The 21 best Songs of Summer
Each year, when the temperatures soar and the days lengthen, a few songs play on rotation so frequently that one is ultimately crowned the official song of the summer (yes, record sales help too).
To celebrate the greatest season of them all and all the blazing beats it births, EW looked back at songs of the summer of years gone by.
Read on to see what we selected, then check out the playlist here.
"Summer In The City" by The Lovin' Spoonful
There’s not a whiff of sand or surf in The Lovin’ Spoonful’s undying ode to summer. In their stead, we get noise and dirt, two hallmarks of urban living well-known to the New York band that recorded the song. To seal the scene, “Summer,” opened with the sound of a car horn and ended with the roar of a jackhammer. Yet, amid the blare, lay a world of possibilities for sex, love and freedom. You just had to wait until the night to find it. The billowing music traced the same arc, moving from terse and coiled verses to expansive and free choruses. The song, which loomed at No. 1 for three weeks in August of ’66, also held a subversive subtext: It celebrated cities right when riots were breaking out in them, scaring many into the suburbs. In defiance, “Summer in the City” made the urban night seem as rejuvenating as a country meadow. —Jim Farber
"White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane
In May and June of 1967, two songs laid down a welcome mat for the nation’s youthful migration to San Francisco’s “Summer of Love.” Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” promoted a dewy-eyed view of the peace and love generation’s new ground zero. Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” written and sung by Grace Slick, went for something far more daring and cool. It slyly stole characters and scenarios from Lewis Carrol’s “Alice In Wonderland,” using their bent for smoking exotic herbs and downing transforming liquids as a dog whistle to signal the new drug culture. In case you missed the point (and radio programmers mainly did), Slick repeatedly bellowed, over a billowing Bolero beat, “Feed your head!!” Her entreaty didn’t only create an enduring summer hit (peaking at No. 8), it offered the greatest stoner anthem of all time. —J.F.
“I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas
Among its myriad aural and commercial achievements, “I Gotta Feeling” is indisputably the first time a black man—will.i.am—joyously sings the Hebrew/Yiddish phrase “mazel tov” in a chart-topping pop hit. And mazel tov to the Peas, the multi-culti Los Angeles superstars who charted the longest-running number-one single of 2009 with this Grammy-winning party-all-night gem. If the shout-along “tonight’s the night” chorus, Auto-Tuned vocals and v synthesizers don’t get your head banging like Night at the Roxbury, get your pulse checked. It’s all but impossible to disobey Fergie and the boys’ siren call to “Jump out that sofa, (come on!),” cheering along as Fergie toasts “l’chaim”! To life, indeed—the party life, yo. —Katherine Turman
“Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon
“Shut Up and Dance" isn’t (yet) the title of a slightly aggressive TV talent show; rather, it’s an infectious 2014 hit about mood-enhancing advice dispensed by a pal of Walk the Moon singer Nick Petricca. Seems Petricca was at a nightclub, and feeling grouchy. But obeying the command and hitting the dance floor with his wise female friend—described as a “discotheque Juliet teenage dream in beat-up sneaks”—turned the front man’s frown upside down. “Shut Up” shines with an‘80s-influenced patina (think Rick Springfield, Cyndi Lauper) mixed with a more neon-bright version of the Killers, giving the synth-driven song a jump-around energy and festivity redolent of an unchaperoned prom on a WB TV show. —K.T.
