Cruising with windows open, days at the beach, afternoons in the park, weekend getaways… What’s summer without a soundtrack? As we head into Memorial Day weekend, let’s revisit a handful of classic summer songs that are sure to help you kick-start the season.
‘”Hot Fun in the Summertime,” Sly & the Family Stone
Some songs celebrate the spontaneity of summer nights, but Sly & the Family Stone’s 1969 hit ‘”Hot Fun in the Summertime” makes a point of celebrating those long summer days through triumphant trumpets and a massive singalong chorus. “End of the spring, and here she comes back,” Sly sings, channeling our joy over the mistress known as summer. Listen to it here.
”School’s Out,” Alice Cooper
There was no better anthem than “School’s Out” for the summer of 1972 — and every summer since. No other song has quite captured the joy of summer break like Alice Cooper’s breakthrough hit, even for listeners long out out of high school.
“Heat Wave,” Martha and the Vandellas
Perhaps in August a heat wave would be cause for concern, but most would welcome one to kick-start summer. Though Martha Reeves was singing of a love so fiery it felt like a weather pattern in the 1963 single by famed songwriting team Holland–Dozier–Holland, the effect remains the same. Listen to it here.
“Saturday in the Park,” Chicago
The band may be called Chicago, but the story goes that “Saturday in the Park” was inspired by a summer day in 1971 – “I think it was the 4th of July,” the song says – spent in NYC’s famed Central Park, soaking up street performances. The following July, Chicago released “Saturday in the Park,” and it became their biggest hit, reaching No. 3 on the Hot 100 chart. Listen to it here.
“Summer of ’69,” Bryan Adams
In his biggest hit to date, Bryan Adams outlines instructions for a great summer, even if it’s not 1969. Step 1: Buy your first real six-string. Step 2: Start a band. Step 3: Meet your one true love at a drive-in. Step 4: Hang out on a porch. Step 5: Have the best days of your life.
“Summer in the City,” The Lovin’ Spoonful
Summer can take on a different meaning for urban dwellers, as the summer tends to accentuate certain negative aspects of city life (funky smells, heat trapped between skyscrapers, etc.). Still, there’s nothing quite like a summer night stroll in the big city, making the grit and grime worth it. The Lovin’ Spoonful captured that dynamic in their 1966 hit. Listen to it here.
“The Boys of Summer,” Don Henley
Don Henley has 1984’s “The Boys of Summer” to thank for turning him into a big star outside of the Eagles, but it’s fans that really should be tipping their hats to Henley. He created an enduring ode to sentimentalism by reflecting on carefree summers passed – a something we all can long for as we age. Listen to it here.
”Vacation,” The Go-Go’s
The Go-Go’s got a big hit in the summer of 1982 with “Vacation,” a song that perhaps would not have went Top 10 on the charts had it been released in snowy November. Sure, adults can take vacation whenever they please, but there’s something about a road trip that demands to be taken in the summer. Listen to it here.
“Surfin’ USA,” The Beach Boys
An argument could be made that the majority of the Beach Boys’ early hits are universal summer songs. But with its name-checking of major surf spots across the country (well, mostly just California, but you get the picture), 1963’s “Surfin’ USA” takes the fun-in-the-sun cake.
“Cruel Summer,” Bananarama
As Bananarama chronicled in 1984’s “Cruel Summer,” the season is not necessarily all sunshine and smiles. The heat can make us crazy, and the fun we perceive others to be having can make us feel even lonelier. Listen to it here.
–Jillian Mapes, CBS Local