Lexington, here’s your spring music playlist, from Sarah Vaughan to Kacey Musgraves

Ah, spring — a time of renewal and all it brings to excite the senses — longer days of sunshine, blooming trees, pollen overload.

While the recent rounds of monsoon-like weather may have taken the seasonally associative term “April showers” a bit too literally, there is little mistaking that, a month in, Spring has at last settled, even if it’s been in unsettling ways.

So what we have here is a spring playlist, a lineup of songs inspired by — or, at least, suggesting — various shades of the season at hand.

Several worthy entries were sadly vetoed, including 1955’s exquisitely titled, T.S. Elliot-inspired “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” (all the same, check out Ella Fitzgerald’s wonderful 1961 version.) What emerged was a compilation featuring one selection pulled from every decade dating back to the 1940s. Fittingly, women have the first and last words, from Sarah Vaughan to Kacey Musgraves.

Spring has arrived in Lexington and music writer Walter Tunis has your playlist, perfect for listening to while you stroll through the botanical grounds of Lexington Cemetery or other scenic spots.
Spring has arrived in Lexington and music writer Walter Tunis has your playlist, perfect for listening to while you stroll through the botanical grounds of Lexington Cemetery or other scenic spots.

So climb aboard. Be it with sunshine or storms, spring is with us. Here are 80 years’ worth of songs to celebrate it with.

Sarah Vaughan —“It Might As Well Be Spring” (1949)

Dating back to the movie musical “State Fair” in 1945, “It Might As Well Be Spring” was intended by composer Richard Rodgers as slice of seasonal swing. The consensus among the filmmakers was that it worked better as a mood piece. Fast-forward four years and Sarah Vaughan took that cue and tossed the tune to the blues. Numerous greats have recorded the tune through the years, including Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. No one, though, would swing with the blue hue of “Spring” better that the mighty Ms. Vaughan.

Count Basie — “April in Paris” (1957)

Another show tune dating back to a 1932 stage musical and an eventual film bearing the composition’s title in 1952 starring Doris Day. Count Basie made the song his own three years later with a sense of joy that mirrors the blooming sense of the season. So many greats played on this Grammy Hall of Fame recording, including trumpeter Thad Jones. Cementing the sentiment is the cover photo to Basie’s “April in Paris” album where the bereted bandleader presents flowers to an elderly Parisian. Now that’s springtime.

Simon & Garfunkel — “April Come She Will” (1965)

Penned by Paul Simon but sung solely by Art Garfunkel, “April Come She Will” is a seasonal reverie that spans six months in a series of two-line verses that clock in at under two minutes. April just happens to be lead-off batter (“April, come she will, when streams are ripe and swelled with rain”). The mood is romantic but very melancholic in ways that only Simon’s efficient writing and Garfunkel’s hushed singing can convey. The tune was first released as the B-side to a more familiar Simon & Garfunkel hit, “Scarborough Fair.”

Bill Evans — “You Must Believe in Spring” (1977)

Originally from the 1967 French film “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort),” jazz pianist Evans took the song’s meaning literally when he recorded it as a wintry meditation of hope. Evans’ life was anything but spring-like, though. Crushed by the suicides of his brother and common-law wife and ravaged by years of his own drug abuse, Evans eventually found light in this composition. Though recorded in 1977, this version was released in 1981 — five months after Evans’ death. As bittersweet and beautiful as the season gets.

Prince — “Sometimes It Snows in April” (1986)

A very atypical Prince song. There are no funk or party grinds within “Sometimes It Snows in April.” The song is a requiem featured in Prince’s 1986 film “Under the Cherry Moon” and its subsequent album “Parade” (the final recording with his band The Revolution.) With pianist Lisa Coleman and guitarist Wendy Melvoin providing the only accompaniment, Prince lightly sings a song of remembrance to Christopher Tracy, the protagonist from “Cherry Moon.” The song received renewed attention and airplay after Prince’s death in 2016.

Rufus Wainwright — “April Fools” (1998)

“April Fools” helped announce the arrival of Rufus Wainwright’s self-titled debut album in 1998. As a pop tune with a flair for the feel of the season, its impact is immediate. The bright melody will keep bouncing around your brain long after the tune has ended. But the lyrical twists and dance hall feel that would give Wainwright’s subsequent music such an operatic flair are in abundance here. “You will believe in love and all that it’s supposed to be,” he sings. “But just until the fish start to smell and you’re struck down by the hammer.” Ain’t love grand?

Santana — “Primavera” (1999)

“Primavera” is Spanish for “spring.” So who better to bring this pop linguistics lesson to life than the band that defined Latin rock ‘n’ roll for an entire generation? The song was featured on “Supernatural,” the multiple-Grammy wining, 15 million selling-album that marked a commercial rebirth for Santana in 1999. While “Supernatural” boasted a pack of high-profile guest singers, band chieftain Carlos Santana felt no one could better the original Spanish-sung tracks of “Primavera” cut by the song’s co-writer and producer, KC Porter.

Arcade Fire — “Month of May” (2000)

Arcade Fire must be fans of The Ramones because “Month of May” falls right into the ultra-elemental beat structure that was ground zero for the famed punk brigade. Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler, of course, slicks up such outlines, but the sense of roughhousing breaks through in both the grooves and the lyrics (“Some things are pure and some things are right, but the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight.”) “Month of May” was the leadoff single to “The Suburbs,” the record that took Album of the Year honors at the 2011 Grammy Awards.

The Avett Brothers — “A Father’s First Spring” (2012)

One of the Avetts’ loveliest compositions, “A Father’s First Spring” is a love song from parent to daughter with the season serving as a reference point more for its narrative than its visual imagery. Winter and summer are mentioned specifically, but spring isn’t. Neither is the song’s title, although you readily sense the very real feel of renewal being outlined. Featured on the Avetts’ 2012 album “The Carpenter,” “A Father’s First Spring” still finds its way into the band’s concert setlists. Let’s see if it surfaces when the group returns to Rupp Arena on Oct. 26.

Kacey Musgraves — “Cherry Blossom” (2021)

Leave it to country music renegade Kacey Musgraves to release a love song immersed in the imagery of the flower that defines the arrival of spring. Note the word “renegade,” though. “Cherry Blossom” isn’t country, but pure synth-laden pop. Similarly, despite its sense of warmth and hope, the song was featured on an album (“Star Crossed”) largely inspired by the singer’s then-recent divorce — a record released not in spring, but in the autumn of 2021. Best just to enjoy the song on it’s own sleek and very spring-filled terms.