"The Boy is Mine" by Brandy and Monica
What better way to begin the summer than by having a sing-off with your competition for the season's intended object of affection? Twenty years ago, intense speculation surrounded young chart rivals Brandy and Monica, who allegedly despised one another. Rather than pandering to the notion that there's only room for one R&B princess on the Billboard 100, the two joined forces and made a virtue of the drama, scoring their first No. 1 hit in the process(it stayed on top for 13 weeks). Inspired by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney's "The Girl Is Mine," producer du jour Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins turned in a strutting, moody R&B classic, elevated by the singers' call-and-response vocals. —Eve Barlow
"Umbrella" by Rihanna
Ironic that a song about rain soundtracked the summer of 2007. “Little Miss Sunshine, Rihanna where you at?” raps Jay-Z, introducing a still-rising star whose career was about to change forever. Written by The Dream in 15 minutes, its success is in its repeated refrain – ella ella ey ey ey – which allowed the popstar's Barbadian lilt to shine (it was originally intended for Britney Spears. Can you imagine?). It dominated the globe, too, as a result of its cross-genre sound. Hitting Number 1 in most countries, it sat atop the UK charts for a whopping 10 weeks (during an uncharacteristically very rainy summer) and the Billboard 100 for seven. Rihanna — Queen of a merch opportunity — also released a line of umbrellas following the song's triumph. —Eve Barlow
"I Love It" by Icona Pop ft. Charli XCX
The supercharged sweep of EDM's pop-chart dominance in the first half of the 2010s provided plenty of serviceable bangers, but none as indelibly effective as Swedish duo Icona Pop's infectious shout-along "I Love It." Co-written by and featuring alt-pop genius Charli XCX, "I Love It" is a party-til-you-puke ode to living fast, forever, and with all your baggage squarely in the rearview, as Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo scream about crashing cars and getting rid of an ex's belongings with the effervescent energy of a keg of Red Bull. There's a reason the song's buzzsaw synths were omnipresent for a spell in advertisements and movie trailers alike: when it comes to getting jazzed up about something, hearing "I Love It" is like licking a battery—and it keeps going, and going, and going… —Larry Fitzmaurice
"Hotline Bling" by Drake
Will Drake ever again craft a song of the summer as immortally radiant as "Hotline Bling"? The globe-toppling megastar certainly has tried, as this year's Scorpion singles "God's Plan" and "In My Feelings" prove; but even divorced from its perfectly meme-able James Turrell-hat-tipping video, "Hotline Bling" is a shooting star of a pop single, from Drake's lovely, buttery vocals to the meditative melodic gew-gaws tucked in Nineteen85's production. Not even Drake's insistently scolding lyrics—or Donald Trump's perplexingly awful attempt at parody during his Saturday Night Live hosting stint—could taint this instant classic of a song, a sonic sunset with endless replay value. —L.F.
“Crazy In Love” by Beyoncé feat. JAY-Z
Considering her current status as pop juggernaut—a beloved performer so famous she literally never has to do another interview ever again — it’s wild to think that once, 15 years ago, Beyoncé was not yet the global superstar she is today. But once the Destiny’s Child centerpiece stomped her way into Summer 2003 in hot pants, pink heels, and a simple white tank top on the horn-blasted “Crazy In Love,” she both kickstarted warm-weather season and, in the long-term, catapulted herself into the one-name club (other members include Cher, Madonna, Meryl). With the support of then-new beau Jay-Z at her side, “Crazy In Love” was not so much a song as it was Beyoncé’s official coming out party, and what a celebration it continues to be — a jubilant blend of pop, rap, and funk that captures an optimistic, romantic, only-in-summer sensation that anything's possible. —Rachel Brodsky
“Hot In Herre” by Nelly
Sometimes a great summer song can’t help but be literal. Nelly’s 2002 club anthem is unapologetically on-the-nose, with its obvious observation that a packed room filled with gyrating bodies is bound to get kinda sweaty, and the only way to relieve said discomfort is to peel off a few layers. But let’s give credit where it’s due: That slick, skittering beat, combined with Nelly’s breathy invitation to “get on up on the dance floor” could melt even the iciest skepticism. —Rachel Brodsky
"Slide" by Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean, Migos
