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Best Summer Songs: 60 Classic Sun-Worshipping Anthems
List & Guides

Best Summer Songs: 60 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 60 best summer songs.

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

60: Pink and Willow Sage Hart: Cover Me In Sunshine (2021)

Recording Cover Me In Sunshine was very much a family affair for Pink, who shared vocals with her daughter, Willow Sage Hart, on this bright, poppy track which debuted on TikTok in February 2021 before seeing official release through RCA later in the year. Though only a relatively minor hit in the US, Cover Me In Sunshine became a feel-good anthem across Europe, going Top 10 in numerous countries.

59: Megan Thee Stallion (featuring Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign: Hot Girl Summer (2019)

Thanks to social media, the term “hot girl summer” had gone some way to entering the lexicon even before this song was released. In July 2019, the phrase, which stems from a line on an earlier Megan Thee Stallion song, Cash Shit, went viral, leading to the rush-release of this high-profile collaboration between Megan, Trinidadian rapper Nicki Minaj and US singer Ty Dolla $ign. Boosted by its colourful music video, Hot Girl Summer was a hedonistic paean to the joys of a pool party, and its across-the-board appeal made it an instant entry among the best summer songs of all time.

58: Duran Duran: Violence Of Summer (Love’s Taking Over) (1990)

After experiencing stellar success during the early half of the 80s, Duran Duran struggled somewhat through the following decade. Recorded by a new line-up in which original members Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and John Taylor were joined by guitarist Warren Cuccurullo and future David Bowie drummer Sterling Campbell, the band’s sixth album, Liberty, received a low-key welcome at a time when the indie-dance crossover was all the rage, but it still peaked at No. 8 in the UK and spawned several cuts that deserve a place among the best Duran Duran songs, not least the suitably seasonal Top 20 hit Violence Of Summer (Love’s Taking Over).

57: 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.

56: Peter Andre (featuring Bubbler Ranx): Mysterious Girl (1995)

Upon its re-release as a single in the summer of 1996, Mysterious Girl climbed to No.2 in the UK, and it has remained a pop-reggae party favourite ever since. Thanks largely to a steamy music video shot in Thailand, featuring Peter Andre flaunting his six-pack in a tropical lagoon, the song positively radiates with feel-good vibes, its infectious chorus and irresistible rhythm proving perfect for lazy afternoons in the sunshine. Sure to get hips swaying, Mysterious Girl remains an upbeat pick-me-up among the best summer songs of all time.

55: 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.

54: Blondie: In The Sun (1976)

Blondie’s love of classic 60s pop is writ large all over their self-titled debut album, with songs such as X Offender and In The Flesh reflecting their admiration for girl groups the likes of The Ronettes and The Crystals, and Phil Spector productions in general. Using this rule of thumb, it’s not such a stretch to imagine the new-wave icons doffing the cap to surf music, either – and they do so with enthusiasm on In The Sun, with Debbie Harry even exclaiming “Surf’s up!” as the song’s main riff kicks in. In The Sun is more evocative of Dick Dale’s guitar twang than it is of The Beach Boys’ heavenly harmonies, and when they stir in a splash of punky aggression, this most urban of New York City bands realise one of the best summer songs about escaping from the concrete jungle.

 

53: 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.

52: 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.

51: 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.

50: 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.

49: Jane’s Addiction: Summertime Rolls (1988)

Replete with swirling psychedelia, the trippy alt-rock ballad Summertime Rolls, from Jane’s Addiction’s 1988 album, Nothing’s Shocking, is a lovesick ray of sunshine that ripples across the waterways of the soul. After lulling the listener into reverie, vocalist Perry Farrell erupts into a howling mantra about the swell of summertime, the band crashing around him like frothing waves with woozy abandon. One of the best summer songs, Summertime Rolls proves that Jane’s Addiction’s eclecticism went far beyond their more well-known funk-rock hits such as Been Caught Stealing; ebbing and flowing throughout, it’s well worth diving into.

