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  • 25 Essential Summer Songs

       June 14, 2005

    Every year there's a song or two that emerges as that summer's essential tune. Years later you'll hear it and be immediately transported back in time. Some of these songs are literally about summer, but more of them just feel like summer.

    What makes a great summer song? In my opinion, summer songs should be upbeat, uncomplicated and easy to sing along to. They're for blasting in your car with the windows rolled down, not for wistful wooing.

    So, straight from my iPod, here are my top 25 Essential Summer Songs (in no particular order):

    Update: Get more great summer songs in our 2009 and 2010 updates.

    • Love Shack, by The B52s: We'll start with a no-brainer. This song conjures up images of a great summer party where the weather's hot, the people are fun and the drinks are sticky.
    • Summertime, by The Sundays: Whenever I think of The Sundays, I think of "Cute Will", who was an adorable Poli Sci guy/windsurfing instructor that I was acquainted with. He was a manly man with a weakness for the dulcet tones of The Sundays. It was a wonderful contrast. This song is a little complicated for summer, but it also has a sense of exhilaration that fits the season.
    • One Week, by The Barenaked Ladies: Just a fun, goofy song that everyone tries to sing along to. Sometimes the trying is more fun than the singing ;-)
    • Vacation, by The Go Gos: Remember the video for this? The Go Gos were all decked out in 1950s Water Ski Team gear.
    • Cruel Summer, by Bananarama: This is a rare bitter summer song. It's for the sullen teen whose friends are out of town. Heh, "sullen teen summer" would make a great title for something
    • Afternoon Delight, by Starland Vocal Band: I was too young to understand what "afternoon delight" really meant, so instead I associate this song with one particular summer and all the tornados we had. To me, an afternoon delight was watching the sky turn black and watching for a storm
    • Centerfield, by John Fogarty: While it's true that I live in the baseball-free zone, I can still appreciate a happy song about the summer pastime
    • It's The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine), by REM: In the post-MTV age, a lot of songs are summer songs simply because the video is summery. That's a big reason why this songs makes the list. The other reason is that it, like "One Week", is fun to sing along with, even if the only line you know is "Leonard Bernstein!"
    • Jackie Wilson Said, by Van Morrison: Summer songs shouldn't sound like they were written by Debbie Downer. There's no room for The Smiths in the summer. Songs should be about being "in heaven when you smile"
    • Mr. Big Stuff & Am Radio, by Jean Knight & Everclear, respectively: I put these two together because AM Radio samples Mr. Big Stuff and because I think they're equally fun, sassy-the-cat songs
    • Car Wash, by Rose Royce: I've never lived anywhere where they sprayed kids down with fire hoses on hot summer days, but if I did, this would remind me of it. It reminds me of seeing it, if that makes any sense
    • Blue Sky, by The Allman Brothers: This song is so uncomplicated that well over half of it is instrumental. You can just drift away while you listen to it. In a perfect world, this is on the soundtrack of your life when you're sitting on a pier or laying in a hammock.
    • Alex Chilton, by The Replacements: Okay, I would use this as a wooing song, but I'm weird. I'm probably also one of the few that sings the chorus of this at the top of her lungs, but hey, it's my list
    • Rio, by Duran Duran: I think, as a kid, I wanted to be "Rio", and if I was dancing on the sand, it had to be summer
    • Come On Eileen, by Dexy's Midnight Runners: This is the happy flip side to "Cruel Summer" in my mind. This is what you listen to when your friends are back in town
    • Run-around, by Blues Traveler: I know that Jam bands are a part of summer, but I can't bring myself to put any Dead, Phish or even Dave Matthews on the list. This is as close as I'm going to get, and it's still only because "I like coffee and I like tea"
    • Steal My Sunshine, by Len: I like the contrast between the male and female singers of this song. As a female, I'm sure I'm supposed to sing those parts. But, having a bad singing voice, I sing the male lead, thank you very much
    • Margaritaville, by Jimmy Buffett: Yes, I know it's obvious, but some things are obvious because they're right. And, Margaritaville is simply the essential tune. Don't leave for the beach without it
    • No Woman No Cry, by Bob Marley: Every summer list needs a little reggae
    • Move It On Over, by Hank Williams: Another fun one to sing along to
    • Mmm Bop, by Hanson: Make fun of these pretty boys if you must, but they know how to write a perfect bubble gum pop song. It's as light as a feather, but summer's hot, we don't need to be doing any heavy musical lifting
    • Rain In The Summertime, by The Alarm: This is a hot, sweaty, sexy summer song. I really appreciate it on that level. On a shallower level, it reminds me of the summer before my senior year in college, when downtown Madison flooded and we'd play in the rain every night on the way home from going out.
    • So Whatcha Want, by The Beastie Boys: There's a time for rap in every girl's life. Summer is that time. This is what I'd play at my cool beer tent event
    • Nuthin' But A "G" Thang, by Dr. Dre & Snoop Dog: More rap. This time it's ultra laid back and cool, perfect for when summer days are turning into summer nights
    • Your Love, by The Outfield: Who wouldn't want to shout-sing the start of this song: "Josie's on a vacation far away..."? This is one of those great songs that nobody thinks they know, but they do and they love it

