Happy August. It’s the month of out-of-office auto replies, finally breaking heat waves, and — if the songs about August are to believed, anyway — waning summer romances.
After an especially brutal July, we’re finally enjoying some pleasant summer weather here in New York. I’m celebrating by going for runs in nearby parks, venturing into parts of my apartment that are not directly in front of the air-conditioner, and, of course, putting together a playlist in honor of this lazy, hazy, hopefully milder month.
Songs about August tend to be languid, wistful and suffused with the feeling that Lana Del Rey once named, with appropriate vagueness, “that summertime sadness.” Some of us look forward to summer all year, but by August that sense of too-much-dessert can set in, leaving us secretly pining for the first rustles of September — or at least that unseasonal cold wind in August that sets the scene for Van Morrison’s entry on this playlist.
In addition to Van the Man, today’s selections include a weepy country standard, a detour into early psych-pop from a once and future Bee Gee and yet another Taylor Swift song about the cruelty of summer. (Not that one, though.) The dog days are over. Maybe not yet for good, but at least for now, and I’d say that’s reason enough to rejoice.
Listen along on Spotify as you read.
1. Carole King: “The First Day in August”
“On the first day in August, I wanna wake up by your side/After sleeping with you on the last night in July,” Carole King begins this gorgeous ballad from her 1972 album, “Rhymes and Reasons.” A chill of melancholy quivers through the piano-driven song, but the resonant yearning in King’s voice provides warmth. (Listen on YouTube)
2. Taylor Swift: “August”
The dreamy, anguished eighth track on Swift’s 2020 album “Folklore” has become a feverishly beloved fan favorite among Swifties (and even some Swift skeptics). “August” is part of a trio of “Folklore” songs that depict a love triangle from different characters’ perspectives, and given that it’s told from the vantage point of “the other woman,” it’s the most gloriously melodramatic of the three: “So much for summer love and saying ‘us,’” Swift sings, “’cause you weren’t mine to lose.” (Listen on YouTube)
3. Waxahatchee: “Summer of Love”
Though Katie Crutchfield doesn’t specifically mention August on this acoustic lament from “Ivy Tripp,” her 2015 album as Waxahatchee, something about its rueful sense of nostalgia evokes the pathos of summer’s end. “I can’t make out a face in the picture of palm trees,” she sings in a keening wail. “The summer of love is a photo of us.” (Listen on YouTube)
4. Rilo Kiley: “August”
Now, from Crutchfield to a band that inspired her so profoundly that she has a tattoo of its second album: Rilo Kiley. Though Jenny Lewis sang many of the Los Angeles group’s best-known songs, the guitarist Blake Sennett takes the lead on the gently buoyant “August,” from its 2001 debut album, “Take Offs and Landings.” (Listen on YouTube)
5. Van Morrison: “Cold Wind in August”
Released to high expectations in 1977, Van Morrison’s “Period of Transition” was, as its title suggests, a bit of a departure from his more blistering, mystical albums of the early 1970s. An undeniable highlight is its closing track, the soulful “Cold Wind in August,” which features inspired piano playing from the album’s co-producer, Dr. John. (Listen on YouTube)
6. Robin Gibb: “August October”
In 1969, Robin Gibb briefly quit the Bee Gees and embarked upon a solo career. A year later, he released the baroque, delightfully strange album “Robin’s Reign,” his only solo LP of the 1970s. The mournful “August October,” an ode to the stasis of heartbreak, opens the album, and was later covered by a huge fan of “Robin’s Reign,” none other than Elton John. (Listen on YouTube)
7. Waylon Jennings: “The Thirty Third of August”
The country singer-songwriter Mickey Newbury penned this down-and-out tear-jerker, but Waylon Jennings was the first to make it more widely known, when he recorded it for his 1970 album, “Waylon.” Countless other artists have covered it since, though if you want to hear what is perhaps the most gut-wrenching rendition, check out David Allan Coe’s. (Listen on YouTube)
8. Florence + the Machine: “Dog Days Are Over”
Well, let’s at least hope. (Listen on YouTube)
Meet me behind the mall,
The Amplifier Playlist
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“8 Songs About August” track list
Track 1: Carole King, “The First Day in August”
Track 2: Taylor Swift, “August”
Track 3: Waxahatchee, “Summer of Love”
Track 4: Rilo Kiley, “August”
Track 5: Van Morrison, “Cold Wind in August”
Track 6: Robin Gibb, “August October”
Track 7: Waylon Jennings, “The Thirty Third of August”
Track 8: Florence + the Machine, “Dog Days Are Over”
Pour one out for one of my first favorite movie stars, Pee-wee Herman. Preferably: “Tequila!”
Speaking of movies, if you’re looking for a reason to enjoy some theater air-conditioning that is not that pair of summer blockbusters you have almost certainly heard about, I’d highly recommend “Afire,” the latest from the German director Christian Petzold, who happens to be one of my favorite working filmmakers. “Afire” is like a bleaker and more biting Éric Rohmer movie — just as many enviable summer-vacation vibes, plus some dark twists. (The Times’s chief film critic, Manohla Dargis, liked it too.)