The 50 best summer songs ever made

The sun is out and LA's best beaches are calling. All you need is our best summer songs playlist and you're good to go.

Photograph: Ilyashenko Oleksiy/Shutterstock

We’re going to make an outlandish claim here. We’re willing to bet you love at least 98% of the songs on our list of the best summer songs. Why? Because the nature of the perfect summer song is that it makes you feel good: It lifts the heart, puts a little sweat under the armpits, makes you feel like the city might just be yours for the taking today.

Of course, the classics are represented; the Surfaris and the Lovin’ Spoonful make high showings, as do Motown scorchers Martha and the Vandellas. You can get your groove on with the likes of Sly and the Family Stone and Kool and the Gang, or blush along to coy indie hits by the Smiths and Belle and Sebastian. There’s blistering karaoke drama from Meat Loaf, and (of course) the cast of Grease, plus mellow cuts from Seals and Crofts and Kanye West. In short, we have your summer soundtrack covered—complete with a Spotify playlist. Now get to it, Los Angeles! Whether you're hitting LA's best beaches and pool parties, or cruising PCH with the top down, turn it up and let’s make this the best summer ever.

Written by Amy Plitt, Steve Smith, Sophie Harris, Hank Shteamer, Rachel Sonis, Andrew Frisicano, Tim Lowery, Adam Feldman, Bruce Tantum and Caitlin White.

50–41

“All Summer Long” by Kid Rock (2008)

We know, we know—you’re probably hoisting a finger cross right now, and it’s true, this Southern-fried Bud-hoister is one of the tackier hits the aughts have spewed forth. But there’s something about the aw-shucks nostalgia of the Kid’s delivery here, not to mention his lovably tasteless mash-up of Skynyrd and Warren Zevon, that gets us a little misty-eyed about our own bygone summer revelries.—Hank Shteamer

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Summertime” by Beyoncé (2003)

A solid decade before her tour de force self-titled album BEYONCÉ came out, the R&B icon was co-starring in a romantic comedy with Cuba Gooding Jr. The Fighting Temptations didn’t do much in the way of blockbuster sales, but this somewhat hidden gem in Beyoncé’s discography revels in a summer love that lasts. Featuring P. Diddy, the song was released as a B-side to “Crazy in Love.” For those who miss Beyoncé’s classic Destiny’s Child sound, this is the perfect summer playlist addition.—Caitlin White

 Download on Amazon

“Paradise” by Tove Lo (2014)

This one encapsulates the breathless swell of summer love in enormous, electro pop fashion. Tove Lo is the latest Swedish diva in a long line of forbearers, and her tracks undulate between utter puppy love adoration and the pain of losing it all. But “Paradise” remains on the upswing of that pendulum, rescuing the trope of love-as-heaven with huge drums, soaring vocals and siren-like synths. This is a huge jam, and given the success of her predecessors like Icona Pop, or the more subdued Lykke Li, this song will quickly become ubiquitous.—Caitlin White

 Download on Amazon

“Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden (1994)

Perhaps no one relates to the idea of the sun as a black hole as much as New Yorkers. Sure, we slave through the winter, toiling through snowdrifts and ungodly temperatures, wishing for summer, but once the humidity hits, temperatures are just as unbearable on the opposite end of the thermometer. Soundgarden’s 1994 classic sums up both our desire for the summertime, and the inevitable tinge of darkness that usually accompanies summer in New York.—Caitlin White

 Download on Amazon

“I Hate Summer” by Fucked Up (2011)

Fucked Up are well known for going against the grain on a lot of things, and odds are there’s a contingent of people who are equally eager to embrace an incendiary rant against summertime. Damian Abraham’s signature, grizzled vocals lead the charge against summer’s usual peaceful landscape, and the song is spurred on by gunning drums, riveting guitar solos and an all-around dose of aggression.—Caitlin White

 Download on Amazon

“King of the Beach” by Wavves (2010)

Wavves frontman Nathan Williams is like a modern incarnation of the fun-loving beach bums that the Beach Boys sang about four decades ago—if those dudes had also had an affinity for Blink 182 records and weed by the sackful. Nowhere is this more clear than on this 2010 single, all sunny surf-rock guitars with a gnarly pop-punk twist.—Amy Plitt

