Summer’s here (it officially starts on Monday) and the time is right for dancing in the street ... and making a list of the Top 10 Summer Songs.
But lists of the best summer tunes can get a bit dull. It seems like every song with “summer” in the title gets thrown in – “Summer Rain,” “Summer Babe,” “Summer Breeze,” “Summer in the City,” “In the Summer Time,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Summertime Blues,” plain-old “Summertime.” Yes, we know, it’s summer. We get it.
So, for this list, we’ve barred any of those pesky perennials that mention the word “summer” in the title. That rule opens up a little room for some other warm-weather classics that also sound great on your sand-crusted, beach blanket radio. Feel free to add these 10 tunes to your Beach Boys collection for a sunny, summer soundtrack.
1. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” Otis Redding (1968)
The perfect summer song, “Dock of the Bay” combines Stax soul and pop magic for your seaside sit with Mr. Redding. The song pointed a new direction for the Georgia R&B singer, who had been inspired not only by the “Frisco Bay,” but also by Sgt. Pepper and other rock music from the summer of ’67. Sadly, we’d never get to find out where Otis was going; he died a month before this No. 1 single would be released. But we’ll always have our time on the dock, with a buoyant bassline, Steve Cropper’s sparkly leads and a world-weary Otis Redding, watching the ships roll in, then watching them roll away again.
2. “Rockaway Beach,” The Ramones (1977)
Any city kid can relate to the escape Dee Dee Ramone was writing about in “Rockaway Beach.” Taking inspiration from the Beach Boys, the four dudes from Queens hitch a ride on a buzzsaw riff to get from the hot concrete of the urban jungle to the cool waters of an oceanside oasis. But were they able to swim with their leather jackets on?
3. “Paint It, Black,” The Rolling Stones (1966)
This might fall under the Top 10 Anti-Summer Songs. In the swinging ’60s era of hanky panky and strangers in the night, it was a bit of a shock to hear Mick Jagger demanding the sun to be “blotted out from the sky.” Spiked with sitar (Brian Jones got the idea from George Harrison) and punched forward hypnotically by Charlie Watts, the song features Jagger singing about his lover’s funeral. His cruel summer has gotten so dark, he can’t even take the sight of girls in their summer clothes. If Mick can’t enjoy ogling a pretty lady, things must be really bad.
4. “4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy),” Bruce Springsteen (1973)
It doesn’t get more summery than fireworks, beach towns, Tilt-a-Whirls and awkward adolescents proclaiming their love. Van Morrison romanticized Belfast and Springsteen gives the Jersey shore the same treatment on this early ballad – later a small hit for The Hollies. But it’s this wild and innocent version that features Danny Federici’s carnival-like accordion, those breezy guitar licks and the starlight twinkle of a piano. It’s a fitting elegy for the kind of summer nights that just don’t exist anymore.
5. “Barbecutie,” Sparks (1974)
A gonzo tune from one of the great cult bands of all time, the bass-driven “Barbecutie” depicts a man who takes on mystical sexual powers when he’s standing in front of a Weber in the backyard. “Aroma rising from the ancient coals / Has turned you into someone very bold / And killed whatever hesitance she showed,” sings Russell Mael, flinging his rubber band vocals around the power pop tune. Wonder if the guy does as well with a gas grill.
6. “School’s Out,” Alice Cooper (1972)
The members of Alice Cooper (the band) wrote this song about the greatest three minutes in a kid’s life. The blazing riff, those glam-thumping drums and Alice’s (the singer) snarl turned “School’s Out” into a summertime anthem. And why not? This is the ultimately childhood fantasy: School’s not just out for summer, it’s been blown to pieces. How’d that happen? Go ask Alice. Just don’t expect him to think of a word that rhymes.
7. “Sunny Afternoon,” The Kinks (1966)
The taxman’s taken your dough, your girlfriend’s run off with your car, and yet Ray Davies still is able to give us two reasons why life is great: a sunny afternoon and an ice cold beer. After knocking us out with power chords, The Kinks turned to a dancehall vibe and a lazy, descending riff for “Sunny Afternoon.” It’s the perfect match for Davies’ newfound “life of luxury.”
8. “Melt Show,” The Old 97’s (1997)
Summer’s the season for love, for fooling around, for flings. But those things don’t ever end well – at least not according to Texas quartet The Old 97’s. Growling, yowling frontman Rhett Miller had his fun and how he just wants out of the contract: “This thing we have / Will it mean anything / When October rolls around? / Will you sober up and let me down?” The band blasts the angst to smithereens, turning a classic country sob story into a raging mix of punk and rockabilly. It almost makes breaking up sound like fun.
9. “Under the Boardwalk,” The Drifters (1964)
If it’s too hot to go “Up on the Roof,” you can always take respite from the blistering summer sun under the boardwalk. This is another summer “escape” song – notable for its Coney Island imagery and sashaying pace. But don’t forget the amazing combination of flamenco-esque guitar, calypso bass and that distinct güiro. Johnny Moore seems to travel to an exotic island nation, but he’s only on a blanket with his baby.
10. “Heavy Metal Drummer,” Wilco (2002)
A pure pop song on an album of deconstructed music (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), “Heavy Metal Drummer” reflects Jeff Tweedy’s recollection of a simpler time. “I miss the innocence I’ve known,” he sings over the chugging tune, which references the heavy metal shows he saw as a kid on Laclede’s Landing in St. Louis. It’s not just about a girl falling in love with a drummer, it’s about being in love with summer, with rock and roll, with getting high, with the ringing in your ears. It’s about a fondness for a time when the “stupid” things mattered so much.