“SUMMER SUN” (WRITER: TOM POWERS)
ARTIST: THE JAMESTOWN MASSACRE
RELEASED 1972 ON 7” 45
The 1972 single “Summer Sun” is a perfect example of one thing that corporate-owned radio has deprived listeners of: the regional hit.
While it reached #90 in the Billboard charts in summer 1972, it remains obscure, unknown to listeners in most parts of the world, just waiting to be heard for the first time.
The seven-man Jamestown Massacre came from the western suburbs of Chicago. During the late 1960s and 1970s, the Massacre made its bones as a club band, playing covers and gingerly stepping toward developing an original sound. The group’s 1971 single “Comin’ Back to You” fell on largely deaf ears, but they kept plugging.
Their second single, released in spring 1972 on the tiny Luv label out of Detroit, was “Summer Sun.” A clean-sounding record cut in the Motor City and produced by veteran engineer Milan Bogdan, it somehow got the attention of Warner Brothers, which picked up an option on the record and began to distribute it around the U.S.
(Interestingly, once Warner re-issued the record, a Guy Marasco had been added to the label as a co-producer.)
Featuring excellent lead vocals from Dave Bickler and V.J. Comforte, the bouncy, lite-rock “Summer Sun” grooved along on an easily recognizable but exceedingly catchy early 1970s vibe. The whole record evokes hot beaches, picnics, ice cream, lemonade, striped pants, stolen kisses, and furtive drags on cheap joints.
The record first broke out in mid-June in the northeast. After becoming a minor hit in some other smaller markets, it began to dent playlists in Honolulu (where it hit #1), Nashville, and Salt Lake City. Warner Brothers even issued the song on 45 in Japan—it was apparently a smash in Tokyo—and Mexico.
One would assume that the group was most gratified by its success in Chicago. “Summer Sun” debuted on the WCFL chart on July 22 and reached a peak of #20 in late August.
But this was a limited form of success; on WLS, the city’s other top AM radio giant, the record never charted. I wonder if WLS ever even played the record. By 1972, WLS—once the best top 40 station in the country—had reduced its playlists and was programming some truly questionable MOR discs (Joey Heatherton? Wayne Newton?), probably trying to appeal to young marrieds.
By summer’s end, “Summer Sun” had run its course, with listeners in most of the biggest markets in the country never even hearing it. But it remains a radio classic in Hawaii and a fond memory to those who grooved on it that summer in Chicago, Grand Rapids, Iowa City, and other locales that the record was able to penetrate.
It took nearly two years for Warner Brothers to issue its next Jamestown Massacre single, and by that time several members had left. Eventually the remaining Massacrees formed an aggregation called Mariah, while lead singer Dave Bickler at least landed on his feet financially, if not artistically, years later as lead singer of Survivor.
This record is still perfect for any summer. Listen.