The 50 best summer songs of all time

Bring this playlist of the best summer songs on all your warm-weather adventures
By Sophie Harris and Time Out New York editors |
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Road trips away from the city, stretching out in the best parks in NYC or posting up in the best outdoor bars—whatever your plans are for this summer in NYC, you'll need a soundtrack of the best summer songs to accompany you! Regardless of your tastes, we've got you covered, having delved into warm weather tracks from every decade—ranging from Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong's ‘50s classics to the contemporary indie stylings of Blood Orange and Jamie xx. And whatever you do, just don't forget the sunscreen! 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to things to do in the summer in NYC

Listen to the best summer songs playlist

Best summer songs of all time

1
Summertime

“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

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2
“Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)

“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

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3
“Can’t We Be Friends” by Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong

“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

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4
"Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts (1972)

"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

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5
Don Henley, "The Boys of Summer"

“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

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6
“Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran (1958)

“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

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7
The Ramones, "Rockaway Beach" (1977)

“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

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8
“Cruel Summer” by Bananarama (1983)

“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

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9
“Hot Fun in the Summertime” by Sly and the Family Stone (1969)

“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

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10
"Lovely Day" by Bill Withers (1977)

"Lovely Day" by Bill Withers (1977)

Sun, rain or hurricane, it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing, cue up this classic gem from revered soul man Bill Withers and you’ll agree that it is indeed a lovely day. Fun fact: Near the end of the song, Withers holds a single note for 18 seconds, which is purportedly the longest note in a U.S. Top 40 single in history. We can only assume the tune’s inescapable buoyancy is what lifted him to such a feat.—Kristen Zwicker

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