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Best summer songs
Image: TimeOut/Lev Radin/Shutterstock

The 60 essential songs for your summer playlist

From surf-rock anthems to sweaty hip-hop bangers, these classics are pure summer

Written by
Tim Lowery
,
Time Out editors
&
Andy Kryza
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It takes more than repeating the season's name to become an all-timer summer classic... otherwise we'd all be stuck listing to the Grease soundtrack on repeat for eternity. True summer songs can be a lot of things, from slow jams perfectly calibrated for a summer BBQ to surf-rock classics, sun-drenched psychedelia or shamelessly nostalgic pop songs send your mind directly to a sandy beach.  

The songs on this list cover multiple generations of sun-soaked summer songs, from the classic '50s sound all the way up to "Hot Girl Summer." You'll find indie-rock gems and classic soul. But what you won't find, with respect to Bryan Adams and John Travolta, are songs that constantly sneak onto summer playlists by virtue of their titles. Summer's short. We've only got time for bangers.

Listen to these songs on Amazon Music 

RECOMMENDED: The best love songs of all time

Best summer songs of all time

"(Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding
Image: Volt Records

1. "(Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding

Okay, so this lazy-day masterpiece, recorded mere days before Redding’s death in a plane crash, doesn’t specifically single out that it takes place during summertime. But just try to listen to the lapping waves, Redding’s whistling and singing about clearing your mind, and that lovely sonic tranquility throughout without conjuring your most relaxing summer vacation.

"Under the Boardwalk" by the Drifters
Image: Atlantic 8099

2. "Under the Boardwalk" by the Drifters

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.

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“Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
Image: RCA

3. “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince

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. 

"Summer in the City" by the Lovin’ Spoonful
Image: Kama Sutra

4. "Summer in the City" by the Lovin’ Spoonful

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 its urgent rhythms. 

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"Summertime" by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
Image: Verve

5. "Summertime" by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

"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.

"Summer Breeze" by Seals and Crofts
Image: Warner Bros. Records

6. "Summer Breeze" by Seals and Crofts

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. 

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"It’s Summer" by Gladys Knight & the Pips

7. "It’s Summer" by Gladys Knight & the Pips

"I can just feel that soft summer breeze," sings the aptly nicknamed Empress of Soul in this cut about finally—finally—welcoming the warm weather, as strings swirl against a syruppy groove and, of course, the Pips doing their thing.   

"Wipe Out" by the Surfaris
Image: Varèse Sarabande

8. "Wipe Out" by the Surfaris

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.  

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"Rockaway Beach" by the Ramones
Image: Sire Records

9. "Rockaway Beach" by the Ramones

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.

"Hot Girl Summer" by Megan Thee Stallion featuring Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign
Image: 300

10. "Hot Girl Summer" by Megan Thee Stallion featuring Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign

When two of hip-hop's reigning queens declare it to be "Hot Girl Summer," then dammit it's hot girl summer... every single time the song comes on, from here to eternity. Two years after its release, the song is well on its way to enjoying the same perrennial status as Will Smith's "Summertime," only this time things are about as far away from Smith's G-rated beach bumming as you can get. 

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"A Summer Song" by Chad & Jeremy
Image: Cherry Red Records

11. "A Summer Song" by Chad & Jeremy

Everyone—well, a lot of people, anyway—deserves that one big summer romance. In 1964, the British pop duo Chad & Jeremy offered arguably the best song about just that to date with this folk-tinged tune about breezes, sweet summer nights and soft kisses. It’s a reminiscence ("autumn leaves must fall"), but that only adds another layer of beauty to that time shared. (Bonus points: Thirty-plus years later, it was used excellently in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore.)

"Hot Fun in the Summertime" by Sly and the Family Stone
Image: Epic

12. "Hot Fun in the Summertime" by Sly and the Family Stone

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.

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"Summer Babe" by Pavement
Image: Matador Records

13. "Summer Babe" by Pavement

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.   

"Lovely Day" by Bill Withers
Image: Columbia

14. "Lovely Day" by Bill Withers

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. 

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"Miserlou" by Dick Dale
Image: Rockbeat Records

15. "Miserlou" by Dick Dale

How could a list of the best summer songs ever and not include this surf-rock staple? Still fresh and cool sounding nearly 60 years after its release, the track (which was used, memorably, to kickstart Pulp Fiction), is hands down Dale’s opus.    

"I'm on a Boat" by The Lonely Island
Image: Universal Republic

16. "I'm on a Boat" by The Lonely Island

The secret to the success of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer's jokey party bops is that they actually are bops (bring friends with T-Pain doesn't hurt in that department). And frankly, if you're on a boat, all you really want to do is shout about it, loudly and profanely. Now you can do it to music. 

