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Best Summer Songs: 20 Classic Sun-Worshipping Anthems
Ibrahim Rifath
List & Guides

Best Summer Songs: 20 Classic Sun-Worshipping Anthems

Like the season that inspired them, the best summer songs can be balmy, blissful and sometimes bittersweet…

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We all long for the coming of summer, when the daylight feels endless, and our spirits rise with the temperature. Accordingly, it’s no surprise to discover that pop history is full of fantastic songs which extol the joys of sun, sea and sand, as well as plenty more that explore the season’s darker shadows. Here we open the curtains and let some sunshine in with the 20 best summer songs.

Listen to our ‘Summer’ playlist here, and check out our best summer songs, below.

20: The Pogues: Summer In Siam (1990)

Superficially, Shane MacGowan seems an unlikely figure to associate with songs about scorching sunshine, beaches and ice cream. However, during the late 80s, the legendary Pogues frontman developed a taste for Asian holidays, with his love of Thailand punctuating his lyrics for the band’s fifth album, Hell’s Ditch, in typically rambunctious fashion. Thailand also inspired that album’s House Of Gods and Sayonara, but the melancholic Summer In Siam (“When the moon is full of rainbows”) is a suitably dreamy ode to an exotic summer season far away in time.

19: The Stranglers: Peaches (1977)

Peaches derived from The Stranglers’ songwriting duo Hugh Cornwell and JJ Burnel attempting to pen a reggae song. Though that didn’t quite happen, it led Burnel to the immortal bass figure which introduces this song’s loping groove, and Cornwell’s wonderfully lusty lyric about ogling girls “down on the beaches” at the height of the summer – something which leaves the singer needing to “take a swim to see if I can cool down a little bit”. A leering punk classic among the best summer songs, you could accuse Peaches of being less than politically correct, but are you really going to kick sand in the faces of The Men In Black? Nah, thought not.

18: The Doors: Summer’s Almost Gone (1968)

The Doors’ original intention was to make their epic Celebration Of The Lizard the centrepiece of their third album, Waiting For The Sun, but when it proved too elusive to nail in the studio, they drafted in several other tunes they’d kept in reserve. A staple of their early live sets, Summer’s Almost Gone was one of those called into service, and it carries the same undertow of wistful melancholia of other Doors classics such as You’re Lost Little Girl and Love Street. Jim Morrison’s poetic lyric (“Morning found us calmly unaware/Noon burned gold into our hair”) taps into the regret most of us feel when summer fades and the evenings begin to draw in come late August.

17: Elvis Costello: The Other Side Of Summer (1991)

With its Beach Boys-style harmonies and Phil Spector-esque “Wall Of Sound” production, Elvis Costello’s The Other Side Of Summer was something of a Trojan horse. Though apparently bearing all the hallmarks of a delectable pop hit, its window dressing concealed a satirical, eco-conscious lyric which sent up sunny Californian clichés (“From the foaming breakers to the poisonous surf/… To the burning forests in the hills of Astroturf”) in no uncertain terms. Nonetheless, The Other Side Of Summer was a minor hit and, even if it was designed as a pastiche, it’s still one of the best summer songs on its own terms.

15: Eddie Cochran: Summertime Blues (1958)

One of rock’n’roll’s greatest tales of teenage angst, Eddie Cochran’s seemingly ageless Summertime Blues was based around a struggle between a teenager and his parents, his boss and his congressman during the summer. The narrator resents having to take a job in order to earn pocket money, and he can’t go on a date with his girlfriend because his boss keeps scheduling him to work late. One of those great “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” human-nature stories, Summertime Blues had (and still has) a universal appeal, leading to it being covered by artists as disparate as The Who, Blue Cheer, The Beach Boys and Alan Jackson.

14: The Undertones: Here Comes The Summer (1979)

Though executed with all the energy and brevity of Ramones’ early work, The Undertones’ Here Comes The Summer had a lot more in common with The Beach Boys, with Feargal Sharkey extolling the virtues of “Looking for the girls with their faces all tanned/Lying on the beaches all covered in sand”. Effervescent, full of fun and all done and dusted in under one minute and 45 seconds, Here Comes The Summer may have been The Undertones’ shortest single, but it remains one of the longer-lasting efforts among the best summer songs.

