For those of us who don’t live in tropical splendor all year round, the arrival of summer brings with it a certain set of seasonal enjoyments: from holidays spent by the beach to sunning yourself in the backyard – all of which are soundtracked by the warm, airy sound of the best summer songs.
Before “song of the summer” became an official superlative used by critics, it was merely measured by an instinctive feeling. What makes a great summer song? Well, for a start it’s all about the vibe, the feel, every bit as much as it’s about the lyrics.
Ever since the Billboard Hot 100 was christened in 1958, each summer’s seasonal hits have stood as a snapshot in time: a nostalgic mix of memory and sunshine that transport you back to the summers of your youth. Whether it’s 1958’s greaser classic ‘Summertime Blues’, by Eddie Cochran, or the 1991 block-party anthem ‘Summertime’, by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, every era has thrown up classics worth of inclusion among the best summer songs.
While you’re reading, listen to our Best Summer Songs Ever playlist here.
Best Summer Songs Ever: 10 Essential Summertime Jams
10: Bob Marley: ‘Jamming’
Reggae icon Bob Marley remains the unequivocal king of sun-soaked island fare. From ‘Sun Is Shining’ to ‘Could You Be Loved’, Marley’s music has a magical effect on anyone’s dopamine levels. But ‘Jamming’ remains the quintessential summer cut, despite some of its more conscious-raising lyrics going over the heads of your pool-party attendees.
9: Chicago: ‘Saturday In The Park’
This 70s hit from soft rockers Chicago not only evokes the feeling of the season but can make you feel the warmth of summer even on the Windy City’s coldest day. Inspired by a day spent in New York’s Central Park, Chicago songwriter and singer Robert Lamm paints the picture of a perfect summer day. Can you dig it?
8: The Go-Go’s: ‘Vacation’
Some summer songs capture the thrill of a summer love, while The Go-Go’s sing about when it fades away, all set to a peppy beat. Featuring the hallmark Go-Go’s sound, with girl group stylings and surf guitars, ‘Vacation’ is an infectious plea to “get away” and beware of summer flings.
7: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince: ‘Summertime’
For a song that’s about sitting back and relaxing, Will Smith manages to pack in an impressive set of summertime activities, from hitting the court to cruising in the car, attending family barbecues and washing his car down. Featuring one of the most laidback grooves in rap, the Kool & The Gang-sampling anthem sounds like a block party in a bottle.
6: Eddie Cochran: ‘Summertime Blues’
The majority of summer songs are about cutting loose, hitting the streets and other winsome activities, but Eddie Cochran created a song for all those who have to work for the man all season long. In 1958, the rockabilly icon created an anthem for anyone who’s had to toil away their best summer days, tapping into the teenage angst that was bubbling just below the surface.
5: The Isley Brothers: ‘Summer Breeze, Parts 1 & 2’
No knock on soft-rock duo Seals And Croft, who crafted one of the most perfect summer songs with their 1972 hit ‘Summer Breeze’, but The Isley Brothers’ rendition takes the song to a whole other level. On one hand, the sublime simplicity of the original is what makes it such a great summer anthem, but the brothers’ soulful rendition expands the groove and turns the daytime radio hit into a sundown jam.
4. Sly & the Family Stone: ‘Hot Fun In The Summertime’
Sly and co deliver exactly what the title promises with this psychedelic soul gem. Following the success of their historic Woodstock performance, the group pull out all the stops, from soaring strings to doo-wop harmonies and hammering piano on this funkified summer jam.
3: The Beach Boys: ‘California Girls’
What other band has embodied surf, sand and sun more than The Beach Boys? Any number of their recordings can rank among the best summer songs of all time. From their 1965 album Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), however, ‘California Girls’ was Brian Wilson and Mike Love’s teenaged ode to the West Coast’s female populace. With its shuffling organs and crooning harmonies, ‘California Girls’ created the exoticised ideal of American sun-tanned youth and emerged as one one of the most enduring summer songs in the process.
2: Marvin Gaye: ‘Got To Give It Up, Part 1’
As the story goes, after relenting to his label’s insistence to go disco, Marvin Gaye turned out a summer jam that eclipsed anything else on the charts. A reluctant dancer himself, Gaye convinces both himself and the wallflowers of the world to hit the dancefloor with his infectious groove. The singer recruited friends and family alike to create a party atmosphere in the studio, resulting in a song that raged its way to No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
1: Martha & The Vandellas: ‘Dancing In The Street’
When Martha Reeves sent out her “invitation across the nation” to get people on their feet, she had no idea it would evolve into a civil-rights anthem. Thanks to the one-two punch of famed Funk Brother James Jamerson on bass and Marvin Gaye on drums, ‘Dancing In The Street’ became one of the best summer songs on record in 1964 – and lost none of its infectious energy in the decades that followed.