Friday, May 27, 2016

The Top 10 versions of Gershwin's 'Summertime'

...And the Listening is Easy

Posted by Chris Haire on Fri, May 27, 2016 at 3:07 PM

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  • Public Domain
We're just going to throw this right on out there: "Summertime" is the greatest pop song of all time. It's better than "Yesterday." It's better than "Bohemian Rhapsody." It's better than "Stairway to Heaven" and any other song you can think of.

Try as you might, you just can't argue this, and we don't have to prove it because it's simply a fact. Hell, it's right there in the Constitution, the Magna Carta, and — most important of all — any and all user agreements that you have ever clicked "yes" on. The point is, "Summertime" is great. You know it, I know it, the world knows it. And that's precisely why there are so many different versions of it. 

In honor of Gershwin's classic song, and seeing as how Porgy and Bess is playing at this year's Spoleto, we've compiled at list of the 10 best versions of "Summertime" ever. Enjoy.

The Zombies
Released at the peak of the British Invasion in the 1960s, the criminally under-appreciated Zombies took a stripped-down approach to "Summertime." Featuring little more than an organ, drums, and singer Colin Blunstone's whispering voice, the whole thing sounds like that moment between dreaming and waking life.


Al Green

Leave it up to the Rev. Al Green to craft the most pained version of "Summertime." Drawing deep from his bag of tricks, Green moans and groans and squeals and scats, delivering this pristine slice of '60s soul.

Doc Watson
The North Carolina-bluegrass, roots music great Doc Watson picks and croons his way through the Gershwin tune, transforming the song into a back-porch dirge for a sweltering summer night.

Janis Joplin

Backed by Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis' version of "Summertime" is a blues-rock, psychedelic nightmare with Joplin shredding her vocal cords through nearly every line. This one will make all the dogs in the neighborhood howl.

Billie Holiday
Classic. Classy. Quintessential Billie Holiday. Nuthin' else needs to be said. 


Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstong
Satchmo and Fitzgerald trade leads on this version of "Summertime," with Armstong alternating between the trumpet and his signature croak and Fitzgerald singing over a lush orchestral arrangement that in lesser hands would have sounded schmaltzy, but in the hands of these two masters is nothing short of divine.


Willie Nelson
At 80-plus, Willie Nelson is still cranking out new releases, sometimes putting out two albums a year. This version of "Summertime" comes off of his tribute album to Gershwin, and it's notable for delivering a melancholy mix of jazz and country. In the end, the tune sounds like a broken man walking down a lonesome desert road to meet his fate.


Scarlett Johansson
Forget just for a second about the face behind the vocals. Just listen. You'll discover arguably the most sultry version of "Summertime" yet. And count your lucky stars this wasn't Zooey Deschanel.


Sublime
Sublime's "Doin' Time" isn't exactly a cover of Gershwin's song, but it comes pretty damn close. Although the late Bradley Nowell only uses the "Summertime" melody and lyrics in the chorus, the song informs the rest of the composition, retaining the weary spirit of the American standard. 


Billy Stewart
The late Billy Stewart isn't exactly one of those artists' whose name is recognized by most music buffs, but for a time there he was one to watch. Sadly, he died way too young. With his take, Stewart delivers not only the most incendiary version of "Summertime," but the absolute best. But don't take our word for it. It's in every user agreement too.


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