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“In the Sun” by Blondie (1976)

Turns out the Ramones weren’t the only New Yorkers who yearned to hit the beach.… This deep cut from Blondie’s debut LP conjures rolling waves and warm nights effortlessly, thanks in part to twangy surf guitars and Clem Burke’s rumbling drums.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Big Talk” by Conway (2013)

“Big Talk” has one of those soaring, euphoric choruses that makes it the ideal summer jam, and the tongue-in-cheek bite of Conway’s lyrics also makes it the perfect kiss-off to awful bosses, mind-numbing jobs or boastful exes—all the things summer demands we ditch in embrace of pure pop bliss.—Caitlin White

 Download on Amazon

“Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas (1963)

It may be that the only thing better than a summer fling is relishing the memory of a summer fling, and one spin of soulstresses Martha and the Vandellas’ 1963 classic “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave” will likely bring it all back. One of Motown’s many precious gems, this tune was produced by Hollan-Dozier-Holland and made the Vandellas the first Motown group to receive a Grammy nod. A fling with wings, no less!—Rachel Sonis

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Under the Boardwalk” by the Drifters (1964)

This song is deceptively simple—there aren’t many verses, and there’s a pretty long instrumental interlude right in the middle—but few tunes are as evocative of summer as this one. You can almost feel the sand crunching beneath your toes and the ocean waves in the background as you listen to all of its talk of hot dogs, the sun beating down on a tar-papered roof and getting cozy on a blanket with your beloved.—Amy Plitt

 Download on Amazon

Read more

40–31

“Beat This Summer” by Brad Paisley (2013)

Everyone has summers that they feel nostalgic about, whether it’s a beautiful childhood memory, the freedom of college or a first love. On “Beat This Summer,” Brad Paisley beats himself to the punch of missing summer by feeling nostalgic about the season before it even passes him by. The sentiment is earnest, almost saccharine, but the rollicking guitars and echoing harmonies help flesh out a sweet summer bummer track.—Caitlin White

 Download on Amazon

“Summer’s Comin’ ” by Clint Black (1995)

“Nothin’ on earth that’ll get me hummin’ / Like a heat wave comin’ and I’ll come runnin’.” Country music is hardly lacking for summertime odes, but none pack quite as much punch as this snappy hit by one of the biggest stars of the big-hat generation. Bonus: The video stars Howie Mandel, out cruising for girls—who all turn out to be boys.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Roosevelt Island” by Eleanor Friedberger (2011)

Friedberger, one half of the brother-sister duo Fiery Furnaces, called her first solo album Last Summer; the tune that we think best evokes the season is this single, named for the wee island in the middle of the East River. Over a funky, sunny beat, Friedberger sings about traveling to Coney Island, riding the Cyclone and how much better it is to be out in the sun than riding the subway.—Amy Plitt

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Coffee” by Sylvan Esso (2014)

This is the kind of song you need to play on summer evenings when things are beginning to wind down and the mood turns contemplative. Anchored by Amelia Meath’s rich alto and deeply personal, nostalgic lyrics, it neatly contrasts the depths of winter cold and hot coffee with “blazing summer” and cold coffee, using the seasons and their alternating temperatures to tell a larger story about the inevitable passage of time, loss and memory.—Caitlin White

 Download on Amazon

“The Girl from Ipanema” by Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto and Stan Getz (1964)

Composed in 1962 by bossa nova pioneers Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, this wistful air—a longing look a beautiful girl as she walks off to the sea—has become a staple of lounge culture, covered more often than almost any other song in pop history. Yet the definitive version remains the one that made it famous. In this musical ménage à trois, the melody is first delivered in Portuguese by João Gilberto, in a honeyed croon; then by his wife, Astrud, singing artlessly in English (with lyrics by Normal Gimbel); and thirdly by Stan Getz’s gentle, gauzy tenor sax. A real-life affair between the latter two brought their collaboration to a close soon after, but the song blows on like a cool breeze on the beach.—Adam Feldman

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Too Darn Hot” by Mel Tormé (1960)

