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Summertime Blues – 20 Songs for Soaking Up the Sun

From Eddie Cochran to Lana Del Rey, slip on your shades and kick back to the best summer sounds ever written…

q best summer songs
Source: mega / YouTube/Harry Styles/Columbia

We need some time in the sun-sheee-yine...

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Eddie Cochran, “Summertime Blues”

eddie cochran
Source: YouTube

The man who would have been bigger than Elvis wrote “Summertime Blues” as a teenager in 1958, and no two-minute pop song before or since has so perfectly captured the joys and frustrations of being young and broke when the sun’s shining. As Pete Townshend told Rolling Stone in 1968, “When I hear something like ‘Summertime Blues’… then I’m into rock ‘n’ roll, then I’m into a way of life. Into that thing about being that age and grooving to that thing that he’s talking about, which is summertime and not being able to get off work early and not being able to get out in the sunshine and not being able to borrow the car because Dad’s in a foul mood. All those frustrations of summer so wonderfully and so simply, so poetically, put in this incredible package, the package being rock ‘n’ roll.” -- Dominic Utton

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Bananarama, “Cruel Summer”

bananarama
Source: London Records Ltd

Taylor Swift who? Before America’s pop princess got hold of the phrase, “Cruel Summer” was a classic hit by an English girl-group that spun the oppressive heat of a lonely summer into icy synth-pop magic. With its indelible earworm of a hook, Bananarama’s 1983 single, which broke onto the US charts after making it into the Karate Kid movie a year later, is just as catchy as all the best summer jams are — without losing sight of the season’s dark undercurrent. -- Peter Helman

Harry Styles, “Watermelon Sugar”

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Source: YouTube/Harry Styles/Columbia

"Watermelon Sugar” was Styles' first Number 1 single on the Billboard chart. Inspired by Richard Brautigan’s novel In Watermelon Sugar, the song was released in May 2020 with a video celebrating a vintage summer lovefest with lots of watermelon slices, canoodling on the beach and an intro that declared it to be “dedicated to touching” - a bold and much-needed viewpoint during the first few months of the pandemic that helped it to over 372 million YouTube views. With a funk-soul vibe and upbeat lyrics, coupled with Styles bright, suggestive vocal, the song went on to win the 2021 Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance and Song of the Year at that year’s BRITs. -- Amy Hughes

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The Dove Shack, “Summertime in the LBC”

dove shack
Source: YouTube

For those unfamiliar with L.A. area geography, Long Beach is actually not a carefree SoCal beach town, but rather a mostly gritty, heavily industrialized port city. You could be forgiven for any confusion, though, considering the improbable number of breezy, windows-down party jams that wafted up from the city in the 1990s, turning the likes of Snoop Dogg, Sublime and Warren G into household names. The Dove Shack weren’t nearly so lucky, but the trio’s lone hit may be the most timeless summer idyll that the LBC ever produced. -- Andrew Barker

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The Academy Is, “Summer Hair = Forever Young”

the academy is
Source: mega

Graduation ceremonies mark the official start of summer for American teenagers. This sentimental track embodies the way many young adults feel as they prepare to begin a new stage of life. After the festivities wrap up, most people start working or preparing to leave for college. There are still pool parties and late nights spent enjoying the warm weather with childhood friends, but everything is about to change. People want to make the most of their fleeting youth before it slips away for good. “I'll never let you go,” frontman William Beckett sings. “Don't ever forget. Tell me you'll remember. Forever young.” -- Noah Zucker

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Cliff Richard, “Summer Holiday”

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Source: mega

This UK chart-topper was the theme song for the film of the same name, which starred Richard as Don, a bus mechanic who joins with his fellow mechanics Cyril (Melvyn Hayes), Steve (Teddy Green), and Edwin (Jeremy Bulloch, who – trivia alert! – would later play Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) and goes on, yes, a summer holiday. In addition to remaining one of Richard’s most beloved hits, the song also got a brief bit of cult fame for being utilized in the final episode of the iconic ‘80s Brit-com The Young Ones, with Rik leading the group in song just before plunging off a cliff in a double-decker bus. -- Will Harris

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The Undertones, “Here Comes the Summer”

the undertones
Source: mega

The Undertones’ fourth single is, somewhat remarkably, even shorter than Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues”, clocking in at just 105 frenetic seconds… But what a 1 minute 45 seconds they are! As a typically Ramones-inspired riff barrels along and Fergal Sharkey pleads “Ooh baby baby, what can I do”?” the whole thing is given an unstoppable energy and drive by a magical organ riff straight out of the funfair, and then one of the hands-down greatest key changes in the history of pop music. After one listen it’s embedded in your head until September. -- D.U.

