Warning: Unlike typical comprehensive “Top Summer Songs” lists, City Weekly features few usual suspects'no Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, Bob Marley or any other act notorious for lyrics about surf, turf and/or jamming. Instead, we opted to highlight artists capable of capturing the essential summer states of romance, freedom, lust and debauchery. Without further adieu, here are 20 subjective picks, in no particular order:
“Cannonball” by The Breeders (Last Splash, 1993)
Tanya Donnelly and the Deal sisters cooed the coolest summer lyrics, “I’ll be your whatever you want/The bong in this reggae song,” while director Spike Jonze captured it all on film. In the shade. In the shade.
“Sunny Afternoon” by The Kinks (Face to Face, 1966)
Sure, Ray Davies was railing against a brutal British tax system, but on the surface this song screams summer. Listen to his molasses-paced voice, sexy and slow, singing with half-mast eyes, “And I love to live so pleasantly/ Live this life of luxury/ Lazing on a sunny afternoon/ In the summertime.
“Everybody Loves the Sunshine” by Roy Ayers (Everybody Loves the Sunshine, 1976)
A groovy track made for lazy days, chilling at the park. You can picture friends barbecuing, lovers dozing on mounds of grass'Just bees and things and flowers.
“Summer Babe (Winter Version)” by Pavement (Slanted & Enchanted, 1992)
There she is, “Mixin’ cocktails with a plastic-tipped cigar.” Summer fling.
“Staring at the Sun” by TV on the Radio (Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babe, 2004)
Soft cooing segues into insistent, syncopated electronic beats before Tunde Adebimpe’s powerful voice crashes down. It’s the sound of rushing down an empty street at 3 a.m., bike flying on a cool breeze en route to some lucky lover’s humid apartment.
“Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock (Headhunters, 1973)
One of the jazz legend’s more accessible numbers, this funky track opens with one band member blowing on a beer bottle'in, out, in, out'using the inanimate object as his hyperactive flute.
“Wires and Waves” by Rilo Kiley (Take Offs and Landings, 2001)
Sweet Jenny Lewis coos about the distance between us, somehow managing to make disconnect sound like fun. All hail the power of breezy hooks!
“Tahitian Moon” by Porno For Pyros (Good God’s Urge, 1996)
Insistent drums and guitar culminate in chaos, then slowly slip into lazy slumber. It’s madness at the beach or in the mountains. It’s blazing through fiery streets, then dozing, gazing upward toward stars and thinking, “The sea is a very easy place to disappear/ Drift away/Fall asleep/Make your peace.
“Harvest Moon” by Neil Young (Harvest Moon, 1972)
For anyone who’s ever fallen in love as the sun settled down to sleep.
“You Can Have It All” by Yo La Tengo (And Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out, 2000)
Sometimes, a song can strum up feelings through one catchy chorus. Here, soft female vocals float above drum-roll chanting: “ba ba ba ba, ba ba ba.” Simple, clean and relaxed. Perfect for peaceful, daytime strolls.
“She’s a Rainbow” by the Rolling Stones (Their Satanic Majesties Request, 1967)
Again, a strong sense of summer shines through with an “ooh la la” chorus, fanciful piano and stirring strings. Mick’s woman is a rainbow'ain’t love grand?
“Pacific Theme” by Broken Social Scene (You Forgot It In People, 2002)
This instrumental tribute to classic ’60s pop paints a sonic illustration of an exclusive cocktail party thrown near some crystal-clear ocean.
“It’s Summertime” by the Flaming Lips (Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, 2002)
Wayne Coyne’s trademark warble floats, bittersweet above birds chirping in this throbbing, psychedelic track. “Look outside/ I know that you’ll recognize/ It’s summertime,” he says, “I can understand if you still feel sad.” Calm, nostalgic and deeply introspective.
“So Watcha Want” by the Beastie Boys (Check Your Head, 1992)
Three white, Jewish rappers fought for their right to party so that you could get down. Yeah-eh.
“California Stars” by Billy Bragg & Wilco (Mermaid Avenue Vol. 2, 2000)
Sad and beautiful, this re-imagined Woody Guthrie classic summons summer through plaintive choruses and layered alt-country glory.
“I Only Want You” by the Eagles of Death Metal (Peace Love Death Metal, 2004)
J. Devil Huge and Carlo Von Sexron checked their true identities at the door and recorded balls-out music for the night prior. Huge’s urgent, high pitched vocals occasionally dip into Elvis-style heaving as he sets a frantic pace for sex-in-stereo. This track is ideal for house parties, skateboarding and furious make-out sessions.
“A Summer Wasting” by Belle & Sebastian (The Boy With the Arab Strap, 1998)
“But if the summer’s wasted/ How come that I could feel so free?
“Noonen” by Thes One (Noonen 12-inch, 2004)
Underground hip-hop producer and People Under the Stairs member Thes One describes the Quarter Life Crisis'a trend plaguing directionless 20- to 30-somethings paralyzed by myriad choices and possibilities. Noonen kicks off with a Caddyshack sample before breaking into declarations of new beginnings: Life after golfing, summer and Kenny Loggins.
“Pink Moon” by Nick Drake (Pink Moon, 1972)
Yes, this is the track off of that Volkswagen Jetta commercial, but the hip car company’s depiction of summer night driving is right on! The image of a car winding through dark canyon roads epitomizes warm, summer moonlight. So does this song.
“Corner Story” by Del the Funky Homosapien (Future Development, 1998)
A basic narrative about picking up liquor gets a boost from slick lyricism and jazzy beats. “We ’bout to roll to the corner, me and my crew,” Del says, including the listener as part of his posse. For a moment, youth feels eternal'just like summer.