Summer is here. The blackout blinds are up. And down. School is out. The first wave of COVID-19 has washed over us, with bearable consequences. The Icelanders, content on travelling domestically this year, are gearing up for a season of mild alcoholism in the countryside. And what’s mild alcoholism without Icelandic music, without Icelandic summer songs?
If you’d like to celebrate the Icelandic summer vicariously (or if you’re arriving after June 15, when Iceland opens its borders) with some classic Icelandic music – look no further. While we admit that the title of this article is slightly misleading (these aren’t so much as “Iceland’s Favourite Songs of Summer” as What’s On’s favourite summer tunes), there is plenty of good music.
Stuðmenn – Betri tíð
Betri tíð is the … well, THE Icelandic summer song. The quirkiness. The build-up. The energy. The background vocals. The lyrics. As noted in a recent interview, the song happens to be the favourite of up-and-comer Bríet.
Soon the times won’t get better,
Because the times can’t better.
(Betri tíð is the second song of Stuðmenn’s album Listin að lifa, the art of living, which was released in 1989.)
Ásgeir Trausti – Sumargestur
Sumargestur was the first song that Ásgeir Trausti released officially. The music was composed by Ásgeir, the lyrics were written by his father, poet Einar Georg Einarsson. It’s sweet. Easy-going. Something to enjoy while leaving the city for the countryside.
(Sumargestur is the third song on Ásgeir Trausti’s debut album Dýrð í dauðaþögn.)
Nýdönsk – Frelsið
It’s nigh impossible to talk about Icelandic summer songs without mentioning Frelsið by Nýdönsk. In a magazine article from 1990, the year the song was released, singer Björn Jörundur was aptly described as “that unkempt lamppost with the gravelly voice.” The chorus’ lyrics are at once beautiful and philosophical:
Freedom is wonderful,
I do what I want to do.
Wonder if, in the long run,
One grows tired of existence?
(Frelsið is found on Nýdönsk’s Regnbogaland released in 1990.)
Kaleo – All the Pretty Girls
While not containing any explicit references to summer (“they play naked in the water” being the most suggestive of a sunny season), the video to Kaleo’s All the Pretty Girls so perfectly captures the emotional landscape of the Icelandic summer that it deserves a mention. When the video was initially released, a man by the name of Samuel commented: “Hi. Samuel here. I can say with full confidence that ‘all the pretty girls’ do not like Samuel.”
All the pretty girls like Samuel
Oh, he really doesn’t share,
Although it’s more than he can handle
Life is anything but fair, life is anything but fair.
(All the Pretty Girls was released on Kaleo’s debut album A/B.)
Unun – Lög unga fólsins
There’s something irresistible about Lög unga fólsins (Songs of the fools) that qualifies it as one of the great Icelandic summer songs. Unun was formed in 1993 by Dr. Gunni and Þór Eldon and was lamentably close to making it abroad. Lög unga fólsins is sung by Ragnheiður Eiríksdóttir.
Wake up for school at 7,
Heed blather about math sets
And the stomachs of cows.
(Lög unga fólsins was released on the album Æ in 1994.)
Bræðrabandalagið – Sólarsamba
Sólarsamba is not exactly a great song. The music sounds like something pre-programmed into an electric keyboard. It smells of ’80s kitsch. However, however, however. The chorus is so exuberantly delightful that it makes the whole thing worthwhile.
Yes, would you like to come outside and dance?
Let’s allow our bronzed bodies to glisten,
It’s summer and sunshine once again
From the seashore to the mountain crests.
(Sólarsamba features on the album Þú og þeir og allir hinir nema einn released in 1988.)
Hjaltalín – Þú komst við hjartað í mér
Hjaltalín’s version of Þú komst við hjartað í mér (written by Toggi and originally performed by Páll Óskar) was the undisputed song of 2008. In the words of Toggi: “It’s so simple that a chimp could play it.” But as a wis man once said, simplicity is often the highest form of sophistication.
When you walked into my life
You touched my heart.
(Þú komst við hjartað í mér is found on Hjaltalín’s 2009 album Terminal.)
Mezzoforte – Garden Party
Garden Party remains Mezzoforte’s biggest single, found on their fourth album (second international release) Surprise Surprise released in 1983. The song peaked at number 17 on the UK Singles Chart. Garden Party was later covered by Herb Alpert, at a slower speed than the original. One of the great Icelandic summer songs.
Mugison – Stingum af
2011 will always be remembered by many Icelandic music fans as the year of Mugison. The musician was voted Man of the Year by several radio stations, most notably for his masterful Haglél (and a series of concerts). While chock-full of excellent songs, Stingum af stands out as one of the album’s best. The imagery. The lyrics. The poignancy.
Heaven’s evening sun like tinsel.
Valgeir Guðjónsson – Popplag í G-dúr
Popplag í G-dúr was the song of the summer in Iceland in 1987. Someone once described returning to Iceland in early summer and being told: “Valgeir has just written a song that’s been on repeat on every radio station.” The lyrics are quirky. The chorus is catchy. The feelings are positive.
Here I am, on a complete bummer
Can’t see a damn thing,
Everything goes to shit when you’re not with me
Turns to lumps and knots.
Also worth mentioning …
Moses Hightower – Háa C
Hljómsveit Ingimars Eydal – Í sól og sumaryl