Top 30 Greatest Summer Songs
With the hottest period of the year fast approaching, we take a look at the top 30 greatest summer tracks of all time, from the screeches of UK post punk to delicate French jazz.
30. Len - Steal My Sunshine (1999)
Len's 1999 one-hit wonder, 'Steal My Sunshine', is a portal to the music of the late nineties - cheesiness and questionable style aside, this is the archetypal track for summer parties and coastline joyrides, helped along by siblings Marc and Sharon Costanzo's instantly recognisable vocals amid a bopping beat.
At the dawn of the digital era, Len serve as a reminder that anyone is worthy of their 15 minutes of fame, where in this case, a group of party animals blowing their budget became pop sensations, simply by hiring some scooters with the remaining cash for a video and recording one of the most fondly remembered summer tracks ever.
29. Miami Sound Machine - Hot Summer Nights (1986)
If there is a group that best represents the Miami sound of the 1980s, it's the aptly-named Miami Sound Machine. Along with Hall & Oates, Kenny Loggins and Giorgio Moroder, Miami Sound Machine went hand-in-hand with the high-lifers of the east coast of America, with thick 808 drum patterns and soulful vocal melodies wrapped up in unmistakably 80s synths.
With the release of Top Gun, 'Hot Summer Nights' became a staple for radio airplay, finding its way into car stereos all over the US, thanks not only to the film's immense popularity but also to singer Gloria Estefan's bold vocal delivery atop sonorous instrumentation. Everything about 'Hot Summer Nights' is larger than life - through and through an uplifting, pulsating track ready for a long summer's drive.
28. Belinda Carlisle - Summer Rain (1990)
Belinda Carlisle became something of a giant in the late 80s and early 90s after going solo, with signature hits like 'Heaven Is A Place On Earth', 'Runaway Horses' and of course, 'Summer Rain'. Carlisle's crooning over a progressive beat, emphasised by an elegant string section makes for a warming track full of nostalgia and longing.
While not a traditional party track or 'driving song', 'Summer Rain' reminds us that that in the time between plans, there's an opportunity to reflect and remember on past experiences. Carlisle doesn't need to sing with obsession or intense desire - it's clear the memory is over, but the gratefulness of having lived it is still there. This track not only helps cement Carlisle as a prominent female pop star but also stands on its own as a mature and honest summer hit.
27. Arrow - Hot Hot Hot (1983)
"Feelin' hot hot hot, all da people, all around me, feelin' hot hot hot!" While about as lyrically competent as any Pitbull release, 'Hot Hot Hot' by Arrow is the song of choice for beach parties, conga lines and pool bars across the globe - or at least it might have been 35 years ago.
Strictly speaking, 'Hot Hot Hot' doesn't mention summer at all, but realistically, there is no other possible way to interpret this highly energetic, feel-good tune of the early 80s. With an infectious rhythm, percussion straight from the coasts of the Caribbean and enticing calls and chants seemingly desperate for an evening of mambo, Arrow could have even the timidest of individuals dancing into the night.
26. Katrina And The Waves - Walking On Sunshine (1985)
Some might find this track grating, but it is inarguably worthy of a spot on any summer playlist. For a hit single originally recorded in 1983, 'Walking On Sunshine' sounds astonishingly polished and not dissimilar to modern-day pop anthems. Featuring palpitating percussion, jangly rhythms and an unmistakable intro, it's not difficult to see why this song was Katrina and the Waves greatest hit.
The pop-rock tune charted highest in Australia upon its official release in 1985, reaching the No. 4 spot, as well as breaking into the top ten in the UK and the US. Thanks to its upbeat manner and notoriety for being something of an earworm, Katrina and the Waves found moderate success with this track and became idolised as summery pop rockers.
25. Dodgy - Staying Out For The Summer (1995)
It is difficult to hear Dodgy's 1995 single, 'Staying Out For The Summer' without also hearing Blue Oyster Cult's 1976 classic, 'Don't Fear The Reaper'. That being said, it is intriguing to say the least that a song about the inevitability of death would see its main riff subtly utilised for a track about slaving away in the summer - "You see I work in a factory (I need the money), I don't want to be late (Though I hate this place)".
In a time where Britpop was king, Dodgy managed to stand out amidst the other sunny releases of '94-95, like 'Live Forever' by Oasis, 'Parklife' by Blur and 'All Right' by Supergrass. Although Dodgy might now be little more than a nostalgia act at for 40-somethings to relive their indie days, 'Staying Out For The Summer' is an ultimate 90s summer track destined for the seaside bank holiday weekend extravaganza.
24. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince - Summertime (1991)
'Summertime' is a haven of ethereal beats and soothing melodies, intended for radio airplay in scorching custom cars. Will 'The Fresh Prince' Smith's wordplay isn't anything poetic (albeit relatable), but what makes this track brilliant is the subtle sampling of Kool & The Gang's pleasant 1974 instrumental, 'Summer Madness' (with a nod given by Smith via the closing phrase, "And this is the Fresh Prince's new definition of summer madness").
