7 Classic Summer Songs for Your Playlist

There are certain timeless things about summer: the feel of beach sand mixing with your sunscreen, walking the boardwalk with the smells of French fries and cotton candy mixing in the air, and driving around with the windows down and the tunes cranked up. Summer absolutely demands a “soundtrack,” and no matter how hip you are (or profess to be), these seven classic summer songs deserve to be in the rotation.

SUMMERTIME BLUES, Eddie Cochran (1958)

For every teen with a crappy summer job and no real say in their situation, Eddie Cochran is here for you. Artists ranging from T-Rex and The Who to country star Alan Jackson have covered it, but Cochran’s version remains the gold standard. He and his songwriter friend Jerry Capeheart wrote it in 45 minutes; Cochran recorded it when he was only 19. The song had a big influence on George Harrison who craved a guitar just like the one he’d seen in a picture of Eddie.

CALIFORNIA GIRLS, The Beach Boys (1965)

Those gorgeous, unforgettable opening chords instantly transport you, as sleek, tanned girls walk a sunny beach (although females from other regions get a proper shout-out). Brian Wilson noted that he’s especially proud of the intro, having dug into his classical bag of tricks. It’s a timeless track no matter what time of year it is. PS – please bury the David Lee Roth version forever. Please.

SUMMER IN THE CITY, The Lovin Spoonful (1966)

The antithesis of the California summer scene was one spent in a sweaty, noisy East Coast city. Singer John Sebastian’s 15-year-old brother Mark wrote a poem that inspired many of the song’s lyrics. What really cements the urban vibe? The actual traffic sounds dropped into the middle of the track which were, Sebastian notes, inspired (a little) by Gershwin’s classic “Rhapsody In Blue.”

GRAZING IN THE GRASS, Hugh Masekela (1968)

While the Friends of Distinction later recorded a version of this song – with lyrics – Hugh Masekela’s buoyant instrumental version is an instant shot of serotonin (cowbell will do that). The South African trumpeter took advantage of the popularity of horn instrumentals made possible by the earlier success of Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass. In 2018, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME, Sly & The Family Stone (1969)

While Sly and Rose Stone man the key vocals, every one of the 7-member group gets a turn at a line and, of course, in the chorus. In his typically laid-back fashion, Sly took his sweet, funky time completing the track and delivered it in August when summer was nearly over. Ironically, it reached its chart peak of #2…in October.

IN THE SUMMERTIME, Mungo Jerry (1970)

Singer Ray Dorset was working his day job at a UK watch factory when the melody just popped into his head. The next day, he managed to grab enough “time” to write the lyrics. With its shaggy rhythm, unconventional instruments (like banjo and jug), and ode to going out to “see what you can find,” it’s essential summer listening.

SUMMER BREEZE, Seals and Crofts (1972)

Admit it: you never paid much attention to “Jasmine” before this laid-back 70s hit, let alone having it blow through your mind.  Seals and Crofts noted that the simple lyrics were reflective of their interest in the Baha’I faith; unlike many songs of the era, there are no deep hidden meanings, just a man enjoying the simple pleasures of coming home after a long day. In the most 70s way possible, it’s all about being in the mellowest of mellow moments, man.  And isn’t that what summer is for?

-Cindy Grogan

Photo by Travis Rupert (Pexels.com)

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13 comments on “7 Classic Summer Songs for Your Playlist

  1. “Sunny Afternoon “ by The Kinks really belongs on the list.

  2. Les Fender

    Sunny Afternoon is a great choice. Here’s a couple more: California Sun by The Rivieras, and I Live For The Sun by The Sunrays (The Sunrays were a “revenge band” put together by Murray Wilson after Brian fired him as The Beach Boys’ manager).

  3. Summer by War belongs, also Summer Madness by Kool & The Gang

  4. Got a few more for you: Don Henley “The Boys of Summer”, Simple Minds “Someone Somewhere (In Summertime)”, Frank Sinatra “Summer Wind”, ELO “One Summer Dream”, It’s A Beautiful Day “A Hot Summer Day”, Stevie Wonder “Summer Soft”, and The Doors “Indian Summer”.

  5. I’d add Good Day Sunshine – the Broad Street remake.

  6. Another classic is A Summer Song by Chad and Jeremy.

  7. Lesley Gore’s “California Nights” is a forgotten classic that I always put on a summer list. With cars also popular in the genre, “Little GTO” by Ronny & The Daytonas is a good one. Can’t forget the great song “Wipeout”!!!

  8. Brian Curtis

    “Starless Summer Sky” by Marshall Crenshaw (from Miracle Of Science [1996, reissued 2019]) is utterly sublime.

    • Henry Smith

      Glad you added that one, Brian, to all the great suggestions in Cindy’s list and the comments above. Every, single, thing, about “Starless Summer Sky” just kills me. It is one of my absolute favorite pieces of pop music ever.

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