The history of Britain’s summer hits and the history of British holidaymaking go together like sand and towels. The key factor is the balance between function and description, place and pleasure in pop – these days the summer hit templates are Whigfield or Las Ketchup, disco anthems that you hear on holiday and bring home with the duty free. In the package tour boom of the 70s, when going on holiday was itself a novel thrill, the models were “Y Viva Espana”, or “Barbados” – songs about the trip that would work as postcards to dancefloors at home.
And in the 60s, when holidays for most people were Bournemouth or Blackpool, the key notes were hit by Cliff and the Shadows – “Summer Holiday”, wistful, evocative, and the closest cousin to Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco”. McKenzie’s song is a document, a cash-in and a media-ready crystallisation of the love generation – but my guess is it made a mass British breakthrough because it’s also a fine piece of ‘if-only’ exotica. “Summertime will be a love-in there” – we’ve seen it in the movies, now let’s see if it’s true.
The song quickly runs out of anything much to say about San Francisco and its loving vibrations, but like most travel brochures the hook is the pictures, not the words. When I planned to write this entry Britain was overcast and chilly and “San Francisco” sounded as mocking and forlorn as a broken jelly shoe. Now the sun is out, I’m packing for the Mediteranean and the gentle people sound mighty appealing. Mind you, when I planned to write this entry, Sandi Thom wasn’t at Number One with her wretched answer record: a miserable illustration of how utopias curdle, the flowers in the hair becoming sticks to beat us with for not living up to someone else’s pop dream.