Cole Porter turns the notion of overheated sex on its head in this ditty, the second-act opener of his 1948 musical Kiss Me, Kate. But the erotic languor described in the lyrics is cutely contradicted by its toe-tapping music and the energetic dance number that it was designed to entail. (In the movie, it’s used as a saucy showcase for a scantily clad Ann Miller.) Mel Tormé’s swinging version, from his 1960 album Mel Tormé Swings Shubert Alley, makes the most of the song’s hot-and-cold dynamic, tossing off effortlessly quick and smooth demurrals even as his band gets cooking.—Adam Feldman

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Summertime Clothes” by Animal Collective (2009)

Embedded in freak-folk posse Animal Collective’s mainstream breakthrough LP, Merriweather Post Pavilion, this rubbery ditty testifies to some of summer’s stickier situations: hot nights, sweaty sheets, midnight munchies, clothes stripped off and dancing aglow with sweat because there’s nothing else to do.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Sunbathing Animal” by Parquet Courts (2014)

For those who don’t want their summer playlist devoted to the pop side of things, try “Sunbathing Animal,” from the noisy Brooklyn quartet’s album of the same name. This song is the perfect, punky foil to some of the more radio-ready songs of the summer, with grueling guitar solos and plenty of throwback moments.—Caitlin White

 Download on Amazon

“Peaches” by the Stranglers (1977)

Sex. It’s what the Stranglers made a name trading in, musically, and it’s what made this song so notorious in the U.K. in 1977, even giving the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” a run for its money. What’s going on? Oh, singer Hugh Cornwell’s just eyeing up the ladies on hot day: “Walkin’ on the beaches, lookin’ at the peaches.” The song’s innuendo and language may have been shocking, but the way the Stranglers matched Cornwell’s ridiculous machismo with even more ridiculous, Muppets-style nonsense noises makes the song impossible to take too seriously.—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Summer” by War (1976)

With couplets like “riding round town with all the windows down / eight-track playing all your favorite sounds” and “rapping on the CB radio in your van / we’ll give a big ten-four to the truckin’ man,” this 1976 slice of AM gold is a time capsule of a track, to say the least. But the tune—a rare mellow cut from the California funkateers of War—evokes a timeless warm-weather vibe, perfectly captured by its laid-back groove and gorgeous chord progression. As the song says, “Summer time is the best time any place”—and we couldn’t agree more.—Bruce Tantum

 Download on Amazon

30–21

“Everybody Loves the Sunshine” by Roy Ayers (1976)

“My life, my life, my life, my life / In the sunshine”—summertime odes don’t come much simpler, sweeter or sexier than this 1976 slow jam by jazz vibraphonist turned soul sensation Roy Ayers. Even if you don’t think you know this classic tune, you’ve heard it sampled by Mary J. Blige, Common, P.M. Dawn and plenty of others.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Theme from A Summer Place” by Percy Faith (1960)

Max Steiner, who scored Gone with the Wind and Casablanca, composed this dreamy strain for the 1959 drama A Summer Place as the love theme for the teenagers played by Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue. The song does have lyrics, but it’s the orchestral version—by Canadian bandleader innovator Percy Faith—that became an easy-listening classic. (It held the top spot on the Billboard chart for nine weeks in 1960, still a record for an instrumental single.) The wholesome sense of yearning captured in this recording—the piano beating like an eager heart, as the strings breathe in and out above it—goes beyond the elevators and waiting rooms to which it’s long been consigned.—Adam Feldman

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“This Summer’s Been Good from the Start” by Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci (2000)

Obscure, yes, but utterly lovely, this song opens an acoustic mini-album by cult Welsh group Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, which switched up its luscious psychedelia for dreamy, delicate country music. “Well we slept underneath August stars,” sings Euros Childs, “And we talked about girls seen from afar.” No other song captures the joy and dewy longing of a first crush quite like this.—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“I Know Where the Summer Goes” by Belle and Sebastian (1998)

Because, yes, summer is fun—but good gosh can it be melancholy, too. Beloved Scottish indie troupe Belle and Sebastian won over legions of sensitive fans with this swoonsome number from 1998 EP This Is Just a Modern Rock Song. As if its odd little Proustian sensory rushes weren’t enough (“the smell of hot desk”), just get two minutes into the song, when angelically voiced Stuart Murdoch sings a line where “flowering cherries rain on kids like you—” and all the music stops for just long enough to stall your heart.—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“This is How We Roll” by Florida Georgia Line featuring Luke Bryan (2014)

