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The Songs of Summer

We rank the best from the past two decades

Digital Underground

Digital Underground, 1990

Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

What makes a killer warm-weather hit? A thick beat, a bouncy bass line and a hook that you’ll hum through Labor Day. In honor of the season, here are the best summer jams of the past 20 years.

1990
Digital Underground, “The Humpty Dance”
Some summers are full of contenders, but in 1990. it sounded like there was only one song on the planet: a big bass eruption with Humpty Hump getting busy in a BK bathroom.

1991
Naughty by Nature, “O.P.P.”
This crew from Illtown in Dirty Jersey came out of nowhere to turn the whole nation into one big block party. chanting along to that Jackson 5 sample. “Yeah, you know me!”

1992
Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Baby Got Back”
There’s something about the season that brings out the ass songs. They don’t get assierthan this, as Mix took his pro-ass stance to the top of the charts. Healthy butts? Shaken!

1993
The Breeders, “Cannonball”
A hilarious blast of stoner guitar frenzy with a bass line everyone hummed all through Au­gust. Kim and Kelley Deal made this an everyone-into-the-pool classic.

1994
Snoop Doggy Dogg, “Gin & Juice”
Snoop nailed the sum­mer vibe with Dr. Dre’s stoned-to-the-bone beats and a teen Utopia where the freaks in the living room keep jump­ing all night because Mama ain’t home.

1995
TLC, “Waterfalls”
Fire-hydrant funk full of jazzy chords and horns that seemed to float right off some vintage Al Green B side, yet so full of life you couldn’t imagine hearing them anywhere else.

1996
Quad City DJ’s, “C’mon N’ Ride It (The Train)”
These Deep South DJs brought trunkloads of bass to the party; your sister and your friend do that “choo-choo” dance, and then maybe “waller” in the Impala.

1997
The Notorious B.I.G. “Mo Money Mo Problems”
An accidental epitaph: Mase and Puffy pay respects, fellas throw their Rolies in the sky, and the vintage Diana Ross disco guitar hook brings it all home.

1998
Aaliyah, “Are You That Somebody?”
In her short career. Aaliyah seemed to make every summer a lot more fun. She glides over Timbaland’s beats. cooler than ice cream. warmer than the sun.

1999
Kid Rock “Bawitdaba”
Over hesher guitar and Sugarhill rap chants, Kid salutes the midnight glancers and the topless dancers, and puts in his word for world peace: “Get in the pit and try to love someone.”

2000
Eminem, “The Real Slim Shady”
His funniest hit and his bounciest beat, as Slim made some time here to insult practically every­one on Earth: Christina Aguilera. Fred Durst, Will Smith and you. too.

2001
Missy Elliott, “Get Ur Freak On”
What the hell did peo­ple do for fun before Missy and Tim started making records? They are to the summer jam what Tolstoy was to the Russian novel. This is their War and Peace.

2002
Nelly, “Hot in Herre”
If you do not scream along when Nelly hits the line “I think my butt getting big!” you have some serious problems, friend. Nelly + the Neptunes = the dance-floor nudity epidemic of ’02.

2003
Beyonce, “Crazy in Love”
Believe it or not, this was her first solo shot after Destiny’s Child, and she made it a classic: those Chi-Lites horns, that Jay-Z rap, those disco “uh oh. uh oh” chants.

2004
The Killers, “Mr. Brightside”
In sleazy dive bars around the globe, buzzed boys and girls went to second base in the bathroom line whenever this sub­limely slutty swish-rock anthem came on.

2005
Kanye West, “Gold Digger”
With Jamie Foxx croon­ing a Ray Charles hook, Ye delivers a ridonkulous lesson in groupie love, making fun of gold diggers as well as the Hyundai-driving studs who love them.

2006
Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”
Cee-Lo’s old-time soul-revue holler and Danger Mouse’s psych beats made a shock­ingly great couple. Everyone tried to cover this, but nobody sang it like Cee-Lo.

2007
Rihanna, “Umbrella”
Just in case anyone doubted ATL’s status as the summer-jam capital. The-Dream composed this R&B gem, gave it to Miss Good Girl Gone Bad and watched it blow up. Respect!

2008
 M.I.A., “Paper Planes”
Thanks to the Pineap­ple Express trailer, this Sri Lankan rebel-grrrl soundtracked the whole summer, making gunshots funky, cash registers scary and swagger mandatory.

2009
Black Eyed Peas, “Boom Boom Pow”
You may have heard this one. It’s a little subtle. though, so maybe you didn’t get the title. It’s called “Boom Boom Pow,” and it makes “My Humps” sound way too compli­cated. Party on!

 

In This Article: 100 Greatest Songs, Coverwall

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