Listmania: Top 20 Songs of Summer (#10-1)

In pop culture, lists are everything. They lend a sense of order to an otherwise orderless world. From film and literature to music, critics and readers alike love to put things in tidy rows. It is with this in mind that Popdose presents Listmania, a weekly series counting down the staff’s favorite things.

The days are starting to get shorter; the nights a little bit crisper, all tell-tale signs that summer is coming to an end. Before you head back to school or work, take a moment to reflect on the music that will take you back to summer’s past.

As you may recall, we challenged the Popdose staff to come up with their favorite summer songs. The lists featured songs from every era and genre. We tallied up the tracks that garnered the most mentions, and present you now with the Top 10 songs of summer!

Just in case you missed the first half of the list: Top 20 Songs of Summer (20-11)

10. Blur – Girls & Boys
The cover photo for the single of Blur’s “Girls & Boys,” showing a young couple dancing on a beach at sunset, was reportedly reproduced from a package of condoms. That’s a pretty good encapsulation of the content and mood of the song, which wraps extreme confusion and anxiety about sex, love, gender identity, and money in the most irresistible dance beat Britpop ever produced. Summer fun the Eurotrash way! - Robin Monica Alexander
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9. Prince & The Revolution - Let’s Go Crazy
“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here to get through this thing called life.” With those words, Prince and his newly minted Revolution kicked off one of the greatest summer jams of all time. Released in August of 1984, the single — backed with the naughty “Erotic City” — was a call to arms for party people all over the world. Driven by his signature Linn LM-1, the song rocks as hard as it makes you want to shake your ass. And for that alone, “Let’s Go Crazy” has earned its spot in the Top 10. - Michael Parr
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8. Chic – Le Freak
One…Two…Aaaaaaah FREAK OUT! Never have two works connoting a kind of spastic act been sung so soulfully. But that was what made Chic such a great disco band. The rhythm that Niles Rogers and the late Bernard Edwards were able to create not only made for disco anthems, but great summertime songs.  Reading the back story on the song, it’s interesting to note that the funky duo of Rogers and Edwards wrote “Le Freak” as a kind of protest song (Seems a doorman at Studio 54 wouldn’t let them in on New Year’s Eve to meet Grace Jones — who invited the guys over to talk about songs she wanted them to write for her). Changing the lyrics from “Fuck off,” to “Freak out,” turned out to be a brilliant stroke. The song exudes the escapism of the disco era when hitting the dance floor was a way you blew off steam, hooked up with someone, and found out that they made candy for your nose. But it’s not really the lyrics that that kicks this jam into high gear. Nope. It’s the cycling riff of the guitar, the driving 4/4 beat of the drums, and, of course, the mindless chorus that uses the word “freak” twice (once in a classy way by saying “Le Freak”), and, way before Wang Chung or Lady Gaga did, name checks the band a minimum of 16 times in the song. But if you feature “Le Freak” in a summertime mix tape, you’ll have a heavy hitter of a song that’ll have all your friends singing along — even if they claim they don’t like disco. - Ted Asregadoo
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7. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince – Summertime
Barbecues with family and friends; cruising down the street checking out the girls; jumping in the fire hydrant; hitting the basketball court for a couple of games (all while trying not to play too hard because the chicks won’t talk to you if you’re all sweaty) Will Smith captured the best parts of a summer day in urban America with “Summertime.” Featuring a relaxed, conversational flow that was a far cry from “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and a groove (courtesy of DJ Jazzy Jeff) that borrowed heavily from Kool and the Gang’s hazy “Summer Madness”, this song made Will hip-hop’s first multi-media superstar. Nearly two decades later, it’s a standard for members of Generations X and Y. Until I hear the words “here it is: a groove, slightly transformed”, it just ain’t summer. - Michael Heyliger
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6. Alice Cooper – School’s Out
