Best Summer Songs of All Time - Rolling Stone
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Best Summer Songs of All Time

School’s out, and it’s time to get down, get sunburned and get lucky

Best Summer Songs

Blondie, Marvin Gaye, Donna Summer

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Whether you’re a total idiot heading out to party at the beach or a sane person staying inside to read Camus, the calendar doesn’t lie — it is, in fact, summer. And even this isn’t the summer we asked for, that doesn’t mean summer songs are any less essential. They might even more emotionally necessary than ever.

The summer song is one of rock’s truest pleasures, be it a dance jam that dominates every backyard cookout or a sweet ode to cars, romance, and partying. Here are our picks for the most sizzling summer jams ever — from unshakeable oldies to classic hip-hop, from hard-rock to indie-rock, from the the Go-Gos to Daft Punk.

[A version of this list was originally published in July 2013]

Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy

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30

“Fight the Power,” Public Enemy

Commissioned for Spike Lee’s movie Do the Right Thing, this bracing hip-hop call-to-arms is a heart-racing jumble of samples that crash into the groove. Then Chuck D yells: “Nineteen Eighty-NINE!/ The number/ Another SUMMER!” His call to activist awareness was the hip-hop generation’s “Dancing in the Street.”

Pavement

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29

“Summer Babe (Winter Version),” Pavement

Wistful like the waning days of August before you have to load the car up and head back to the dorm, Pavement‘s watershed tune is all melancholic guitar prettiness and vague breakup blues. It could be found on roughly a million undergrad mix tapes during the Clinton administration.

Marvin Gaye

Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

28

“Got to Give It Up” (Pt. 1 & 2), Marvin Gaye

Soul music’s tortured prince goes disco by figuring out how to make heavy funk light on its feet. It is impossible not to move to this 1977 jam, especially because it is about a shy dude afraid of the world until he hits the dancefloor. Perfect for any backyard cookout, it obviously changed Michael Jackson‘s life.

Sam Cooke

Gilles Petard/Redferns

27

“Summertime,” Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke makes it look easy. A near-definitive version of George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward’s Porgy and Bess standard from one of the greatest American voices who ever lived, this stunner was the B-side to his 1957 breakthrough single, “You Send Me.” It’s been done by everyone from Miles Davis to Nick Drake to Janis Joplin to Morcheeba, but no one brings out the beauty – and irony – in this elegant evocation of Southern living like Cooke.

Nelly

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26

“Hot in Herre,” Nelly

Over one of the Neptune’s signature beats, all rubbery head nod and shoulder-shake, Nelly keeps it simple: “It’s getting hot in here/so take off all your clothes.” Background singer Dani Stevenson keeps her answer to the point. “I am getti’n so hot, I wanna take my clothes off” Perfect for those days when the mercury hits the 90s and clothing becomes optional.

Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry

David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images

25

“In the Summertime,” Mungo Jerry

This British bubblegum blues band’s 1970 guide to doing what you please is one of oldies radio’s most recognizable jams thanks to its bouncy banjo plinking. Known best for the lyric “you’ve got women, you’ve got women on your mind,” the song also contains the exceptionally sketchy lines “If her daddy rich/ take her out for a meal/if her daddy’s poor just do what you feel.” Do not take dating advice from Mungo Jerry.

Don Henley

Pete Cronin/Redferns

24

“Boys of Summer,” Don Henley

Insistent and laidback like cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway, Henley’s 1984 classic ponders his lost youth and innocence over an oddly urgent drum machine, overcast synths and Heartbreaker (and co-writer) Mike Campbell’s guitar, which is spacey, menacing and lonely all at once. It’s a summer anthem that gets darker the closer you look.

Charlie Thomas, Bill Fredericks, Rick Sheppard, Abdul Samad and Johnny Moore of Drifters

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23

“Under The Boardwalk,” The Drifters

Released in June 1964, “Under the Boardwalk” is one of the greatest teenage symphonies ever recorded, a string-bathed evocation of a secret hook-up down by the sea. Lead singer Johnny Moore – who was taking his first lead vocal with the band after the heroin-related death of Rudy Lewis the day before the session – sings slyly about people walking the boardwalk who have no inkling of the illicit teenage action going on below their feet.

