There is nothing to get you in a summery mood like a good playlist on your MP3 player. Team Time Out has trawled the musical archives to present our 20 top songs that make us feel pleased it’s hotting up. From bossa nova to Alice Cooper, and taking in The Smiths and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air on the way, this is what we’ve got on our stereos this year.
The Girl from Ipanema by Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto and Stan Getz (1964)
Composed in 1962 by bossa nova pioneers Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, this wistful air – a longing look at a beautiful girl as she walks off to the sea – has become a staple of lounge culture, covered more often than almost any other song in pop history. Yet the definitive version remains the one that made it famous. The melody is first delivered in Portuguese by João Gilberto, in a honeyed croon; then by his wife, Astrud, singing artlessly in English (with lyrics by Normal Gimbel); and thirdly by Stan Getz’s gentle, gauzy tenor sax.
Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves (1985)
Just try not to smile when the brass kicks in at the ten-second mark of this jolt of pure pop joy.
Katrina and the Waves’ 1985 radio hit isn’t literally about summer at all; it’s about the excitement of awaiting a visit from someone you love (and the thrill of knowing that he or she loves you in the first place). But the song’s energy suggests that summer is less a season than a state of mind that can be tapped into anytime.
Sunny Afternoon by the Kinks (1966)
This anthem is probably the only tune on the list that doubles as a tongue-in-cheek protest against high progressive taxation: ‘The taxman’s taken all my dough, and left me in my stately home,’ sighs Ray Davies’s bon vivant narrator, adding, ‘And I can’t sail my yacht, he’s taken everything I’ve got.’ Wry and funny, Sunny Afternoon is also an all-time great summer tune. From its languid melodies to Davies’s hypnotic vocals, we might as well all be ‘lazin’ on a sunny afternoon in the summertime.’
Sun Is Shining by Bob Marley and the Wailers (1971)
This track might open with the reggae icon singing, ‘Sun is shining, the weather is sweet / Make you want to move your dancing feet,’ but it’s more likely to inspire you to lie still and just relax. Mellow even by Marley & Co.’s standards, it’s a perfect soundtrack choice for a chilled-out evening.
Summertime by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (1991)
You don’t have to live in the LA sunshine, dress like the Fresh Prince or even remember the 90s especially well to recognise this song as the ultimate summer jam. Delivered by 90s hip-hop pop heroes Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, this dreamy ode to the fairest of the seasons checks off pretty much every summer essential, from shooting hoops on the street, to being at a barbecue – but the real joy of Summertime is that it’s so easy. ‘Time to sit back and unwind,’ trill the breezy singers at the chorus.
Surfin’ USA by the Beach Boys (1963)
The California quintet is the quintessential summer band – from its earliest singles to later (and, sure, less great) hits like Kokomo, the Beach Boys have always espoused the benefits of having fun in the sun. Their 1963 hit – one of many Beach Boys songs with ‘surfin’’ in the title – is both a manifesto for the California surfer-dude lifestyle and a love letter to the band’s home state.
Wipe Out by the Surfaris (1963)
A high-pitched laugh, a drum fill that inspired thousands of kids to annoy parents at the dinner table and an instantly recognisable guitar riff: this is how you start a song. Interestingly, Wipe Out was originally penned as a last-minute B-side – only to become arguably the most recognisable surf-rock cut ever.
Dancing in the Street by Martha and the Vandellas (1964)
1964’s Dancing in the Street, is an exuberant call to fun co-written by a young Marvin Gaye. In this case, it’s not love that brings a sense of summer, but summer that brings a sense of love: an occasion for people ‘across the nation’ and ‘around the world’ to join in celebration. This democratic attitude took on civil-rights overtones when Dancing in the Street was appropriated as an unofficial anthem of the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles. But Martha Reeves insisted that it was not intended in that spirit.
Summer Nights by John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and the cast of Grease (1978)
What would summer be without a little romance? Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey capture the magic of transient teen romance in this clever doo-wop number from their 1972 musical, Grease, which achieved even greater cultural ubiquity in its blockbuster 1978 movie adaptation. The song’s playful he-said-she-said structure enacts (and lightly spoofs) 1950s gender roles: The guys are all about braggadocio, while the girls want to hear about tenderness.
That Summer Feelin’ by Jonathan Richman (1984)
No one does wistful nostalgia and pure, unadulterated joy quite like Jonathan Richman, the reformed punk maestro turned wide-eyed purveyor of childlike wonder. Still, there’s a knowing edge to Richman’s recollections: ‘That summer feeling’s gonna haunt you the rest of your life.’