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Lana Del Rey, “Summertime Sadness”

lana del rey
Source: mega

From Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” to the Doors’ “Summer’s Almost Gone” and the Cure’s “Last Day of Summer,” a wistful end-of-summer lament is a must for any late-August playlist. Leave it to Lana Del Rey to take those bittersweet blue notes and dial the drama up to eleven on this breakout song from her 2012 major-label debut, complete with a questionably tasteful yet undeniably glamorous video in which she and Jaime King enter into a suicide pact. -- A.B.

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Y&T, “Summertime Girls”

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Source: YouTube

This harmony-laden hair metal classic was the only proper hit single by Y&T, who got their start in 1976 with their debut album, Yesterday and Today. Obviously, the band wasn’t defined as “hair metal” at that time, but they found their greatest success during that era, earning their first charting album with 1983’s Mean Streak. This track holds the distinction of having appeared on two of the band’s albums within the same year: it was tacked onto their live album Open Fire, after which it was also added to their subsequent studio album, Down for the Count. Even at that, it still never got any higher than No. 55 on the Billboard Hot 100, but it did climb to No. 16 on the Mainstream Rock chart, and thanks to a video featuring many bikini-clad maidens, it became an MTV staple. -- W.H.

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B-52s, “Rock Lobster”

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Source: mega

This whacky song about a shellfish making an unwanted appearance at a beach party is impossible to forget. The iconic surf rock riff meshes surprisingly well with the toy keyboards and silly but haunting vocal performances. The track is so strong that it reportedly convinced retired Beatles frontman John Lennon to restart his music career. It inspired his fifth and final solo studio album Double Fantasy, which came out just months before his death in 1980. “Rock Lobster” has also made two separate appearances in Family Guy. -- N.Z.

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The Hold Steady, “Constructive Summer”

hold steady
Source: mega

One of the all-time great “dudes rock!” songs from one of the great “dudes rock!” bands, the Hold Steady’s “Constructive Summer” initially comes off as a giddy summer vacation anthem aimed straight at 35-year-old dads who haven’t had a real summer vacation in a decade. Like most Hold Steady songs, however, there’s both a creeping darkness and an undercurrent of evangelical uplift behind all the surging power chords and Dillinger Four references. “Getting older makes it harder to remember, we are our only saviors,” Craig Finn sings in the song’s valedictory lines. “We’re gonna build something this summer.” -- A.B.

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The Beatles, “Here Comes The Sun”

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Source: Screenshot via YouTube/The Beatles/Apple Corps Ltd.

It was a long time coming but “Here Comes The Sun,” a George Harrison composition from 1969’s Abbey Road, finally (along with “Something”) gave Harrison recognition as a songwriter who could equal the status of Lennon and McCartney. Composed in April 1969 at Eric Clapton’s house after what Harrison described as “a sag off from Apple,” he took a walk around the grounds and despite not having played guitar for a while, this tune was the first thing that rolled out. Recorded in July and August without Lennon, who was recovering from a car crash, the song benefitted from Harrison’s experimentation with the Moog synthesizer. “Here Comes The Sun” has gone on to become the most streamed Beatles song on Spotify and has been covered by artists ranging from Ritchie Havens, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Jon Bon Jovi and the 1976 duet Harrison performed with Paul Simon on Saturday Night Live. -- A.H.

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Wham!, “Club Tropicana”

wham
Source: mega

George Michael may hold the unique distinction of not only writing the definitive Christmas song, but also creating the quintessential summertime song. From the opening cicada calls to the funky bass and bongos, “Club Tropicana” is a shameless celebration of a life dedicated to fun and sunshine (and consequence-free excess, where even the drinks are free), all set to a quintessential, irresistible, and surprisingly sophisticated, 80s backing. Most brilliantly of all, George wrote the song in Andrew Ridgeley’s bedroom aged 18, before Wham! had even secured a record deal. -- D.U.

