There is no right or wrong way to make a summer mixtape, just as there is no right or wrong way to experience the season itself. There is only a mood. Each song, like each made memory, is a fragment of some vague but unmistakable sensation. It's house parties, beach parties, sweat and musky, lusty love. It's (perpetual) adolescence, and the constant, creeping feeling of losing touch. It's lonely; it's joyous. It's in the details.
It's not the heat, it's the humidity.
1) Big Boi, "Shutterbugg"
2) Afrika Bambaataa, "Planet Rock"
"Socialize, get down/Let your soul lead the way"
When you're 12, the advent of summer means the end of the school year and the subsequent social inhabitation of eternally anachronistic (and borderline sketch-town) places like the Skate-Around. Your mom drops you off on her way to a hair appointment, leaving you to your preteen devices. You skate coolly backward, you drink too much sugar. You aim to get your mini-Casanova on, shyly eyeballing the cute thing across the arcade. She eyeballs back, but neither of you does anything about it.
3) Velvet Underground, "I'm Waiting For the Man"
4) Queens of the Stone Age, "Feel Good Hit of the Summer"
Of course, as you get older, you seek summer euphoria in other, less innocuous forms. Easy, slugger.
5) Black Lips, "Dirty Hands"
6) Drake, "Shut It Down"
"And your cousin fine/But she ain't got my heart beating double time"
As a damn-near rule, summer is a time to be — or pretend to be — in love. It's a time to rejoice in the blind excitement of new lust even while admitting to its futility. It's a time to wallow in codependence while also brashly rejecting the very concept. (I'll call you tomorrow, maybe.) It's a time to keep it casual — all mindless and sloppy, sweaty and free. But also, not too sloppy.
7) Black Tambourine, "Can't Explain"
8) The Grateful Dead, "Sugar Magnolia"
"I take me out and I wander around/I wander 'round"
Few things are as all-American — or as utterly summer — as the road trip. Thing is, it doesn't really matter where you're going. Spin those old tires over sun-warped asphalt. (Not so fast.) Let the windows down, dummy. Feel the July air as it sizzles and rolls all crazy through your busted-ass '86 Camry. And for shit's sake, crank up the volume.
9) Smashing Pumpkins, "1979"
10) Pavement, "Gold Soundz"
"Because you're empty, and I'm empty/And you can never quarantine the past"
Nostalgia is a charlatan, a mean, spiteful ol' summabitch. It spreads like kudzu through your psyche in the scorching summer months, pimping the past, a brain-barricade against the here and now. There's plenty honest beauty in memory; there's also a pesky distortion of truth. It takes a tough mind to separate the real from the imagined. Sometimes, though, it's downright liberating to just give in to the feel of the thing.
11) Prince, "Play in the Sunshine"
12) King Harvest, "Dancing in the Moonlight"
"Everybody's feelin' warm and right/It's such a fine and natural sight"
Of course, summer is primarily a time to get down on some collective jams, to hang loose and pop brews. Your cool uncle is in charge of the grill (there is no other sensory summer pleasure like the smell of charcoal and meat in the atmosphere). Everybody's cracking wise and swilling Corona. Your creepy uncle's there, too, but no matter. Drink a lot. Eat a lot.
13) The Beatles, "Sun King"
14) Gillian Welch, "Dear Someone"
"Rush, little wind, over the deep"
Summer is a season of interminable twilight. At a point, if you're lucky, you may find yourself inside some beach house, knee-buckled from sun and booze. It'll be a fine snooze: skin against cool sheets, August breeze through open windows, sound and smell combining to generate pure hypnagogic harmony. Let the tunes play. Dig the feeling; soak it up.
15) Washed Out, "Feel It All Around"
16) Arthur Russell, "That's Us/Wild Combination"
"It's a big ol' world with nothing in it/I can't wait to see you another minute"
All things must come to an end, as they say, and so it is another muggy, meandering summer will fade as slowly as it came. Fret not, for though the heat may dissolve, the sensation will remain. Don't try too hard to remember too much; the meaningful stuff will stay. The calendar turns and so do you, round and round and round. Still, it'll come back again, like it always does.