Hot Fun in the Summertime by Sly and the Family Stone (1969)
Released in August 1969, Hot Fun in the Summertime by funk trailblazers Sly and the Family Stone dropped at the height of the band’s career, after its legendary performance at Woodstock earlier that summer. It even landed the group the No. 2 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100, as well as No. 3 on the Billboard soul charts in the autumn of 1969. And how could it not? The song’s happy-go-lucky melody, coupled with front man Sly Stone’s soulful tone, makes for a tune that perfectly encapsulates the mood of every summertime to come in just a two-and-a-half-minute time span.
Cruel Summer by Bananarama (1983)
To any fan of The Karate Kid – in which this funky 1983 pop hit sound tracked Daniel LaRusso’s disastrous attempt to fit in at his new high school – Cruel Summer will forever symbolise those sweltering dog days when the sun’s beating down and you just can’t catch a break. To everyone else, it’s a ready-made anthem for whatever warm-weather blues can bring.
In the Summertime by Mungo Jerry (1970)
A giddy, unguilty pleasure of a one-hit-wonder track, this 1970 bestseller bounces with a feeling that positively radiates effervescent summertime fun. It is considered one of the highest selling singles of all time with an estimated 30 million copies sold and number one spot in countries as far afield as Australia, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada and South Africa.
Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran (1958)
‘I’m a gonna raise a fuss, I’m a gonna raise a holler,’ Eddie Cochran sings in this ode to the pressures of summertime unemployment. The Who would go on to record a titanic cover live at Leeds, while Blue Cheer’s crunchy version amounted to nascent heavy metal, but the original has a rockabilly twang all on its own.
The Boys of Summer by Don Henley (1984)
Maybe the most wrenching of all the ‘Where did we go wrong?’ baby-boomer anthems, this 1984 triumph finds The Eagles kit man mourning not just the summer love that got away but the dashed ideals of an entire generation. Some might chuckle at those synthetic seagull caws and dated drum-machine tones, but anyone who claims not to feel a chill when Henley recounts seeing ‘a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac’ probably needs a pulse check. This is beachside existentialism 101.
Summer Breeze by Seals and Crofts (1972)
Nothing says summer like a little harmony-driven folk-pop, and this 1972 AM Gold staple epitomises that mini movement about as well as any track we could name. We’re not sure what Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were getting at when they sang of the ‘jasmine in my mind’, but there’s no resisting the bittersweet tug of this tune, covered by everyone from Cincinnati soul faves the Isley Brothers to 90s goth-metal masters Type O Negative.
Summertime by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (1957)
Summertime is a gorgeous lie. As written by George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward for the seminal 1935 American folk opera Porgy & Bess, it’s a lullaby sung by a poor young mother in the slums of South Carolina, assuring her child of a tranquil world that is nowhere around them. Originally sung in a classical soprano range, Summertime has been reinvented in many modes but it’s hard to beat the warm, soothing version that Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded for their 1957 Porgy & Bess album. Curled in the warm voices of these peerless vocalists, you’re transported to a gentler place, with the Daddy and Mammy of jazz standing by.
Summer in the City by the Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)
The Lovin’ Spoonful begins its brilliant rock portrait of urban mood swings in a prelude of pent-up anticipation. Three quick pullbacks on the musical slingshot, each followed by a bang of drums like a backfiring car – and then it’s straight into the fast lane, with hard-driving verses that barely come up for air. In tautly evocative language, the song is a Jekyll and Hyde portrait of a city split into sweltering days (‘All around, people looking half dead / Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head’) and cool, exhilarating nights.
Ask by the Smiths (1986)
‘Spending warm summer days indoors…’ Oh, you know the type – maybe you’ve been the type – the kind of melancholically minded, poetic youth who simply can’t risk a delicate complexion or even more delicate disposition in the dazzle of sunshine and the risk of actual fun. Morrissey – the scrooge of summer – we salute you for this 1986 Smiths classic, urging shy types to come on out of their shells.
School’s Out for Summer by Alice Cooper (1972)
These days, shock-rock master Alice Cooper’s idea of summertime fun is hitting the golf course but back in 1972, Cooper and his rough-and-tumble band perfectly captured the rowdy spirit of the last day of school – which Cooper rated as one of the year’s most important days.