Truthfully, what says “summer” more than the exclamation that “school’s out for summer”? Alice Cooper capitalized on this sentiment with his 1972 hit “School’s Out,” and in the process gave future generations an anthem to sing as summer drew near. Despite it coming out 2 years before I was even born, I knew it even before I entered school. Having witnessed Alice in a classic appearance on The Muppet Show, I could recite its sing-song refrain: “No more pencils, No more books, No more teacher’s, Dirty looks.” School’s out, indeed! - MP
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5. Grease Cast – Summer Nights
“Quaint” is a word you don’t hear much anymore, in a world where our kids sing along to songs celebrating a stripper’s pole-dance gyrations. Still, it’s amusing to think how titillating Grease seemed to a 12-year-old in 1978. It’s astonishing — and more than a little embarrassing — to remember the extent to which we kids went gaga over Grease that summer: I saw it at least six times in theaters, and when it came on HBO I used to listen to it on my little B&W TV even though the picture was scrambled. “Summer Nights” is the perfect distillation of the movie’s themes: the horndog guys, the jaded girls, the macho-poseur hero, the goody-two-shoes heroine preparing to cast off her innocence. Come to think of it, those themes pretty much define the pop music of 2010 as well, which is why “Summer Nights” — a 30-year-old hit that was a period piece even in its day — remains so resonant. It’s the story of a summer every kid has wished he could have, then or now. - Jon Cummings
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4. LEN – Steal My Sunshine
“Steal My Sunshine” is one of those songs that is so good, it’s no wonder the band that made it was never able to follow it up. Canada’s Len made a song that managed to be totally up-to-date and deliciously nostalgic at the same time. A guy/girl vocal trade-off that had virtually vanished from radio by the time this song became a hit in 1999, the song’s status as a classic was cemented by the irresistible sample of porno queen Andrea True’s mid-Seventies disco classic “More, More, More.” – MH
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3. Don Henley – Boys of Summer
Most summer songs are about youth and freedom. This one isn’t. It’s about how summer means growing up. It’s not just the skin damage from the sun, either. Each year brings a new rite of passage: learning to ride a bike, getting to go to Dairy Queen by yourself, first kiss, first job, first hangover, first real job. One day, you’re teaching your kid how to ride a bike and letting him go to Dairy Queen by himself. The Deadhead (or Black Flag) sticker on the Cadillac causes an epiphany worthy of James Joyce. Summer is over, you’re getting old, but someone somewhere still loves you. - Annie Logue
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2. Bruce Springsteen – Glory Days
Summer is full of old memories and memories yet to be made. For a lot of people, summer is also a reminder of youth. The Boss captures the sepia-toned vibe with which a lot of folks in their thirties view their teens and early Twenties with an almost cinematic attention to detail. Musically and lyrically, “Glory Days” is the perfect accompaniment to a night at a pub with good friends, getting drunk and laughing at all the shit you did when you were young(er) and dumb(er). Whenever there’s a discussion about Springsteen’s greatest lyrical moments, I always count this song as one of his best. It sounded great on the radio when I was growing up, and it gains more resonance with each passing year, especially now that I find myself as old as Bruce was when he wrote it. - MH
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1. Huey Lewis & The News – The Power of Love
Growing up in upstate, NY in the mid-eighties there was little to do during the summer months other than spend time running around outside. My brother and I would spend long afternoons riding our bikes and exploring the woods around our house. The soundtrack for these explorations would usually be provided by my small AM/FM radio, handed down from my uncle. There are a few songs that bring the nostalgia for those times back better than Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Love.” To this day, when I hear it I’m instantly taken back to the summers of my youth, and that’s the real power of a true “Summer Song.” - MP
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  • http://www.annlogue.com annielogue

