“Cruel Summer” is a pop song written and originally performed by the English girl group Bananarama. The song was a top ten hit on the UK Singles Chart in 1983, and the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. in 1984.
Bananarama singer Sara Dallin said the song “played on the darker side (of summer songs): it looked at the oppressive heat, the misery of wanting to be with someone as the summer ticked by. We’ve all been there!” It was ranked number 44 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s.
Cruel Summer is a 1998 album by Swedish pop group Ace of Base, released as the band’s third album in North America on July 14, 1998 and in Japan on August 25, 1998 by Arista Records. When Flowers saw the sale of four million copies after its release in Europe, Asia and Africa on June 15, 1998, Arista Records decided to release a different version of the album in the North America and Japan, re-titled Cruel Summer. This version of the album featured the new track “Everytime It Rains” and many new versions of songs featured on Flowers. As executive producer, Clive Davis enlisted collaborators including production team Cutfather & Joe and songwriter Billy Steinberg. While primarily a pop album, Cruel Summer explores the genres of house, motown, and dance.
Cruel Summer received generally favorable reviews from music critics, who complimented its production and viewed it as a superior version of Flowers. Despite this, the album was not a success and failed to crack the top 100 of the Billboard 200, peaking at number 101. The project was promoted with a series of live television performances which received minimal participation from band member Linn Berggren. Two singles were released from the album, one which became an international success. Its titular lead single “Cruel Summer” peaked at number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and was certified gold. The second and final single, “Whenever You’re Near Me” received little promotion and peaked at number 76.
In 1996, the band completed its promotion of The Bridge album, which had sold seven million albums worldwide. Ace of Base did not immediately return to the studio as they had with their second album. Band member Linn Berggren grew tired of the spotlight, and had returned home early from the group’s tour of Asia. The quartet took a break from both recording and promotion; Ulf Ekberg moved to Marbella, Spain.
In mid-1997, the band’s record companies asked Ace of Base for new material. Representatives at Arista Records specifically asked for “summery”, sunny songs. By Autumn of 1997, “Doctor Sun” had been recorded; it was the first song completed for the new album. The band members test-played the song in several clubs in Gothenburg. Originally, the song featured vocals from all four members, but Ulf’s vocals were eventually cut on the final version, which was not released in the United States.
“Cruel Summer” was released as the first single from the album and became a top ten hit, peaking at number ten on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Dance Club Songs charts. The song was promoted in the United States with performances on CBS This Morning and The View, which Linn was present for. “Cruel Summer” received positive reviews from critics, such as Billboard Magazine, who called the song a “potential smash”and Amazon.com, who described the track as a “light, upbeat groove” in their review of the album. Entertainment Weekly was more critical of the song, calling it “pointless” in an otherwise positive album review.
A second single, “Whenever You’re Near Me”, received little attention, and was not even correctly promoted on the Arista website, where it was listed as “Whenever You Need Me” despite fan efforts to get the mistake corrected. A music video for the song was not produced, however the song was promoted with a live performance on Ricki Lake which Linn did not attend. “Whenever You’re Near Me” received a positive review from Larry Flick of Billboard Magazine, who noted that the song was “rife with sunny Caribbean percussion and a sweet smattering of acoustic guitar/synth interplay.” He also predicted that the single “should saturate airwaves within seconds.” Despite this, the song peaked at number 76 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent only five weeks on the chart. The track was somewhat more successful in Canada, where it peaked at number 51.