“Surfing Safari” by the Beach Boys. “Cruel Summer” by Bananarama. “Rockaway Beach” by The Ramones. Which songs define summer for you? Which songs make you think of the beach or BBQs, or lazing around in hammocks in the backyard? Our critics share their choices. Be it familiar or off-the-beaten-track, old school or modern day, what song quintessentially means “summer” to you?

Dawson Ludwig, general manager of Noise Pop Industries, which produce Treasure Island Music Festival and the Noise Pop Music Festival
Joel Selvin, San Francisco-based music critic and author of "Smartass: The Music Journalism of Joel Selvin: California Rock and Roll"
Eleanor Kagan, assistant producer for NPR's "Ask Me Another" who recently compiled a list for NPR of the best and worst summertime hits
Page Hodel, funk and soul DJ in San Francisco for 32 years
Moses Montalvo, front house manager at Bi-Rite Creamery, guitarist for the band Woodboro, DJ and record label head behind Pretty Penny Records

  • Connie

    Remember the summers with Bill Graham’s Day on the Green in Oakland Coliseum? The music played during our “coming of age” is always special, meaningful and memorable.

    • Ellen E

      Agree with ES Scalper – “Under the Boardwalk” for sure. I would sleep with a small transitor radio under my pillow and listen to that song over and over……

  • ES Trader

    “Under the Boardwalk”, by Drifters if youth was in Jersey in early 60’s

  • Mark SF

    The Boys of Summer, Don Henley

  • James R

    “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer”,
    Nat King Cole’s music is timeless

  • Noah Adrien Lyons

    Happy House by Siouxsie and the Banshees.
    My memories of the summer as a teenager: humid and rainy, exploring the Pennsylvanian woods with my girlfriend, both of us quite goth, wearing black, eyeliner running from sweat, and the music of Siouxsie Sioux and Robert Smith the July backdrop to tragic passion and angst, not to mention joy.

  • ldemelis

    Summer in the City, Lovin’ Spoonful. Especially if you grew up someplace with hot, humid summers, where the back of your neck really did get dirty and gritty.

    • Robert Thomas

      The song lyric was written by John Sebastian’s then fifteen year old brother Mark, as a soul composition.

      JS added verse lines to it over a short period before it was recorded but the song is Mark’s.

  • I run YourNewFavoriteBand.com, a music blog that focuses on under-played music that deserves attention, so I want to highlight a few great summer songs that aren’t as well-known as “Summertime.”

    Every summer I get the yearning to hear “Summer Is the Worst” by Michael Leviton, it has that quaint, beachy sound you get with the ukelele.

    Kid Cudi partnered with indie harmonizers Best Coast and one of the fellows from Vampire Weekend to make the chilled out jam “All Summer.”

    And if you’re looking for a modern take on the California Beach Boys tradition, She & Him’s “Home” is a five-star song that always reminds me of finding love on a California beach. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m6ir0S4v3is

    EDIT FOR PRODUCERS NOT TO READ ON AIR: These songs are radio safe, except one word at ~50 sec in to the Kid Cudi song (the YouTube link goes to the radio edit, wherein the word is bleeped out)

  • Tom

    Summer of ’69, Bryan Adams
    It’s Always a Good Time, Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen
    Sausalito Summer Night, Diesel

  • Christina Harshell

    Summertime – Janis Joplin

  • Tom

    Vacation, Go Go’s

  • Robert Thomas

    “Summer song” or Autumn song?

    Swayin’ in the summer breeze
    Showin’ off their silver leaves
    As we walked by

    Kisses on a summer’s day
    Laughing all our cares away
    Just you and I

    Sleepy warmth of summer nights
    Gazing at the distant lights
    In the starry sky …

    And when the
    Beats against my window pane
    I’ll think of summer days again
    And dream of you

    “A Summer Song”
    Chad & Jeremy, July 1964
    Chad Stuart, Clive Metcalfe, Keith Noble

  • Kelly

    Gimme Shelter!!!! (because that expressed the mood of the times.)