    Although Jon and I are the same age (we went to college together), my mother would not let me see Grease. She said that it was not appropriate for children, what with all the swearing and the discussion of virginity and the like. I am still traumatized by this, I tell you.

  • http://www.popdose.com Michael Parr

    I have to totally cop to knowing ever single word to all of the songs at the age of five. Granted, I didn’t know what any of them meant until much later.

  • smf2271

    I feel like “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts should be somewhere on this list. But it’s hard to argue with any of the choices above.

    I remember there were four songs you couldn’t turn on the radio for more than 15 minutes without hearing at least one of them in the summer of 1985. Those were Money for Nothing by Dire Straits, Shout by Tears For Fears, St. Elmo’s Fire by John Parr and… The Power Of Love by Huey Lewis & the News. You were also treated to songs like Tina Turner’s We Don’t Need Another Hero, The Pointer Sisters’ Dare Me, Motley Crue’s Smokin’ in the Boys Room, and Debarge’s Who’s Holding Donna Now in the interim. They don’t make summer songs like they used to.

    And that wasn’t even my favorite summer for music of the ’80s. That distinction belongs to 1983: Maniac, Our House, Electric Avenue, Come Dancing, 1999, Too Shy, Every Breath You Take, Rock Of Ages, Keep Feeling Fascination, She Works Hard For the Money, Safety Dance… I could go on and on…

  • http://www.popdose.com Michael Parr

    “Come Dancing,” “’65 Love Affair,” “Key Largo,” and “If This Is It” also fall into my “instant summer nostalgia” category, along with many that you’ve mentioned. I forgot about “Dare Me,” good call.

  • http://www.discoskonfort.com/artists/drxl/ Anonymous

    That is the same reason I have never understood how Grease keeps being a favorite of amateur and professional children musical theater in Mexico. It seems like every junior high school is putting a stage version of Grease every spring. I hardly remember ever seeing one of them, but I wonder how much of the original script has made it to these revivals.

  • http://genxsingalong.wordpress.com Gigi

    “Mommy, what does ‘pussy wagon’ mean?”

  • http://twitter.com/tcote Thierry Côté

    There’s something terribly wrong about a summer songs list that doesn’t have a Beach Boys song in the top 10, and where the Wallflowers rank ahead of the Wilsons – am I wrong to think that the Beach Boys vote got split between a number of different songs? Otherwise, how can you justify “Good Vibrations” not being the song that defines summer (or summer love)?

  • http://giardinodeileoni.blogspot.com/ PaoloBassotti

    Ehy, good list! I’m listening to Steal My Sunshine right now, for the first time in ten years! Last year I’ve made an article about the 10 best songs AGAINST summer. Stuff like Costello’s Other Side Of Summer, 50ft Wave’s Clara Bow and Morrissey’s Everyday Is Like Sunday…
    http://www.gibson.com/it-it/Stile-di-Vita/Notizie-Rilevanti/Odio-lestate-10-grandi-921/

  • smf2271

    I forgot to mention “Summer of ’69″ as one of the ubiquitous songs of the Summer of ’85.

  • http://www.popdose.com Michael Parr

    Indeed! Also a classic.

  • http://www.popdose.com Michael Parr

    I’m just looking at the original input and “All Summer Long” was the sole Beach Boys tune on the list.

  • Anonymous

    Would have like to see Gnarls Barkley “Crazy” somewhere in the list. It dominated summer of 2006.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    I think it was probably a case of the voters being *mentally* split while casting their votes. You hear someone say, “give me a list of your top summer songs,” and your brain just screams “Beach Boys”…so you spend more time trying to think of songs by everyone BUT the Beach Boys.

  • http://www.popdose.com Michael Parr

    As I said, the are the summer band. I’m pretty sure we could have done an entire Top 20 of just Beach Boys tunes. That said, we’d have to include some tunes that would elicit the response “Fuck Mike Love.”

  • http://genxsingalong.wordpress.com Gigi

    According to Bryan Adams, the song is not about the year ’69, but rather the…uh…activity.

  • da5id

    LOL. Grease is playing on stage here in Auckland and there was a performance of Greased Lightning on breakfast TV. After it was over, one of the announcers inquired from the others as to what the lyric “jitsu cream” meant. Needless to say, they didn’t tell him on air.

  • da5id

    I totally agree.

  • da5id

    I’ve never thought of Boys Of Summer as a ‘summer song’, really; the song takes place in winter where there’s nobody “on the road” or “on the streets”, where you can feel in the air that the summer’s “out of reach” and the boys of summer have gone. It’s almost a lament in that regard. You could put California Dreamin’ in the same category.

  • Anonymous

    I like a lot of the choices here. “Summertime” from DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince is terrific. I also liked the diverse selections of Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer,” Henley’s “Boys Of Summer,” Outkast’s “Hey Ya!,” Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” and the Prince jam “Let’s Go Crazy.” All strong selections for this list.

    Quibbles: I’d probably choose “Living For The City” over “Sir Duke” for the Stevie Wonder selection. “Summer Nights” from Grease and particularly “Power Of Love” from Huey Lewis & The News (Number 1? Really? Come on now) seem to mar what is otherwise a very fine list.

  • http://twitter.com/tcote Thierry Côté

    I think what this list proves is that the summer of 1985 was the Popdose staff’s favourite summer (Huey, Bruce) – and my guess is that many of them were probably at the right age (early-to-mid-teens) to be hit hard by a summer song…

  • JonCummings

    “Jitsu cream”? Even they know the line is “the chicks will cream,” right?