Monday is the first day of autumn, in some ways my favorite season. If only it didn’t back up against winter …
Anyway, in this time of the most obvious change in the seasons — green leaves turning brown, the days growing noticeably shorter, birds queuing up to fly south, etc. — why not cue up a playlist for fall? Get all falled up, sort of.
So I did what I quite often do in these situations: I searched my personal memory banks, found them deficient, then Googled it. Searching on “rock songs about fall” nets you a bunch of lists — many of the songs on which are not rock, but that’s OK. Many of them I’ve never heard of, too, but that’s all right as well — broadening my horizons.
There were also a number of songs that showed up on multiple lists. Among those were the White Stripes’ “Dead Leaves and Dry Ground,” “Wake Me Up When September’s Over” by Green Day, “Seasons of Wither” by Aerosmith and “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses. To me, the first two don’t seem to have much to do with the actual season; the last two are by groups that I don’t have much time for.
Also showing up multiple times were “Autumn Almanac” by the Kinks and the Small Faces’ “Autumn Stone.” Those are bands in my mid-to-late-1960s wheelhouse, but I don’t remember either — in the case of the former, surprisingly, because it was a single release in September 1967, my freshman year in college.
“Autumn Almanac” for sure is not the Kinks’ best stuff. The Small Faces song is better, but it was never a single, and was only released on a 1969 compilation album after the group had broken up.
Also showing up on a couple lists was “Autumn Leaves” by Eva Cassidy. I’d never heard of the artist before, and don’t know what else she’s done, but this song and her live video presentation of it are quite nice. Can’t say the same about the identically-named song by Ed Sheeren, who’s supposed to be hot stuff but didn’t impress me, at least not on this number.
Getting more than one citation was John Coltrane’s “Autumn Serenade.” The Trane, the jazz sax virtuoso, mostly did instrumentals, and this number suggests to me that he should have stuck to lyric-less stuff; the vocalist, Johnny Hartman, sounds like a parody of the Lounge Singer.
Speaking of crooners, Old Blue Eyes gets several mentions for his “September Song.” But it I was doing a list — wait a minute, I am, aren’t I? — I’d go with Frank Sinatra’s “September in the Rain,” with its classic opening line: “The leaves of brown/come tumbling down …”
The Cure’s “Last Days of Summer” made it onto a couple lists, even though its calendar hadn’t quite turned. During the run-up to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2019 selections, I argued that that band wasn’t worthy induction.
Since then, I heard their one song that I knew, and liked, but didn’t know it was theirs. “Last Days of Summer” has that same hypnotic feel.
The Cure’s song is a better fit for fall music than Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer,” which got at least one list pick. But the latter song, to me, is forward looking to the end of summer, with the change of seasons further in the future.
Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” was a multi-list selection, but I’d argue against it. It’s a good song, but it’s more about seasonal changes as metaphors for aging and changing relationships.
“Leaves That Are Green” by Simon and Garfunkel also was named by multiple list-pickers, and is certainly worthy. But you could also make an argument for including their “Hazy Shade of Winter”: “Look around, leaves are brown …”
I am also in agreement with including Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” on your fall play list. The opening line of “Leaves are fallin’ all around/Time I was on my way” — followed soon by “The autumn moon lights my way” — and the “Lord of the Rings” vibe, would be enough. Unfortunately, the Tolkien theme also gives us the incongruous “In the darkest depths of Mordor/I met a girl so fair …”
A multi-list selection was “September” by Earth Wind & Fire. I’d probably include that on mine — because I like the song, and the group — even though its lyrics don’t have much to do with the season.
Also getting picked multiple times was Van Morrison’s wonderful “Moondance,” off the classic album of the same name. But Van the Man seems to have a thing for songs about fall — I can’t say he’s done one on every album, but he’s done quite a few.
His “Autumn Song” — also on several lists — captures the feel of the season about as well as any song. So does “Golden Autumn Day”; “Waiting Game” starts with “On a golden autumn day returning.” He’s also done “When the Leaves Come Falling Down.”
His “Purple Heather” starts with “When the summertime is gone/And the leaves are gently turning.” (He did “September Night” on one of his albums I don’t have, Inarticulate Speech of the Heart, but it doesn’t have much for lyrics.)
The one song that I did not see on any of the lists perhaps catches the feeling of autumn better than most. It’s “King Harvest (Has Surely Come),” the concluding cut on the The Band’s self-titled second album — one of the best LPs ever recorded, in my opinion.
The song opens, and ends, with “Corn in the fields/Listen to the rice/When the wind blows across the water/King Harvest has surely come.” In between, there are lines like “Scarecrow/And a yellow moon/Pretty soon, a carnival/On the edge of town.” There’s not a weak cut on that album, and this is one of the stronger songs.