For those who have somehow managed to remain unaware of Florida Georgia Line so far, their monster collaboration with Luke Bryan will assuredly change that. “This is How We Roll” is all about being young, partying and being in love—all the things that the best summer songs embody. Choice lyric, “We’re burning down the night, shooting bullets at the moon” is poetic enough to even give their haters pause.—Caitlin White

 Download on Amazon

“Suddenly Last Summer” by the Motels (1983)

Despite being named for a particularly grisly one-act play by Tennessee Williams, this ubiquitous staple of early MTV caught on because of its wistful nostalgia for transitory pleasures—and, let’s face it, for the sultry voice and bedroom eyes of singer Martha Davis, who claims she was thinking about ice-cream trucks passing by.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Summer Rain” by Johnny Rivers (1967)

“All summer long, we spent dancin’ in the sand,” sings rock & roller Johnny Rivers on this urgent, romantic 1967 hit, “And the jukebox kept on playin’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” While your teenage, sandy embraces may have been soundtracked by something far more modern, it’s a blissful head trip to imagine yourself in the middle of this song.—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Summer Madness” by Kool & the Gang (1974)

Madness isn’t exactly the emotional state that this gorgeous, easygoing 1974 instrumental track evokes; instead, it’s the perfect soundtrack for a sultry afternoon spent lazing in the park. Its swooning synth, shimmering Rhodes piano and hazy-day melody have been sampled countless times—notably for DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s ode to backyard barbecuing, “Summertime”—but more than that, the track has served as inspiration for pretty much every chill-out act worth its downtempo groove, from Air to Zero 7.—Bruce Tantum

 Download on Amazon

“The Joy” by Kanye West, Pete Rock and Jay-Z

Yeezy really spoiled us back in 2010, with his G.O.O.D. Music Friday giveaways, and this track was easily the finest of the set. Together with production genius Pete Rock, West put together an exquisite summer kiss of a song that sampled Curtis Mayfield’s dreamy “The Makings of You” and a snip from Syl Johnson’s “Different Strokes” (that “uh!” sample). Add into that a flow from West that conjures hot sidewalks, sticky summertime sex, and the urban grind, and then a guest spot from Jay-Z. It’s almost too much, too excessively luscious and grimy—just like summer in the city.—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks (1966)

This is 1966 anthem is probably the only tune on the list that doubles as a tongue-in-cheek protest against high progressive taxation: “The taxman’s taken all my dough, and left me in my stately home,” sighs Ray Davies’s bon vivant narrator, adding, “And I can’t sail my yacht, he’s taken everything I’ve got.” Wry and funny. “Sunny Afternoon” is also one hell of a summer tune. From its languid melodies to Davies’s hypnotic vocals, we might as well all be “lazin’ ”—or “blazin’,” depending on how you hear it—“on a sunny afternoon in the summertime.”—Rachel Sonis

 Download on Amazon

Read more

20–11

“In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry (1970)

A giddy, unguilty pleasure of a one-hit-wonder track, this 1970 best-seller bounces with a feeling that positively radiates effervescent summertime fun. Because of one lyric in particular—“have a drink, have a drive / go out and see what you can find,” the tune also surfaced in a U.K. public service campaign against drunk driving.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Summer Nights” by John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and the cast of Grease (1978)

What would summer be without summer flings? Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey capture the magic of transient teen romance in this clever doo-wop number from their 1972 musical, Grease, which achieved even greater cultural ubiquity in its blockbuster 1978 movie adaptation. The song’s playful he-said-she-said structure enacts (and lightly spoofs) 1950s gender roles: The guys are all about sex and braggadocio, while the girls want to hear about tenderness and status. And the sing-along choruses make “Summer Nights” an ideal vessel for groups at karaoke bars, where you can hear it every night, all year round.—Adam Feldman

 Download on Amazon

Read more

“Ask” by the Smiths (1986)

“Spending warm summer days indoors…” Oh, you know the type—maybe you’ve been the type—the kind of melancholically minded, poetic youth who simply can’t risk your delicate complexion or even more delicate disposition in the dazzle of sunshine and the risk of actual fun. Morrissey—the scrooge of summer—we salute you for this 1986 Smiths classic, urging shy types to come on out of their shells: “If there’s something you’d like to try, ask me, I won’t say no, how could I.” It is summer, after all.—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

