In a season of kicking back by the pool and spontaneous road trip adventures to beat the heat, summer remains a prime season for music. Just about all the main genres have some of ode to summer, be it Frederick Delius’ orchestral “Summer Night on the River,” Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” or a “Cruel Summer” from the 1980s sensations known as Bananarama.
In that spirit of summer as a universal musical theme, we’ve assembled a veritable pack of songs to complement this hottest of seasons. All the tunes have “summer” in the title, and are a genre-surfing mix of punk, jazz, rock, hip-hop and more. Grab some sunscreen, a frosty beverage of your choice, and let’s soak in these sounds of summer:
▪ “Celebrated Summer,” Hüsker Dü (1985): A reflective track about summer winding down that veers between punk rock fury and introspective guitar picking. Bonus: The fast sections of the song work as a good backing soundtrack for “chicken fights” in the pool.
▪ “Summer Breeze,” Seals & Crofts (1972): A soothing bit of post-hippie soft rock that endures for its relaxing imagery and earworm of a melody. DJs take note: Mix in the drum track from N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself” or other booming beat in the 98 beats-per-minute range for some mashup summer madness.
▪ “The First Day of Summer,” Screeching Weasel (1996): While Hüsker Dü’s “Celebrated Summer” riffs on the end of the season, this spunky pop-song mourns the end of summer before it’s barely begun. Either way, summer moping rarely feels this peppy.
▪ “Summertime,” DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (1991): So, you’re having a ’90s-themed party in the summer. This laid-back 1991 hip-hop hit built on a sample from Kool & the Gang’s “Summertime Madness” is a must for your playlist.
▪ “Summer Nights,” John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John (1978): Because everyone loves a good summer singalong by the campfire.
▪ “Delius (Song of Summer),” Kate Bush (1980): The musical version of summer daydreaming, with impressionistic, half-formed lyrics and a fairy-like voice that seems to come from some mystical place.
▪ “Summertime Sadness (Cedric Gervais remix),” Lana Del Rey (2012): And sometimes not all feels free and upbeat at that dance party near the beach in Ibiza. Lana Del Rey probes the lonelier side of summer, but this remix by Cedric Gervais has the prerequisite bass and uplifting synth melodies to wipe that seasonal affective disorder right off the dance floor.
▪ “Summertime Blues,” The Who (1970): Also related to a bummer of a summer, this classic Eddie Cochran cover from The Who’s “Live at Leeds” burns with one of rock’s greatest bass performances and guitar fireworks from Pete Townshend that’s like the musical version of Fourth of July pyrotechnics.
▪ “Summer of ’69,” Bryan Adams (1984): If this 1980s pop hit feels too basic for your taste, check YouTube for Ryan Adams covering this tune from his near namesake.
▪ “Summertime,” Nina Simone (1959): So many great versions exist of this standard from “Porgy & Bess,” but this plaintive interpretation that squeezes every bit of possible drama possible from the song is hard to top.
▪ “Summer in the City,” Justice System (1994): Not to be confused with the Lovin’ Spoonful song of the same name, this jazzy hip-hop tune with an exceptionally thumping live drum track adds the right amount of cool to this scene of urban life in the hottest time of year. Relax, and just chill.