There’s something about summer that often brings out the best in songwriters. Perhaps it’s time spent outdoors, memories of childhood summer vacations, or just plain old sunshine that does the trick. Below are 10 songs inspired by the year’s hottest season. Be sure to chime in with your own summer favorites in the comments section.
“Sunny Afternoon” – The Kinks (1966)
This perennial summer classic reminds us that even if we’re broke, we can still enjoy a sunny day sipping an ice cold beer. Kinks frontman Ray Davies once told Rolling Stone, "’Sunny Afternoon’ was made very quickly, in the morning. It was one of our most atmospheric sessions.” Dave Davies had just picked up his iconic Flying V – purchased for a whopping $60 – the previous year.
“Summertime Blues” – Eddie Cochran (1958)
Eddie Cochran was just 19 when he wrote this classic rocker with his friend Jerry Capehart. “There had been a lot of songs about summer, but none about the hardships of summer,” Capehart told Rolling Stone, decades after Cochran recorded the tune. Joan Jett, T.Rex and Blue Cheer are among the many rockers who’ve delivered rousing cover versions, but The Who’s explosive rendition is by far the most famous.
“Summer Breeze” – Seals & Crofts (1971)
Yeah, yeah … we all know this tune is about as lightweight as it gets, but who can resist the soothing tug of a gentle breeze “blowin’ through the jasmine in [your] mind”? The duo’s Jim Seals told Melody Maker, “[‘Summer Breeze’ is] a very simple song about a man coming home from work and hearing the dog barking and things like that. To a lot of people the song's about looking for security.” The goth-metal band Type O Negative recorded a cover version in 1993.
“In the Summertime” – Mungo Jerry (1970)
This bouncy ditty was a one-hit wonder in the U.S., but in fact Mungo Jerry – a band fronted by singer-songwriter Ray Dorset -- went on to score several hits in their native U.K. The song is considered one of the highest selling singles of all time, with an estimated 30 million copies sold worldwide. The tune has been featured in many TV ads, the most memorable being its use in a U.K. anti-drunk driving campaign.
“Sun Is Shining” – Bob Marley and the Wailers (1971)
Is there any music that goes better with summer than reggae? This track first appeared on 1971’s Lee Perry-produced Soul Revolution, but casual Marley fans are probably more familiar with the version on the reggae star’s 1976 disc, Kaya. A reggae fusion remix, credited to "Bob Marley vs. Funkstar De Luxe," reached number one on the U.S. dance chart and number three on the U.K. singles chart in 1999.
“Good Day Sunshine” – The Beatles (1966)
Paul McCartney has said the old-time vaudeville flavor of this tune – which appeared on the 1966 album, Revolver -- was influenced by The Lovin’ Spoonful. Composer Leonard Bernstein famously praised the song for its construction in a 1967 CBS News documentary. Fittingly, “Good Day Sunshine” has been played as the wake-up music on several Space Shuttle missions.
“Hot Fun in the Summertime” – Sly & the Family Stone (1969)
This summer classic was released as a single in the wake of Sly & the Family Stone’s captivating performance at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. To this day, original Family Stone bassist Larry Graham says it’s one of his favorite songs to perform. Artists as diverse as Genesis and Toto have cited “Hot Fun in the Summertime” as an inspiration for some of their own music.
“Dancing Days” – Led Zeppelin (1973)
“Dancing days are here again, as the summer evenings grow,” sings Robert Plant on this jaunty tune, one of the most light and relaxed songs in Led Zeppelin’s repertoire. Inspired by an Indian song Plant and Jimmy Page heard while traveling in Bombay, “Dancing Days” was the first track from Houses of the Holy to be offered to radio. Page’s slightly off-key string bending on the main riff helped give the tune its vaguely Eastern sound.
“School’s Out” – Alice Cooper (1972)
This perennial summer anthem features one of rock’s all-time great riffs, courtesy of the late great Glen Buxton. Cooper has said the lyrics were inspired by the question, “What are the greatest three minutes of your life?” Cooper first thought of Christmas morning, and he then thought of the last day of school. “If we can catch those last three minutes in a song,” he pondered, “it's going to be so big.”
“Summer in the City” – The Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)
No song conjures up the year’s hottest days better than this joyous ode to city life. “All around, people looking half dead, walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head,” sings John Sebastian, with an urgency markedly different from The Lovin’ Spoonful’s usual style. Then, on a dime, he turns his thoughts toward nightlife and its “different world” in the chorus. The barrage of car horns in the bridge lends a magical touch.