ebony Eyes, another beautiful young life lost (a disaster met with flight 1203 in this case). Keen observers may have noted there is a pattern to the tears on ‘45: clearly only a background of heavenly choristers generates the appropriate musical gravitas to express an untimely death. My brother Russell and I laughed – we were so uncaring – even as the angels wailed in the background. That poor unfortunate girl, slipping and almost hurting herself – was it that silly twig? Oh dear!
On a serious note, it is astonishing that this track was a best-selling record worldwide when it was released in 1968, outselling Hey Jude even– there is no accounting for the popularity of the doom-discs of the ‘60’s and ‘’70’s. As unremarkable as Bobby Goldsboro might be in the pantheon of pop of the last century, he did pen the Grammy-nominated With Pen in Hand (1969) – yet another tear-jerker, recorded by Vikki Carr. Her virtuosa live performance of the song worthy of its plaudits.
Back to 1973. ‘The most significant year of the 20th Century’ as reported in The Independent in December 2013**
The year of the 3-day week, Edward Heath, Joe Gormley, trades union battles and IRA bombs in London.
At home we loved our avocado bathroom suite and shagpile carpet. Pink & purple, orange & brown were the favoured colours for home décor. The Hygena kitchen, hostess trolley and the teasmade – all essentials of that era.
1973 was the year of the Austin Allegro (commonly referred to as the years went on as the All-Aggro), Live & Let Die, The Exorcist, a royal wedding (Princess Anne & Captain Mark Phillips), ‘Don’t tell him Pike’ and Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the Moon was released.
We were invited to cheese fondue parties, The Berni Inn was a swanky night out for a prawn cocktail hors d’oeuvre (known as ‘orses doovers in Essex) or maybe even a Britvic orange juice (in a glass and served on a fancy saucer to give it that certain je ne sais quoi). Our ‘mains’ was a T-bone steak or scampi & chips and the obligatory Black Forest Gateau or crème caramel, served from a trolley (that had almost invariably been standing all day in the warm and curdling nicely under the lights). If you were lucky enough to be invited to an up-market restaurant (a third date perhaps?) stories were told of ordering Crepe Suzette for dessert (and people gasped). Long before Del Boy Londoners were waxing lyrical about a night out and a posh pud – which was served flambe (don’t you know!).
We had only 3 channels to choose from on the TV. The puerile comedy of Some Mothers do ‘ave ‘em or the purple-haired Mrs Slocombe and the haberdashery horror Are you being Served was regular fare. There was better writing in the Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais classic comedy series Whatever happened to the Likely Lads. The upwardly mobile Bob Ferris and his ne’er-do-well working class mate Terry Collier, supping pints in Galashiels’ finest pubs, pontificating about life’s trials and tribulations, impressive comedic dialogue delivered by very good actors. If they were not in The White Horse, it could have been The Drift Inn. Such a good pub it’s never not full pet. Never not full.
The average house price in 1973 was £9,942 and the average wage £40.90 a week. Inflation had rocketed to 9.10%. These were troubled and unsettling times politically and two general elections in 1974 returned Labour governments, but only by a narrow majority. The decade was dominated by industrial dispute – the bosses vs the workers – it set the background for the waiting-in-the-wings Grizelda of Grantham – Margaret Thatcher to take centre stage in 1979. The Conservative Party that followed was in power for a further 18 years.
The UK became the ninth country to join the European Economic Community (EEC) on January 1st 1973, along with the Republic of Ireland and Denmark. It is a fascinating feature of the early days of the UK’s fractious and often febrile membership of the (later known EU) that it created some odd dissenting bedfellows. At opposite ends of the political spectrum on the arch-left Tony Benn was an opponent citing the EEC as anti-socialist and that its constitution ‘committed to capitalism’.
Enoch Powell, one of the Conservative hierarchy, a man of fierce intellect and curious contradiction, remembered especially for the (in)famous ‘rivers of blood’ speech, resigned from the party in February 1974 as a protest against the PM Edward Heath’s decision to take the country into the EEC. Powell’s main objection focused on the trading of British sovereignty and independence to a European ‘superstate’.
The debate of which has rumbled on for the best part of 50 years – and the country today as divided as ever – the referendum result of 2016 returning a 52-48% in favour of leaving the EU, virtually confirming the 50-50 split either way.
Back to our hitherto uninitiated ingenue on that hot afternoon, the last day of June. One imagines he woke up on July 1st not only sun-kissed and sandy but sated too. The fact that his first lover is 14 years his senior only adds to this delicious date with destiny.
She was 31 and I was 17
I knew nothing ‘bout love
She knew everything
The mellifluous voice of Bobby Goldsboro enables this experience of the first time to sound mysterious and magical. A description of sexual coupling in music can be a highly charged affair. Few will ever forget Je t’aime moi non plus (Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg (1967)all that huffing, puffing and deep breathing
Close encounters of the coital kind always sound so much more erotic if conducted in French.
What about those ‘sex on 45’ tracks (for example the aforementioned Donna Summer’s Love to Love you Baby, Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On (1973) or the ‘Walrus of love’ himself Barry White I’m Gonna Love you just a Little bit More Baby (1973). Maybe the year signalled sexual liberation on vinyl at least?
And when she looked at me I heard her softly say
‘I know you’re young you don’t know what to do or say
But stay with me until the sun has gone away
And I will chase the boy in you away’
What young man could ever resist the seductress at the seaside? The background music builds we sat on the sand and the boy took her hand, but I saw the sun rise as a man…
Oh the unfettered joy! Such discombobulated desire!
Euphoria dished up in buckets and spades. The climatic waves thundering onto the shore – Billy Ray in his red Chevrolet – where are you now?
It is – apparently – I was once reliably informed – every young man’s mission to seek an older woman as a lover. It’s a rite of passage so to speak (that old chestnut). The part-time Mrs Robinson should demonstrate the following credentials to fulfil the ‘essentials and desirables’ of the job spec:
She must possess the wile to bewitch and beguile (and bewilder as and when required).
She must be flirty but not feckless, bold not brazen. The successful candidate must be able to entice, enthral but never ensnare.
It is always worth applying for a temporary role at least caveat emptor and for those who get the job this will likely prove an advantageous and impressive addition to the CV.
For the older woman too – young lovers are the quintessential elixir of life – like julep – intoxicating, irresistible and very often overwhelming. Recommended only in musical terms intermezzo…
Ten years have gone by since I looked in her eye
As the piano riff returns we are reminded – just as our storyteller takes us back to that very first time and the touch of her fingers.
Summer (the first time) is 48 years old in 2021. Bobby Goldsboro fades out with the lyric but the memory lingers…
It does. Absolutely. For all its sugar-rush sentimentality, it is most definitely one of those tracks of my years. A spoonful of nostalgic medicine in four minutes and 41 seconds…