13: Sly And The Family Stone: Hot Fun In The Summertime (1969)

Released on the back of their career-defining slot at Woodstock, Hot Fun In The Summertime was the ideal song to cement Sly And The Family Stone’s nascent popularity, and it was only kept off the top of the Billboard Hot 100 by The Temptations’ I Can’t Get Next To You. Even without the buzz building around Sly and co, it’s hard to see how this song could possibly have failed. With its stabs of brass, lively melodies and (unusually for Sly) subtle strings, it’s about as cool and joyous as great pop can be, and it’s still guaranteed to send the clouds packing on any given day of the year.

12: Jonathan Richman: That Summer Feeling (1983)

Like any artist worth their salt, Jonathan Richman has inevitably come up against the music industry’s inherent cynicism, yet his child-like sense of wonder has endured throughout a career that stretches the best part of five decades. Bearing in mind that this singular, Massachusetts-born singer-songwriter’s canon also includes delightful odes to ice-cream men, leprechauns and Abominable Snowmen, it’s no surprise that his unaffected view of the world also led Richman to penning That Summer Feeling, a song so full of the joys (and yearning sadness) of summers both past and present that it has demolished even the stoniest of hearts on its way to becoming one of the best summer songs of all time.

11: David Bowie: Memory Of A Free Festival (1969)

Originally recorded as the seven-minute finale for his self-titled second album in 1969, but then re-recorded and released as a single in 1970, David Bowie’s Memory Of A Free Festival related directly to the artist’s appearance at the free festival held at Beckenham’s Croydon Road Recreation Ground in August 1969. Generally recalled as a good-natured, if rather haphazard affair where Bowie’s soon-to-be wife Angie flipped burgers on a wheelbarrow barbecue, the event inspired this dreamy summer anthem with a communal singalong outro (“The Sun Machine is coming down, and we’re gonna have a party”) not so far removed from The Beatles’ Hey Jude.

10: The Style Council: Long Hot Summer (1983)

Paul Weller was very much the angry young voice of a generation when he was in The Jam, but he flipped the script with his next project, The Style Council, whose early records explored Weller and fellow Councillor Mick Talbot’s love of soul and jazz. Accordingly, the pair’s third single was Long Hot Summer: a suitably beatific ballad which, as one of the best summer songs of the era, was in the perfect position to scale the Top 10 (it peaked at No.3) while the UK was gripped by a heatwave during the summer of 1983.

9: Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta: Summer Nights (1978)

Theoretically, you could say it’s risky releasing a song called Summer Nights at the end of August, when the summer’s slipping away. That was largely irrelevant in 1978, however, when both the UK and the US were gripped by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s musical, Grease. The film’s two leading stars, Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, had already racked up a blockbuster hit with You’re The One That I Want, and when the ubiquitous (and insanely catchy) Summer Nights took up where that song left off, it raced to No.1 and ensured 1978 had an extended summer on both sides of the Atlantic.

8: Ramones: Rockaway Beach (1977)

On paper, the idea of iconic New York City punks Ramones writing one of the best summer songs may seem like a joke. However, it’s important to remember that “Da Bruddas” also had the greatest respect for pop’s heritage, and they distilled their influences to create a truly evocative summer pop-punk anthem with 1977’s Rockaway Beach. The opening lines (“Chewin’ out a rhythm on my bubble gum/The sun is out and I want some”) are spot-on. From thereon in you can almost feel the hot asphalt and spraying fire hydrants of The Big Apple’s overheated summer sidewalks.