  • Props to whomever already named Bananarama, “Cruel Summer”.

    When I was in high school in Sacramento in the early 80s, every teenager with access to a car could be found on the beach at Folsom Lake with a ghetto blaster and a shoebox full of tapes. I was a nerdy new waver, but even me, the teenage music snob, had to give it up for some summertime Van Halen, specifically the album “1984” with “Jump”, “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher”. I also recall heavy rotation of the B-52s “Rock Lobster”, Tom Tom Club, “Genius of Love”, English Beat “Best Friend” (heck, that whole album, “I Just Can’t Stop It”), Duran Duran, “Rio”, The Jam, “Beat Surrender” and JoBoxers, “Just Got Lucky”. Not songs *about* summer necessarily, but happy-go-lucky songs that we blasted out of our car stereos and boomboxes those lazy days of 1981-1986 or so.

    Classic 60s Jamaican ska and rock-steady from Trojan and Studio 1 was/is another staple; nothing sounds better on the beach or at a late-night house party than that old roots rock reggae BEFORE it got all “Rastafarianized”.

  • Parisa

    Total cliche: Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime.” I can’t help but smile when I hear it, even if it is a cliche!

    • Parisa

      Also…. “Wipeout.” :-/

    • Parisa

      If Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” didn’t define summer 2006, I don’t know what did. A more morose summer, I suppose.

  • Anne Schulte

    as a lifeguard during summer break of college — what was on the radio those days and always playing poolside — “One Headlight” by Wallflowers, “I just wanna fly” by Sugar Ray. But I always think of “Boys of Summer” by Don Henley when I think of summer songs

  • Robert Thomas

    In the summertime when the weather is high
    You can stretch right up and touch the sky
    When the weather’s fine
    You got women, you got women on your mind
    Have a drink, have a drive
    Go out and see what you can find

    If her daddy’s rich, take her out for a meal
    If her daddy’s poor, just do what you feel
    Speed along the lane
    Do a ton or a ton and twenty-five *
    When the sun goes down
    You can make it, make it good and really fine

    “In the Summertime”
    Mungo Jerry, 1970
    Ray Dorset

    • ldemelis

      “Have a drink, have a drive”? We’ve changed a lot in 40 years.

      • Robert Thomas

        In Great Britain, less so.

      • Robert Thomas

        * Interestingly, the line apparently is

        Do a ton or a ton and twenty-five

        rather than

        Do a turn or return the twenty-five

        as I thought.

        A “ton” here probably refers to traveling 100mi/hr, usually on a motorbike. An example usage I found is

        Stone the bloody crows! Me Mum and me Dad went bonkers ’cause I got a ton on the bike on the M-1. Blood hell, it’s me petrol, i’nit?

      • Robert Thomas

        I also found this…

        A classic pop song that includes the words ‘have a drink, have a drive, go out and see what you can find’, forms the jingle for the summer anti- drink drive campaign, launched yesterday at a south London pub.

        The lyrics of Mungo Jerry’s 1970 hit song In The Summertime also advises people to do ‘a ton, or a ton and 25’ but the accompanying film opens with scenes of jolly drinking and ends with a close-up of a resulting accident with two dead bodies. Mungo Jerry, alias Ray Dorset, said: ‘When I wrote the song in 1970 it was a kind of celebration of life, a pursuit of adolescent dreams. In the 1970s life was free and easy, but now it is not cool to drink and drive.’

        “Pop refrain drives message home”,
        The Independant, 30 June 1993


  • Mike Arkus

    Bringing the heat with “Alan’s On Fire,” by Poison Idea.

  • Kim Loisel

    John Denver’s greatest hits on 8 Track in the mid 1970s…sitting in the way back of a station wagon and the “Grease” soundtrack..For those of us in high school in the 80s, it was whatever was on the radio..Prince, Van Halen, etc.

