“Summer of ’69” Secrets Revealed!

I recently received an email from Canadian songwriter Jim Vallance. You may not know his name, but you probably know his work: songs he cowrote include Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll,” Glass Tiger’s “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone),” and Heart’s “What About Love?” And he collaborated on dozens of songs with Bryan Adams, including “Summer of ’69,” which is what prompted his email: he read my exegesis of the song (also included in my book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed) and wanted to set the record straight.

When asked if “Summer of ’69” was actually about the sixty-nine sex act, I pointed out that Adams was only nine in the summer of 1969, making him young for the song’s starting-a-band narrative, and found a quote from Adams himself saying, yes, it was about oral sex–which seemed to settle matters.

However, Mr. Vallance writes:

Gavin,

I co-wrote “Summer Of ’69” with Bryan Adams.

The two of us sat in a room for a few days back in 1984 and at the end of it we had a song titled … “Best Days Of My Life”. That’s how it started. The song’s only reference to the summer of ’69 was the 4th line of the first verse: “It was the summer of ’69”.

A few days (or maybe a few weeks) later we decided “Summer Of ’69” was a better title than “Best Days Of My Life”, so we inserted the “Summer Of ’69” phrase in a few gaps in the song.

After the last chorus, for a lark, Bryan sang, “Me and my baby in a 69” … way at the end, the part of the song that would have faded and been gone. We had a laugh, not intending it to be on the finished record, but it stuck, and the rest is history.

It wasn’t until years later (mid-90s?) that Bryan started introducing the song in concert by suggesting the song wasn’t really about the summer of ’69 (wink-wink). The audience’s response was predictable, Bryan and the band got a chuckle out of it, and that particular bit of banter has remained part of Bryan’s stage show ever since.

All I can say is: as I remember it, when we were writing the song, just the two of us, at no point did we discuss implied meanings or inferences. The song’s lyrics and story-line were inspired by our school-years: friends, music, bands, girls. I admit, there’s a naughty bit at the very end, but it was a 3-second, improvised afterthought. It’s not the whole song. Never was.

Just sayin’.

Jim Vallance

I asked a follow-up question: at any point while writing the song, did they think about Bryan’s age in 1969, or was that factual impulse subordinate to the demands of making a good song?

The reply (warning–Canadian spelling ahead!):

One of my favourite songs is “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band. If you know the song, it’s about the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865). Robbie Robertson wrote the lyrics in 1969, including the line: “In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive”. To my knowledge, no-one has ever asked Robbie how old he was in the winter of 1865.

Apparently I was led astray by Adams tarting up the history of his own song; I’ll be updating the relevant page in the “Secret Rock Knowledge” section of this website. Thanks to Jim Vallance for taking the time to write to me (and being gracious about the whole thing).

posted 12 July 2012 in Tasty Bits and tagged , , , . 2 comments

2 Comments on “Summer of ’69” Secrets Revealed!

  1. Dave Says:

    This song is not about a girl. Substitute “the girl” for 1969 user experience prototype Raleigh Chopper bicycle Brian swiped in front of the Star Top Drive-In Theater in late August 69 Ten year old boys dont have girlfriends waiting for them on the front porch, thats where kids put their bikes The whole song is a metaphor for stealing one of the most collectable & rare bicycles known to have existed. I know all this because I just saw a high resolution 1970 classroom pic of Mr. Adams with the same left profile & I’m the 7 year old kid from Beacon Hill he tricked the 69 Chopper from almost 50 years ago. Simply showed him a pic on Facebook without any accusations & asked him if he remembered the bike in question & he terminated conversation with me & called BA Facebook admin/office for some strange reason!!? So he does remember the bike lol.

  2. David Says:

    In order to get a better picture of what is more likely going on with this classic double entender, you hafta go back almost 50 years to a seldom mentioned suburb, on the edge of the city too a deserted strip called Shefford Rd. In 1969 Bryan is in Texas & no where near the Queensway Drive-In Theater, The very same place that a future Tom Cruse lived just up the road at that time. It wasnt till 1970 where Bryan upgrades from a toy too get his first real guitar & this is also the year he moves to Beacon Hill with the drive-in. The only reason I can figure that nobody figured this out is because its a secret. Back then we were base brats (born raised and transferred somewhere) with violent alcoholic military fathers suing for divorce. Thats why Bryan usta like to hide out at the drive-in. Thats also why Bryan was having trouble with the law. Bryans claim of the songs inspiration being about simultaneous oral sex doesn’t seem to hold much water & the song is generally considered about a lost childhood, a reoccurring theme in his work. So where does the 69 come from if its not about sex? Well that might have a little somthing to do with a Nottingham built 1969 Raleigh Chopper the prince of thieves swiped directly in front of said theater in the tall grass of late summer 70 or 71. Now all the pieces fall into place & you see the reason for all the hidden meanings. From his first album Sweeny Todd (theres a clue) “If Wishes Were Horses”, too his latest work where he describes a 69 Buick, theres no reason to think it would be anything other than a super collectible 69 Chopper that I’m sure got his juices flowing & left a lasting impression on him.

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