    So there you have it. Those are my essential summer songs. What are yours?

    Posted by at June 14, 2005 01:15 PM

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    #  June 14th, 2005 7:10 PM      badger87
    I like "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves  
    #  June 14th, 2005 7:44 PM      KVBigSis
    These are probably too old for you, but I'd add:

    "Spill the Wine" by Eric Burdon and War. The perfect decadent summer song.

    "Hot Fun in the Summertime." Sly and the Family Stone being funky and lazy and very, very summery.

    "Summer in the City." One frigid winter night I walked up Bascom Hill with about 5 of my friends singing this song at the top of our lungs to try and make us feel warm.

    And I don't care how old you are, when Nat King Cole starts singing "Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer" - THAT'S summer.  
    #  June 14th, 2005 7:52 PM      kris
    Oh, I'd like to add the Six Flags song. You know, the one with the little old man in the tux.

    Ah, it's We Like to Party, by Vengaboys.  
    #  June 14th, 2005 9:21 PM      Daddy
    "Summertime Girls" - Y & T.

    I'm in least every minute or two. Until the next little girl walks by, yeah...I think I love her too!

    "Nothin' but a Good Time" - Poison

    "Just Like Paradise" - David Lee Roth

    "Magic" - The Cars

    "Panama" - Van Halen

    "Summer Nights" - the other Van Halen

    Dare I say "Shout it Out Loud" by Kiss? Ah, don't wanna risk it.

    BTW, the B-52's song I would've chosen is "Roam".

    #  June 15th, 2005 7:42 AM      jagorham
    Nice overall list, guys; I'd argue for another B-52s song from the "Cosmic Thing" album, "Dry County," for this list; but since it was never played as a single I guess it doesn't count.

    Also gotta throw in Mungo Jerry's "In The Summertime."

    Gotta wonder about you, though, Kris. Afternoon delight = tornados? Sounds like fodder for a therapist! :)  
    #  June 15th, 2005 3:57 PM      countertop
    Good list and its nice to see the Alarm get their due.

    I'd switch out the Blues Traveler song for But Anyway. Their first radio hit (at least in NYC) I always thought it was a much better song than their number 1 hit.

    Maybe throw some Motown on there too, and a bit more old school R&B, oh yeah, and Pretty Women by either Van Halen or Roy Orbison.  
    #  June 15th, 2005 9:32 PM      chummer
    I am so glad that you included Len! That is one happy, summery song that everyone disses me for occasionally listening to at work.  
    #  June 18th, 2005 12:20 AM      mbrlr
    Re "Alex Chilton", are you old enough to know who he is? I named my son Alec because it's a Welsh variant of Alex and then told my wife about my love for the Box Tops and Big Star and the *real* reason for his name. We almost divorced.  
    #  June 18th, 2005 8:24 AM      KVBigSis
    jagorham, here's another vote for "Dry County." Makes me want a beer (or at least a lemonade) every time I hear it.

    #  June 24th, 2005 5:56 PM      kris
    Ah mbrlr, we have some common ground. I'm a little too young for Big Star, but if Paul Westerberg likes 'em, that's good enough for me.

