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The Party's Over: Songs For Summer's End

All summer long, NPR Music has been compiling five-song playlists for every party-related occasion, from weddings and heavy-metal keggers to nights spent sitting at home alone while eating room-temperature Spaghetti-Os and sobbing. Each collection of songs provides a perfect soundtrack to a summertime party that runs no longer than 20 minutes or so; fortunately, each also contains a comments section in which readers offer more suggestions.

That said, the summer of 2009 is pretty much kaput, in just about every sense except the part where the calendar says it ends in three weeks. In much of the country, school is back in session. Fans of sports-related collisions are shifting their focus from watching Wipeout to watching football. Soon, the freedom of summer will be extinguished entirely, replaced by schoolhouse drudgery, workplace obligation and/or homebound leaf-raking. The party, in other words, is over.

Which means, of course, that it's time for one last bittersweet blast: five songs to mark the death of a season — and the birth of a time in which comfort revolves around sweaters, slippers, cocoa and enough food to pad the midsection through those cold winter months. Here's a mildly reflective playlist to honor the occasion, arranged in order of wistfulness.

For more entries in this summer's weekly It's Time to Party: Summer Songs series, click here.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Last Summer Days

There's no mistaking the autumnal nature of "Last Summer Days." Even if it weren't called "Last Summer Days," that marriage of acoustic guitar and weary harmonica would still set the scene within the song's first five seconds. Chicago-based singer-songwriter Archer Prewitt (of The Sea and Cake fame) seems to work off a checklist of the new season's symptoms -- migrating birds, falling leaves -- before fanning out into a more general reflection on a relationship that's experiencing a climate change of its own. The song isn't without portent, but it's warm enough to substitute for cocoa.


If Archer Prewitt's angst is too oblique, try this overtly regret-drenched 1996 anthem from the Boston alt-rock band Buffalo Tom. "Summer's gone, a summer song / You've wasted every day," Bill Janovitz sings in the chorus of "Summer," his voice straining under the weight of disappointment. For those who spent their warm summer nights microwaving hot dogs and watching live Internet feeds of Big Brother, it's a grim reminder of the warm nights you can't have back.

Indian Summer

An oddly beautiful underground classic that's been covered by the likes of Ben Gibbard and Luna, Beat Happening's primitive 1988 song "Indian Summer" is too deadpan and strange to commit fully to end-of-summer cheer. For every reference to "French toast with molasses" -- one, to be exact -- cemeteries pop up twice, while legendarily deep-voiced singer Calvin Johnson cuts through any hint of treacle with a bit of romantic realism: "We'll come back for Indian summer / and go our separate ways."

We're Going to Be Friends

There's no dark, brooding undercurrent to this nostalgic little gem, which amply demonstrates The White Stripes' secret weapon: a flair for playfully humane sweetness. For the benefit of those who skip joyfully back to school -- or who've already done so in recent weeks -- Jack White romanticizes the experience unabashedly, reveling in the joys of a carefree stroll to school with an ideal companion. The innocence of childhood and the simple joys of platonic romance seep through every second of "We're Going to Be Friends," a song that effectively captures the dizzy excitement of youth at its best.

Rock 'N' Roll High School

For such a sneering, seemingly unsentimental song -- "I don't care about history / 'cause that's not where I wanna be" -- The Ramones' 1979 classic "Rock 'n' Roll High School" sure winds up finding the bright side of youthful rebellion. Cars and girls both make appearances in Joey Ramone's brutally efficient punk anthem; is it any wonder that he and his bandmates set aside the time to harmonize sweetly over the words, "Fun, fun / Oh, baby"? School may be back in session, but summer's spirit rages on.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)