As summer approaches for those of us in the northern hemisphere, I’ve been thinking about the songs of summer and how the first few bars of many favorite songs can light up memories so thick, all our senses kick into overdrive. Those are feel good moments we all can relate to.
So here for your amusement a not-too-randomly selected tableau of songs to paint out pictures of summer sensory overload for you. Lifting lists from RollingStone, Billboard and others, this will help you get the summer music queued up for the season.
Disclaimer: The list is limited to the pop songs of their day this time around. Maybe jazz will follow.
Summer in the City-1966
A summer in the city complete with honking cabs and jackhammers. Man it’s hot and sticky out here.
Checking off every popular surfing spot, the Beach Boys did their research for Surfin’ U.S.A. They’ll be gone all summer and if they don’t make it back before school starts, “tell the teacher we’re surfing.”
Saturday in the Park-1972
Big and brassy horns herald Chicago’s celebration of a hot July day in the park. They took the sights and sounds of people laughing and a man selling ice cream all the way to; “Can you dig it?” Yes, we can.
Under the Boardwalk-1964
In the summer of ‘64, the Drifters took their dreamy tune about catching shade and good times under the boardwalk. The opening line refers to their hit from 1962, “Oh when the sun beats down and burns the tar up on the roof”, they offer this cooler choice. “Under the boardwalk, down by the sea… on a blanket with my baby is where I’ll be.” Good idea.
Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days Of Summer-1963
Nat King Cole’s bouncing seasonal cut makes the kind of demands we can appreciate.
By the mid ’60s, the Beach Boys were the kings of surf music. In ‘65, the west coast poster boys for the genre boldly declared “California Girls,” ruled above all others.
Not to be outdone, Katy Perry along with Snoop Dogg pushed out a synth beat about the “warm, wet and wild” places and the women you will find there. Mr. Dogg does it alright in this one.
Summer of ’69-1985
Bryan Adams released “Summer of ’69” in 1985 and this anthem of playing his “first real six-string” and meeting a summer sweetie at the drive-in is a classic, nostalgic ode to the summer of the “the best days of my life.” Yep.
In the Summertime-1970
The boys of Mungo Jerry handed the world a laid-back summer track when they released the vaguely tropical jam “In the Summertime” in 1970. Mungomania was and is real for many.
Perhaps one of the most widely covered tunes, “Summertime” encapsulates the season’s lighthearted ethos. Billy Stewart’s 1966 crossover rendition, which is embellished with jazzy horns, bluesy guitar, and funky, scatting vocals was outstanding. A top-of-the-heap performance for many.
A Summer Song-1964
Capturing the sweet sadness of saying farewell to summer love, Chad & Jeremy’s delicate, simple vocals over chugging drums and rich acoustic guitar works. What’s not to like?
Alice Cooper took the sweet innocence of the first day of summer break, and turned it into a proclamation for ditching class permanently. Thank you Alice!
Seals and Crofts’ classic is everything the summer season’s about. Easy, breezy.
Suddenly Last Summer-1983
Motels singer Martha Davis reflects on the eternal cycle of good and bad summers: “One summer never ends/One summer never begins.” Oh the angst of it all.
Hot Stuff topped the chart in June 1979. A disco anthem with grinding rock guitar courtesy of Steely Dan/Doobie Brothers axeman Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. Jeff is an iconic character to be sure.
Martha & The Vandellas‘ hit single shot up the charts in the summer of 1963, and it can still dial up the temperature any time. An all-time favorite.
A perfect country song about memories of Born In the USA as the soundtrack to a July Saturday night.
Sam Cooke’s cover makes it look and sound oh so easy. Stunning. This aria completed by Gershwin in 1934 remains a litmus for aspiring vocalists. Billy Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Janis Joplin, Ella Fitzgerald, Maria Callas, Leontyne Price. So many outstanding performances. Studying this song requires a lifetime.
Santo and Johnny’s steel guitar melody evoke island evenings and blue drinks with little umbrellas in them and…Hawaii gained statehood!
A disco inferno full of guitar shimmer, robot come-ons, falsetto soul and a beat that keeps you up having good fun until you see the sun.
Jackson and friends manage to make a party — and learn a few life lessons while stacking cans and swapping stories by that muddy Georgia river.
A Middle Eastern folk tune that surf guitar legend Dick Dale transformed into the very sound of hanging ten. With rippling reverb and horn punches, it’s the greatest surf song of all time and is the soundtrack to the opening credits for Pulp Fiction.
Bananarama wanted to write a song that keyed into the “darker side” of summer. Check the box.
A radiant keyboard melody with swirls of surf guitar, the Go-Go’s nailed the feeling of trying to use summer vacation to get over a crush. It’s one of Belinda Carlisle’s most heart-tugging performances and the waterskiing video is one of greatest MTV clips of all time.
A bubblegum torpedo ride, this 1977 punk rock classic is about hitching a ride out of the gritty city for a day trip to the largest public beach in the United States. Ramones rule.
Rockabilly-raver Eddie Cochran tapped into suburban teen boredom and angst, blazing a trail toward heavy metal and punk by making edgy, bound-up energy seem thrilling. 1958 and we’re still trying to cover it today. Eddie owns this one outright.
Dancing In the Street-1964
The ultimate invitation to get outside and cut loose, “Dancing In the Street” reinvents the world as a giant summertime block party. Many don’t know Marvin Gaye was a co-writer on this anthem to summer. This is a great track.
Sunshine and Summertime-2005
Faith joins the barefoot ladies and who wouldn’t want to join in on this Mississippi girl’s good time in the summer sun.
Something Like That-1999
Barbecue-stained T-shirt aside, a teenage boy’s chance encounter with a miniskirt on Labor Day sounds like an unforgettable late-season fantasy.
The granddaddy of the modern beach-plus-drinking song could only be written by none other than music’s king of calypso poets. You’d think that someone would’ve found that “lost shaker of salt” by now.
Van’s original is impossible to beat. However in ’94 Mellencamp’s cover matched it. John’s admiration for Van’s ability to weave a story shines through. There have been multiple attempts to cover this over the years, Van’s original still rules. Johnny Cougar’s version is a very close second.
Bob Seeger moved from a regional insider secret, to a national star with this one. He’s been heard to say he was inspired to write this by the George Lucas movie American Graffiti.
Red Dirt Road-2003
Brooks and Dunn hit the seasonal bull’s-eye with this track. They declare “happiness on Earth ain’t just for high achievers.”
Theme From A Summer Place-1960
Percy Faith’s instrumental still holds the slot for longest running instrumental at #1. Amazing and I can’t see an instrumental unseating it anytime soon.
See You In September-1966
The Happenings cover is the one most often thought of. Many have borrowed this songs storyline; “I’ll be alone each and every night. While you’re away, don’t forget to write.” Summer sad-sackage maximized.
And finally… closing this meandering post off by getting back to where it started.
Hot Fun in the Summertime-1969
A mellow track, with funky horns, bassline and soulful vocals; Sly & the Family Stone’s easy-going hit is one of the most iconic summer feel goods of all-time. Enjoy Sly and the Family’s finest.
From this collection you can make a summertime playlist that will please many, if not all. Spin the vinyl and turn it up. It’s summer after all, go outside and play… the music loud.
PostNote: Many notable acts and bands are missing from this compilation. In part because they were out touring in the summer, not in the studio. And in many cases their releases were scheduled for fall or winter to capture the in-school season.
So many great songs to chose from, what are your choices? Let us know and we’ll post ’em.
If you have a Spotify account, get ’em all in this playlist.
(Sorry no Bob Seger on Spotify)