48: a-ha: Summer Moved On (2000)

Another summer song which feels the chill of the oncoming autumn, a-ha’s glorious Summer Moved On opened with Morten Harket dreamily intoning, “Summer moved on/And the way it goes you can’t tag along.” The song was crucial to restarting the Norwegian stars’ career after a lengthy hiatus during the late 90s, and it was written swiftly after they agreed to a one-off reunion for the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize concert. Quickly asserting itself as one of the best a-ha songs, Summer Moved On then played a larger part of their comeback in 2000, when it became a radio hit across Europe and went on to move over two and a half million copies worldwide.

47: Led Zeppelin: Dancing Days (1973)

Led Zeppelin may not seem like immediate contenders for a place among the best summer songs, but the iconic rockers celebrated the year’s longest days in style on the Houses Of The Holy album standout Dancing Days, in which Robert Plant fervently observed, “Dancing days are here again, as summer evenings grow.” Indeed, with its sinewy, Eastern-flavoured riffs and hip-shaking groove, Dancing Days was so catchy that it even became one of the few official singles released during Led Zeppelin’s lifetime, albeit only in the US.

46: ABBA: Summer Night City (1978)

Perhaps because it was sandwiched between two much bigger hits, Thank You For The Music and Chiquitita, Summer Night City is often regarded as one of ABBA’s lesser singles. With hindsight, though, this heartfelt paean to the joys of summer in the band’s hometown of Stockholm was something of a triumph. Its driving rhythm has a motorik quality which makes it sound edgier than most ABBA songs, and this hypnotic allure ensures the song can still fill dancefloors today.

45: Queens Of The Stone Age: Feel Good Hit Of The Summer (2000)

Whatever the best summer songs may be, they’re rarely provocative, but Queens Of The Stone Age gleefully broke that mould with 2000’s Feel Good Hit Of The Summer: a song which got up more than a few noses (no pun intended) with its references to a smorgasbord of drugs.

Frontman Josh Homme claimed that the substances reeled off during the song – nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy, alcohol and cocaine – were deliberately chosen in response to QOTSA’s status as a “stoner-rock” band, and, as he later stressed in Joel McIver’s No One Knows: The Queens Of The Stone Age Story, Feel Good Hit Of The Summer “doesn’t say yes or no” as to the band’s own stance on taking them. The public, however, readily took this chemically-challenged anthem to their heart, and it even entered the UK Top 40 on the way to helping its acclaimed parent album, Rated R, go gold.

44: The Go-Go’s: Vacation (1982)

A new-wave summer sensation, Vacation gave all-girl outfit The Go-Go’s their second and final US Top 10 hit in the summer of 1982, and also provided their second album with its title song.

Adapted from a tune with the same title written and recorded by bassist Kathy Valentine’s previous band, The Textones, Vacation is as bright and breezy as the best summer songs get, and – to ram the point home – it came backed with a surf-rock B-side, Beatnik Beach. Strategically released in late June 1982, to catch the midsummer vibe full-on, Vacation peaked at No.8 in the US and became the first known cassette single (or “cassingle”), as released by IRS Records.

43: Kool & The Gang: Summer Madness (1974)

The laidback Summer Madness was arguably the highlight of Kool & The Gang’s fifth studio album, Light Of Worlds: a record now regarded as one of the high-water marks of jazz-funk. However, while the sophisticated Summer Madness was a minor standalone hit on the Billboard Hot 100, its legacy is far more impressive. Starting a trend in 1991, DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince sampled the tune for their hit Summertime, opening the door for Summer Madness to be wholeheartedly embraced by the hip-hop community. As of 2020, around 150 recordings were known to have lifted from it.

42: Chicago: Saturday In The Park (1972)

Written by Chicago’s frontman, Robert Lamm – who also plays its primary piano motif – the million-selling Saturday In The Park became the group’s highest-charting single (US No.3) at the time of its release, and its success helped its parent album, Chicago V, top the Billboard 200 in 1972.

