1. "The New Year," Death Cab For Cutie (available on Transatlanticism):
Mashing the celebratory and the depressing into one lovely jumble, singer Ben Gibbard shrugs off New Year's Day with "So this is the new year / and I don't feel any different." But he betrays his indifference by kicking up the tempo and ending with an unabashed "There'd be no distance that could hold us back."
2. "Ground Hog Blues," John Lee Hooker (available on The Millennium Collection: The Best Of John Lee Hooker)
Doing gruff justice to a grossly underappreciated holiday, John Lee Hooker vows to kill a "dirty groundhog" spying on him from his back door. It's not exactly warm or sunny, but neither is February.
3. "I Live In The Springtime," The Lemon Drops (available on Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968)
The crude sound and irregular tempos of this garage classic don't sync up with the gentle image of a slow-blooming spring, but that's probably because the Chicago-born, Who-inspired teen-rockers in The Lemon Drops were all uncontrolled hormones and fidgety energy. The warm weather meant a return to going out and getting stupid after a bitterly cold winter.
4. "April Skies," The Jesus And Mary Chain (available on Darklands or 21 Singles)
No one sees the stormy April skies as ominously as The Jesus And Mary Chain, which finds broken hearts, dead life, shaking hands, and a screaming head under them. In this case, April showers bring nothing but May dread, though it's an engaging, layered, tuneful sort of dread.
5. "Spring Rain," The Go-Betweens (available on Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express or Bellavista Terrace: Best Of The Go-Betweens)
Culty Australian band The Go-Betweens never had any hits to speak of, but the nostalgic little "Spring Rain" would've been the perfect candidate. Unabashedly sentimental but never cloying, the song equates its title with love, longs for a life of surprises, then ducks out into the drizzle.
6. "All Summer Long," The Beach Boys (available on Little Deuce Coupe/All Summer Long)
This deceptively breezy post-surf Beach Boys hit provides a litany of charming summer memories: spilling Coke at the drive-in, wearing cutoffs, playing miniature golf, riding Hondas, and falling in love. It's only when the band coos "won't be long 'til summertime is through" that the song's meaning becomes clear: it's a tender, premature farewell to a time rapidly slipping away.
7. "Fourth Of July," Galaxie 500 (available on This Is Our Music or The Portable Galaxie 500)
Here's what Dean Wareham did on Independence Day: "I stayed at home on the Fourth Of July / And I pulled the shades so I didn't have to see the sky / And I decided to have a bed-in / But I forgot to invite anybody." The song, arguably Galaxie 500's finest five minutes, doesn't feel summery at all; instead, it chugs along with the claustrophobia of someone who couldn't care less about the fireworks outside.
8. "My Summer Vacation," Ice Cube (available on Death Certificate or Greatest Hits)
Summer isn't all breezy fun, as evidenced by the scary recollections in Ice Cube's "My Summer Vacation": Cube and his associates move from the overcrowded L.A. drug trade to the less competitive St. Louis market, dropping bodies all the way. In the fall, they don't head back to school, either: "I'ma end it like this, 'cuz you know what's up / My life is fucked."
9. "A Summer Wasting," Belle And Sebastian (available on The Boy With The Arab Strap)
Belle And Sebastian's wistful ode to doing nothing only contains a hint of dark clouds, as singer Stuart Murdoch adds, somewhat mysteriously, that he's feeling guilty–but maybe it's just about his own laziness.
10. "September Gurls," The Bangles (available on Different Light)
The underrated hitmakers in The Bangles always had a broader emotional palette than the average band, as evidenced on this striking cover of the Big Star classic. At once slick and sad, it finds a place for autumnal Alex Chilton melancholia in the '80s pop landscape. Don't know who the September girls and December boys are? Don't worry, the group doesn't either.
11. "Every Day Is Halloween," Ministry (available on Early Trax)
On the goth equivalent of "I'm Coming Out," Al Jourgensen moans in defiance as he complains about everyone making fun of his Halloweeny clothing, against a track that screams both "Check out my new Yamaha!" and "Scratching isn't just for rappers anymore!" Somehow, it still sounds like the perfect soundtrack for the one day of the year everyone can get in touch with their inner Jourgensen.
12. "Autumn In Washington Square," Dave Brubeck (available on Jazz Impressions Of New York)
Thanks to the movies, New York lives in non-residents' minds as an autumnal wonderland, where people in overcoats sit on iron park benches while the leaves whip around the brick walkways at their feet. Brubeck's elegiac, practically melody-free piano mood piece sketches the same kind of picture, only with a thick stroke of loneliness, unalleviated by the sudden appearance of a saxophone halfway through.
13. "Christmas Wrapping," The Waitresses (available on The Best Of The Waitresses)
More a jazzy, funky new-wave workout than a paean to seasonal cheer, this surprisingly moving slice of urban disaffection gets its holiday warmth from Patty Donahue's singsong delivery and Chris Butler's funny story about would-be lovers who keep missing each other. When Donahue meets her man at the A&P on Christmas Eve and Mars Williams' sax spirals up in the background, the tearjerker ending beats It's A Wonderful Life.
14. "The Ice Of Boston," The Dismemberment Plan (available on Is Terrified)
For most, New Year's Eve is a time to let go of last year's problems, but not for The Dismemberment Plan's Travis Morrison, who frets through thoughts of an ex while standing alone, "buck naked, drenched in champagne / looking at a bunch of strangers / looking at them looking at me," before fielding an uncomfortable phone call from his mom. Somehow, though, he manages to make the depressing moment a triumph.
15. "This Will Be Our Year," The Zombies (available on Odessey And Oracle)
Did the year not work out as planned? Did life take a turn for the worse? Don't worry, there's always next year. And what better way to wind down the mix than with this optimistic anthem from The Zombies' best album? Who knows, it might even be accurate this time.