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"That Summer Feelin'" by Jonathan Richman
Image: Rounder Records

17. "That Summer Feelin'" by Jonathan Richman

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."

"Dancing in the Street" by Martha and the Vandellas
Image: Gordy Records

18. "Dancing in the Street" by Martha and the Vandellas

Martha and the Vandellas already appear on this list, for their 1963 Motown breakthrough, "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.

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"School’s Out for Summer" by Alice Cooper
Image: Warner Bros. Records

19. "School’s Out for Summer" by Alice Cooper

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.

"Vacation" by the Go-Go's
Image: IRS

20. "Vacation" by the Go-Go's

Few songs in history have captured the universal joy of punching the clock for the last time before loading up a suitcase and hitting the road. And none have done so with this level of infectious pop-punk glee.

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"Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves
Image: Capitol Records

21. "Walking on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves

Just try not to bop your body when the brass kicks in at the ten-second mark of this jolt of pure pop joy. Katrina and the Waves’ 1985 radio hit isn’t literally about summer at all; it’s about the excitement of awaiting a visit from someone you love (and the thrill of knowing that he or she loves you in the first place). But the song’s irresistible feel-good energy suggests that summer is less a season than a state of mind that can be tapped into anytime—even, in the original music video, on a cold and cloudy London day.

"In the Summertime" by Mungo Jerry
Image: Sanctuary Records

22. "In the Summertime" by Mungo Jerry

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.

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"Sunny Afternoon" by the Kinks
Image: Reprise Records

23. "Sunny Afternoon" by the Kinks

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."

"Watermelon Sugar" by Harry Styles
Image: Columbia

24. "Watermelon Sugar" by Harry Styles

"Tastes like strawberries on a summer evening," Harry Styles croons seductively on this low-key funk banger about his love for delicious fruits in the sun. Wait… this is about sex, isn't it? 

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"Cake by the Ocean" by DNCE
Image: Republic Records

25. "Cake by the Ocean" by DNCE

"I keep on hoping we'll we'll eat cake by the ocean," Joe Jonas sings over a manic disco-insired hook in this song about the joys of eating baked goods in the … wait. This is also about sex too, isn't it?

"Rock the Boat" by Aaliyah
Image: Blackground Records

26. "Rock the Boat" by Aaliyah

Ok, this one if very certainly not about the joys of mariner life.  Aaliyah's horned-up slow jam makes Harry Styles look like a master of subtlety, and the R&B groove makes this the perfect dockside summer jam.

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"It Was a Good Day" by Ice Cube
Image: Lench Mob

27. "It Was a Good Day" by Ice Cube

This chilled-out ode finds O'Shea Jackson (Ice’s given name) recounting a particularly nice day over the smooth groove of the Isley Brothers' "Footsteps in the Dark." The second single from the gangster-rap icon’s third solo album, it’s arguably his best-known song and best suited for backyard barbeques and cruising slow with the windows rolled down. 

"Saturday in the Park" by Chicago

28. "Saturday in the Park" by Chicago

According to fellow Chicago founding member Walter Parazaider, Robert Lamm penned this 1972 single after a particularly inspiring jaunt through Central Park, while the band was in NYC recording their fifth studio effort, Chicago V. The song remains one of the outfit’s signature tunes and, as you maybe could have guessed, the perfect soundtrack for a sunny afternoon in the park.

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"Heat Wave" by Snail Mail
Image: Matador Records

29. "Heat Wave" by Snail Mail

"Heat wave, nothing to do / Woke up in my clothes having dreamt of you," sings Lindsey Jordan mournfully, before she and the rest of the band kick things up a notch to achieve an enjoyable, '90s-indie vibe. 

"Cruel Summer" by Bananarama
Image: London Recordings

30. "Cruel Summer" by Bananarama

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.

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"Summer Madness" by Kool & the Gang
Image: De-Lite

31. "Summer Madness" by Kool & the Gang

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.

"Summertime Friends" by Bonny Doon
Image: Third Man Records

32. "Summertime Friends" by Bonny Doon

This standout off the first full-length by Detroit’s Bonny Doon, co-produced by Fred Thomas (Saturday Looks Good to Me), is a lazy-sounding-yet-upbeat, summery reminder that a chord or two, in the right group's hand, is all you need.   

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"Summer Rain" by Johnny Rivers
Image: Liberty

33. "Summer Rain" by Johnny Rivers

"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.   

“Suddenly Last Summer” by the Motels
Image: Capitol Records

34. “Suddenly Last Summer” by the Motels

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 of singer Martha Davis, who claims she was thinking about ice-cream trucks passing by. 

