The Endless Summer List

Every summer is the same. Every summer is different.

The summer wind came blowin’ in
From across the sea
It lingered there to touch your hair
And walk with me

It may seem a little odd to introduce a list of great rockin’ summer songs with words written by mainstreamer Johnny Mercer and sung by Frank Sinatra, but those lines sum up summer feelings of freedom, warmth, easy living, longing and loss. Everyone knows the season is too short – on the calendar and for the soul. But summer’s shortness sweetens it perfectly. We learned that by heart in third grade when the first school bell of September jangled us back to reality.

We learned that we could perform only so many cannonballs. Fly so many kites, play so much frisbee. We would get only a certain number of ice cream cones at the beach. We would only luck into a small ration of “summer loves.” Having no particular place to go couldn’t last forever as hard as we wished upon a summer star.

Iced tea on shady porches, cruising in the car, good and bad family vacations, the weather they invented beer for, the great green period of relief.

Absent will be some standards, so don’t get your baggies or bikinis in a bunch. “Summer In The City”? Enough already. LFO’s “Summergirls”? Phenomenal song, but it ain’t Rock in our summer beach book. Some songs on the list will displace the ones you see on every other old list. A couple should be unexpected, songs ignored or pushed down because they’re off beat a little.

Speaking of beaches… there is the matter of The Beach Boys. OK, let’s be done with it and put every song they ever released on the Great Summer List. We’re just not writing them all down for the sake of repeating the obvious. Those songs are like worms in our minds, you could say. With that settled, we can talk about their great diamond in the summer rough. It’s down below. Check it out.

School Is Out

Gary U.S. Bonds
Dance 'til Quarter to Three (1961)

Gary “U.S.” Bonds’ “School Is Out” contains all the joyous anarchy but none of the angry vehemence of Alice Kooper’s “School’s Out (Forever)” The song swings, it rocks, it jives, it plays, it captures youth in all its ragged, jagged glory.

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Black Summer Rain

Eric Clapton
No Reason To Cry (1976)

Not every day of summer is sun-drenched with crystal clear air and bright blue waters. Eric Clapton explored unusual summer emotions in “Black Summer Rain,” a slow, slow ballad filled with regret and wonderment at lost love.

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Summer of ’69

Bowling For Soup; Bryan Adams
Reckless (1984)

Which version you like better may depend upon what generation you were born in. Both the Bryan Adams original and the re-make from Bowling For Soup are terrific summer songs. The former is a broadly arranged and executed Anthem Rock piece; the latter is punkier, a little nastier.

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Stand it up against all the summer songs you can imagine. It’s a beach party in a bottle. Pour it out, guzzle it down and revel in its tight, sharp 2-1/2 minutes.

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Heat Wave

Martha & The Vandellas
Heat Wave (1963)

It’s still a heat-producing single, a meltdown record that injects the frenzy of love and lust right into the flesh, blood, bone and marrow of the listener.

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Click to dive even deeper into this song, one of the extraordinary musical works that makes Rock-N-Roll the greatest genre on Earth.

Hot Fun In The Summertime

Sly & The Family Stone
Greatest Hits (1969)

Except that “Hot Fun In The Summertime” is so smooth and mellow, it could be called an anthem. It’s a hum-along-song, the slow groove as impractical as a sun reflector held to your face to deepen the tan. You hum because it’s a habit; you hold those silly reflectors for the same reason.

Sly’s lead singing and the backing vocals – including Rosie and Freddy Stone’s – sound like old sol peeking in and out of the big puffy clouds of July that promise a storm to cool us down.

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Summer’s Almost Gone

The Doors
Waiting For The Sun (1968)

Leave it to Jim Morrison to turn summer into an occasion for a dirge.

Yet, “Summer’s Almost Gone” is the most beautifully haunting of all songs of the sunny season. The Doors capture the mystical aspects of seasons revolving, planets moving through space and time. “Calmly unaware” is part of the lyric, but “calmly” seems like it might mean “eerily.” 

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Summertime Blues

Eddie Cochran
The Eddie Cochran Memorial Album (1958)

Summertime Blues” ascends over Rockabilly without losing sight of its roots in the twangy, slangy roots music. The casual, off-the-beat hand-clapping, Cochran’s teen lamentation vocals, the jokey basso profundo tossed in as the “voice of adulthood” and the danceable, light-lick guitars and jumpy bass make it one of Rock’s founding tunes.

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Click to dive even deeper into this song, one of the extraordinary musical works that makes Rock-N-Roll the greatest genre on Earth.

4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

Bruce Springsteen
The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle (1973)

Asbury Park, New Jersey, was Bruce Springsteen’s original land of hope and dreams. When he was coming of age, the seaside town was already decrepit, a mere shell of itself as a honky-tonk amusement park refuge for blue-collar families.

The story that unfolds in “4th Of July” has the singer/narrator explaining to his love of the moment – Sandy – a catalog of failures, shortcomings, and anxieties.

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