5 best summertime songs of all time
Put top down and cruise to these classic songs
You're about to hit the road on a hot summer night. You're sick of the stale songs coming out of the radio, and you've listened to the same songs on your iPod for the millionth time. But you want some music to go along with your surroundings, as you put the top down on a trip to nowhere particular.
Need some audio ideas for the ride? You've cruised to the right place.
In the next five pages, you're going to be re-introduced to five songs you know very, very well -- but may have forgotten how powerfully they symbolize July's swelter or the awesomeness of August. The songs aren't just about summer. They ARE summer.
If you don't agree, no problem. It's the best time of the year, and there are no arguments here. Just sit back, and try to soak it in, man. It'll be cool.
No. 5: "Summer Wind" by Frank Sinatra
We must start with The Chairman of the Board. Why? Lyrics, baby, lyrics. "Summer Wind" is heartbreaking in its honesty about the season, especially if you live in an area of the country with four distinct seasons.
"Like painted kites, those days and nights … they went flying by," Sinatra croons. "The world was new beneath the blue umbrella sky."
Swoooon. The song itself was written by Johnny Mercer (lyrics) and Henry Mayer (music) in 1965. Wayne Newton recorded it first, and it peaked at No. 78 on the U.S. charts that year. The following year, 1966, Sinatra grabbed it and it climbed to No. 25 on the Billboard pop singles chart and No. 1 on the Easy Listening chart. By the turn of the century, it was one of Ol' Blue Eyes most-used recordings, including ad campaigns for Major League Baseball and Mastercard.
That's the history of this tune. The heart of it? It's Sinatra's timeless delivery -- perfect in every syllable.
No. 4: "School's Out" by Alice Cooper
You know what? Sinatra is great, but Alice Cooper may have recorded a better summer song. So says a 14-year-old kid lounging on a couch in mid-July. "It's a song that starts off summer," the lad says of "School's Out."
Too bad the lyrics aren't entirely accurate. "School's out for summer," Cooper blares. "School's out forever!"
Uh, Al, that's not entirely true, as any student will tell you. They get about three months before it's back to the grinder -- but we get the point.
The song itself reached No. 7 on the Billboard charts when it was released in 1972. It was the title track on Cooper's fifth album.
Cooper has said in interviews that along with opening Christmas presents, the last minutes of a school year are the greatest three minutes in life. Catch that feeling in a song, and you have audio gold. He did, singing, "Out for summer. Out 'till fall. We might not come back at all." Now that's breezy.
No. 3: "Sunshine Superman" by Donovan
When it comes to funky '60s songs, Mungo Jerry's "In The Summertime" was in the running here, but didn't make the cut. Donovan's "Sunshine Superman" is just a tad more impressive.
Released in 1966, "Sunshine Superman" was really the first psychedelic pop single to hit No. 1 on the charts, selling 800,000 copies in just six weeks. It featured future Led Zeppelin superstar Jimmy Page on guitar and also contained one of the first references to LSD in popular music, with the line "I could've tripped out easy, but I've changed my ways."
The song also appeals to the common geek/nerd happy to find comic book references in popular culture, with the only reference to DC superhero Green Lantern in pop music history. Geeky, but not the deciding factor of cool. That's Donovan himself -- and his refrain.
It goes like this: "Cause I made my mind up, you're going to be mine."
That's a boy in love who won't take no for an answer. That's positively thinking. That's summer.
No. 2: "Summertime" by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
Here's a challenge: Find a better hip-hop tune than "Summertime" by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. Good luck.
Released in 1991, this Grammy-winning chart-topper is breath of fresh summer air. Pun intended. Summer oozes out of the lines: "You're invited to a barbecue that's starting at 4. Sitting with your friends cause y'all reminisce about the days growing up and the first person you kiss."
Sometimes it's easy to dismiss rap as noise, but that is poetry. The music video produced with this song is even better, especially when the camera zooms in on the kids in bright T-shirts running around at the barbecue.
"All the kids playing out front. Little boys messin' round with the girls playing double-dutch, while the DJ's spinning a tune as the old folks dance at your family reunion."
Actually, the images of the old folks are what makes you smile the most. Old people dancing on grass in the summertime sounds like something you'd find in heaven. Think about it, and it almost makes you cry. Heck, the video to this song is poetry in motion.
No. 1: "California Girls" by The Beach Boys or David Lee Roth
We save the best for last. California Girls. And you know what, the versions recorded by the Beach Boys and David Lee Roth are both great. Play either one, and you get the central idea, "I wish they could all be California girls."
Penned by Brian Wilson and Mike Love in 1965, "California Girls" reached No. 3 on the U.S. charts for the Beach Boys, and when Van Halen's David Lee Roth did a cover of it 20 years later, it hit No. 3 on the charts again.
Roth's 1985 video of the song was an MTV staple that year, and can be put in a time capsule to show future generations what the music video age represented at its zenith.
Yep, it was that good. So is the song. Be it Roth or Boys, for millions, this is the ultimate summer anthem, featuring imagery to keep you warm in North Dakota in January:
"The West coast has the sunshine, and the girls all get so tanned. I dig a French bikini on Hawaii island, dolls by a palm tree in the sand."
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