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"Rock Lobster" by the B-52s
Image: Island Records

35. "Rock Lobster" by the B-52s

The "Love Shack" retro-rockers really cornered the market on songs in which grown adults spend several minutes ad-libbing the noises sea creatures make, and scored a genuine party hit that's also a stealth karaoke MVP. If anything, "Rock Lobster" deserves a spot just for revealing what sound a narwhal makes. 

"Bar-B-Q" by Wendy Rene & the Drapels
Image: Light In The Attic

36. "Bar-B-Q" by Wendy Rene & the Drapels

What’s more summery than a good old fashioned barbecue? This upbeat gem from then-teenage Rene, released on Stax in 1964, got a second life thanks to Light in the Attic Records' excellent compilation of her singles.

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"Sun is Shining" by Bob Marley and the Wailers
Image: Island Records

37. "Sun is Shining" by Bob Marley and the Wailers

This track might open with the reggae icon singing, "Sun is shining, the weather is sweet / Make you want to move your dancing feet," but it’s more likely to inspire you to lay outside with a frosty beverage in hand than get down. Mellow even by Marley & Co.'s standards, it's a perfect soundtrack choice for a chilled-out afternoon.

"Everybody Loves the Sunshine" by Roy Ayers
Image: Polydor Records

38. "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" by Roy Ayers

"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 likely heard it sampled by Mary J. Blige, Common, P.M. Dawn and plenty of others.  

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"Easy" by the Commodores
Image: Motown

39. "Easy" by the Commodores

Motown soulsters the Commodores scored a crossover hit with this bittersweet soft-rock ode. The Lionel Richie–penned ballad details leaving behind the pain of a stifling love affair to "be free, just me." With its soulful piano, drifting backup vocals and grounded yet funky electric guitar solo, it’s the perfect tune to bid the cold weather farewell and glide into the warmth of summer. 

"Peaches" by the Stranglers
Image: IRS

40. "Peaches" by the Stranglers

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. 

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"Chamakay" by Blood Orange
Image: Domino

41. "Chamakay" by Blood Orange

This tune started off Dev Hynes’s acclaimed sophomore album as Blood Orange, Cupid Deluxe, which is a bit counterintuitive since it’s essentially a musical sunset, as evidenced by the perpetual dusk of the song’s video, shot in Hynes’s mother’s home-country, Guyana. We recommend letting the airy vocals (Hynes is joined by Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek on this tune) and sultry sax solo wash over you as you watch the sun sink beneath the waves.

"Be Thankful for What You Got" by William DeVaughn
Be Thankful for What You Got

42. "Be Thankful for What You Got" by William DeVaughn

There’s no escaping the smooth allure of this tune’s signature line, "Diamond in the back, sunroof top/ Diggin’ the scene with a gangster lean." Ludacris, N.W.A., Ice Cube, Parliament-Funkadelic, Massive Attack and Rihanna have all referenced the 1974 hit by the little-known Washington D.C. singer-songwriter, who may as well have been singing to New Yorkers when he said, "You may not have a car at all… Just be thankful for what you’ve got." Come summertime, that’s plenty.

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"Water Get No Enemy" by Fela Kuti
Image: Arc Studio

43. "Water Get No Enemy" by Fela Kuti

Pretty much any selection from the oeuvre of the revered godfather of afrobeat would suffice for setting a funky, chilled-out vibe at an afternoon shindig, but this cut from Kuti's lauded twelfth studio album, Expensive Shit, is probably his best known. Clocking in at eleven minutes, a full five and a half minutes pass before Kuti even sings a note. By the time he does, there’s no escaping the groove. 

"Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys
Image: Capitol Records

44. "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys

Teeming with key shifts, complex harmonies and unorthodox instrumentation (it features a cello, a jaw harp and an electrotheremin), this Beach Boys classic was a feat of both composition and production. It took seven months, four different recording studios and over $50,000 to create this sunny masterpiece. 

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"Sunshine Superman" by Donovan
Image: Epic

45. "Sunshine Superman" by Donovan

This sunny tune served as the title song for Donovan’s third album and marked a departure from the acclaimed Scottish singer-songwriter’s previous folk offerings. Featuring a pre–Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page on guitar, it’s regarded as one of the first psychedelic-pop hits—and a quintessential summer tune.   

"Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles
Image: Apple Records

46. "Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles

In his autobiography, I, Me, Mine, George Harrison describes writing this ode at the close of a particularly punishing winter, while strolling through Eric Clapton’s garden. It was included in Abbey Road and, in tandem with his other contribution to the album, "Something," established Harrison as a skilled songwriter on par with his revered bandmates. 

