Even if you haven’t taken a vacation in years, even if you use the old surfboard to iron your business suits, even if your tan owes more to the glow of a computer than the warmth of the sun, the hot months between Memorial Day and Labor Day are bound to bewitch you with the whiff of escape. The myth of summer is hard to shake, and music only makes that myth more vivid. Listen to ”Every Breath You Take” or ”Rock the Boat” and try not to associate the song with the golden season that produced it.
Simply put, summer songs are not like fall or spring songs. Once school lets out, reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic give way to a new set of Rs. The greatest summer tunes tend to be romantic (”Close to You”) and rowdy (”Born to Be Wild”), revolutionary (”The Message”) and just plain ridiculous (”My Sharona”). After ferocious debate (one staffer’s still fuming that the Carpenters outranked Bob Dylan), ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY has selected the best summer songs based on these criteria: They had to have been released as singles. The singles had to peak during summer months (ruling out ”Good Vibrations,” a classic that hit in the dead of winter). More vaguely, each had to capture the breezy, loopy, head-spinning quintessence of summer.
Unavoidably, we devote a heavy portion of the list to chestnuts from the ’60s and ’70s. The ’80s? A drought for Top 40 fare (check our list of the 10 worst summer singles). And in the ’90s, with heads strapped into Discmans and radio fractured into myriad demographic slivers, it’s hard to find one song that provides a shared seasonal experience. Search the list, though, and you’ll find some: ”Under the Boardwalk” and ”Under the Bridge,” ”All You Need Is Love” and ”All I Wanna Do.” Summer, as it turns out, is endless.
1 The Lovin’ Spoonful
”Summer in the City”
Summer of ’66
So sweat rolled down your back by the bucketful, the noise was suffocating, and it wasn’t the heat, it was the humidity. But you liked it, because it was summer. In the city. And, with a keyboard riff sent like Morse code to every kid whose parents had moved to boring suburbia, John Sebastian made downtown cool again in the most sweltering of circumstances. As urban solstices go, the Spoonful dished up the definitive one.
2 The Beach Boys
Summer of ’65
Psychedelia was looming, but the West Coast’s favorite sons were content to keep singing about cars and girls. And why not, when the results were as stellar as this? With their sparkling harmonies, the Boys sang the praises of coast-to-coast womanhood before fessing up to their preferences: ”I wish they all could be California girls.” The combination of regional chauvinism and all-American sexism never sounded so good.
3 Alice Cooper
Summer of ’72
Rock & roll was practically invented as a way to decry classrooms and cruel gym teachers. But few warm-weather smashes capture the exuberant, See ya! feel that the last school bell rings in like this snarly anthem. The taunting guitar intro screams release, while the lyrics — ”We’ve got no class, and we’ve got no principals!/We can’t even think of a word that rhymes!” — scream attitude. It even ends with the sound of a school bell ringing.