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The 10 Coolest Summer Albums of All Time

From the Beatles to Prince, 10 classic albums to break out when the temperature rises

The Beatles

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What do you want in a summer album? You want fun, obviously. You want sun, sweat, sex, sparkle, beats, rhymes and life. Nothing too deep and nothing dense, as Run-DMC would say. Music that's danceable or trippy or fist-pumping or ass-bumping. Music for making out or singing along or snagging your first speeding ticket. You want an album you can hear next winter and think, "Hey, this was playing when I got that toxic sunburn and/or hideous tattoo and/or hickey of unknown origin. Turn it up!" So here's an all-too-brief salute to 10 of the coolest summer albums ever made, from all over the musical and historical map. Some of these albums were hits, others got slept on, but they're all guaranteed to make your summer a lot hotter. And louder.

By Rob Sheffield

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10. Japandroids, 'Celebration Rock'

Japandroids, ‘Celebration Rock’ (2012)

Loud guitar, demented drums, urgent brain-smash riffs, dumb funny slogans about girls and youth chanted over and over again – rock & roll, what a concept. These two Vancouver punk dudes play hooks you might have already heard a million times, except they make them weep and moan and burn like never before. The moral of the story: "Don't we have anything to live for? Of course we do!" And whenever this album comes on, it's a reminder that it's never too late to play air guitar like your summer has just begun.



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9. The Beatles, 'Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band'

The Beatles, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ (1967)

The Beatles invented so many things with this album, it's easy to overlook the fact that they invented the summer album as we know it – the kind that arrives in a frenzy of anticipation, blows minds, starts arguments, expands over time. It was the soundtrack to the Summer of Love, along with classics like Hendrix's Are You Experienced, Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow and the debuts from Moby Grape and the Doors. Yet no matter how many times you listen, you can still find new details to obsess over: the bongos at the end of "Getting Better," the rubber bassline of "With A Little Help From My Friends," or the proto-metal guitar that kicks it all off.


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8. Run-DMC, 'Raising Hell'

Run-DMC, ‘Raising Hell’ (1986)

Run, DMC and Jam Master Jay dominated 1986 to the point where you heard this constantly, no matter where you hung out. MTV got behind the Aerosmith goof "Walk This Way," but that was just the sixth-or-seventh best song on Raising Hell. Everybody else was flipping out over the street beats of "My Adidas" and the rock-the-bells turntable wobble of "Peter Piper." So hard, so funny, so inventive – plus the cheaper-than-cheap jokes of "It's Tricky" and "You Be Illin'." "You proceeded/To eat it/'Cause you was in the mood/But homes, you did not read – it was a can of dog food!"


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7. Liz Phair, 'Exile in Guyville'

Liz Phair, ‘Exile in Guyville’ (1993)


"I loved my life and I hated you," Liz sneers in the opening track, and over the next hour or so, she scores a career's worth of vengeful one-liners and sunny guitar jangles and proto-Lena-Dunham sex scenes. "Fuck and Run" never goes out of date when it comes to summer romance, unfortunately, and neither do "Divorce Song" or "Girls! Girls! Girls!" But every song has its own scruffy power, with melodies that go down like sangria on an August afternoon.




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6. Beastie Boys, 'Paul’s Boutique'

Beastie Boys, ‘Paul’s Boutique’ (1989)

It's hard to imagine now, but nobody expected a thing from the Beasties' second album, because everybody assumed Licensed to Ill was a one-shot joke. But as soon as it dropped in July of 1989, Paul's Boutique became an instant classic of psychedelic hip-hop, with copyright-crashing sample wizardry from the Dust Brothers. "I realize we were supposed to come out with 'Fight For Your Right To Party, Part Two' and fall on our faces," Mike D said at the time. "Sorry to disappoint everyone." Rest in peace, Brother Yauch.



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5. Al Green, 'Call Me'

Al Green, ‘Call Me’ (1973)

The ultimate summer-soul steambath, from way down in Memphis. Al Green, the true erotic guru of the Seventies, flexes his panty-peeler vocals all over "Call Me," "You Ought To Be With Me" and "Have You Been Making Out O.K." When he reaches up for that falsetto growl at the end of "Your Love Is Like The Morning Sun," it's like he's bringing down the sugar walls of Jericho. Producer Willie Mitchell and his wrecking crew of Memphis R&B pros work out the sultriest grooves below the Mason-Dixon line. Even the song about Jesus kicks ass.


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4. Public Enemy, 'It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back'

Public Enemy, ‘It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back’ (1988)

The summer of 1988 was hip-hop's undisputed golden age, when the air was full of neck-snappingly great hits like "It Takes Two" and "Follow the Leader" and "Ain't No Half Steppin'" and "Strictly Business." But Public Enemy stopped the traffic with their feverishly awaited second album. Nation of Millions kept the heatwave going all year, from "Don't Believe The Hype" to "Night of the Living Baseheads" to "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos." It still sounds louder than a bomb – Chuck D's Coltrane-insane bravado, Flavor Flav's clowning, all those Bomb Squad screeches and sirens blasting out of the mix.


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3. Kiss, 'Alive!'

Kiss, ‘Alive!’ (1975)

Generations of American parking-lot party commandos have sneaked their first cigarettes-and-cold-gin cocktails to this trash-rock opus. What makes Alive! a perfect summer album? Let Paul Stanley handle that question: "You know, it's getting soooo hot outside! You always need something to cool you off. There's gotta be some people here who like to drink tequiiilaaa!" Don't worry, Paul – there most certainly are. And where else would they be tonight except shaking ass to "Rock & Roll All Nite"?



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2. The Beach Boys, 'Wild Honey'

The Beach Boys, ‘Wild Honey’ (1967)

Brian Wilson and crew specialized in summer concept albums – All Summer Long in 1964, Today and Summer Days in 1965, the decidedly more downbeat Pet Sounds in 1966. But Wild Honey is where the Beach Boys really capture the grimy feel of beer-soaked California sand under your feet, even if they released it in December 1967. It cruises through the yearning Carl Wilson soul of "Aren't You Glad," the beach-party shindig "How She Boogalooed It," the a cappella finale "Mama Says." Wild Honey has it all – the hedonistic rock & roll spirit and humor of their early cars-and-surfboards hits, plus the pensive depth of Pet Sounds, all in one 24-minute blast.

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1. Prince, 'Purple Rain'

Prince and the Revolution, ‘Purple Rain’ (1984)

Well, there's no contest over the Number One spot, right? Purple Rain is the summer album of all summer albums, the peak of the purple pyramid, the blood-and-thunder blockbuster all hot-weather pretenders have tried to match ever since. The summer of '84 was already a hit-packed pop-radio orgy of historic proportions, but Prince topped everyone with the mutant electro-blues of "When Doves Cry." Then he just kept rolling from "Let's Go Crazy" to "I Would Die 4 U." And the majestic guitar heroics of the title hymn purify your soul in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.


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