This was Eddie Cochran's first British hit, reaching No. 18 in November 1958. It was also his last hit when the track returned to the chart in May 1968. He died prematurely in a car crash in England.Coincidentally, a song that was also covered by the Beach Boys, and a record so familiar I had to check whether this was the only copy I had of it (it is, surprisingly). This was one of the songs I had in mind when I referred to the different economic circumstances of American teen acts in the early rock era - whilst Cochran bemoans not being allowed to borrow the car, I suspect only a minority of parents of British teenagers had access to a car in 1958. Of course, most of our teens couldn't drive anyway. Despite the lack of direct verisimilitude, though, 'Summertime Blues' still has a real slice-of-life quality about it, the sort of teenage drama that was very much the stuff of rock and roll in the fifties but seems to have almost disappeared now; teenagers now obviously don't want to listen to songs about being teenagers now, I guess they'd rather aspire to being adults.
Knowingly overdramatic, 'Summertime Blues' presents a series of minor conflicts with authority figures in a self-centred way, just as an actual teenager would. It fits perfectly with Cochran's handsome rebellious image and is genuinely witty, thanks to its clever rhymes and characterisations. It's also a masterpiece of production, with the distinctive deep voices in an echo-chamber used to play the voice of the grown-ups - it always reminded me slightly of the sort of voice used for off-screen characters in cartoons. It doesn't matter that all three voices - his father, his boss and his congressman - sound the same, quite the reverse in fact because to our young protagonist they are all the same voice. More subtle but no less remarkable are the multiple overdubbed guitars, a trick Cochran had obviously learnt from Les Paul but something that was very difficult to do with 1950s technology. The layered acoustic guitars lend the track a three-dimensional texture that's unusual for the times. For a track recorded more than 55 years ago, it sounds surprisingly contemporary: Pharrell Williams is a master of multiple clean guitars and uses this very trick on the Ed Sheeran track that's Number One as I write this.
'Summertime Blues' gets all its work done in barely two minutes and is all the better for it. Perhaps it would even have been a Top 10 hit it deserved to be had it not come out in November. As it turned out, the 1968 re-issue wasn't quite his last hit, as another re-release got him onto a main-series Now album. But that's a story for another time.
Available on: The Very Best Of Eddie Cochran