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

Brian Cooke/Redferns, Rob Verhorst/Redferns, Michael Putland/Getty Images

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]

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

David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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

Richard Creamer/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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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