1 Summertime by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (1991)
You don’t have to live in the L.A. sunshine, dress like the Fresh Prince or even remember the ’90s especially well to recognise this song as the ultimate summer jam. Delivered by ’90s hip-hop pop heroes Will Smith (who always seems to be in the UAE) and DJ Jazzy Jeff (who plays regularly in the clubs of Dubai), this dreamy ode to the fairest of the seasons checks off pretty much every summer essential, from shooting hoops on the street, to dancing at a barbecue – but the real joy of Summertime is that it’s so easy. “Time to sit back and unwind,” trill the breezy singers at the chorus. We thought you’d never ask. Pass us the suncream.
2 Summer in the City by The Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)
The Lovin’ Spoonful begins its brilliant rock portrait of urban mood swings in a prelude of pent-up anticipation. Three quick pullbacks on the musical slingshot, each followed by a bang of drums like a backfiring car—and then it’s straight into the fast lane, with hard-driving verses that barely come up for air. In tautly evocative language, the song evokes a Jekyll and Hyde portrait of a city split into sweltering days (“All around, people looking half dead / Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head”) and cool, exhilarating nights. Real street sounds (car horns, a pneumatic drill) add texture to the midsong musical interlude, which lets the song catch its breath before launching back to the urgent rhythms it renders so urgently.
3 Summertime by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (1957)
Summertime is a gorgeous lie. As written by George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward for the seminal 1935 American folk opera Porgy & Bess, it’s a lullaby sung by a poor young mother in the slums of South Carolina, assuring her child of a tranquil world that is nowhere around them. (Fish don’t jump on Catfish Row, and the living sure isn’t easy.) Originally sung in a classical soprano range, Summertime has been reinvented in many modes, including Janis Joplin’s achingly desperate 1968 account. But it’s hard to beat the warm, soothing version that Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded for their 1957 Porgy & Bess album. Curled in the warm voices of these peerless vocalists, you’re transported to a gentler place.
4 Summer Breeze by Seals and Crofts (1972)
Nothing says summer like a little harmony-driven folk-pop, and this 1972 AM Gold staple epitomizes that mini movement about as well as any track we could name. We’re not sure what Jim Seals and Dash Crofts were getting at when they sang of the “jasmine in my mind”, but there’s no resisting the bittersweet tug of this tune, covered by everyone from Cincinnati soul faves the Isley Brothers to ’90s goth-metal masters Type O Negative.
5 The Boys of Summer by Don Henley (1984)
Maybe the most wrenching of all the “Where did we go wrong?” baby-boomer anthems, this 1984 triumph finds the Eagles kit man mourning not just the summer love that got away but the dashed ideals of an entire generation. Some might chuckle at those synthetic seagull caws and dated drum-machine tones, but anyone who claims not to feel a chill when Henley recounts seeing “a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac” probably needs a pulse check. This is beachside existentialism 101.
6 Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran (1958)
“I’m a gonna raise a fuss, I’m a gonna raise a holler,” Eddie Cochran sings in this ode to the pressures of summertime unemployment and its pressures. The Who would go on to record a titanic cover live at Leeds, while Blue Cheer’s crunchy version amounted to nascent heavy metal, but the original has a rockabilly twang all its own.
7 Rockaway Beach by the Ramones (1977)
If ever there was a surf tune that catered to the punk soul, the Ramones’ 1977 classic Rockaway Beach is it. Penned by bassist Dee Dee Ramone, the only proclaimed “beachgoer” of the group (yes, the thought of tight leather trousers on the sand makes us laugh too), this tune channels the Beach Boys but does it Ramones-style: amped-up and rambunctious.
8 Cruel Summer by Bananarama (1983)
To any fan of The Karate Kid – in which this icily funky 1983 dance-pop hit soundtracked Daniel LaRusso’s disastrous attempt to fit in at his new high school, Cruel Summer will forever symbolize those sweltering days when the sun’s beating down and you just can’t catch a break. To everyone else, it’s a ready-made anthem for whatever warm-weather blues you might have.
9 Hot Fun in the Summertime by Sly and the Family Stone (1969)
Released in August 1969, Hot Fun in the Summertime by funk trailblazers Sly and the Family Stone dropped at the height of the band’s career, after its legendary performance at Woodstock earlier that summer. It even landed the group the No. 2 spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, as well as No. 3 on the Billboard soul charts in the autumn of 1969. And how could it not? The song’s happy-go-lucky melody, coupled with frontman Sly Stone’s soulful tone, makes for a tune that perfectly encapsulates the mood of every summertime to come in a just a two-and-a-half-minute time span.
10 Lovely Day by Bill Withers (1977)
Sun, rain or hurricane, it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing, cue up this classic gem from revered soul man Bill Withers and you’ll agree that it is indeed a lovely day. Fun fact: Near the end of the song, Withers holds a single note for 18 seconds, which is purportedly the longest note in a US Top 40 single in history. We can only assume the tune’s inescapable buoyancy is what lifted him to such a feat.
11 That Summer Feelin’ by Jonathan Richman (1984)
No one does wistful nostalgia and pure, unadulterated joy quite like Jonathan Richman, the reformed punk man turned wide-eyed purveyor of childlike wonder. Still, there’s a knowing edge to Richman’s recollections: “That summer feeling’s gonna haunt you the rest of your life.”
12 Dancing in the Street by Martha and the Vandellas (1964)
An exuberant call to action co-written by a young Marvin Gaye (who also played drums on the recording). In this case, summer that brings a sense of love: an occasion for people “across the nation” and “around the world” to join in celebration. This democratic attitude took on civil-rights overtones when Dancing in the Street was appropriated as an unofficial anthem of the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles. But Martha Reeves insisted that it was not intended in that spirit. “It was a party song,” she said, and whatever else it might have become, no one can argue with that.
13 Wipe Out by the Surfaris (1963)
A high-pitched laugh, a drum fill that inspired thousands of kids to annoy parents at the dinner table and an instantly recognizable guitar riff: This is how you start a song. Interestingly, Wipe Out was originally penned as a last-minute B-side – only to became arguably the most recognizable surf-rock cut ever. And 56 years after its release, it still sounds like incredible fun. Turn it on, turn it up and get ready to chill out.
14 Sunny Afternoon by the Kinks (1966)
This is 1966 anthem is probably the only tune on the list that doubles as a tongue-in-cheek protest against high progressive taxation: “The taxman’s taken all my dough, and left me in my stately home,” sighs Ray Davies’s bon vivant narrator, adding, “And I can’t sail my yacht, he’s taken everything I’ve got.” Wry and funny. Sunny Afternoon is also one seriously good summer tune. From its languid melodies to Davies’s hypnotic vocals, when we listen this it immediately makes us want to be “lazin’ on a sunny afternoon in the summertime.”