I Got My First Real Six-String
bryan-adams-reckless-summer-of-69.jpg
bryan-adams-reckless-summer-of-69.jpg

Song: Summer of '69 (1985)

Artist: Bryan Adams

Album: Reckless

Bryan Adams sang about getting his first real six string guitar, trying to start a band, contemplating forever with his teen-age girl-friend, and similar teen-age dreams in 1984 on his fourth studio album, Reckless. Now, the Canadian singer-songwriter is 56 years old, having been born in November of 1959. This answers one question about the song Summer of '69. It is fictional, at least in the sense that Adams would have been 10 years old in the year the song was written about. This leaves room for some to imagine that "69" had another significance having to do with him and his girlfriend. You'll figure it out…

Listen to Bryan Adams Greatest Hits (Skip to 3rd video)

I got my first real six-string
Bought it at the five-and-dime
Played it till my fingers bled
Was the summer of '69

Didn't we all?

Actually, whether or not Adams started an unsuccessful teenage band, in 1976, he did join an established band, the Vancouver, Canada based Sweeney Todd, at just age 15 He couldn't seem more different than the singer he replaced, Nick Gilder, who had left the band to start his own solo career in Los Angeles, scoring a smash-hit with Hot Child in the City.

Summer of '69 was written by Bryan Adams and his long-time writing partner Jim Valance for the 1984 album Reckless. It was released as a single in June 1985 as the fourth single from the album, with two different B-side tracks, Kids Wanna Rock and The Best Was Yet to Come, and peaked at no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Also on the album were the classic Adams songs One Night Love Affair, Run to You, Heaven, Somebody, and It's Only Love, featuring Tina Turner.

Just after Adam's finished touring for his album Cuts Like a Knife, he started recording Reckless and he and Jim Vallance wrote Summer of '69 in his basement studio, changing it several times thinking it wasn't a strong enough song for the album. The original idea was to call it Best Days of My Life, and in this first iteration, the lyric 'summer of '69' only appeared once in the song, with Best Days of My Live appearing seven times. In the end 'summer of '69' became the featured lyric and 'best days of my life' only appears twice. It went through a number of recordings, as well.

Just after Adam's finished touring for his album Cuts Like a Knife, he started recording Reckless and he and Jim Vallance wrote Summer of '69 in his basement studio, changing it several times thinking it wasn't a strong enough song for the album. The original idea was to call it Best Days of My Life, and in this first iteration, the lyric 'summer of '69' only appeared once in the song, with Best Days of My Live appearing seven times. In the end 'summer of '69' became the featured lyric and 'best days of my life' only appears twice. It went through a number of recordings, as well. The music video for the song was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award in the Best Male Video category. Three other songs from Reckless were also nominated.

As for whether the song really is about the year, 1969, or the sexual position "69," Adams claimed on the The Early Show in 2008 that it was a song about sex and making love and making love in the summertime, and, yes, that the "69" part was about the position. He told In the Studio that the song was about nostaglia, citing the cultural revolution, the breakup of the The Beatles, his own discovery of music, the moon landing, and the character in the song playing his guitar "til his fingers bled," and about sexual discovery. For myself, I doubt that the sexual position actually had a lot to do with the conception of the song at the time, and that Adam's later claim was meant to lend a little more grit to a song that would otherwise be nostalgic and innocent seeming, and to not disappoint fans who already imagined that the song may be all about sex.

I'm not saying the sexual position never entered his mind, it's a bit hard to ignore, especially since the song is about about teenage love, nostalgia, and discovery. But the idea that the song has "nothing to do with the year" as is often claimed, seems a stretch. It is also hard to ignore that the original title of the song was intended to be "Best Days of My Life."

Co-writer Jim Valance denies the sexual position claim, saying the song was indeed about the year, and that his own influence included Jackson Browne's Running on Empty which mentions the years 1965 and 1969. He also says that Adams cited the film Summer of '42 as an influence. The real truth is probably something in between. The song was about the year but of course the sexual position came into play. Valance himself told the story of the frequently cited ad-lib at the end of the song, which he posted on the SongFacts message board, saying that at one point when the two were recording the demo in the Valance's basement, Adams ad-libed a "me and my baby in a 69." The two laughed it up and they included the line in the original recording. But Valance insists that the song was indeed about the year and the two never discussed the sexual innuendo.

Adams makes a big deal of the line, saying you'd have to be dense not to understand it, but most lyrics list the ling "me and my baby in '69" not "in A 69." This is because the "a" is very hard to pick up and without the "a" the lyric could mean the year or the position. Once you've been informed it is there, it is easy to hear. But many people would be forgiven for missing the "a" when he sings. So, no need for insults, Bryan, you didn't even sing it that clearly. If you wanted to believe it had nothing to do with the year at all, and was only about sex, you probably shouldn't have mentioned the moon-landing, the breakup of the Beatles (which happened in 1970) and the Cultural Revolution (although I'm not sure what that has to do with some teenagers starting a band, drive ins, and sex).

It was when Adam's started introducing the song later in concerts by saying it had nothing to do with the year that the myth or not-myth got started.

Songs that seem like they might be entirely about sex are like songs that seem like they might be entirely about drugs. When fans find out the actual origins of the song are much more mundane, they are disappointed. I imagine Adams knows this, but since he is not the only writer of the song, it may simultaneously be about both the year and about sex. Rock songs are simple affairs and it's easy to invent and re-invent their origins and interpretations, especially when you're trying to make them seem less boring. Teenage nostalgia and loss-of-innocence are not exactly the stuff of Rock legend, unless you do it right. But, regardless of any controversy and whether or not the song was actually about the year 1969, it is a all-time favorite all over the world.

Like all of Bryan Adam's songs, Summer of '69 is ever-green, always remaining popular and able to fit in with any era, and achievement many fans and songwriters alike may not recognize. It won a number of awards internationally including the BMI Citation of Achievement for US radio airplay in 1985, and has appeared on many "best of" song lists.

What is a Five-and-Dime?

Bryan Adams sings of buying his first six-string "at the five and dime." Some younger readers may wonder about this reference. Obviously, it's a type of store, but it's not a name we use to describe stores any more. If you think "dollar store" though, you pretty much have it, although the merchandise was even more varied and of a generally higher quality.

Also known as Dime Stores, 5-and-10 Stores, or 10-Cent Stores, they were stores like Woolworths or Kresge's, a feature of main streets in many towns throughout the U.S. from as early as the beginning of the 1900's. This type of store, depending on its size, would sell a large variety of household items including cleaning supplies, toiletries, etc. but also candy, jewelry, sundries, stationery, books, magazines, and perhaps even clothing, toys, and even pets. They also often featured a lunch-counter and/or a soda fountain. It is entirely possible that someone may have been able to purchase a cheap guitar at the five-and-dime in the late 1960's. The image below is a 1949 sales advertisement for Woolworth's. This one is from a store in New Zealand, but you get the idea.


1949 Sales advertisement for Woolworth's store.
1949 Sales advertisement for Woolworth's store.

When the concept was first pioneered by the Woolworth Bros. in the later 1800's, it it possible that every item may have cost only five to ten cents, but by the 1950's, this was absolutely no the case, and like today's "dollar store" they they were "five-and-dimes" in name only, although the merchandise was still very cheap. The cheap prices were possible because of bulk purchasing, the same strategy that discount stores use today. There was no telling what a dime store might sell. If they could get a bargain on it, they'd offer it to customers for a bargain price.

Summer of '69 Official Video


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