In the Summer of ’69, Bryan Adams was just nine years old, many think the song for which is most often associated has sexual connotations and maybe not as innocent as it seems? Let’s find out.
It might be misheard lyrics. The song opens with the line ‘I got my first real six string bought it at the five and dime’. Bryan recalled in a recent interview, “I had someone in Spain ask me once why I wrote a song with the first line “I had my first real sex dream”… I had to laugh.” So what is the Summer of ’69 all about? Bryan: “It’s a very simple song about looking back on the summertime and making love, but for me, the ’69 was a metaphor for making love not about the year.”
It was co-written with rock songwriter and fellow Canadian Jim Vallace who incidentally was 17 in 1969. He had worked fairly extensively with Aerosmith and Alice Cooper, but he and Bryan began working together in the early 80s. In January 1984 they sat and wrote Summer of ’69 in Jim’s basement studio. Jim recalled, “During the next month or two the song went through a number of changes, and we still weren’t convinced it was strong enough to include on Bryan’s Reckless album.
Jim revealed that the Jackson Browne song Running on Empty, which contains the lyrics, ‘In ’69 I was 21,’ was a subconscious influence on their writing, and that Bryan may have been influenced by the movie Summer Of ’42. Certain lines in the song were inspired by other songs too, I got my first real six string was from the line I bought a beat up six-string in a second-hand store in Foreigner’s Juke Box Hero, Standin’ on your mama’s porch, you told me that you’d wait forever came from the line Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays from Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road and finally when you held my hand, I knew that it was now or never from the Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand.
Jim broke the rest of the song down line by line: “When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s there were shops called Five and Dime where you could (supposedly) buy anything for five or ten cents, which wasn’t always true. Now they call them “Dollar Stores. Neither Bryan nor I ever bought a guitar at the Five and Dime. I got my first guitar from my parents, Christmas 1965, when I was thirteen. Bryan bought his first guitar at a pawn shop in 1972, age 12.” Played it until my fingers bled: “Anyone who’s ever played a guitar knows the strings can be brutal on your fingers when you’re first learning. I played my new guitar all Christmas day 1965, and half that night. I remember my dad coming down about one o’clock in the morning, telling me to get to sleep because I was keeping everybody up. I actually played it ’til my fingers bled.” It was the summer of ’69: Jim continued, “This is where the phrase “summer of ’69” appears for the first time … quite casually, as line four of the first verse. It’s interesting to note: in our first draft of the song, the lyric summer of ’69 appears only once, never to be repeated. It wasn’t the title it was just another line in the song. In fact, we originally planned on calling the song Best Days Of My Life.” Me and some guys from school had a band and we tried real hard:, “Bryan’s first band, Shock played top 40 songs in Vancouver nightclubs in 1976. My first band, The Tremelones, was formed in 1965 in Vanderhoof with some guys from school. I was 13 and the other fellows were a bit older, maybe 16 or 17.”
So who was in the band and who did quit? Jim: “I remember Bryan and me going back and forth on this line. I suggested Woody quit and Gordy got married, like the guys in my high-school band, but Bryan thought Jimmy and Jody sounded better, and I had to agree although I’m not sure where Bryan got the name Jimmy from. Jody is definitely Bryan’s sound-man, Jody Perpik, who got married around the time we were working on the song. Jody and his wife appear in the video driving away with a Just Married sign on the back of their car.”
So what of the line, I shoulda known we’d never get far: “When we were writing I suggested the lyric I got a job at the railway yard, because that’s what my band-mate Chuck had done: he got a job loading two-by-fours into box-cars at the Vanderhoof railway yard! The railway lyric survived the first three rough drafts but was eventually scrapped. Personally, I still prefer it.” ‘Ain’t no use in complainin’ when you got a job to do’: “I was thinking about Chuck and his job at the railway yard. Bryan was probably thinking about his brief stint as a dish-washer at the Tomahawk Restaurant in North Vancouver. There aren’t many drive-ins left, and I wonder if kids these days even know what they are? When I was growing up there were two kinds of drive-ins: the big outdoor movie screens, and the drive-in restaurants that served burgers and soda while you sat in your car, like in the film American Graffiti. They’re pretty much gone now, but I have fond memories of going to both kinds of drive-ins as a kid.”
Man we were killin’ time, we were young and restless, we needed to unwind I guess nothin’ can last forever, Jim continued: “At this point the song goes to an electric twelve-string guitar break that’s really a nod to The Beatles, The Byrds and The Searchers with songs like Ticket To Ride, Mr Tambourine Man and Needles And Pins – some of my favourite music from the 1960’s. On our very first basement demo of we started the song with the 12-string riff, exactly like the break down section in the middle of the song, but on subsequent demo’s we replaced the 12-string with a chunky 6-string intro. In fact, we toiled over the musical arrangement for several weeks, maybe longer. We recorded the song three or four different ways, and we still weren’t convinced we had it right! Bryan even considered dropping the song from the album. Now, nearly 30 years later, when I hear it on the radio, I honestly can’t remember what bothered us.”
The song has won a couple of nonsense polls, eg, In a poll conducted by Decima Research in 2006, it was voted the best driving song among Canadians who sing in their cars and in 2010 and it was voted the ‘hottest summer song’ in Germany. Right! What’s even more astonishing is that in the UK, the song only ever reached number 42 in the chart.