However, while it’s now regarded as a soft-rock classic, Saturday In The Park is often misrepresented as a paean to US Independence Day. The lyrics do mention 4 July, but the song was actually a more general observation of a summer weekend in New York (“… it was really kind of that peace and love thing that happened in Central Park and in many parks all over the world… where people just relax and enjoy each other’s presence”, Lamm told Billboard). Saturday In The Park secured its spot among the best summer songs after the band aligned their singer’s words with a glorious tune which swings by like the proverbial late-summer breeze.

41: Red Hot Chili Peppers: Black Summer (2022)

As glorious a song as any to welcome their gifted but mercurial guitarist John Frusciante back into the fold, Black Summer made for a deep, soulful prelude to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ chart-topping 2022 album, Unlimited Love. A song with depth and a restrained power akin to the Chili Peppers’ signature hit Under The Bridge, Black Summer revelled in a reflective end-of-the-season vibe and captured consummate performances from all four members of the band.

40: 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.

39: Deftones: My Own Summer (Shove It) (1997)

With the release of their breakthrough single, My Own Summer (Shove It), Deftones proved that some of the best summer songs can be laced with angst. One of the first songs to be dubbed “nu-metal”, My Own Summer was the lead release from the Sacramento rockers’ second album, Around The Fur, and it broached the UK Top 30 late in 1997, thanks in part to a memorable promo video directed by Dean Karr which starred the band performing on a set of floating anti-shark cages. After a shark appears in the water and frontman Chino Moreno falls into the sea, the video fades out leaving viewers to draw their own conclusions as to the singer’s fate.

38: DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince: Summertime (1991)

Released in 1991, during the height of hip-hop’s golden era, and standing the test of time as one of the genre’s best summer songs, Summertime, by DJ Jazzy Jeff And The Fresh Prince, will have you chillin’ out, maxin’ and relaxin’ all cool. Featuring Will Smith’s laidback flow and Jazzy Jeff’s smooth production, the song memorably samples Kool And The Gang’s Summer Madness, with lyrics reflecting upon everything from mall hangouts to backyard barbeques (“The smell from a grill could spark up nostalgia”). With playful storytelling primed to evoke memories of long-forgotten summer vacations, it’s easy to see why Summertime became a school-disco favourite. It can still boom-shake-the-room whenever it’s spun.

37: Dire Straits: Twisting By The Pool (1983)

Released on the ExtendedancEPlay back in January 1983, Twisting By The Pool is a cool, 50s-inspired rocker that’ll get listeners donning their sunglasses and bathing suits in no time. Soundtracking a pool party on the “Costa Del Magnifico”, Mark Knopfler’s rockabilly guitar riffs send whiffs of sunblock floating through the air, ushering in the pleasures of the season the world over, and ensuring that Twisting By The Pool is one of the best summer songs to get hips swinging.

36: 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.

35: Herbie Mann: Summertime (1961)

With lyrics supplied by DuBose Heyward, George Gershwin’s Summertime was first composed for the 1935 opera Porgy And Bess, but it’s since become one of the most covered – and instantly recognisable – songs of the 20th century.

Billie Holiday first took Summertime onto the US pop charts in 1936, but this haunting and versatile tune has gone on to lend itself to (often highly inventive) reworkings by artists as diverse as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, Sam Cooke, Ricky Nelson and The Fun Boy Three. All the above are worth checking out, though jazz star Herbie Mann cut an especially resonant version of the track, which was later sampled by Californian skate-punks Sublime on their 1997 hit Doin’ Time.

34: Daft Punk (featuring Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgers): Get Lucky (2013)

With top-drawer guest spots from The Neptunes’ producer Pharrell Williams and Chic’s Nile Rodgers, Daft Punk’s Get Lucky became an inescapable party anthem in the summer of 2013. Peaking at No.1 in the UK and No.2 in the US, the song finds Pharrell partying the night away and basking in the lustful glow of his flirtatious whims (“She’s up all night till the sun/I’m up all night to get some”). Both nostalgic and fresh, Nile Rodgers’ funky guitar riffs mesh perfectly with Daft Punk’s club-friendly soundbed, making the song a sure-fire summer floor-filler guaranteed to get everyone feeling blessed.

