“The Boys Of Summer,” Don Henley

Written by June 24th, 2012 at 1:08 pm

While you may think that we chose Don Henley’s “The Boys Of Summer” to dissect this week due to its ties to the hottest season, a closer listen to this #5 hit from 1984 reveals that it is in many ways an anti-summer song. Indeed, one of the first lines out of Henley’s mouth is “The summer’s out of reach.”

Instead of a treatise on sun, surf, and all the rest, “The Boys Of Summer” presents a wistful portrait of a man clinging to a lover who has left him in the cold for the titular flavors of the season. Henley borrowed the title from Roger Kahn’s famous book about the Brooklyn Dodgers and used it to represent everything youthful and vibrant with which the narrator can no longer compete.

Henley got an unlikely writing assist on the song from Heartbreaker Mike Campbell. Campbell often wrote the music for Tom Petty songs and then let Petty add in the lyrics and melody. He demoed the track that would become “The Boys Of Summer,” but Petty, ever the rock traditionalist, balked at the heavy use of synthesizers.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as they say, and Henley gladly scooped up the dynamic track, adding lyrics that dovetailed perfectly with the icy beauty of Campbell’s music. Ironically, Petty would try to catch the same kind of magic a few years later with “Runaway Train,” a similarly synthesizer-heavy Campbell composition, but it failed to make much of a dent in the charts.

As for the lyrics, the most memorable line in the song is the narrator’s damning observation in the final verse: “Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac.” For those who were wondering, yes, it actually happened to Henley, as he recounted in a 1985 interview with NME: “I was driving down the San Diego freeway and just got passed by a $21,000 Cadillac Seville, the status symbol of the Right-wing upper-middle class…and there was this Grateful Dead ‘Deadhead’ bumper sticker on it!’

As chilling as that image may have been, the narrator in the song forges ahead nonetheless, just like Henley in the convertible during the memorable video. There is something undoubtedly touching about the devotion of this guy; even as he knows that this girl probably isn’t ever returning, he holds tight to the memories of their time together. “The Boys Of Summer” usually win out in the end, but Don Henley’s timeless song proves that there is dignity in the fight even for those much closer to their autumn years.

“The Boys Of Summer”

Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach
I feel it in the air, the summer’s out of reach
Empty lake, empty streets, the sun goes down alone
I’m drivin’ by your house, though I know you’re not home
But I can see you, your brown skin shinin’ in the sun
You got your hair combed back and your sunglasses on, baby
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone

I never will forget those nights, I wonder if it was a dream
Remember how you made me crazy? Remember how I made you scream?
Now I don’t understand what happened to our love
But baby I’m gonna get you back I’m gonna show you what I’m made of
I can see you, your brown skin shinin’ in the sun
I see you walkin’ real slow and you’re smilin’ at everyone
I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone

Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac
A little voice inside my head said “Don’t look back you can never look back”
I thought I knew what love was, what did I know?
Those days are gone forever, I should just let them go but

I can see you, your brown skin shinin’ in the sun
You got that top pulled down and that radio on baby
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone

I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun
You got that hair slicked back and those Wayfarers on, baby
I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone

– Written by Don Henley and Mike Campbell

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