It's a well-known fact that the act of humming helps alleviate the effects of severe summer heat. And if you swallow that, you may also believe it when we assure that there was an entirely scientific basis for this ranking of the 50 greatest summer songs of all time!
Before you protest, know that we left out tunes that have "summer" in the title but are really more about the spiritual dog days of winter (like Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer") or only mention the season as part of a random succession of lines (like Frank Sinatra's "I Like New York in June"). No, we were looking for songs that really get at the spirit of summer, in all its sweat and sexiness and solstice hope. Soak up the sun with us, won't you?
1. "SUMMER IN THE CITY" The Lovin' Spoonful
The agony and the ecstasy! The genius of this No. 1 smash from 1966 is how it captures the best and worst of summer—demarcated, among the working class in some sweaty towns, by the moment the sun goes down.
2. "SCHOOL'S OUT" Alice Cooper
Since 1972, the only last-day-of-class song that matters. And the soundtrack for a hundred million schoolboy riot fantasies.
3. "DANCING IN THE STREET" Martha and the Vandellas
The musical block party to end all block parties. It became a sort of de facto civil rights anthem in the '60s, even though it was inspired by nothing more noble than the sight of Detroit kids cooling off in the spray of a fire hydrant.
4. "SUMMER NIGHTS" John Travolta and Olivia-Newton John
He said/she said. Or, she crushed/he lusted. Come September, whose brain cells are really un-fried enough to remember exactly how it went down, anyway?
5. "ALL SUMMER LONG" The Beach Boys
The greatest end-of-summer song, ever... re-immortalized when George Lucas used it as the final number of American Graffiti. But you don't have to wait till it's time to look back on Labor Day to enjoy a tune that invokes cut-offs, thongs (the 1960s kind), and miniature golf.
6. "SUMMERTIME" DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
"Let the Alpine blast," indeed! That product placement may make Will Smith's 1991 hit sound slightly dated, but it was still fresh enough for the former rapper to perform at the Men in Black 3 premiere.
7. "4th OF JULY, ASBURY PARK (SANDY)" Bruce Springsteen
Way back on Bruce's second album, he captured the magnificent allure of the carnival and pier for young lovers, in a fashion that combined the Drifters' romanticism with his then-Dylanesque wordiness.
8. "UNDER THE BOARDWALK" The Drifters
Speaking of the Drifters, they really had the under/over differential of summer down pat. You could find them escaping the stifling indoors up on the roof or down under the bustle of busy feet.
9. "CALIFORNIA GURLS" Katy Perry
There is a dress code for womenfolk in summer. Thank God Katy "Daisy Dukes, Bikinis On Top" Perry finally put it in writing.
10. "THAT SUMMER FEELING" Jonathan Richman
The wistful qualities of summer—longing for childhood, or maybe an anticipated nostalgia for the magic of right now—have never been captured in song more beautifully than in cult idol Richman's ballad.
11. "SUMMERTIME BLUES" Eddie Cochran
Oh, we can think of plenty of cures—most of them elucidated in the other songs on this list. But let's humor Eddie as he names the many, many ways that summer can bring a teenager down, not the least of which is an uncaring Congress.
12. "SUMMERTIME, SUMMERTIME" The Jamies
This 1958 song is actually the reason the falsetto was invented.
13. "GOOD DAY SUNSHINE" The Beatles
Not necessarily just a summer song—and, as we know, any day where the sun comes out in the Beatles' native country is a good-to-great one. Regardless of what season he wrote it, Paul McCartney knows better than anyone how to put a spring in our summer step.
14. "CRUEL SUMMER" Bananarama
The 1980s were cruel in so many ways, not the least of which was the cruel and unusual punishment chemically inflicted upon innocent hair. But the summers could be particularly unfeeling when it came to keeping young girls' hearts intact.
15. "4th OF JULY" X
Another lovers' squabble, this one unresolved, in a mid-tempo ballad written by Dave Alvin for L.A.'s greatest post-'70s rock band. Are the "Mexican kids out shooting fireworks blow" there to help blow up what's left of the couple's love, or to urge them toward an explosively sexy reconciliation?