33: 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.

32: Third Eye Blind: Semi-Charmed Life (1997)

Despite songwriter Stephan Jenkins later admitting that it was about addition to crystal meth, Third Eye Blind’s Semi-Charmed Life deserves to rank highly on any list of the best summer songs. With perky and energetic power-pop guitar riffs and a catchy vocal hook, the upbeat sound and carefree melody of this highlight from Third Eye Blind’s self-titled debut album helped the song peak at No.4 in the US and guaranteed its place in history as a post-grunge summer anthem. One of the best Third Eye Blind songs, Semi-Charmed Life may, indeed, deal with dark themes, but its lyrics also evoke the joys of being outdoors at the beach (“I believe in the sand beneath my toes/The beach gives a feeling, an earthy feeling”), ensuring that it also encapsulates the highs and lows of summer.

31: 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.

30: Alice Cooper: School’s Out (1972)

At first glance, it might seem strange to include a song with such an anti-authority message as Alice Cooper’s ferocious School’s Out in this list, but the best summer songs don’t necessarily have to reference sun, sea and sand. Indeed, not only does this perennially relevant anthem make it clear that “school’s out for summer” but, as the title track to Alice Cooper’s School’s Out album, its speculative lines “Out for summer, out ’til fall/We might not come back at all” still strike a chord with every kid reluctant to give up the freedom afforded by the summer holidays that punctuate the turning of each academic year.

29: 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.

28: The Rivieras: California Sun (1964)

Transporting listeners to the sun-speckled beaches of The Golden State, California Sun, by The Rivieras, is a surf-rock classic that makes a splash on our list of the best summer songs. Sung from the perspective of a young beach-goer heading to the sandy shores to find love, the song is propelled by lively guitar riffs and a shimmying rhythm that saw it peak at No.5 in the US back in 1964, thanks to its sunny disposition (“Well, I’m goin’ out west out on the coast/Where the California girls are really the most”). Later covered by Ramones, the original is just as exhilarating as anything the NYC punks could cook up, dripping with all the youthful energy and optimism of a surfer parading around Santa Cruz.

27: Bryan Adams: Summer Of ’69 (1985)

Bryan Adams’ Summer Of ’69 tackled the dilemma of yearning for youthful idealism while making the transition into the competitive adult world, and with a universal message allied to one of Adams’ most fist-pumping tunes, it’s no surprise that the single flew to No.5 in the US upon release during the summer of ’85. Long since accepted as one of Adams’ signature songs, Summer Of ’69 still wins numerous accolades (it’s officially the most-played song on Canadian radio, among songs recorded by Canadians and originally released before 1990) and it will forever rank among the world’s best summer songs.

26: The Velvet Underground: Who Loves The Sun? (1970)

It might seem unlikely that The Velvet Underground – arguably the darkest, hippest proto-indie rock act of them all – could have written a tune that stands among the best summer songs. However, if you consider that the likes of Heroin and The Black Angel’s Death Song had always been leavened by glorious pop outings such as Sunday Morning and Pale Blue Eyes, it’s not really such a stretch.

Besides, by the time of their fourth album, Loaded, the Velvets were openly striving for a bona fide chart hit. The avant-garde-leaning John Cale had been replaced by the more melodically inclined Doug Yule, and Velvets mainman Lou Reed even let Yule sing lead vocals on several Loaded tracks, including the bittersweet Who Loves The Sun. Released as the album’s lead single, it missed the charts despite being as gloriously summery as they come.

25: Chris Rea: On The Beach (1986)

A radiant gem among the best summer songs, On The Beach was Chris Rea’s ode to the Spanish coast. Inspired by the Balearic island of Formentera, its beaming guitar riff and laidback groove sonically evokes the glow of the Mediterranean sun, with the Middlesbrough-born rocker penning lyrics to match (“Upon a summer wind there’s a certain melody/Takes me back to the place that I know”). While a remix by German trance duo York turned the track into a club classic in 2000, Rea’s original truly captures the bliss of idyllic holidays long since past. Flecked with breezy melodies and Rea’s balmy vocals, On The Beach remains a summertime anthem, giving the listener a glimpse into a far-flung corner of paradise.

