Please Forgive Me: The Anthology Reviews is a track-by-track in-depth analysis of Bryan Adams's legacy in 36 installments.
Disc 1 Track #9: "Summer of '69" (June 1985)
THIS is the big one. Well OK, maybe that could apply to a number of these already, but no: this is the one that really, if you were paying attention, made the world at large sit up and start taking specific notice of a hard-working, unassuming rocker-who-could who'd been toiling ever-more-prominently in the background for years by now, but who now - suddenly - was an undeniable mega-star in the pop firmament. A freshly-minted demigod in the pop pagan pantheon. A veritable tugboat in the pop harbor (and if you know me, you know my famous high regard for tugboats). This is the song that had people invested enough to finally start getting the little things straight (oh, it's Bryan - with a "y"!).
It's very odd that I even could stand this song. Normally, songs wherein someone lovingly fetishizes their nostalgia leave me cold (oddly enough, stories like that I love! But something about breaking into song about it seems...I don't know, a bit much?). A few years later I'd be twisting uncomfortably in my seat listening to John Cougar-Mellencamp's "Cherry Bomb." But "Summer of '69" was invulnerable to such inexplicable squeams. Imagine my delight when I found out why! Adams was all of like, ten in 1969 - all of that teenage reminiscing is a put-on! In some sense, the song is not about someone else's nostalgia, it is about "someone else's nostalgia"! He's fetishizing other people's nostalgia, he was presciently riffing on the soon-to-be-booming genre of misty-eyed baby boomer lost-youth tunes.
Just that bit of novelistic distance works some pretty incredible wonders. Because while you'd think an approach like this could risk coming off snide, Adams starts with that piquant premise and turns in a song with more real yearn, wist and tug than anyone else's more personal or literal attempt. Adams takes aim from outside the timestream, and hits 1969 square: taking that summer - already epochal in many people's personal mythologies - and transmogrifying it into a universal. The Best Days Of My Life, for every person whose life has ever had a best days steeped in youth, hope, the dawn of responsibility, and the terrifically missed chances of first love.
Bang! with a snare hit. The muted chug of the chords, the lone voice coming in to tell its story - in absolutely perfect narrative lyrics (who are you, sir - and WHAT have you done with Bryan Adams!?), the angelic arpeggiannic soar of spiky guitar into the chorus, and oh, the sense of loss. The sense of loss that gets you through the rest of your life, shaking your head with a heartfelt smile.
Sit up and take notice, folks. An absolutely perfect pop song is a rare thing - let alone one that rocks. Sometimes you hear something too many times to do anything but make fun of it. No harm done, a thing truly great can take as much digging as its huge, dominating prominence earns it. In the fatigued ears of those not particularly into hearing a song that one millionth time, the disdain this song comes in for is understandable. But the perfection of true beauty...eventually, it wins through. Impervious to fatigue, and to the muffling numb of familiarity.
Go back and have another listen. Give it that one-millionth-and-one. Have another listen to this. LOUD.
Sit up and take notice.