25. ''DON'T GO BREAKING MY HEART'' (1976)
Elton John and Kiki Dee
But if you do, make sure you arrange for (1) a production that swings like the world’s greatest Holiday Inn band on a major inspiration jag, (2) a string section that saws away sumptuously in the background, (3) a melody that is musical cotton candy, all thick and gooey, (4) congas that thwack!, and (5) duet partners who sing it with such playful zest that you just know they’ll be together forever.
24. ''CALIFORNIA LOVE'' (1996)
23. ''EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE'' (1983)
Paranoia never sounded as sweet as it did during the summer of ’83, when Sting’s ode to spying on a lost love smothered the airwaves like Bain de Soleil. Although it feels as wistfully romantic as an old doo-wop ditty, ”Every Breath” actually nails down the acquisitive spirit of the ’80s — the sense of amour as an investment: ”Oh, can’t you see?” Sting’s lament warned. ”You belong to me.”
22. ''WOULDN'T IT BE NICE'' (1966)
The Beach Boys
Perhaps the happiest, most heartbreaking song Brian Wilson ever wrote — because for many of us, like Wilson, its vision of happily ever after didn’t come true. (Check out its use at the bummer denouement of Shampoo.) But time hasn’t removed an iota of jubilant hope from an anthem looking forward to a blissful adulthood where two teen lovebirds might walk in the sun and even, gulp, ”sleep together.”
21. ''WIPE OUT'' (1963)
Who needs words? Few songs in the history of rock & roll can beat this churning instrumental when it comes to the mindless, wave-buffeted abandon of summer. ”Wipe Out” kicks off with a lunatic cackle — imagine Beavis hanging 10 on a long board — and plunges into a backwash of tumbling tom-toms and repetitive riffs. No wonder it’s still covered by every garage band in America.
20. ''CRAZY'' (2006)
19. ''A HARD DAY'S NIGHT'' (1964)
It might be the best-recognized chord in history, that anticipatory G-sustained fourth that opens the song we most associate with Beatlemania. Fortunately, the rest of the tune’s pretty terrific too. Lennon and McCartney held out a taste of honey as the carrot on the end of a nine-to-five stick, making toiling by day and sweating by night seem a perfectly romantic trade-off for us working-class slugs.
18. ''MAGGIE MAY'' (1971)
It doesn’t matter what year it is: The kid’s fling with the older, wiser person of the opposite sex is a classic hot-weather fantasy. ”Maggie May,” the song that turned Rod the Mod into Rod the Bod, was Summer of ’42 for boomers — tender, but with a rock n’ roll kick and an arrangement ripe for air drumming (and mandolining). And what is it with organs (the keyboard kind) and summer songs, anyway?
17. ''IN THE SUMMERTIME'' (1970)
”When the weather’s fine/You got women, you got women/On your mind.” The British skiffle quartet that recorded this lighthearted novelty never made it onto the U.S. charts again, but their sole hit was a good ‘un. With its ticktack piano motif, shuffling beat, and simple lyrics about swimming, looking for girls, driving, looking for girls, fishing, and looking for girls, this was a song only a sourpuss could hate.
16. ''THE MESSAGE'' (1982)
Grand Master Flash & the Furious Five
Like a mirage on a hot day, ”The Message” floated right off the steaming asphalt of New York City’s streets. Unlike a mirage, the vision was real — seven stark and sweltering minutes about life in the ghetto. Rapper Melle Mel delivered the urban jeremiad, DJ Flash served up the shimmery synthesizers and Jeep-quaking beats, and ”The Message” gave America its first wallop of socially conscious hip-hop.
15. ''I GET AROUND'' (1964)
The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys’ fantasy of California as a land of perpetual sun and fun still seemed believable in the pre-countercultural summer of ’64 when this, the group’s first No. 1 single, hit the charts. The song’s protagonist boasted of ”making real good bread,” and of the power of his car to attract girls, as the song zoomed along like the pop-music equivalent of a smooth-riding hot rod. It was fun, fun, fun while it lasted.
14. ''HEY YA'' (2003)
13. ''ROCK THE BOAT'' (1974)
The Hues Corporation
The epitome of summer trifles, courtesy of an L.A. trio who never went top 10 again, this bit of disco bubblegum had a rollicking rhythm that matched its title, not to mention lyrics great for boating season (”Our love is like a ship on the ocean/We’ve been sailing with a cargo full with love and devotion”). Depending on your politics, it was also a great way to celebrate — or try to forget — Richard Nixon’s resignation.