24: 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.

23: The Ventures: Hawaii Five-O (1969)

Originally penned as the theme tune to a 60s police procedural TV show set in Honolulu, the cover of Hawaii Five-O by instrumental rock band The Ventures immediately transports listeners to a tropical paradise. Released in 1968, this powerful and fast-moving summer gem reached No.4 on the Billboard Hot 100, largely thanks to astounding orchestral arrangements by Mike Melvoin (father of Wendy Melvoin, of Prince’s mid-80s band, The Revolution) and the relentless drumming of percussionist Mel Taylor. With its unmistakable surf-rock sound, Hawaii Five-O will have you sprinting towards the ocean to catch some waves.

22: 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.

21: Van Morrison: Brown Eyed Girl (1967)

At the height of the “Summer Of Love”, in 1967, Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl peaked at No.10 in the US and was affectionally embraced by hippies who were drawn to its typically cheery sentiments (“Standing in the sunlight laughing/Hiding ’hind a rainbow’s wall”). With a jaunty and spirited guitar riff and an upbeat melody, Brown Eyed Girl captures the jolliness of a summer’s day, depicting a pair of lovers skipping and jumping off into the horizon to a chorus of “sha-la-la”s. Racking up over 800 million streams (and counting) on Spotify, it’s clear that Brown Eyed Girl is an evergreen classic that has earned its place among the best summer songs of all time.

20: The Smiths: Ask (1986)

While not an obvious summer anthem, The Smiths’ Ask earns its place among the best summer songs for the way Morrissey sardonically speaks to fellow-introverts who prefer to shy away from the sun (“Spending warm summer days indoors/Writing frightening verse/To a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg”). Painting a vivid picture of youthful longing and poetic yearning, the song has a poignancy that is ingeniously counteracted by Johnny Marr’s dazzlingly upbeat guitar work. With a spry groove that highlights the contrast between Morrissey’s melancholic isolation and the bounciness of Marr’s jangling riffs, Ask might just persuade you to come out of hiding and find kinship with the sun-worshippers waiting on the beach.

19: The Drifters: Under The Boardwalk (1964)

Few pop songs capture a summertime love affair as vividly as The Drifters’ Under The Boardwalk, which describes a tryst between a man and his lover who meet “out of the sun” – and out of sight from everyone else. The Drifters turn in a hugely soulful performance on the record, so it’s a shock to the system to discover that their regular lead vocalist, Rudy Lewis, died of a heroin overdose just the night before the session was scheduled to take place. With the 27-year-old Lewis entering what’s now known as the “27 Club”, the band hurriedly turned the lead vocal over to Johnny Moore, whose consummate performance took Under The Boardwalk to No.4 in the US.

18: Don Henley: The Boys Of Summer (1984)

Unlikely as it may seem, Grateful Dead were the inspiration behind Don Henley’s signature solo hit, The Boys Of Summer. A well-observed seasonal commentary on how the idealistic 60s eventually sold out to capitalism, the song was sparked by a drive Henley took down California’s San Diego Highway, during which he “got passed by a $21,000 Cadillac Seville, the status symbol of the right-wing upper-middle-class American bourgeoisie”, as he told NME, adding, “All the guys with the blue blazers with the crests and the grey pants – and there was this Grateful Dead ‘Deadhead’ bumper sticker on it!”

Henley eventually completed the earnest, synth-driven The Boys Of Summer with help from Tom Petty guitarist Mike Campbell, and it became a runaway hit, reaching the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 and peaking at No.12 in the UK. The song later rewarded Henley with a Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Performance and, since he reunited with Eagles, it’s become a staple of their live set, making its way onto official record of the band’s 2018 residency at the Los Angeles Forum, Live From The Forum MMXVIII.