Jan Berry and Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean

John E. Reed/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

22

“Surf City,” Jan & Dean

A utopian vision of a city by the sea where the female to male population ratio is an awesome two to one, “Surf City” topped the charts for two-weeks in July 1963. Written by Brian Wilson and Jan Berry, it promises there’s always something goin’, a party’s always growin’ and you’re sure to find short-term romantic bliss.

Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin

vCaem/Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

21

“Dancing Days,” Led Zeppelin

“Dancing days are here again as the summer evenings grow,” Robert Plant sings on this hormone-crackling celebration of getting down and sippin’ booze on long evenings. Zeppelin recorded “Dancing Days” at Mick Jagger‘s mansion Stargroves; when they were done they were so psyched they went out on the lawn and danced to it – a testament to its searing boogie power.

Snoop Doggy Dogg

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

20

“Gin & Juice,” Snoop Doggy Dogg

Not just a summer BBQ classic but a refreshing summertime drink as well, “Gin & Juice” is G-funk at its warmest and funnest. Snoop rides a slow humid funk groove and a cicada keyboard melody as he raps about a party full of bubonic chronic and a gang of Tanqueray provided by Dr. Dre himself.

Santo & Johnny

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19

“Sleepwalk,” Santo & Johnny

Part doo-wop dreamweave, part surf-rock chill session, “Sleepwalk” was a Number One hit for Brooklyn brothers Santo and Johnny Farina in 1959. Its steel guitar melody evoked gorgeous island evenings and blue drinks with cute little umbrellas in them; fittingly, it went Number One the same year Hawaii gained statehood.

Seals & Crofts

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18

“Summer Breeze,” Seals & Crofts

One of the signature soft-rock groups of the early Seventies, Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were childhood buddies from Texas who moved to California and had a huge hit with this sublimely mellow, CSN&Y-style ode to lazy, June-time domesticity. “Summer Breeze” rolled through the jasmine of America’s mind in 1972, with an innocent melody played on a toy piano.

Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

17

“Despacito,” Luis Fonsi, feat. Justin Bieber, Daddy Yankee

Few songs have ever dominated a summer like this landmark Latin-pop smash — a seductive reggaeton groove that took the beats of San Juan to Middle America. “Despacito” hit U.S. shores in late spring, took over the Number One spot on the charts and refused to let go until school was back in, becoming your suburban grandmother’s favorite Spanish-language song since “La Bamba.”

Daft Punk

David Black

16

“Get Lucky,” Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers

The summer jam of 2013 is a disco inferno full of bright guitar shimmer, robot come-ons, falsetto soul and a beat that keeps you up having good fun until you see the sun. It may say something dire about the American economy that we need to outsource our Top 40 summer fun to a couple French techno dudes, but you’ll be too busy getting down to care.

Dick Dale

Robert Knight Archive/Redferns

15

“Miserlou,” Dick Dale

“Miserlou” is a Middle Eastern folk tune that surf guitar visionary Dick Dale transformed into the very sound of hanging ten, all rippling reverb and horn punches. It’s the greatest surf song of all time and as the soundtrack to the opening credits for Pulp Fiction, it’s associated with one of the greatest movies of all time too.

Snail Mail

Greg Chow/Shutterstock

14

“Heat Wave,” Snail Mail

This big, sad, skywrite-the-chorus song might be the best thing ever to be named “Heat Wave,” and that’s no light claim. For Martha and the Vandellas, a heat wave meant desire. For Snail Mail, it means getting bored enough to make some dicey emotional bets. Lindsey Jordan spends her vacation falling for a green-eyed dream who’s barely there, mostly because she has nothing better to do. “I hope I never get a clue,” she sings. Knowing what’s real would mean knowing it was never meant to be. Who wants to think about the future in the middle of July? —Simon Vozick-Levinson

Siobhan Fahey, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward of Bananarama

Mike Prior/Redferns

13

“Cruel Summer,” Bananarama

Bananarama wanted to write a song that keyed into the “darker side” of summer. Defined by a plinking earworm hook and drum-pad beats, this is essentially the British synth-pop answer song to Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City,” as if to say, “hey, we have humid summers, too, wot?” And yet, they chose to shoot the video in New York.

DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince Will Smith

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12

“Summertime,” DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

Over a funky laidback beat, a young Will Smith does a fantastic Rakim impression over a sample of Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness” and drops a sweet ode to hanging out and driving around his native Philly: “Honking at the honey in front of you with the light eyes/She turn around to see what you beeping at/It’s like the summers a natural aphrodisiac.” It’s still hip-hop’s finest summer celebration.

Go-Gos

Kerstin Rodgers/Redferns

11

“Vacation,” The Go-Gos

With a radiant keyboard melody and swirls of surf guitar, the Go-Go‘s nailed the feeling of trying to use summer vacation to try to get over a crush. It’s one of Belinda Carlisle’s most heart-tugging performances and its team-waterskiing video is one of greatest MTV clips of all time. “If you look at our eyes, we’re all so drunk,” Jane Wiedlin said years later. “We didn’t even try to make it look like we were really waterskiing.”

Lovin Spoonful

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10

“Summer In the City,” Lovin’ Spoonful

Tons of tunes celebrate the summer, but few note how oppressive and gross it can be: John Sebastian sounds seriously annoyed when he spits “back of my neck getting dirt and gritty.” But then the sun goes down and the partying starts – everyone is hooking up on rooftops and twistin’ the night away. With a barrage of car horns on the bridge, the record evoked its subject with urban grit and Gershwin-esque grandeur.

Sly And The Family Stone

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9

“Hot Fun In the Summertime,” Sly & the Family Stone

Summer 1969 was already under way when Stone handed in this heavenly soul ballad to Epic Records, which was wary of releasing a summer song in August – but it was a smash anyway. Sly and crew croon beautifully about summer days over string-sweetened light funk and while it’s hard to imagine a cat like Sly “at a county fair in the country sun,” they sure make you want to join them there.

Johnny Ramone, Tommy Ramone, Joey Ramone and Dee Dee Ramone of The Ramones

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8

“Rockaway Beach,” The Ramones

A bubblegum torpedo ride, this 1977 punk rock classic is about hitching your way out of the gritty city on a day trip to the largest public beach in the United States, located in the Ramones‘ native Queens. “Rockaway Beach” is a vacation getaway open to anyone and everyone, rich or poor, just like the Ramones’ all-American rock and roll vision on this song.

Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson and David Marks of The Beach Boys

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7

“California Girls,” The Beach Boys

With apologies to the other forty-nine, Brian Wilson‘s ode to his home state’s hotties elevated California girls to mythic status. Wilson wrote the melody the first time he took acid and the swirling piano chords at the opening give the simple teenage fantasy a dream-like grandeur. The lyrics, written by Mike Love, were inspired by Wilson’s assertion that “everybody loves girls.”

Drake

Universal Music Group

6

“In My Feelings,” Drake

The ultimate summer hit, right after the music world decided we had entered a post-summer-hit era. With typical smoothitude, Aubrey Graham breezed into the Number One spot in July and parked there for two damn months — his second hit of the year to spend ten weeks on top. “In My Feelings” continues his fascination with New Orleans bounce, with an assist from City Girls along with 40, Blaqnmild and TrapMoneyBenny. Drizzy shares his feelings for a very special girl who thank-u-nexted her way out of his life, sampling Lil Wayne and Atlanta, inspiring a viral dance craze along with a few colorful conspiracy theories about the identity of his mystery muse “KiKi.” But as always, Drake gets everybody all up in his feelings, the way only he can.

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