12. ''SUMMERTIME BLUES'' (1958)
Propelled by Cochran’s jaunty rhythm guitar, this song had little or no connection to the blues, but who cared? Written from a teen’s perspective, it took aim at those hard-hearted authority figures — bosses and parents — out to quash a kid’s right to have fun. Cochran even managed a bit of wry political commentary: ”I called my congressman and he said, quote, ‘I’d like to help you, son, but you’re too young to vote.’ ”
11. ''(I CAN'T GET NO) SATISFACTION'' (1965)
The Rolling Stones
Small wonder this record has endured: It distilled the sexual frustration and angst of the nation’s adolescents as succinctly — and catchily — as any song ever has. There was no mistaking this rude little masterpiece for anything but the cry of a male animal in heat. The nagging guitar hook, Jagger’s tough, bitter vocals, and that mantra-like chorus made this libido-soaked howl impossible to escape or deny.
10. ''HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME'' (1969)
Sly & the Family Stone
One of Sly’s most sophisticated productions, this remarkable record blended piano, strings, brass, and post-doo-wop harmonies into an enduring hymn to the soul-stirring effects of free time and hot weather. Has there ever been a more meaning-packed non sequitur than ”Bop-bop-a-bop-bop when I want to” for conjuring pleasures both wholesome and illicit? Buoyant and melancholy, this is one for the ages.
9. ''BORDERLINE'' (1984)
The headlines belonged to Walter Mondale’s slow death march against Ronald Reagan. But the airwaves succumbed to that poignant opening keyboard lick, burbling disco melody, and masochist-delight lyrics. If infatuation is an essential summer experience, then so is romantic frustration. Pleading while standing up for herself, Madonna scored her first top 10 hit and made romantic disappointment as uplifting as it’ll ever be.
8. ''DANCING IN THE STREET'' (1964)
Martha and the Vandellas
Martha wasn’t just describing a furtive bout of the twist under a traffic light; this was the heralding of a worldwide block party. And, with the civil rights movement taking shape, why not imagine the marches and riots of the early ’60s superseded by a coast-to-coast frug-fest? This oldies staple may be long divorced from its context, but it sounds even more celebratory with civic hurts kept in mind amid the partying.
7. ''CALIFORNIA GURLS'' (2010)
Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg
The Beach Boys’ 1965 endless-summer classic got a postmillennial update — and some serious WMDDs (Weapons of Mass Dairy Distribution) — with the Santa Barbara native’s Snoop-assisted ode to the popsicle-melting properties of Golden State honeys. (The unusual spelling of ”Gurl” was a nod to power-pop icon Alex Chilton of Big Star, who passed away in March of 2010, and his band’s 1974 gem ”September Gurls.”) Per its palm-trees-and-Daisy-Dukes lyrics, the electro-pop anthem did prove to both undeniable and unforgettable, spending six straight weeks at No. 1.
6. ''LIGHT MY FIRE'' (1967)
Anything went during the Summer of Love, or so goes the mythology of the ’60s, and this monster proved it. At what other time could a six-and-a-half-minute song hit No. 1 on the pop chart? Credit goes to Jim Morrison, whose voice made sex sound mysterious and dangerous, and Ray Manzarek’s interminable lounge-organ solo, which captured what it meant to feel stoned on the beach even if you weren’t.
5. ''UNDER THE BOARDWALK'' (1964)
Sadly, it’s now impossible to reenact the romantic scenario dreamily laid out by the Drifters, at least under the boardwalk, at Coney Island; the formerly cavernous space under the decaying planks was filled in with sand. (The homeless and all, you know.) But do we cherish the ballad any less as a period piece? Not on your life — this make-out place is a safe haven we can always retreat to in the shade of memory.
4. ''HEAT WAVE'' (1963)
Martha and the Vandellas
One of the earliest smashes from Motown’s legendary Holland/Dozier/Holland songwriting team, this rollicking song’s central metaphor was driven home by music as riveting as Martha Reeves’ scorching vocal delivery. With the Vandellas urging her on (”Go ahead, girl!”), the singer seemed to be courting heatstroke as she worked herself up into an impassioned frenzy. Hotter than July.
3. ''SCHOOL'S OUT'' (1972)
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.
2. ''CALIFORNIA GIRLS'' (1965)
The Beach Boys
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.
1. ''SUMMER IN THE CITY'' (1966)
The Lovin’ Spoonful
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.
Written by David Browne, Jeff Gordinier, Leah Greenblatt, Sean Howe, Mark S. Luckie, Tom Sinclair, Ethan Smith, Simon Vozick-Levinson, Amy Wilkinson, Chris Willman