Over the years, artists and producers have demonstrated a thousand different formulas for constructing the ideal summer jam. But surely one of the most efficient methods is just to bring the biggest hitmakers of the decade together on a single track and let them do their thing. This mini-superteam of pop talent all manage to bring the best out of each other. Frank Ocean’s vocals, so often despondent in his solo work, become silky smooth on top of a bouncy Calvin Harris beat that also allows the Migos’ verses to flow in and out of each other without ever getting bogged down. It’s hard not to start dancing when this song comes on. —Christian Holub
"Cut to the Feeling" by Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen earned rave reviews (though not very many sales) for her full-length album Emotion back in 2015, but it seems indisputable at this point that her true strength lies in crafting world-breaking pop singles that you want to listen to 20 times in a row right after hearing them for the first time. In the same way that “Call Me Maybe” launched her into the pop spotlight back in 2012, “Cut to the Feeling” stormed onto the scene last summer and immediately stole the season with its thundering beat and sky-high vocals. Try listening to it just once, especially with the sun shining down or waves lapping nearby; you can’t. — Christian Holub
“Am I Wrong” by Nico & Vinz
Sometimes songs of summer are songs you didn’t want to like. But then you hear it a few more times and you realize you might be singing along against your will. And then after a month or so you are jamming out. That was “Am I Wrong” — and years later it still makes you want to go straight to a barbecue and crack a beer. —Seija Rankin
“Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore
Macklemore and his producing partner Ryan Lewis may have become famous with their quirky rap beat “Thrift Shop,” but it was “Can’t Hold Us” that transf an instant party song. The beat just begged for groups of summertime revelers to stand up and clap in unison. The lyrics made basically no sense but that’s neither here nor there. —S.R.
“We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus
Praise be to Miley Cyrus’ foam finger phase. She may have shocked a few fans or upset some of the Disney contingent, but the album was fantastic. “We Can’t Stop” is a little more laid-back than your usual song-of-summer fare but it grew on the people quickly. Plus, the accompanying video portrayed the summer pool party of our dreams — or nightmares, depending on your taste. —S.R.
“Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj
For one summer in 2011 there was a party trick to beat out all other party tricks: Rapping the lyrics to “Super Bass.” This one is for the boys with the booming system… —S.R.
"Summertime" by Will Smith
The real true first sign of summer for me is when I hear, “Drums, please.” Before Will Smith was the world’s biggest movie star, he was a Grammy-winning rapper who provided jams such as “Summertime,” the essential barbecue song. Listening to the 1991 track is truly the definition of summer madness. —Derek Lawrence
"Summer Girls" by LFO
What do New Kids on the Block, Cherry Coke, Fun Dip, Paul Revere, Abercrombie and Fitch, Macaulay Culkin, and Billy Shakespeare all have in common? These random — and brilliant — references are just a few of the reasons why LFO’s hit 1999 song “Summer Girls” is one of the ultimate summer songs (having summer in the title doesn’t hurt either). The only slight issue is how someone could possibly love Kevin Bacon but hate Footloose. —D.L.
"Problem" by Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea
Some artists just make you think of relentless sun regardless of release date. Ariana Grande has that seasonal affect. From the very first bar of this absolute jam, it was obvious the song would have no problem scaling the summer chart. Grande’s ethereal runs interrupted by Iggy Azalea’s raspy rap were a combination made in summer song heaven back in 2014. Throw in a beat you can’t help but move to, and this track was always destined to be played on repeat at rooftop bars and backyard bashes. —Ruth Kinane
"Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen
If you didn’t want to call Carly maybe by the end of summer 2012, you clearly weren’t listening. The giddy ditty about a girl meeting a cute boy and plucking up the courage to slip him her number stood our for its simplicity and innocence — Jepsen didn’t need sleazy innuendos or overt sexuality to craft a pop classic. Perhaps that freshness and her endearing vocals was what made it such a summer sizzler (well, that, and its ridiculous ability to get stuck in your head). —Ruth Kinane
"Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke feat. T.I. and Pharrell Williams
Robin Thicke’s smarmy yet seductive beat — complete with NSFW music video —made “everybody get up” back in 2013 despite its problematic nature. Later came the complaints of condoning rape culture and plagiarism, but for a moment, the summer sun shone on Robin Thicke’s slick collaboration with T.I. and Pharrell Williams and had fans (often unintentionally) asking fellow club-goers, “What rhymes with hug me?” — R.K.