You can feel the 1960s heat rising off of The Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City." The band's first #1 single, the song started as a poem by John Sebastian's brother, Mark. All that remains from the original is the chorus (which sounds more like a typical Spoonful song than the rest of the song). John Sebastian toughened up the lyrics to reflect the sweltering tensions in American's urban areas. The mid-song sound effects further set the mood. "We hired an old sound man, obviously from the radio era," Sebastian says in The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. "He had old acetates of traffic jams and car horns. We listened for hours to various traffic jams and car horns and selected the ones we wanted. We found a pneumatic hammer...to provide the payoff for that section and bring it all together."
Thanks to central air conditioning, and improvements in urban planning and social services, summers in the city often don't seem as menacing these days. Though, that hasn't been the case in this summer of 2012, with record heat around the world, power outages, fires, droughts and derechos (I never even heard that meteorological term before one descended upon us in the D.C. area last month). Forty-six years after "Summer in the City" was first recorded, the imagery of "people looking half dead, walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head" seems quite contemporary.