    Heh...if my husband wanted to name my son Alec I'd assume it was for Alec Ramsey from the Black Stallion series. And then I'd love him even more  
    #  June 28th, 2005 10:26 AM      trustno1
    Can't have a summer song list without some Surf Rock like:
    "Wipe Out" and "Hawai'i Five-O" by The Ventures -or-
    "Miserlou" by Dick Dale
    I guess the rest of my top 25 would have to be:
    "Splish Splash" by Bobby D
    "Red Right Hand" by Nick Cave
    "Summer of '69" by Bryan Adams
    "When I Win the Lottery" by Camper Van Beethoven
    "On the Beach" by Chris Rea
    "Swimming in Your Ocean" by Crash Test Dummies
    "Bad Moon Rising" by CCR
    "Punk Rock Girl" by The Dead Milkmen
    "Tainted Love" by Squeeze
    "Walk Between the Raindrops" by Donald Fagen
    "Tequila Sunrise" or "Peaceful Easy Feeling" by the Eagles
    "Blue (Da Ba Dee)" by Eiffe 65
    "Wonderful Night" by Fatboy Slim
    "Build Me Up Buttercup" by the Foundations
    "Grazing in the Grass" by Friends of Distinction
    "Feel Good, Inc." by Gorillaz
    "You've Got a Friend" by James Taylor
    "Summer Sun" by Jamestown Massacre
    "Goober Peas" by Kingston Trio
    "Those Clouds Are Heavy, You Dig?" by Kurt Elling
    "Lady" by Lenny Kravitz
    "99 Red Balloons" by Nena
    "California Deamin'" by The Mamas and the Papas
    "Sorry" by Nerf Herder
    "Original Prankster" by Offspring
    "Biblical Sense" by The Pietasters
    "Send me on my Way" by Rusted Root

    oh... and "Dare to be Stupid" by Weird Al just for grins and chuckles.

    #  June 28th, 2005 10:48 AM      kris
    Oooh...Peaceful Easy Feeling is a GREAT choice. I also like "Build Me Up Buttercup", but that reminds of Badger football games, so it's more of a fall song to me.  
    #  July 10th, 2005 5:05 PM      Cheeto
    I found this website through searching "summer songs" because im makeing a summer song cd...heres some that i had on before i came to the site...
    Summer time-Sublime
    Six Pack Summer- Phil Vasser
    Red Rag Top- Tim McGraw
    Last Dance with Mary Jane- Tom Petty
    Eagles: Hotel California & Take it easy
    Brown Eyed Girl- Jimmy Buffet
    Boys of Summer- Tom Heneley Version**  
    #  January 19th, 2006 7:57 PM      ophelia_11
    I've got to add a few of my own. Especially Weezer's Island In The Sun. I have never heard a song that epitomizes summer more.
    1) Steal my kisses from you - Ben Harper
    2) Summer Girls - LFO
    3) Runaround - Blues Traveler
    4) Steal my sunshine - Len
    5) Butterfly - Crazytown
    6) Flake - Jack Johnson
    7) Island In The Sun - Weezer
    8) Loser - Beck
    9) Blister In The Sun - Violent Femmes
    10) Feel like makin' love - Bad Company
    11) Brown eyed girl - Van Morrison
    12) Sweet home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd
    13) 1979 - Smashing Pumpkins
    14) Jambalaya - John Fogerty (faster than Hank's)
    15) Blue Sky - Allman Brothers
    16) Summertime - Sublime
    17) Smooth - Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana
    18) Rollerskate Song - Janis Joplin  
    #  June 13th, 2006 5:04 PM      fourauntied
    umm yea i have a complaint
    if you're gonna write a list at least get the artists right.
    Dave Matthew's Band sings One Week
    that's it
    For summer songs i have to suggest anything by sublime especially off their 40 ounce to freedom album and guns and ciggarettes by atmosphere as well as free or dead (atmos)  
    #  June 13th, 2006 5:24 PM      kris
    Oh sweetie, don't even...

    One Week, by Bare Naked Ladies  
    #  May 28th, 2007 3:19 PM      Acidalia
    I just have to say, that even though this page is about a year old, these are some of the greatest, and most essential summer songs ever.  
    #  June 27th, 2009 5:14 PM      06howea1



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