Welcome to the season of sticky sno-cones, loud suburban street festivals, and music spilling out of open windows of fast cars. And music always makes the summer season. To celebrate the arrival of summer, check out these five great songs about el verano and make sure your playlist is up to date:
“Hot Fun in the Summertime,” Sly and the Family Stone
Like so many great summer songs, “Hot Fun in the Summertime” is awash with nostalgia, recalling a fleeting romance that ends with the inevitable coming of the fall. But oh them summer days in between the end of the spring and the first of the fall! You can take the song to mean the literal arrival and passing of the summer months or read something deeper into the lyrics: growing older, looking back, and reflecting.
“Summertime,” DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
Drums, please! It’s time to kick back and unwind with a soft subtle mix while you cruise in your car. School is out. The temperature’s about 88. And you’re invited to a barbeque that starts at 4. What’s not to like? In “Summertime,” DJ Jazzy Fresh and the Fresh Prince take us to the Belmont Plateau in Philadelphia, where “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.” The song hints at a nostalgia we often hear in other summer songs, but it never loses its sense of time and place thanks to the smooth lead rap, vivid lyrics, breezy background vocals, and irresistible backbeat. You’ll keep coming back to the plateau.
“Boys of Summer,” Don Henley
With “Boys of Summer,” Don Henley wrote a thoughtful and hook-ridden bookend to “Hotel California,” with lyrics such as, “Out on the Road today, I saw a Dead Head Sticker on a Cadillac” recalling the same hippie-drenched irony of the line, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969” in “Hotel California.” In “Hotel California,” the narrator is a prisoner of his past. In “Boys of Summer,” the narrator is trapped in his feelings for a woman he’s lost. The song solidified Henley’s position as a solo star in his own right. Decades later, “Boys of Summer” remains a powerful, aching meditation on loss with summer falling out of reach.
“Summer in the City,” the Lovin’ Spoonful
This classic paints a descriptive picture to pull the listener into the heat of summer. Anyone who has experienced summer sweat can relate to John Sebastian singing, “Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty,” and you can feel the sweat beading down your back when those cars honk during the song’s bridge. It’s so hot that the sidewalk, “hotter than a match head,” offers no relief, and people look half-dead. Yeah, this is one seriously brutal summer day. But the song offers relief when the night comes, the city cools down, and the song’s narrator goes out to find a girl. “Summer in the City” resonates because it tells a story in addition to creating powerful images. And it’s an inconclusive story — you don’t know whether the narrator ever finds a girl, but we leave him in a hopeful state of mind.
The band War has never sounded sweeter than on “Summer,” with its laid-back salsa vibe, ever-present guiro keeping time, and horns punctuating the verses. “Summer,” released on the first day of summer in 1976, also feels undeniably retro, with the references to “an eight-track playing all your favorite sounds” and rapping on a CB radio (“We’ll give a big 10–4 to the truckin’ man”). “Summer,” too, paints pictures — an old man feeding pigeons in the square and young boys playing stick ball in the street. (Maybe the Lovin’ Spoonful needs to flee the bad traffic, head across town and chill out with War.) “Summer” was a bonus single on War’s Greatest Hits album — and decades later, the song stands a gorgeous ode to mellow living.
What songs define summer for you?