“Summer Babe” by Pavement (1992)

One of the finest examples of lyrics that made no sense making perfect sense (“I saw your girlfriend and she was eatin’ her fingers like they’re just another meal”), this slacker anthem broke hearts and starred on mixtapes for many a summer after its 1992 release. The true meaning of the song, of course, comes together when usually deadpan singer Stephen Malkmus howls, “Don’t gooooooooo!!!!” and a thousand crush-wounded teenagers collapsed face-first onto their beds.—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

“Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams (1985)

The facts might be a little fuzzy—Bryan Adams was only nine years old in the actual summer of ’69—but it’s a safe bet that the Ontario song man was speaking from experience when he looked back on the twin pleasures of rock and romance in this 1985 roots-pop staple. Though Adams himself has tipped fans off to the cheeseball innuendo in the title, we prefer to think of this one in PG terms: an all-purpose ode to the endless possibility of three gloriously school-free adolescent months.—Hank Shteamer

 Download on Amazon

“School’s Out for Summer” by Alice Cooper (1972)

These days, shock-rock godfather Alice Cooper’s idea of summertime fun is hitting the links at some tony country club. But back in 1972, Cooper and his rough-and-tumble band perfectly captured the rowdy spirit of the last day of school—which Cooper rated as second only to Christmas as the most important day on the calendar.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

“Wipe Out” by the Surfaris (1963)

A high-pitched laugh, a drum fill that inspired thousands of kids to annoy parents at the dinner table and an instantly recognizable guitar riff: This is how you start a song. Interestingly, “Wipe Out” was originally penned as a last-minute B-side—only to became arguably the most recognizable surf-rock cut ever. And 50 years after it’s release, it still sounds fun as hell.—Tim Lowery

 Download on Amazon

“Dancing in the Street” by Martha and the Vandellas (1964)

Martha and the Vandellas already appear on this list, for their 1963 Motown breakthrough, “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave.” But their even more enduring contribution to the estival catalog is 1964’s “Dancing in the Street,” an exuberant call to booty-shaking action cowritten by a young Marvin Gaye (who also played drums on the recording). In this case, it’s not love that brings a sense of summer, but summer that brings a sense of love: an occasion for people “across the nation” and “around the world” to join in celebration. This democratic attitude took on civil-rights overtones when “Dancing in the Street” was appropriated as an unofficial anthem of the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles. But Martha Reeves insisted that it was not intended in that spirit. “My Lord, it was a party song,” she said, and whatever else it might have become, no one can argue with that.—Adam Feldman

 Download on Amazon

“That Summer Feelin’ ” by Jonathan Richman (1984)

No one does wistful nostalgia and pure, unadulterated joy quite like Jonathan Richman, the reformed punk godfather turned wide-eyed purveyor of childlike wonder. Still, there’s a knowing edge to Richman’s recollections: “That summer feeling’s gonna haunt you the rest of your life.”—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

10–1

"Summertime Sadness (Remix)" Lana Del Rey (2013)

Many of us were won over by Lana Del Rey’s demure, torch-singer style after 2011’s languid “Video Games,” but the Cedric Gervais remix of her slow-burning “Summertime Sadness” brought her particular brand of melancholy to an EDM-infused zenith. The track has become her best-selling and best-charting single yet, and in its remixed form, it hits both the highs and lows of summer with uncanny precision.—Caitlin White

 Download on Amazon

“Hot Fun in the Summertime” by Sly and the Family Stone (1969)

Released in August 1969, “Hot Fun in the Summertime” by funk trailblazers Sly and the Family Stone dropped at the height of the band’s career, after its legendary performance at Woodstock earlier that summer. It even landed the group the No. 2 spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, as well as No. 3 on the Billboard soul charts in the autumn of 1969. And how could it not? The song’s happy-go-lucky melody, coupled with frontman Sly Stone’s soulful tone, makes for a tune that perfectly encapsulates the mood of every summertime to come in a just a two-and-a-half-minute time span.—Rachel Sonis

 Download on Amazon

“Cruel Summer” by Bananarama (1983)