17: Seals & Crofts: Summer Breeze (1972)

The epitome of a feel-good hit, Seals & Crofts’ 1972 soft-rock single Summer Breeze grabs attention from the moment its perky acoustic guitar riff starts. The song’s smooth, soulful air of melancholy and its laidback groove simply beg for you to kick back and relax, while Jim Seals and Dash Crofts’ harmonies are so spine-tinglingly beautiful they can warm your bones (“Summer breeze makes me feel fine/Blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind”). With timeless and soothing melodies, Summer Breeze is an essential addition to any list of the best summer songs.

16: 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.

15: 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.

14: Chad And Jeremy: A Summer Song (1964)

At the dawn of the British Invasion, Chad And Jeremy’s A Summer Song peaked at No.7 on the US Hot 100 upon its release, and it’s easy to see why. Telling the tale of young love blossoming against the backdrop of long, hazy summer days, the song’s soft acoustic riffs and Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde’s breathy folk-pop harmonies are just as exquisite today as they were back in the summer of ’64. Wistful yet bittersweet, the song’s charm lies not only in its tenderness, but also in its heart-rending inferences that such magical moments are fleeting (“Trees swaying in the summer breeze/Showing off their silver leaves/As we walked by”). Easily one of the best summer songs ever recorded, A Summer Song’s evocation of the innocence of youthful summer flings and the fond memories they leave behind is enough to make the heart flutter.

13: Martha And The Vandellas: Dancing In The Street (1964)

Like so many of the best summer songs, Martha And The Vandellas’ Dancing In The Street is the ideal catalyst for a party. As soon as Martha Reeves exclaims, “Summer’s here and the time is right,” it sets off an almost Pavlovian response to get up and groove.

As if to emphasise this point, The Vandellas’ original Motown recording of Dancing In The Street featured on their third album, Dance Party, which consisted almost entirely of dance-oriented tunes. Sticking to its original mission, the song has since transcended its era, spawning high-profile covers by The Kinks, Van Halen and David Bowie and Mick Jagger, all of which have urged successive generations “everywhere around the world” to dance the summer nights away.

12: Bill Withers: Lovely Day (1977)

A heartwarming anthem that truly shines with joy and positivity, Lovely Day is probably the most cheerful and optimistic song ever recorded. With velvety vocals, Bill Withers sings of waking up on a sunny day (“When I wake up in the morning, love/And the sunlight hurts my eyes”), before acknowledging how his anxieties are eased by being with the one he loves. Released in 1977 and peaking at No.7 in the UK, Lovely Day boasts a smooth groove and feel-good lyrics that provide an uplifting balm for the soul. Full of sunny vibes and infectious basslines, it easily stands among the best summer songs of all time.

11: 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.

10: R.E.M.: Shiny Happy People (1991)

Featuring Kate Pierson of The B-52’s on guest vocals, R.E.M.’s Shiny Happy People magnificently captures the hippie spirit of 1967’s Summer Of Love. Shimmering with Peter Buck’s jangly guitar riffs and a buoyant sunshine-pop groove, this upbeat classic calls to mind the revelry of summer frolics filled with smiling faces and jubilation (“Shiny happy people holding hands/Shiny happy people laughing”). Released in 1991 and appearing on the album Out Of Time, Shiny Happy People proffers an unbridled optimism that acts as a good-natured reminder to don colourful garb and embrace a spirit of togetherness, whatever the weather.

9: 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.

8: 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.

7: 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 in our list of the best summer songs of all time. 

6: The B-52’s: Rock Lobster (1978)

No list of the best summer songs would be complete without a quirky blast of Rock Lobster, by The B-52’s. A rollicking new-wave classic that will have anyone passing “the tanning butter”, it’s surf-rock-inspired guitar riffs and Kate Piersen and Cindy Wilson’s zoo-animal shrieks set the scene for gleefully absurdist lyrics about being on a beach where “everybody has matching towels”. It’s all delightfully silly and undeniably fun, particularly during the surreal climax, in which a menagerie of cartoony sea creatures runs amok (“Watch out for that piranha, there goes a narwhal, here comes a bikini whale!”). With its freewheeling, punk-inspired spirit, Rock Lobster washes over you like a flood of hallucinogens, easily making it one of the kookiest summer-party bangers you’re ever likely to hear.