7: Mungo Jerry: In The Summertime (1970)

There’s nothing like starting how you mean to go on, and UK quartet Mungo Jerry did just that when their debut single, In The Summertime, spent seven weeks at the top of the UK singles chart before eventually moving over 30 million copies globally. Written by the group’s mutton-chops-sporting frontman, Ray Dorset, the song was a highly unlikely tip for the top, as it was ostensibly a throwback to the pre-Beatles skiffle craze, performed using arcane instruments such as banjos, cabasas and a stand-up string bass. However, its gleeful celebration of carefree summer days was married to a tune so infectious, it burned its way up the charts.

6: Madonna: Holiday (1983)

Still shining bright as one of pop music’s best summer songs, Holiday is also one of Madonna’s most important releases, in that it provided her breakthrough hit, peaking at No.16 in the US and No.2 in the UK. Written by Pure Energy’s Curtis Hudson and Lisa Stevens, Holiday came to Madonna via producer John “Jellybean” Benitez, who also saw the potential in a song expressing the universal appeal of taking a vacation somewhere warm and bright. Holiday’s sentiments are fluffier than those found on many of Madonna’s hits, but she’s clearly retained some affection for the song, performing it during encores on most of her subsequent tours.

5: Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber: I Don’t Care (2019)

Collaborations between Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber stretch back to the pair co-writing Bieber’s 2015 song Love Yourself, but nothing they worked on captured the imagination like I Don’t Care, which was chosen as the lead single from Sheeran’s No.6 Collaborations Project. Flooring the competition, it topped the charts in no less than 26 countries, including the UK. With hindsight, everything about I Don’t Care screams “summer smash”, with the duo donning Hawaiian shirts for promo photos and shooting a fun, poolside video which works perfectly in tandem with a tune forever destined to rank among the best summer songs.

4: The Lovin’ Spoonful: Summer In The City (1966)

Another classic which sought to evoke summer in an urban setting, The Lovin’ Spoonful’s Summer In The City utilised ambient noises such as car horns and jackhammers to reflect the sound of a noisy city street. It was perhaps more significant that the song had such a beguiling melody, but some thought clearly went into its release, as the song first appeared on US Independence Day, 4 July, and claimed the Billboard Hot 100’s top spot for three weeks in August 1966 – the first and only time John Sebastian’s revered NYC folk-rock outfit topped the US singles chart.

3: Gorillaz: Humility (2018)

The first single lifted from Gorillaz’s sixth album, The Now Now, Humility featured a contribution from legendary US guitarist George Benson, and it had all the hallmarks of a summer smash, with Irish website JOE describing it as “arguably the most summer-y sounding song ever”. In retrospect, it’s hard to disagree, yet even though the song’s naturally sunny disposition was further accentuated by a brilliant promo video which featured the band’s 2-D roller-skating around California’s Venice Beach, interspersed with a cameo from Jack Black, Humility was only a minor hit. Still, its unexpected lack of chart recognition doesn’t change the fact that it’s one of the best summer songs of any year.

2: Katrina And The Waves: Walking On Sunshine (1985)

Though they actually enjoyed significant success in Canada and mainland Europe during their two-decade career, most people tend to refer to Katrina And The Waves as “two-hit wonders”, as the Cambridge-based quartet had a huge worldwide smash with Walking On Sunshine in 1985, and then belatedly won Eurovision Song Contest with Love Shine A Light in 1997. Despite the latter’s unexpected success, Walking On Sunshine arguably remains their signature song, and its bouncy, Motown-lite beat is every bit as summery as its title suggests.

1: The Kinks: Sunny Afternoon (1966)

As the likes of End Of The Season, Autumn Almanac and Rainy Day In Waikiki also prove, weather and the changing seasons have figured prominently in Ray Davies’ formidable body of work. However, The Kinks’ frontman truly hit a nerve with 1966’s Sunny Afternoon: a brilliantly-drawn (and universally appealing) portrait of a raffish aristocrat who’s been royally stiffed by everyone from the taxman to his girlfriend. Catching the mood of the moment, Sunny Afternoon topped the UK charts for two weeks in the summer of 1966 and more than earns its place at the top of our list of the best summer songs of all time.

Can’t take the heat? Check out our best Christmas songs for more seasonal surprises.

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