13 Songs for the Perfect Summer Playlist
Go beyond the Beach Boys with our round-up of upbeat songs—plus learn the surprising music trivia behind each hit.
“Under the Boardwalk,” The Drifters
This perfect summer stroll almost didn’t happen. Lead vocalist Rudy Lewis died the night before The Drifters’ scheduled studio time, forcing the band to impulsively call in former frontman Johnny Moore, who had left the band years earlier when he was drafted into the US military. Moore subsequently became the permanent lead until his death in December 1998, solidifying him as the band’s longest-touring member.
This song actually topped the charts over the holiday season in 2003-2004, but if you happened to be anywhere near an open car window—or a gym—the next summer, you still couldn’t miss it. Strange but true: The lyric “shake it like a Polaroid picture” was a boon for Polaroid.
“In the Summertime,” Mungo Jerry
Mungo Jerry’s hit single, which sold 30 million copies, was written in just ten minutes by the group’s singer, Ray Dorset. The tune was a smash worldwide, but denied airplay in Australia during the 1970 Radio Ban, which involved a pay-for-play dispute. Instead, the Melbourne band The Mixtures recorded a cover version, which hit #1 on Australian radio charts. The Mixtures followed up their success with “The Pushbike Song,” a near-identical tune that Mungo Jerry would eventually cover in the UK.
“All Summer Long,” Kid Rock
Kid Rock’s good-ole-boy mashup of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” became a number-one hit in eight countries.
“Gimme Shelter,” The Rolling Stones
This debuted in 1969 (and was initially spelled “Gimmie”) but, like Mick Jagger himself, seems either to defy or ignore age. It’s also a favorite in movie soundtracks, most recently last year’s Flight.
“Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepson
Just mentioning this pop hit is likely to cause it to be stuck in your head again. We’ve previously explained why it’s so addictive.
“Viva La Vida,” Coldplay
The summer of 2008 was when Coldplay, fronted by Gwyneth Paltrow’s better half, Chris Martin, “ruled the word”—to quote a lyric from the ubiquitous, unlikely hit. The title, which translates from Spanish to “Long Live Life,” was inspired by a Frida Kahlo painting in which the same phrase appears carved into some tasty watermelons.
“I Gotta Feeling,” The Black Eyed Peas
“I Gotta Feeling” debuted in May 2009 at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, right behind The Black Eyed Peas’ March hit, “Boom Boom Pow.” Simultaneously occupying the top two spots on the Hot 100 put the Peas in an exclusive club of only 11 artists, including Elvis, OutKast, and Mariah Carey—though they still haven’t bested the Beatles, who conquered the chart’s entire Top Five in April 1964.
“Hot Fun in the Summertime,” Sly and the Family Stone
Sly and the Family Stone’s impressive set at Woodstock ’69 helped pique interest in the band, sent this single to #2 on the Billboard charts, and eventually granted them the greatest honor in music: an invitation to play the tune on the Pee-wee Herman Show in 1981.
“The Boys of Summer,” Don Henley
Henley created an anthem that was at once catchy and haunting. He performed this 1984 hit both solo and with the Eagles.
“California Gurls,” Katy Perry
While searching for a rapper to add a guest verse to her California love-letter (a response, she said, to “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys), Perry reportedly resorted to browsing Wikipedia’s West Coast artists page. She approached Snoop Doggy Dogg, and the rest is history.
“Soak Up The Sun,” Sheryl Crow
Early in her career, the former music teacher toured as a backup singer for Michael Jackson, but by this song’s 2002 release, Sheryl Crow had been enjoying a long solo place in the sun.
“Good Vibrations,” The Beach Boys
Okay, we couldn’t resist. Genius lead singer Brian Wilson made everybody want to grab a board and go surfing but famously couldn’t surf himself.