Listapalooza: top ten summer songs

Flip flops - just pick one up, by Jairo [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Nothing says summer like record-setting heat and drought—nothing, that is, except possibly the Beach Boys.

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!

Crosby Stills and Nash, “Marrakesh Express” (1969). Duuuuuude. The hippified first single from CS&N’s debut album. Do I smell patchouli?

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?

What we’re reading
Amanda Eyre Ward, Close Your Eyes
Martin: Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There

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3 Responses to Listapalooza: top ten summer songs

  1. Anne Province says:

    Thanks for these, they help with the adjustment to the Texas heat after the cool rain of Ireland. Also thanks for reminding me of that great line in Don Henley’s song/video: deadhead sticker on a cadillac.

    I would add Tom Waits Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night except that I don’t think it actually mentions the season, just seems to capture it.

  2. Dean Kilgore says:

    Martin, this is my first visit (thanks to Heather’s invitation). Might you go back a month or two before “Dancing in the Street” (1964), and revisit The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk” (also 1964). If anyone can listen to the first chorus and not grin a goofy grin, I’ll buy the next round. R&B chillin’ of the first water. Really.

  3. susan farrimond says:

    For the somewhat older (than you are) ladies, there is always the theme from Summer Place. Schmaltzy, yes! You are right about the Beach Boys. We couldn’t have summer without them.

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