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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Greatest Summer Songs

Picks include ‘Boys of Summer,’ ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘California Girls’

the beach boys

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It's not quite summer yet, but with temperature rising across the country and cicada hordes looming, it sure does feel like it. We figured this was a good time to poll our readers to determine their favorite summer songs. Unsurprisingly, there are three Beach Boys songs here. Click through to see what else made the cut. 

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10. Big Brother and the Holding Company – ‘Summertime’

Most people who picked up Big Brother and the Holding Company's 1968 LP Cheap Thrills in the summer of 1968 probably weren't huge fans of George Gershwin, but they surely loved Janis Joplin's rendition of his 1935 classic "Summertime." The song first appeared in the opera Porgy and Bess and it quickly became a jazz standard, covered by Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and many others. A wonderful showcase for Joplin's vocals, the song was a highlight of her Woodstock set. 

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9. Eddie Cochran – ‘Summertime Blues’

There are many songs that celebrate the glories of summer, but Eddie Cochran's 1958 classic "Summertime Blues" has a rather different message: Summer sucks for teenagers. Cochran was just 19 when he wrote the song, and he understood that summer often means working a shitty job and begging your parents to borrow the car. Even your congressman is of little help, since you can't even vote yet. Cochran died in a car accident just two years after this song hit, but it's had a huge afterlife. 

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8. The Beach Boys – ‘Good Vibrations’

Brian Wilson had to put up with a lot at the peak of the Beach Boys' success in the mid-Sixties. The pressure to come up with hit after hit was enormous, he had a horrible relationship with his father, Mike Love felt the group should continue to write surf songs, and the Beatles were breathing down his neck with a seemingly endless slew of pop masterpieces. Factor in the facts that he was emotionally fragile and deaf in one ear, and it's amazing he managed to release as many classics as he did before his inner demons began consuming him. "Good Vibrations" is one of the last songs the group released before the shit hit the fan, and it's also one of Wilson's most ambitious works. He spent months and months on the song, recording at studios all across Los Angeles. It hit Number One and was hailed as the work of a genius, but when he went back into the studio the pressure to top it with Smile proved to be too great. It took him nearly 40 years to finish that album. 

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7. The Who – ‘Summertime Blues’

Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" was just nine years old in 1967, but music had evolved so quickly over that time it seemed like a golden oldie. San Francisco hard rock trio Blue Cheer began playing an aggressive rendition of the song that helped pave the way for heavy metal, and the Who also added it into their set list. It was a wonderful showcase for John Entwistle's thunderous bass, and his deep singing voice was perfect for the intolerant authority figures in the song. They played the song at Monterey Pop in 1967, but when the band hit Leeds three years later the song had reached another level of Who-ness. They kept in the set list for decades, but wisely haven't touched it since Entwistle's final gig in 2002. 

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6. The Beach Boys – ‘All Summer Long’

Brian Wilson's father, Murry Wilson, sold the rights to the Beach Boys catalog in 1969 for a tiny fraction of their ultimate worth. Though Brian went ballistic when he found out, claiming that his signature was forged on the documents, Murry was sure he made the right decision. The Beach Boys were old news in 1969, and he felt a bunch of vintage surfing songs were almost worthless. Four years later George Lucas released American Graffiti, an uber-nostalgic movie about a bunch of teenagers in 1962. The soundtrack, full of music from the era, in many ways kick-started the endless wave of nostalgia for the time. The movie ends with "All Summer Long" by the Beach Boys. The song is from 1964, and it's quite possible that Lucas simply made a mistake, but the film ends with the characters looking forward, and it made sense to play a song from a slightly later period.

The supremely joyful song is the opposite of "Summertime Blues." It's about the endless joy and wonder young people can find in summer. It's far from the Beach Boys' biggest hit from their early days, but it's certainly one of the best. Anyone that lived through the time will be brought right back to 1964 after listening to it. Like many Beach Boys songs, it's earned the rights holders a large fortune over the past 50 years. Murry Wilson was many things, but he wasn't much of a forward thinker.

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5. Mungo Jerry – ‘In the Summertime’

What's that? You've never heard of Mungo Jerry and you don't know "In the Summertime?" Sure you do. You just don't realize it. Listen to the first five seconds of the song and it'll pop right into your head. "Oh yeah," you'll think. "That thing." The supremely catchy song was released in 1970 by the British pop band Mungo Jerry. It's their only big hit, but it was a doozy. It sold millions of copies and flew up the charts all over the world. The group still tours and is still fronted by "In the Summertime" singer and writer Ray Dorset. Check them out at the Hard Rock Café in Bucharest, Romania or at "Private Party" in Ringwood, England. Chances are good they'll play "In the Summertime."

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4. The Beach Boys – ‘California Girls’

If you had to reduce the Beach Boys to a single song, it might well by "California Girls." The song established the band's entire worldview: Los Angeles is paradise, and no place has women that are more beautiful. They opened roughly 26,000 concerts with the song over the past 50 years, because it sets the tone for the entire night. Brian Wilson wrote the song after experimenting with LSD for the first time, and it was the first song to feature new member Bruce Johnston. It was a massive hit, but not long afterwards Brian decided to move onto more complex material.

Twenty years later, David Lee Roth decided the song also perfectly matched his own worldview, and he cut it for one of his first solo efforts. The Beach Boys even helped out on the background vocals, and it again became a huge hit.

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3. Sly and the Family Stone – ‘Hot Fun in the Summertime’

Much like Brian Wilson, Sly Stone had the incredible ability to write beautiful, cheery songs that masked his growing mental instability. "Hot Fun in the Summertime" (later covered by the Beach Boys) is one of Sly's most instantly catchy tunes. You can practically feel the sun on your back and taste the backyard BBQ when you listen to it. Released weeks after their brilliant set at Woodstock, the song flew up the charts and reached number two. This was the band at their commercial and creative peak. The Seventies started strong, but Sly's problems began piling up, and his career and life took a huge hit. "Hot Fun in the Summertime" is a brilliant reminder of happier days. 

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2. Don Henley – ‘Boys of Summer’

Don Henley may not be the world's most easy-going person, but he has a way with words. Take the line "Out on the road today I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac" from his 1984 hit "The Boys of Summer." Is there any better way to show how the idealism of the Sixties gave way to the greed and materialism of the Eighties? He did it in 13 words, and the rest of the song is equally strong. Co-written by Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, it's a simple tale of a yuppie who misses his summer love. It was a huge hit, and the Eagles play it at most of their concerts. 

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1. The Lovin’ Spoonful – ‘Summer in the City’

The Lovin' Spoonful's 1966 classic "Summer in the City" began as a poem by frontman John Sebastian's 15-year-old brother, Mark Sebastian. He wrote it in the family's New York apartment and imagined it as a soul song, but when John read the lines "Come on, come on and dance all night/Despite the heat it'll be all right," he knew he wanted it for himself. With a little help from his Wurlitzer pianette and the rest of the Lovin' Spoonful, the song hit Number One in the summer of 1966. It's been used in movies from Die Hard With a Vengeance to The Karate Kid Part III

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