'Summertime' is another song to feature on this list that investigates the idea of times of reflection being heightened in warm weather - "And as I think back makes me wonder how the smell from a grill could spark up nostalgia" - making it an ideal tune to do the same.
23. Eddie Cochran - Summertime Blues (1958)
Eddie Cochran's summer track isn't warm, nor nostalgic; instead, it is totally irresistible. Cochran's cries contrasting his use of melancholy bass vocals makes for a largely memorable rockabilly composition, and the percussion echoes through claps and taps, allowing a listener to seemingly visualise the room it was recorded in like some kind of bizarre echolocation.
Cochran's death at 21 was a tragedy, yet it secured him a place in rock 'n' roll legend, along with the likes of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. Perhaps it is his iconic status that boosts the impact of 'Summertime Blues'; an inkling of what he could have achieved in later life, considering the mesmerising music he had already created in small rooms with little more than a guitar and his voice.
22. Frank Sinatra - Summer Wind (1966)
The 'Sultan of Swoon' (as he is sometimes affectionately referred) may not be traditionally affiliated with summer, but that doesn't hinder the suave and gentle nature of the song 'Summer Wind'. Derived from a German song titled 'Der Sommerwind', the track has been sung by multiple artists, from Bobby Vinton to Barry Manilow, but Sinatra's rendition is perhaps the most warmly remembered.
The song features Sinatra at his best - cool, calm and delicate in his approach, with a song structure composed in such a way as to easily woo anybody fortunate enough to watch him sing it - a live performance of the track at Radio City Music Hall in New York expresses this beautifully.
21. Billy Idol - Hot In The City (1982)
Billy Idol's 1982 hit 'Hot In The City' is synonymous with the warmest season of the year, thanks to its memorable chorus and famous music video depicting Idol taking off his shirt and striking suggestive poses.
In this 'made for MTV' fashion, 'Hot In The City' became an ideal summer track, as well as a singalong 80s anthem to join the ranks of 'Born In The USA' by Bruce Springsteen and 'Don't Stop Believin'' by Journey. Idol's growling assertions and rebellious demeanor excel in making this a track for the 80s party goers as well as testosterone-fuelled teens.
The only issue here is keeping on the topic of summer - the 'heat' mentioned here is most certainly not given off by the sun...
20. The Surfaris - Wipe Out (1963)
'Wipe Out' is the only instrumental included on this list, and yet it is perhaps the most recognisable summer track - be it the howling laughter in the intro, the tribal drums, the repetitive riff or the music as a collective piece.
The Surfaris gained popularity with this joyful surfer's anthem, joining the likes of Dick Dale's 'Misirlou' as an ultimate surf rock classic. While the band did not go on to reach the same heights as say, The Beach Boys did, it was 'Wipe Out' that heralded them as pioneers of great American music, and the soundtracks of summer that followed.
19. Glenn Frey - The Heat Is On (1984)
Thanks to the iconic Beverley Hills Cop, Glenn Frey's 1984 hit holds a visual aspect to it not always achievable by other tracks. As it was written for the film, 'The Heat Is On' is now imagined among high-speed police chases in blistering heat. Frey's unique voice and the song's evident 80s era production only further secure it not only as a brilliant soundtrack but also as a standalone single.
'The Heat Is On' is best listened to as a summer driving song; the fast-paced rhythm, jazzy saxophone and cool lyricism penned by producers Harold Faltermeyer and Keith Forsey ensure its strength as a must-have for any summer songs list.
18. Billie Holiday - Summertime (1936)
There's something about hearing Billie Holiday sing that drives melancholy into the hearts of many. Strange then, that her 1936 rendition of 'Summertime' (written by songwriter George Gershwin) makes it on this list. In truth, it would be criminal not to include it. Holiday's woeful tones match the trumpets and lumbering bass well and turn the idea of what a summer track is on its head. And the lyrics: "One of these mornings you're gonna rise up singing, and you'll spread your wings and you'll take to the sky" - just utter poetry. The combination of Gershwin's words and Holiday's voice make for a fine example of pre-war jazz.
Legendary singer Ella Fitzgerald's cover of this track is also an absolute treat to listen to and is more than capable of bringing tears to the eyes, but it's Holiday's version that sends home the heart of a not-so-perfect summer, as well as the importance of early 20th-century musicianship.
17. The Isley Brothers - Summer Breeze (1974)
Although the original version by Seals & Crofts is brilliant, it's the Isley Brothers' take that reaches number 16 on this list, and the one which expertly fuses soulful notes, gut-busting funk and face-melting guitar work. The introduction itself is perhaps one of the most famous pieces of summer music, before the vocal harmonies of brothers Ronald, Rudolph and O'Kelly transcend into hazy caress.
