Except for a couple, most of the picks on this list are at least 20 years old. It takes a while for a song to become timeless. In this case, listeners often need a few summers to absorb a song in order to begin relating to it as a seasonal staple.
While the list incorporates some songs that most listeners would immediately associate with summer, there are a few that speak of the season without being obvious. In an effort to make the collection as varied as possible, well-known songs are included as well as a few that have flown under the radar over the years. This means there are a lot of big summer hits (e.g.: “Cruel Summer“ by Bananarama, “Summer Breeze“ by Seals and Croft, anything by the Beach Boys, “Under the Boardwalk“ by the Drifters, etc.) left off the list in order to make room for some lesser-known gems.
What could be more summertime than a lyric like “Orange popsicles and lemonade“? In 1986, The B-52’s’ New Wave, surf pop ditty “Summer of Love“ was the first single released off of Bouncing off Satellites. While many would probably consider “Rock Lobster“ to be the band’s biggest summer hit, “Summer of Love“ is so balmy with its airy keyboards, you can almost hear the sun shining.
The Pixies’ surfer babe, Ana “undressing in the sun“ and about to surf a wave “eleven high“, paints the ultimate picture of summer. In fact all of 1990’s Bossanova, the alt-rock band’s third studio release, could have been included in this list for its preoccupation with California and rockabilly guitar. What makes “Ana“ so special, aside from the dreamy guitars and Black Francis’s spellbound vocals, is that the song is an acrostic, wherein the first letter of each line of the song spells “surfer“. Very clever, Mr. Francis.
In this Grammy-winning tune from 1991, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince recount classic summer diversions in their hometown of Philadelphia. Fresh Prince Will Smith’s vocals are layered over samples of Kool and the Gang’s mellow instrumental, “Summer Madness“, giving the tune a laid back vibe. The official video to the song depicts Smith and Jazzy Jeff riding around Philly and hanging out with folks dancing, grilling, and shooting hoops. You can’t get more “summer“ than that.
When you’re “living on sponge cake“ and “watching the sun bake“, there’s no better tune to have coming through the speakers than Jimmy Buffet’s laid-back “Margaritaville“. Inspired by the time he spent in Key West, the song captures the summertime blues of one man and his mission to drown them in tequila. Written in 1977, “Margaritaville“ has come to epitomize Buffet’s career, even inspiring the musician to open his own chain of restaurants named after the song. As overplayed as it is in dentist offices and waiting rooms across the U.S., this booze cruise anthem is perfect for when you’re sipping a tall one or lounging by the beach.
In the sixth track off their classic Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia album, the Dandy Warhols paint a vivid picture of aging beauty in Hollywood and the money and excess used to offset its demise. In his snarkiest voice, Courtney Taylor-Taylor sings about “itsy-bitys-teeny-weeny-riding-up-your-butt“ bikinis and “cruisin’ and boozin’ and rocking on the horse-sized pills“. Guitars grind while band members call out wisecracks and a chant of “pills, thrills“ repeats in the background. Unfortunately, the video for the song is a snooze. A song this colorful demands an equally vibrant video.