Summertime might be one of the most covered songs in history. Recorded at least 25,000 different times, per the New York Times, it’s a beautiful tune, written, of course, by Gershwin for Porgy And Bess. You can spend an entire day, or week even, listening to various covers of the song, from the most famous ones, say those by Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin, or more contemporary covers like the one Willie Nelson put out last year.
If you dig deeper, you can find some lesser known, but just as excellent versions of the song. Here are five of my favorite versions that you might not hear as much as the standards.
1. Jimmy Ricks (1960)
Jimmy Ricks was the bass singer for The Ravens, a fantastic doo-wop group that also covered the song. But I love Ricks’ solo version — his voice, the arrangement. The song was of course written for a woman, which makes this ultra low version all the more unique and lovely.
2. Clarence Gatemouth Brown (1964)
I asked my fella what his favorite version of Summertime was, and this was on his top-two list. Instrumental and guitar heavy, Clarence Gatemouth Brown’s version of the slow, sweet song is an upbeat jam, and it wails.
3. Billy Preston (1967)
Billy Preston originally recorded this song in 1967, but here he is playing it live in 1979. It’s great, and besides the killer organ riffs, he has fun with it, even giving us a spot-on Ray Charles imitation.
4. Sam Cooke (1957)
I loooove Sam Cooke’s dreamy take. His soothing vocals over the ethereal backing singer — this is not Gatemouth Brown’s rock n roll summer. This is long, hot days and nights, catching fireflies in the backyard, sleeping with the windows open. This is music to daydream by.
5. Big Mama Thornton (1966)
I’ve saved the best for last. Big Mama nails the vocals, of course she does, and even on this old and imperfect recording, she sounds like the powerhouse she was. If you listen to no other versions on this list, don’t miss this one.