The Isley Brothers' prolificacy is no secret and it is interesting to see that this huge hit (which again, is a cover) appears on their eleventh record - meaning the siblings showed no signs of slowing down before continuing on to become one of the most illustrious groups of the 20th century.
16. Sly & The Family Stone - Hot Fun In The Summertime (1969)
Beginning with a dainty piano, 'Hot Fun In The Summertime' quickly evolves into a dreamy pop record, immediately evoking sensations of gorgeous sunshine and frolics through parks. Sly and co. are renowned for their diverse composition, and this can be heard in full here; vocals that can be traced back to 1950s harmonies contrasting passionate bellows, a peculiar use of violins providing a backbone for the warm piano - the track is a jigsaw puzzle of instrumentation designed to fit the embodiment of chill.
In short, 'Hot Fun In The Summertime' is a charming, harmonious record, showcasing the funk and soul pioneers' ability to insert pleasing rhythms and hooks into impressive and complex songs.
15. Richard Marx - Endless Summer Nights (1988)
Opening with typical arena rock drums, Richard Marx's 'Endless Summer Nights' could immediately be passed off as a generic and forgettable 80s ballad. but through clever songwriting and heartfelt vocals, the 1988 hit resonates as a remarkable, nostalgic single, almost nodding at the 'hair metal' anthems at the time of booming production and stadium-filling snares. Not only this, but the track comes from the singer's first record - a compelling start to his career.
Marx's songwriting ability is not to be understated - he also went on to help pen Luther Vandross' heartbreaking 2003 classic, 'Dance With My Father'; one of the most open and personal songs ever written.
14. Bananarama - Cruel Summer (1983)
'Cruel Summer' is perhaps best known for its inclusion in the seminal 1984 film, The Karate Kid. Featuring bouncing synths and Bananarama's usual harmony-focused approach, the track not only encapsulates the fresh sounds of summer, but also the aesthetic of 1980s pop.
Of their catalogue, 'Cruel Summer' is likely the trio's most recognised hit, perhaps due to its nature of juxtaposition with depressive lyrics uttered through upbeat synths, or simply because it is a solid pop record, and one more than deserving of a place to represent the hottest season of the year.
13. Mungo Jerry - In The Summertime (1970)
'In The Summertime' is most certainly care-free and relaxed in its nature - perfect for being synonymous with summer. Mungo Jerry's 1970 hit isn't necessarily groundbreaking with its lyrics, nor its display of musical ability; instead, the song relies on repetition and simplicity, which is executed splendidly.
Jerry's nonsensical hums slotted between verses about looking for women in the sun make for light-hearted enjoyment, which is further heightened by sunny piano notes repeated over and over. This is a track that goes hand-in-hand with its video, too - just Jerry and the boys jamming in the sunshine, capturing the spirit of summer.
12. The Style Council - Long Hot Summer (1983)
'Long Hot Summer' is about as far from the material of the Jam as singer Paul Weller could get, and yet this Style Council hit is just as good as some of his previous band's greatest work.
Weller's chants of "don't matter what I do" are undeniably infectious, especially when followed by cool harmonies around the 2:08 mark. Inspiring notions of hazy, almost drunken relaxation, 'Long Hot Summer' is cleverly versatile, and yet not for a second does it appear to be anything less than focused.
11. Alice Cooper - School's Out (1972)
Children worldwide undoubtedly pair the sounds of the school bells ringing for the final time with their cherished summer holidays, and the season itself with it. Of course, if there had to be a track to go with this feeling, it would be Alice Cooper's 'School's Out'.
The opening riff is simply one of the greatest ever, with its glam-drenched epitome of hard rock, which combined with bawling choruses just adds to its singalong factor. Add a grand finale of schoolchildren bellowing out rebellious shouts of "no more pencils, no more books, no more teachers, dirty looks" and you get a classic rock anthem that should be the opener for anyone's last day at school.
10. Wham! - Club Tropicana (1983)
"Club Tropicana drinks are free, fun and sunshine there's enough for everyone" - could there possibly be a better chorus to play at the ultimate pool party?
George Michael's incredible vocals beam through the track, almost as if his smile itself is audible. The claps and rumbling bass provide a warm vibe as if the beaches of Oceania had their own song. 'Club Tropicana' might only be a feel-good track for the tanned and the margarita-starved, but it still manages to create a summery landscape through song alone.
9. Charles Trenet - La Mer (1946)
As is the case with many songs of old, 'La Mer' has dozens of different renditions, most notably Bobby Darin's 1959 English version. However, its Charles Trenet's original that makes this list, for its beauty, delicate progression and softly spoken notes.