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"Hot in Herre" by Nelly
Image: Universal Records

47. "Hot in Herre" by Nelly

For summer '02 pretty much the entire planet was Nellyville, and the St. Louis rapper exhorted people of all genders (but mostly women) to strip down for their own good. A typical first response would be apprehension—from the man with the Band-aid on his face?  But logically speaking, his argument follows (if heat, then no clothes), and he was smart enough to tap the Neptunes for the song's frisky production. After enough listens, it's impossible not to agree, whether your "herre" is a sweaty club, a hot summer night or, the argument could be made, anywhere on our globally warming earth. Hot, it certainly is.

"Ask" by the Smiths
Image: Sire Records

48. "Ask" by the Smiths

"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.

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"Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas
Image: Gordy Records

49. "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas

The only thing better than a summer fling might just be relishing the memory of a summer fling, and one spin of soulstresses Martha and the Vandellas’ 1963 classic "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. 

"In the Sun" by Blondie
Image: Capitol Records

50. "In the Sun" by Blondie

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.

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"King of the Beach" by Wavves

51. "King of the Beach" by Wavves

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.  

"Before I Let Go" by Maze
Image: Capitol Records

52. "Before I Let Go" by Maze

Few tunes can set off a backyard barbeque like this R&B classic by California soul band Maze. Countless hip-hop artists have sampled it, including Keith Murray, Grandmaster Flash, Doug E. Fresh, Eve and 50 Cent. With the sublime pairing of Frankie Beverly's buttery croon and that funky guitar groove, it's an amazing soundtrack for a sunny-afternoon soirée.  

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"California Gurls" by Katy Perry
Image: Capitol Records

53. "California Gurls" by Katy Perry

You can't help but jam out to the absurdly cheery, bubblegum-smacking melody and catchy lyrics in this global megahit (featuring Snoop Dogg, no less). Perfect for driving down the highway with your windows down, "California Gurls" is a summer tune for the ages, even if you are a die-hard, true-blue New Yorker. (It's a retort track to Jay-Z's and Alicia Keys' NYC anthem "Empire State of Mind.")

"Summer Wine" by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra
Image: Starlite

54. "Summer Wine" by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra

This smoky, dreamy slab of '60s psychedelia is at once absurdly evocative, trancelike and ridiculous as troubadour Hazlewood and siren Nancy Sinatra croon about cowboys and strawberry wine. It's the perfect song for a gauzy-eyed morning on a hazy beach. 

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"Paradise City" by Guns N’ Roses
Image: Geffen Records

55. "Paradise City" by Guns N’ Roses

One second you're lying on a towel drifting in and out of sleep, and the next you're kicking sand in your friend's face, shredding air guitar. What happened? Odds are this GnR blazer is to blame. The song's sing-along lyrics and blistering guitar solos (it's lead guitarist Slash's favorite song to play live) have been elevating chill summer hangouts to hard-rocking parties since it first appeared on the band’s debut album, Appetite for Destruction, in 1987.

"I Know Where the Summer Goes" by Belle and Sebastian
Image: Jeepster

56. "I Know Where the Summer Goes" by Belle and Sebastian

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. 

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"Nightswimming" by REM
Image: Warner Bros. Records

57. "Nightswimming" by REM

Michael Stipe's lovely, piano-driven ode to skinnydipping under the stars is essential listening simply for its specific, zen-like depiction of the fear of getting caught while swimming naked, alone, in the dark. 

"Surf Wax America" by Weezer
Image: DGC

58. "Surf Wax America" by Weezer

"Island in the Sun" is the more conventional Weezer summer jam, but it's also a snooze that signaled the Rivers Cuomo's pivot from nerd-rock superhero to mainstream hit-chaser. This Blue Album deep cut, however, is all about the joy of surfing, and its "you take your car to work, I'll take my board" a-capella harmonies are the perfect encapsulation of what makes early Weezer so great. Plus, the song positively slaps, especially with all the windows rolled down. 

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"Summertime Rolls" by Jane's Addiction
Image: Warner Bros. Records

59. "Summertime Rolls" by Jane's Addiction

Janes Addiction's debut Nothing's Shocking has plenty of summer-adjacent flair, from the groovy "Up the Beach" to the stomp-rock of "Ocean Size." But "Summertime Rolls" is a classic of '90s psychedelia, a meandering walk on the beach evoking sunset memories and the simple joys of falling in the sand. 

"Fight the Power" by Public Enemy
Image: UMC

60. "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy

"Nineteen eighty-nine, the number, another summer…" The first syllables of Public Enemy’s most zeitgeisty hit, made at the request of Spike Lee for his groundbreaking, summer-set film Do the Right Thing, pack a ton of punch. And it only gets more intense from there, building a manifesto of what to take swigs at, including this gem: "Elvis was a hero to most / But he never meant shit to me / You see, straight-up racist that sucker was / Simple and plain / Mother fuck him and John Wayne / 'Cause I'm black and I'm proud." And that’s the truth, Ruth. 

Looking for more tunes to tackle the outdoors?

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