16. "HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME" Sly & the Family Stone
A little bit of soul makes perspiration suddenly feel like inspiration.
17. "JUNE IS BUSTING OUT ALL OVER" Audra McDonald
This ode to suddenly emerging summer hormones is always the high-energy point of any production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel. We're partial to the version sung by McDonald in the mid-'90s in her breakout role in the Broadway revival.
18. "SUMMERTIME" Janis Joplin
So many versions of Gershwin's "Summertime," so little time. But Joplin's scorching rendition is the one we most want to give the time of day to.
19. "SURFER GIRL" The Beach Boys
Okay, so every Beach Boys song that predated Pet Sounds was a classic summer song, pretty much. Brian Wilson and company found an early peak with this veneration of the quintessential Girl of Summer, an all-American yet almost mythical figure sending out her siren song from the crest of a Pacific swell.
20. "HEAT WAVE" Martha & the Vandellas
It's not the heat, it's the stupidity, of falling hopelessly in love. Or maybe the humidity. Who knows? Metaphors sometimes become reality when love gives you a case of the vapors.
21. "ROCKAWAY BEACH" The Ramones
This punk classic starts off by referring to the Drifters' "Up on the Roof" before concluding, somewhat irrefutably, that the beach is an even better place to escape the heat.
22. "SUMMER BREEZE" Seals & Crofts
A 1970s Top 40 standard to cool off by. Think of all the junior-high kids of the period who were disappointed to learn that the jasmine mentioned in the chorus was not something you can smoke.
23. "THE SUMMER WIND" Frank Sinatra
Here's something Seals & Crofts didn't tell you: That summer breeze is fickle. And it'll take your baby away without so much as a hurricane warning.
24. "VACATION" The Go-Go's
Belinda Carlisle and company didn't seem to be having any easier a time of it than fellow girl group Bananarama. Thank heaven, then, for the curative powers of waterskiing!
25. "SUMMER LOVE" Justin Timberlake
Timberlake promises his conquest that their romance will not be "just" a summer love. And, of course, nothing says sincere, undying commitment like "I'm-a freak it right."
37. "GIRLS IN THEIR SUMMER CLOTHES" Bruce Springsteen
In this gorgeously aching, underrated classic from Magic, the Boss can appreciate the aesthetics of girl-watching, but he's melancholy anyway. And how sad is that?
27. "SATURDAY IN THE PARK" Chicago
What day is it again? Wait, let's think...
28. "4th OF JULY" Shooter Jennings
That's right, Independence Day! Waylon's son will never write a hookier tune—and neither, for that matter, will almost anyone else—than this instant country-rock classic from the early 2000s.
29. "4th OF JULY" Aimee Mann
But if you want the most non-celebrative possible variation on America's birthday, check out the beautiful bummer of a ballad from Mann, who looks at the fireworks and, lost in her funk, can only proclaim, "What a waste of gunpowder and sky."
30. "THE OTHER SIDE OF SUMMER" Elvis Costello
Aimee Mann isn't the only one to find a dark side to the sunniest time of year. Costello's early '90s single brilliantly looks toward the flip side of summer and even cleverly has Beach Boys-style backing harmonies while he warns about "the poisonous surf." "There's magic and there's malice in every season," he concludes, and surely not even Brian Wilson would argue.
31. "SURF CITY" Jan and Dean
If you sometimes mistake this for a Beach Boys song, the sun isn't playing tricks on your head: Brian Wilson was its primary writer. "Two girls for every boy"—that's good news for Jan and Dean, but even worse news for the already-suffering female protagonists in the Bananarama and Go-Go's songs.
32. "IN THE SUMMERTIME" Mungo Jerry
33. "LONG HOT SUMMER" Keith Urban
Is there any innocent physical expression a girl could do that better says "I'm into you" than putting her bare feet on a car dashboard? Keith Urban knows there is not.
