summer playlist suggestions

Whether you’re going on a road trip to the mountains, stretching out on a sandy beach or just floating in the backyard pool, you’ll need a soundtrack of summer songs to accompany you. We traveled down “memory lane” for suggestions to add to the lineup of those more current tunes you’ve already downloaded.

“Summertime” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (1957)
Originally 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. 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 memorable 1957 Porgy & Bess album.

“Heat Wave” by Martha and the Vandellas (1963)
It may be that the only thing better than a summer fling is relishing the memory of a summer fling, and one spin of the soul group Martha and the Vandellas’ 1963 classic “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave” will likely bring it all back. One of Motown’s many precious gems, this tune was produced by Hollan-Dozier-Holland and made the Vandellas the first Motown group to receive a Grammy nod.

“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 recognize this song as the ultimate summer jam. Delivered by ’90s hip-hop pop heroes Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, 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 and reminiscing about the first person you kissed—but the real joy of “Summertime” is that it’s so easy.

“Summer Nights” by John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John and the cast of Grease (1978)
What would summer be without summer flings? Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey capture the magic of transient teen romance in this clever doo-wop number from their 1972 musical, Grease, which achieved even greater cultural ubiquity in its blockbuster 1978 movie adaptation. The song’s playful he-said-she-said structure enacts and spoofs ‘50s gender roles: The guys are all about sex and braggadocio, while the girls want to hear about tenderness and status.

“Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams (1985)
The facts might be a little fuzzy—Bryan Adams was only nine years old in the actual summer of ’69—but it’s a safe bet that the Canadian song man was speaking from experience when he looked back on the twin pleasures of rock and romance in this 1985 roots-pop staple. Though Adams himself has tipped fans off to the cheeseball innuendo in the title, we prefer to think of this one in PG terms: an all-purpose ode to the endless possibility of three gloriously school-free adolescent months.

“Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles (1969)
In his autobiography, I, Me, Mine, George Harrison describes writing this ode at the close of a particularly punishing winter, while strolling through Eric Clapton’s garden. It was included in  the Abbey Road album and, in tandem with his other contribution to the album Something, established Harrison as a skilled songwriter on par with his revered bandmates. Fifty years have passed and, it’s still the perfect way to herald the return of summer.

“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 is a portrait of a city split into sweltering days and cool, exhilarating nights of randy tomcats on the prowl. Real street sounds — car horns and a jackhammer — add texture to the musical interlude, which lets the song catch its breath before launching back to its pulsating rhythm.

“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”—or what strain of weed might’ve inspired that trippy turn of phrase—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.

“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.

“Saturday in the Park” by Chicago (1972)
According to fellow Chicago founding member Walter Parazaider, Robert Lamm penned this 1972 single after a particularly inspiring jaunt through Central Park, while the band was in NYC recording their fifth studio effort, Chicago V. The song remains one of the outfit’s signature tunes and, as you probably could have guessed, the perfect soundtrack for a sunny afternoon chilling out in the park.

“Seasons” by Future Islands (2014)
This stunner kicked off more than the Future Island’s fourth studio album: It introduced the synth rockers to the nation when they served up a riveting performance of the song on The Late Show with David Letterman. Frontman Samuel T. Herring’s slick shimmy and guttural roar inspired a fair bit of memes, which were outnumbered only by the critical accolades. Cue it up the next time you’re in the mood for a little quiet contemplation on a sandy beach.

“Under the Boardwalk” by the Drifters (1964)
This song is deceptively simple—there aren’t many verses, and there’s a pretty long instrumental interlude right in the middle—but few tunes are as evocative of summer as this one. You can almost feel the sand crunching beneath your toes and the ocean waves in the background as you listen to all of its talk of hot dogs, the sun beating down on a tar-papered roof and getting cozy on a blanket with your soulmate.