Songs for Screens: ‘American Horror Story’ Makes ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ Sizzle Again

The Motels’ 1980s hit is back.

FX Network’s “American Horror Story” returns for a ninth season next month, and promos for the next chapter of the anticipated series, dubbed ‘AHS 1984,’ have been airing frequently across cable television throughout August. In the short yet effective spot (see below), the Motels’ melancholic, moody “Suddenly Last Summer” plays as aerial footage of an idyllic summer camp scene from the 1980s at fictional ‘Camp Redwood’ plays out, until things take a darker turn, quickly.

“The slightly haunting vibe of the song, and the connotation of the unexpected implied by the lyric, made it a perfect fit for the campaign,” Carol Weiler an EVP at FX Network, tells Variety.

The song’s publisher echoes the sentiment.

“It’s a great fit for the [AHS] spot,” says Scott Cresto, Reservoir’s EVP of synchronization and marketing. “The song is firmly placed in the ‘80s, and in this particular case, there is no voiceover in the promo, so the lyrics tell the story.

“The spot is also under a minute in length, so it has to work quickly to evoke memories, emotions, and feelings in a short amount of time,” he adds, “and this song does just that.”

For “Suddenly Last Summer’s” co-writer and singer, The Motels’ Martha Davis, the sync is a welcome surprise in a career that has spanned some 50 years (her band is still touring and has dates booked into 2020).

“’Suddenly’ is making mommy happy right now,” Davis laughs from her farm in Oregon. “I’m just delighted that the song is still resonating with people, and it’s astounding when it gets this reaction still,” she says of “Suddenly Last Summer,” which hit the Top 10 in the U.S. back in November of 1983.

Not only has the song sent younger AHS fans scrambling to Shazam in August, it has piqued the interest of music supervisors and television viewers alike via recent syncs on shows such as ABC’s “Quantico,” Hulu’s “Shut Eye,” The CW’s “The Carrie Diaries,” and perhaps most memorably, a turn on “Breaking Bad.”

So, what is it that gives the wistful ode to summer its staying power? Davis can’t say, exactly, but she notes the song is “basically about [the feeling that] you’re never gonna be able to go back,” she explains. “Once things are set in motion and the change has happened and summer has ended, you’re never going be the same as you were before that summer.”

Cresto attributes the song’s resilience partially due to its evocative lyrics, that take the listener back in time.

“It’s one of those ‘lightning in a bottle’-type songs that instantly conjures up memories for the listener,” he says of the tune. “People who grew up with it will recognize it instantly, but it has wide commercial-appeal for those who didn’t grow up with it, either. It’s an incredibly nostalgia-inducing song that everyone can relate to, no matter the age.”

And while “Suddenly Last Summer” seems firmly entrenched in the American 1980s canon of classics for many, for Davis, the song isn’t quite as nostalgia-tinged.

“When you’re the creator or performer of the work, it doesn’t have the same ‘time machine’ effect that it has on other people, because you are involved in it so deeply and you perform it a lot,” she says. “So what happens is the song keeps changing and morphing from one thing into another at different points in your life…

“But that’s what I love about art,” she concludes. “It takes you with it wherever it wants to be, and you just go.”

American Horror Story: 1984” premieres Wednesday, September 18 on FX.


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