34. "SUNNY AFTERNOON" The Kinks
Lazy is good, right? Surely everyone is familiar with the justifiable inertia defense?
35. "SUMMER NIGHT CITY" ABBA
This ode to the hours after dark picked up where the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City" left off, give or take a decade: At the disco.
36. "IT MUST BE SUMMER" Fountains of Wayne
Hurry, sundown... if not autumn. The singer's girl is nowhere to be found, even on Long Island Sound. And so, forlorn, he proclais: "The sun is beating me senseless/I feel defenseless like a dying lamb/I don't wan't to lie by the oceanside/Don't want to play in the sand/Can't you understand?"
37. "SUMMER OF LOVE" The B-52s
The new wave faves' anthem wasn't a paean to Haight-Asbury's Summer of Love, but rather love itself. And also, incidentally, "orange popsicles and lemonade."
38. "REMEMBER (WALKING IN THE SAND)" The Shangri-Las
We remember this girl-group lament so fondly that we even liked the Aerosmith remake.
39. "YOU TOOK THE WORDS RIGHT OUT OF MY MOUTH (HOT SUMMER NIGHT)" Meat Loaf
Speaking of girl groups, that sound was recaptured brilliantly in this Spectorian extravaganza.
40. "SOAK UP THE SUN" Sheryl Crow
It seems like Crow was trying to be a little bit ironic with this ray-soaked ode to summer mindlessness... but it's the unofficial Tanning Mom theme song anyway.
41. "IT'S TOO HOT FOR WORDS" Billie Holiday
Fortunately, she's not speechless, or this jazzy 1935 track would have been an instrumental.
42. "TOO DARN HOT" Ella Fitzgerald
Ella has a word for the heat, though, and it's darn. Since it's so doggone steamy anyway, so why not throw more Cole Porter on the fire?
43. "NEVER DREAMED YOU'D LEAVE IN SUMMER" Stevie Wonder
He prefers autumn leavers, you see.
44. "HOLIDAY ROAD" Lindsey Buckingham
Ain't no cure for the summertime blues like a road trip.
45. "SUMMER FLING" k.d. lang
The Percy Faith-style strings add a perfect touch to her tale of what can go on in a summer place.
46. "CONSTRUCTIVE SUMMER" The Hold Steady
"Summer grant us all the power/To drink on top of water towers," sings Craig Finn, pining for high school days.
47. "THOSE LAZY-HAZY-CRAZY DAYS OF SUMMER" Nat King Cole
Here's one that, in the words of Paul McCartney, your mother should know.
48. "SUMMER'S KISS" Afghan Whigs
Greg Dulli pines like a mofo for his childhood summer of 1973.
49. "ALL SUMMER LONG" Kid Rock
More '70s nostalgia, this time dragging Skynyrd and Zevon into the reverie.
50. "SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER" The Happenings
For every summer-only romance among the young, there are five longer-term love affairs that are interrupted as students go their separate ways between the school years. "Have a good time, but remember, there is danger in the summer moon above! Will I see you in September, or lose you to a summer love?" If Danny Zuko is involved, blazer boys, your odds pretty much suck.
But that's not all! Here are some more from the summer honor roll:
"SUMMER BABE" Pavement
"YOUR SUMMER DREAM" The Beach Boys
"SUMMERTIME" Billy Stewart
"EVENING IN JUNE" Van Morrison
"SUMMER'S NOT HOT" Selena Gomez
"LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND" Pat Boone
"HERE COMES SUMMER" The Dave Clark Five
"LONG HOT SUMMER DAYS" Sara Watkins
"A SUMMER SONG" Chad and Jeremy
"SUMMER MOOD" Best Coast
"JULY, JULY" The Decemberists
"HOT SUMMER DAY" It's a Beautiful Day
"THE HISSING OF SUMMER LAWNS" Joni Mitchell
"SUMMERTIME" Kenny Chesney
"MY SUMMER VACATION" Ice Cube
"THEME FROM 'A SUMMER PLACE'" Percy Faith
- Arts & Entertainment