Boys of Summer is one of the most indelible rock songs of the 1980’s and was number one on the Billboard Top Rock Tracks chart for five weeks. In a 1987 interview with Rolling Stone, Henley explained that the song is about aging and questioning the past—a recurring theme in Henley’s lyrics including his classic The End of the Innocence. Like The End of the Innocence, Boys of Summer was one of my favourite songs growing up and when I hear it now I reminisce fondly of my youth.
The music was composed by Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. He showed it to Tom Petty, but they didn’t feel it fit on their record. So he played it for Don Henley who changed the key, wrote the lyrics, recorded the vocal and the rest is history. The music video also won many awards. It was a French New Wave-influenced piece directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino. Shot in black-and-white, it shows the main character of the song at three different stages of life (as a young boy, a young adult and middle-aged).
- Henley explained the ‘”Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac” lyric as an example of his generation selling out. ‘I was driving down the San Diego Freeway and got passed by a $21,000 Cadillac Seville, the status symbol of the right-wing upper-middle-class American bourgeoisie – all the guys with the blue blazers with the crests and the grey pants – and there was this Grateful Dead “Deadhead” bumper sticker on it!‘
- In 2010, Henley won a lawsuit against Chuck Devore, who was running for a US Senate seat in California. Devore – a Republican – used “The Boys of Summer” and “All She Wants to do is Dance” in his campaign advertising, which didn’t go over well with Henley.
- MTV exposure from this song’s video raised Henley’s profile but cost him a degree of anonymity. With the Eagles, he was tucked away behind a drum kit, and rarely on TV.
- Tom Petty introduced Mike Campbell onstage as “the co captain of this ship and my right hand man.” In Petty’s book he tells the story about that song; Campbell brought the demo to the studio where Petty was recording with the Heartbreakers and yes by his own account, he passed on it. Being in a creative funk due to several factors (read the book) he and Iovine were struggling with the album. When Petty heard “Boys Of Summer” on the radio he recognized the song as being almost note for note the demo Campbell had brought to the session and confronted Campbell, incensed that Henley had gotten the song from him. When Campbell reminded Petty that he had rejected the song, Petty’s notorious temper flared and he punched a studio wall and broke a bone in his hand requiring surgery to repair it. That resulted in more delay in finishing his album, and strained relations with the producer Iovine. Petty later admitted that he had dismissed Campbell’s demo out of hand, and had lost out on a great song.