Header image via Visit Lakeland
There’s nothing quite like the phenomenon that is the summer song. Looking back, these tunes are such an overwhelmingly nostalgic force that they can shape and alter your recollection of an entire period of your life. They literally stand as the soundtrack to some of your sweetest memories… and your most bitter regrets. (Not to be dramatic or anything.)
Anyway, we figured… why not do a round-up? So, here’s our woefully un-comprehensive list of 12 of the all-timers. We don’t like rules around here but we kept a couple things in mind when compiling this:
- We allow for a bit of intentional recency bias.
- Most songs were released in the summer but a few were dropped in late spring and THEN blew up in the summer.
- #1 said, we don’t rely solely on “modern” bops, but with one notable exception, we also don’t stretch back to the time of moon landings or black-and-white TVs.
- These are just some highlights, listed in descending order by year. We already have enough selections picked out for a follow-up article, so keep your peepers open in the future.
OK, let’s press play!
1. Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams, “Get Lucky” | 2013
Based on their earlier success in 2001 when Pharrell and Chad Hugo of The Neptunes dropped a remix of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” this Pharrell/Daft Punk collab off Random Access Memories would go on to sell nine million copies and win two Grammys.
2. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe” | 2012
You may very well hate it, but how could we not include this? This isn’t one of those songs where you say, “Hey, remember where you were when you heard…” Instead, it’s more like “Do you remember anywhere you were where you didn’t hear this song?” Technically released Sept 20, 2011, this international sensation juuuuusssttt makes the cut.
3. Miley Cyrus, “Party in the U.S.A.” | 2009
Happy almost ten-year anniversary, Miley! The song, which dropped on August 11, 2009, is the epitome of the summer jam. This writer remembers when his friend—who was, ugh, “responsibly inebriated” at the time?—went out onto a balcony in Boone, NC and blasted this at peak volume at least a dozen times in a row to all passersby. Obnoxious? Sure. Satisfying? Absolutely, yes.
Oh, and the “Party & Bullshit” Biggie/Miley mash-up? It still goes hard all these years later.
4. “Hot in Herre,” Nelly | 2002
“It’s getting hot in here/so take off all your clothes.” If that doesn’t scream “summer” then we give tf up. (Really, that’s all we have to say about this one. What else is there?)
5. “Island in the Sun, Weezer” | 2001
This is Rivers Cuomo at his power-pop best. Plus, we just like it. It takes us away. Sometimes it really is as simple as that.
6. “Steal My Sunshine,” Len | 1999
Len’s “Steal My Sunshine” is as “bubblegum” as it gets. And don’t get it twisted—that’s not a criticism. It’s loopy and dizzying and goofy and fun and, yeah, it’s positively 90s and quintessentially summer.
7. “Waterfalls”, TLC | 1995
From TLC's second album, CrazySexyCool (1994), the song itself didn’t drop as a single until May 1995. This is one of those that this writer can remember exactly where he was when he first heard it, so it’s definitely got that staying power. To this day, it’s viewed by most as TLC’s defining bop, and for good reason—it was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks.
8. “Gin & Juice,” Snoop Doggy Dogg | 1993
Smooth, funky, and deliciously summery, like “Waterfalls” to TLC, this is undeniably one of D-O-double-G’s signature jams. “Laid back (with my mind on my money and my money on my mind).” Yup… true classic.
9. “It Takes Two,” Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock | 1988
If the above wasn’t old-school enough for you, “It Takes Two” takes hip-hop back to its NYC block party roots. The single and the album of the same name from the Harlem-based duo were both certified platinum by the RIAA, which makes sense seeing as the song is straight summer gold.
10. “Boys of Summer,” Don Henley | 1984
The California coast. The dying summer sun. Young love. Hanging on. How couldn’t we include this song? We’re gonna shut up and just paste the opening lyrics and leave it at that:
Nobody on the road
Nobody on the beach
I feel it in the air
The summer's out of reach
Empty lake, empty streets
The sun goes down alone
I'm driving by your house
Don't know you're not home
But I can see you
Your brown skin shining in the sun
You got your hair combed back
And your sunglasses [Blendz] on, baby
I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone
11. “Blister In the Sun,” Violent Femmes | 1983
Relatively few opening riffs are as famous and immediately recognizable as the one found in Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun.” Plus, including it here is a nice contrast to the melancholic “Boys of Summer,” isn’t it?
12. “California Girls,” The Beach Boys | 1965
C’mon. It’s been more than a half-century now, but it’d be heresy not to include this most summery of all summer hits. Released July 12, 1965, Brian Wilson’s brilliant dedication to the unsurpassed cuties of Cali will forever stand the test of time.