  • ES Trader

    This is San Francisco after all and “The Sunmer of Love” music, “Jeffreson Airplane, Doors, Janis Joplin,Buffalo Springfield, Chambers Bros ” cant be ignored

    • Robert Thomas


      And just about the entire Creedence Clearwater Revival catalog is a Summer song.

      • ES Trader

        Yeah and Sam the Sham and the Pharohs, Chad & Jeremy’s “A Summer Song” and even “The Sukiyaki Song”….they all remind me of summer, they were apex of pop music prior to the down slope when punk then rap raised its ugly head

  • Robert Thomas

    Strangely, I associate Mick Jones’s timeless, perfect vocal on

    “Train in Vain”

    with Summer afternoons.

    What was the song played here early on with the sample of “Rudy Can’t Fail” in the lead-in?

  • Angelica Poe

    “That Summer Feeling” This was a hit? Off-key and awful.

  • Phyllis

    Sly and the Family Stone. Hot fun in the summertime. Bruce Springsteen – Girls on their summer clothes. See you in September by

  • Robert Thomas

    The Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner” is a perfect Summer song.

    one two three four five six
    Roadrunner, roadrunner
    Going faster miles an hour
    Gonna drive past the Stop ‘n’ Shop
    With the radio on…

    • Griff Jim Griffith

      Perfect choice! I took a walk by the Stop and Shop. Then I drove by the Stop and Shop…

      • Robert Thomas

        Oh, gosh! Jonathan’s “Ice Cream Man”, Yes!

  • Griff Jim Griffith

    The summer of 1967’s soundtrack was totally dominated by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which was released that June. The album – all of it – was inescapable. On the radio, in the stores, drifting out of the open windows of homes up and down the streets. if it wasn’t playing, someone was talking about it. It dominated every aspect of that summer. When I hear any of the tracks today, I am immediately transported to that incredible summer when I was 13 and everything seemed possible.

  • Rob

    Summertime Thing! Chuck Prophet

  • LezlieKinyon

    Heard “All Good People” one rainy Seattle summer day… the rest is history!

  • Great topic for Forum! Lots of greats mentioned… As a DJ/musician of many many years (I’m the singer/drummer for an electronic/rock band band called Ownership, and DJ at clubs like Monarch and more all over the bay), this was fun to listen to. Summer songs are fun, unbiquitous, catchy, but also have that X-factor. Something different yet wholly recognizable. Someone mentioned Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”. I totally agree. It DOMINATED the airwaves, clubs, partes, and poured out of the open windows of cars that summer… actually, Cee-Lo’s other huge summer hit, “F*ck You” is another fantastic example of a summer song with the X-factor. Undeniably fun, hummable, and it got people talking about it…. Other undeniables from summers past… “Summertime Rolls” by Jane’s Addiction, “Saints” by The Breeders (for the obvious summer references), “bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve, “Someone that I used to Know” by Gotye, and “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros…. Again, thanks for the fun subject! Music Saves!

  • ZenFox

    A small correction: one caller cited “Blinded by the Light”, which was written by Bruce Springsteen (released 1973). However, it was made popular by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (released 1976) rather than Aerosmith. Definitely a great song.

    • Robert Thomas

      Yeah, that was a jarring error.

  • Robert Thomas

    The Drifters’ catalog is a great trove but I don’t think I heard mentioned their great hit

    When this old world starts getting me down,
    And people are just too much for me to face—
    I climb way up to the top of the stairs
    And all my cares just drift right into space…

    “Up on the Roof”
    The Drifters. 1963
    Gerry Goffin, Carole King

  • Guest

    “Good Time” by Brazilian Girls, “Modern Love” by David Bowie, “The Word” by The Beatles, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys and “Pucker Up, Buttercup” by Jr. Walker and the Allstars. The opening songs from my Summer Playlist: Overdrive on the Dance Floor.

  • in da club & we found love

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