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John Wesley Harding, “Summer Single”

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Source: Sire Records

During the early 1990s, John Wesley Harding was one of the darlings of the Sire Records roster, delivering some highly enjoyable – and decidedly hook-filled – folk songs with a nicely-polished pop sheen, but as the grunge movement arrived, it would be fair to say, unfortunately, that the popularity of his brand of college rock had gone out of vogue. Despite this, he closed out his major-label career with this amazing Beach Boys-influenced pop song that serves as one of the catchiest, poppiest songs in his catalog. Needless to say, it did precisely nothing on the charts, but you can’t say the man didn’t give it his all. -- W.H.

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Danzig, “Dirty Black Summer”

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Source: mega

Given the album’s monstrous, H.R. Giger-designed cover and song titles like “Sistinas,” “Heart of the Devil” and “How the Gods Kill,” it would seem safe to assume that “Dirty Black Summer,” the first single from Danzig’s third album, would have something truly sinister in store for you. For once, you’d be wrong. Anchored by a wonderfully gnarly blues riff from guitarist John Christ, “Dirty Black Summer” is as straightforward an ode to July high-jinks as anything in the Beach Boys’ discography. “It’s about summertime,” Glen Danzig explained in a 2022 interview. “You're out of school, having a great time, getting in trouble, drinking, not having to worry about going to school, hanging with your friends…there’s a lot of trouble to get into when you’re young and you’re stupid.” -- A.B.

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Pavement, "Summer Babe (Winter Version)"

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Source: K. Westenberg

Although they had already released a few EPs by August 1991, “Summer Babe” was Pavement’s official debut single. Less than a year later, a slightly different “Winter Version” mix of the song became the opening track to their first album, Slanted and Enchanted. It’s a perfect introduction to the band’s shaggy charms, its beautifully wistful guitar crunch and surrealistic lyrics about an unattainable crush getting right to the heart of the yearning hiding beneath the sweaty sheen of suburban California summer. -- P.H.

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Megan Thee Stallion, “Hot Girl Summer” (ft. Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign)

megan nicki
Source: mega

Before making headlines with their surprisingly intense beef earlier this year, Megan Thee Stallion and Nicki Minaj joined forces with Ty Dolla $ign to make the summer anthem of 2019. This song is basically just about being cute and hooking up, but there's nothing wrong with that. The mind-numbing simplicity is what allowed the track to become an inescapable cultural phenomenon. What else would you want playing in the background during a steamy backyard pool party? -- N.Z.

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The Kinks, “Sunny Afternoon”

the kinks ray davies
Source: mega

Has there ever been a cooler, more laid back, more downright dissolute lyric than: “My girlfriend's run off with my car and gone back to her ma and pa / Tellin' tales of drunkenness and cruelty / Now I'm sittin' here, sippin' at my ice cold beer / Lazin' on a sunny afternoon…”? Ray Davies’ 1966 paean to the travails of the idle rich is not only lyrically brilliant, but from the very first notes of the descending opening riff, evokes all the languid pleasures of long days spent with nothing better to do than live so pleasantly, lazing on a sunny afternoon. -- D.U.

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LFO, “Summer Girls”

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Source: mega

You’ve heard the famous quote from This Is Spinal Tap a thousand times – “There’s a fine line between stupid and clever” – but you’ve never experienced it in action quite the way it’s delivered in the lyrics to this song by LFO, an acronym which stands for Lyte Funkie Ones...and, yes, we’re serious. It takes a special kind of lyricist to pen a song which contains the immortal couplet “Fell deep in love, but now we ain’t speakin’ / Michael J. Fox was Alex P. Keaton.” To this day, we’re still not entirely convinced that this song isn’t just some incredibly long con by the members of the Lonely Island, but even as ridiculous as it is, it’s impossible to sit still when it's on. -- W.H.

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The Beach Boys, “Good Vibrations”

beach boys
Source: mega

The Beach Boys may have songs that are more explicitly about summertime... in fact, they have dozens of them. But something about Brian Wilson’s 1966 “pocket symphony” perfectly conjures the feeling of sand between toes and cool ocean breezes better than all of them put together. It doesn’t hurt that it was also a genuine landmark in popular music, as well as the Beach Boys’ final No. 1 single... at least until 1988’s “Kokomo,” which is also more explicitly about the summertime, but let’s not spoil the vibes here. -- A.B.

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