To any fan of The Karate Kid—in which this icily funky 1983 dance-pop hit soundtracked Daniel LaRusso’s disastrous attempt to fit in at his new high school—“Cruel Summer” will forever symbolize those sweltering dog days when the sun’s beating down and you just can’t catch a break. To everyone else, it’s a ready-made anthem for whatever warm-weather blues might have you bumming.—Hank Shteamer

 Download on Amazon

“Rockaway Beach” by the Ramones (1977)

If ever there was a surf tune that catered to the punk soul, the Ramones’ 1977 classic “Rockaway Beach” is it. Penned by bassist Dee Dee Ramone, the only proclaimed “beachgoer” of the group (yes, the thought makes us laugh too), this tune channels the Beach Boys but does it Ramones-style: amped-up and rambunctious.—Rachel Sonis

 Download on Amazon

“Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran (1958)

“I’m a gonna raise a fuss, I’m a gonna raise a holler,” Eddie Cochran sings in this ode to the pressures of summertime unemployment and its pressures. The Who would go on to record a titanic cover live at Leeds, while Blue Cheer’s crunchy version amounted to nascent heavy metal, but the original has a rockabilly twang all its own.—Steve Smith

 Download on Amazon

“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley (1984)

Maybe the most wrenching of all the “Where did we go wrong?” baby-boomer anthems, this 1984 triumph finds the Eagles kit man mourning not just the summer love that got away but the dashed ideals of an entire generation. Some might chuckle at those synthetic seagull caws and dated drum-machine tones, but anyone who claims not to feel a chill when Henley recounts seeing “a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac” probably needs a pulse check. This is beachside existentialism 101.—Hank Shteamer

 Download on Amazon

"Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts (1972)

Nothing says summer like a little harmony-driven folk-pop, and this 1972 AM Gold staple epitomizes that mini movement about as well as any track we could name. We’re not sure what Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were getting at when they sang of the “jasmine in my mind”—or what strain of weed might’ve inspired that trippy turn of phrase—but there’s no resisting the bittersweet tug of this tune, covered by everyone from Cincinnati soul faves the Isley Brothers to ’90s goth-metal masters Type O Negative.—Hank Shteamer

 Download on Amazon

“Summertime” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (1957)

“Summertime” is a gorgeous lie. As written by George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward for the seminal 1935 American folk opera Porgy & Bess, it’s a lullaby sung by a poor young mother in the slums of South Carolina, assuring her child of a tranquil world that is nowhere around them. (Fish don’t jump on Catfish Row, and the living sure as hell isn’t easy.) Originally sung in a classical soprano range, “Summertime” has been reinvented in many modes, including Janis Joplin’s achingly desperate 1968 account. But it’s hard to beat the warm, soothing version that Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded for their 1957 Porgy & Bess album. Curled in the warm voices of these peerless vocalists, you’re transported to a gentler place, with the Daddy and Mammy of jazz standing by.—Adam Feldman

 Download on Amazon

“Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)

The Lovin’ Spoonful begins its brilliant rock portrait of urban mood swings in a prelude of pent-up anticipation. Three quick pullbacks on the musical slingshot, each followed by a bang of drums like a backfiring car—and then it’s straight into the fast lane, with hard-driving verses that barely come up for air. In tautly evocative language, the song limns a Jekyll and Hyde portrait of a city split into sweltering days (“All around, people looking half dead / Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head”) and cool, exhilarating nights of randy tomcats on the prowl. Real street sounds (car horns, a jackhammer) add texture to the midsong musical interlude, which lets the song catch its breath before launching back to the urgent rhythms it renders so urgently.—Adam Feldman

 Download on Amazon

“Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (1991)

You don’t have to live in the L.A. sunshine, dress like the Fresh Prince or even remember the ’90s especially well to recognize this song as the ultimate summer jam. Delivered by ’90s hip-hop pop heroes Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, this dreamy ode to the fairest of the seasons checks off pretty much every summer essential, from shooting hoops on the street, to dancing at a barbecue and reminiscing about the first person you kissed—but the real joy of “Summertime” is that it’s so easy. “Time to sit back and unwind,” trill the breezy singers at the chorus. We thought you’d never ask.—Sophie Harris

 Download on Amazon

Listen to Time Out’s 50 best summer songs ever made playlist on Spotify

Comments