After the sea, it seems only fitting to consider a similar genre where a song about something universal is taken by the listener to be a backdrop to a very specific memory. In this case, the sun - linked to the sea in countless holiday brochures about Greece, Spain or Italy and sometimes overtly in song, as in The Verve’s The Sun, The Sea. And sometimes linked even further, as in Club 18-30 holiday brochures or by -who else-Serge Gainsburg in his Sea, Sex and Sun recording.
These songs sit apart from those about summer generally, which could fill a book on their own. Songs about summer tend to rely on producing a good - time feel through a range of stock associations, though these can vary according to the national origins of the song in question. Listen to the Beach Boys’ All Summer Long and you think of Californian sunshine, surf boards, glistening teeth and tans. However, Mungo Jerry’s In the Summertime is definitely a hot English summer, one that might include a lot of beer, packets of cheese and onion crisps, wasps and blokes with sideburns so extensive they needed planning permission.
Songs of the sun can be as equally vacuous/good-time ,I suppose, as in The Sun Has Got Its Hat On. However, by and large, they tend to be more lyrically and musically challenging and, like those of the sea, let the associations be made by others. They do not even necessarily conjure up the expected scenes of languid summer days. Pink Floyd took a sci-fi slant of the sun as a planet with Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun. Judy Collins took the magical process of Yeats’ poem , The Song of Wandering Aengus, with Golden Apples of the Sun. The Beatles Here Comes the Sun becomes more than just an ode to spring when interpreted by artists like Nina Simone and Richie Havens.
The song here, Always the Sun - recorded in 1986 by the Stranglers, towards the end of their decade as a chart group - is an example of an occurrence when a view of a place previously unseen suddenly fitted perfectly with the personal mental image created by the music. The Stranglers were always hard to pigeonhole, a punk band that included a hippy- ish keyboard player and a drummer now in his seventies. Seemingly crass songs like Peaches ('Walking on the beaches, looking at the peaches'), sat along others about Trotsky, vikings and extra-terrestrial visitors. Their repertoire also included two evocative and poetically lyrical songs that bathed the listener in the moods of the sun. Their 1982 hit, Golden Brown, was a delicate and dreamy ballad in waltz-time with what sounds like a harpsichord and with lyrics supposedly about heroin but which could have come from a nineteenth century Romantic poem ('Golden brown, texture like sun...Every time just like the last, On her ship tied to the mast, To distant lands, takes both my hands').
Always the Sun had equally obtuse lyrics that at times pour out in such a wordy fashion you wonder how Hugh Cornwell will fit them all in before the line ends .It has a sharper and more powerful sound, with Jean-Jaques Burnel’s diving bass lines, the background swamped in the keyboards and Hugh Cornwell’s melodic guitar break reminiscent of that on Golden Brown. The overall mood, however, is just as evocative. One reviewer described it as like being in a deep ravine and looking upwards towards to the sun.
For me, both this song and Golden Brown for some reason brought an echo of a Van Gogh painting of a French cornfield. One day about 12 years ago, on a family camping holiday in France, I unexpectedly came across the view I had in my mind. Trying to find a go-cart track out in the countryside we stopped for a picnic at the edge of a cornfield. The sky was deep blue, the field stretched away red and yellow, there was the sound of crickets and the sun cast a warm blanket over the landscape. As in a film, Always the Sun came into my mind as the musical accompaniment. For me, at least, a song finding its place.