5: Electric Light Orchestra: Mr Blue Sky (1978)

Packed with masterfully arranged pop melodies and soaring Beatles-esque harmonies, Electric Light Orchestra’s Mr Blue Sky will instantly have you feeling like you’re basking in sunshine. Nothing short of a sun-drenched masterpiece, the song captures the wide-eyed wonder of a British summer’s day (“Sun is shinin’ in the sky/There ain’t a cloud in sight”) as if ELO mainman Jeff Lynne has raised his arms to the azure skies in worship. Bouncing along happily with uplifting fervour, the song peaked at No.6 in the UK and is rightly regarded as a classic that has stood the test of time, earning its rightful place on our list of best summer songs.

4: Booker T & The MGs: Green Onions (1962)

A classic Memphis soul track that became a huge hit in the summer of 1962, Green Onions, by Booker T & The MGs, is the perfect soundtrack to a sun-baked sojourn. Despite being an instrumental track, the song immediately attracted attention and went on to peak at No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100, on account of Booker T Jones’ groovy organ riffs, Lewie Steinberg’s driving bassline and Al Jackson’s upbeat percussion. The scorching-hot musicianship on Green Onions, which opened the MGs’ debut album of the same name, ups the ante with Steve Cropper’s simmering guitar solo. Whether you’re lounging by the pool or cruising down the road with the windows down, Green Onions will have you reaching for your shades in no time.

3: The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations (1966)

Full of whimsical vibes and joyful melodies, The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations has been putting listeners in carefree summer moods for decades. Released in 1966, the song immediately shot to No.1 in the UK and the US, and it remains a beloved entry among the best summer songs. Good Vibrations’ iconic theremin hook and Mike Love’s psychedelia-tinged lyrics (“I love the colourful clothes she wears/And the way the sunlight plays upon her hair”) bring a hippie-friendly twist to beach life, with plenty of bright harmonies evoking the sun’s rays. Without a doubt, Good Vibrations is still giving off aftershocks to this day.

2: The Beatles: Here Comes The Sun (1969)

Few songs capture the warm, rejuvenating spirit of summertime more than Here Comes The Sun. Released on The Beatles’ 1969 album, Abbey Road, this George Harrison-penned beauty is an uplifting ode to sunnier days and all the hope that they promise. With sweetly finger-picked acoustic guitar, Harrison lyrically evokes gentle sunrays peeking through the clouds after a grey season of gloom (“Sun, sun, sun, here it comes”). His earnest lead vocals, illuminated by his bandmates’ lush harmonies, beautifully express a meditative appreciation for nature. Thanks to its joyful, pastoral vibe, Here Comes The Sun has become an enduring anthem among the best summer songs, inviting listeners to bask in the sun’s nourishing warmth and find peace amid the changing of the seasons.

1: Otis Redding: (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay (1968)

When it comes to capturing the essence of summer, (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay reigns supreme. Originally released in 1968, Otis Redding’s soulful classic remains a staple for anyone looking to unwind by the sea, with Redding’s smooth vocals and the song’s laidback melody making a perfect fit for lyrics about lazing on San Francisco Bay as the morning sun shines down upon the world (“I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay/Watchin’ the tide roll away”). It’s no surprise that this timeless tune earned Redding his first No.1 hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100 following Redding’s untimely death in a plane crash, at age 26. With its calming yet upbeat vibe, (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay remains the ultimate summer anthem, and that’smmertimes why it also tops our list of the best summer songs.

Summer holidays coming to an end? Check out the best songs about school for those back-to-class bangers.

Original article: 21 June 2021

Updated: 20 June 2022, 2 June 2023, 2 June 2024. Extra words: Luke Edwards

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