As this apparently endless summer drags on (and on, and on), I thought it might be fun to do a top-ten list of all-time favorite summer songs.
This post, our 104th, means that we’ve been churning out a new blog every Friday morning for two full years. Two years! We’re proud of that consistency. Some weeks, however, the pressure to produce a profound, thoughtful, beautifully crafted essay is just too much, especially when my brain feels like it might actually be boiling inside my skull. Those are the weeks we publish one of our top-ten lists, and this week was definitely one of those weeks. So, rather than trying to fight it, I decided instead to just go with that summer vibe.
Some of the ten songs listed in chronological order below are sort of mindless-bopping-around fun and others are sort of wistful-awareness-of-time-passing fun. Most of them are from the Sixties, when I was growing up; all of them, at least to me, are intensely evocative, summoning memories of the tinny sound of transistor radios and the unctuous smell of suntan lotion. Of course, nothing is as subjective as personal taste, and I’m sure you have your own personal sonic Proustian madeleines. I’d love to hear about them.
Martha and the Vandellas, “Dancing in the Street” (1964). This churning Motown classic gained unwanted (and unwarranted) notoriety in the wake of the riots of the mid- and late 1960s, when some interpreted it as a call to violent action.
The Beach Boys, “Caroline No” (1966). As I said above, you just can’t do a top-ten summer songs list without the Beach Boys. I can’t stand their early stuff, but I’ve always been a sucker for this sad and dreamy number, from Pet Sounds.
The Rascals, “Groovin’” (1967). Blue-eyed Afro-Cuban soul, a near-perfect car radio song. I feel so relaxed!
The Rolling Stones, “Street Fighting Man” (1968). Anyone wondering why the Stones were seen as a threat to civilized society should just listen to this. Even if you can’t understand the cynical lyrics, the music fairly hums with menace.
Stevie Wonder, “My Cherie Amour” (1969). In my childhood memories, this exuberant love song is always playing on someone’s car radio. It came out when Stevie was still a teenager!
Malo, “Suavecito” (1972). A flawless confection (sort of “Groovin,’” part two) of Latin percussion, brass, and rock.
War, “Low Rider” (1975). A sly and irresistible blast of harmonica-fueled fun from East L.A. that blends funk and Latin influences into a paean to slow cruising—remember, this came out shortly after the 1973 gas crisis.
Don Henley, “The Boys of Summer” (1984). Classic over-the-top Eighties pop, with lots of electronics and huge drums. God help me, I still love it.
Kat Edmonson, “Summertime” (2009). You didn’t really think you’d get out of here without a version of this Gershwin classic, did you?