Trenet's voice seems to improve throughout the 4 minutes or so, building to a trumpeting finale. As well as this, the plodding bass along with the dreamy strings make for a mystical track, certain to spark images of the sun, sea and sand in listeners young and old.
8. Martha And The Muffins - Echo Beach (1983)
Longing for loved ones in the summertime might even be cliché by now, but what about longing for a place? Of course, tracks like 'California Dreamin'' by the Mamas and the Papas come to mind (and would likely be in this list if it isn't for the fact the song technically takes place in winter), but it's 'Echo Beach' that proves longing for an idea or concept can be just as strong as a desire for that special person too.
Incontestably cool, wildly exciting and assuredly iconic, 'Echo Beach' features commendable guitar work, great lyrics and one of the finest opening riffs of the 1980s. If Echo Beach exists, it sure sounds like the place to be.
7. The Stranglers - Peaches (1977)
Many will remember this track as part of the opening sequence to Jonathan Glazer's 2000 British crime film, Sexy Beast, and honestly, Ray Winstone's lobster-coloured torso is a grand picture to go with one of the coolest tracks from the UK.
The Stranglers were constructive in a destructive environment, thanks to the throes of punk. 'Peaches' is a prime example of this, with misleading lyrics, erotic implications and downright groovy instrumentals - miles ahead of their vulgar counterparts. 'Peaches' is a true rock 'n' roll summer track, ideal for doing exactly what is says: walking on the beaches, looking at the peaches.
6. The Lovin' Spoonful - Summer In The City (1966)
If there is one song intended to describe the absolute hottest days on record, it would be this one. 'Summer In The City' is a bustling, hectic track with fast-paced changes; faultless for summarising summer in the urban metropolises.
What's astounding is that this was released in 1966 - regardless of the track's musical prowess and fascinating imagery, The Lovin' Spoonful could have released this as late as the mid-70s and it would surely sound just as new and exciting then. Utterly timeless.
5. Bryan Adams - Summer of '69 (1985)
Love it or hate it, 'Summer of'69' is an air-guitarists dream. Bryan Adams' raspy voice recalling the legendary summer paired with thundering, powerful guitars could well be the incarnation of the American Dream - at least as far as a rock-obsessed teen is concerned.
Despite being vastly unignorable, the track falls short of being grating or cocky, thanks to Adams' lyrics remaining humble in their style. Even the most casual of fans can imagine the importance of that year, and the weight of the realisation that it has passed with it. With all of this in mind, 'Summer of '69' is still very much a party track, with only a pair of sunglasses and a household object in place of a guitar away from inciting belting singalongs.
4. The Beach Boys - All Summer Long (1964)
Frankly, a summer playlist without featuring the Beach Boys is unacceptable. Brian Wilson's sheer brilliance in orchestrating airy harmonies and twinkling guitars is a huge factor in the building blocks of American music, and the spirit of summertime tracks with it.
In truth, there are a multitude of Beach Boys tracks that could make most summer lists, but 'All Summer Long' is perhaps the most deserving, and not just because of its title. 'All Summer Long' is delightfully gratifying, and depicts Wilson and co. at their finest in terms of pop, before they went on to depart the surf scene and change the face of music with their stunning 11th record, Pet Sounds.
3. The Kinks - Sunny Afternoon (1966)
Even today, the Kinks remain a highly influential group, and 'Sunny Afternoon' is a notable milestone in their journey to becoming one of rock's greatest heroes.
Contrast is the key phrase here; singer Ray Davies dejected poetry is sung over whimsical summertime music, as he tells the story of how the downsides of fame and high levels of taxation have reduced him to a shadow of his former self. 'Sunny Afternoon' is the thinking man's summer song, where tales of the weary are still all too real to enjoy those warm afternoons.
2. Don Henley - The Boys Of Summer (1984)
Don Henley is the second and final ex-Eagles member to appear in this list, with his breathtaking hit, 'The Boys Of Summer'.
In terms of cloudless imagery, this track is second to none. Henley's visions of his significant other strike serious notions of summer for the reflective and sentimental: "But I can see you, your brown skin shining in the sun, you got your hair combed back and your sunglasses on, baby." The track is filled to the brim with sun-kissed rhythms, highlighted by the almost gull-like cries around the 2:43 mark. 'The Boys Of Summer' is a masterpiece of artistic genius, and supersedes much of Henley's Eagles-era material before it.
1. The Lotus Eaters - The First Picture Of You (1983)
The Lotus Eaters were a short-lived new wave band - nothing remarkable and timeless in itself, but it is their implicitly magical summer track that has stood the test of time.
Of all the entries in this list, none managed to combine beautifully sung lyrics, mystical imagery and enchanting guitars in such a way that epitomises the true meaning of summer the way The Lotus Eaters did. Without a shadow of a doubt, 'The First Picture Of You' is the greatest summer track of all time. They just don't make them like this anymore.