Songs of the summer: A look at past summertime hits

Songs of the summer: A look at past summertime hits

Written by Carolyn Noyes

One of the biggest questions that circulates through the media from May to September is “What will be the song that defined the summer?” Every year, you can count on a few tunes taking over the radio airwaves, duking it out to be the ultimate summer jam. Some of the contenders this year include “The Middle” by Zedd and Maren Morris, “Nice for What” by Drake, and “No Tears Left to Cry” by Ariana Grande. Although it’s too early to tell who the winner will be just yet, let’s take a look back at the most iconic summer anthems.

“California Gurls” by Katy Perry

Back in 2010, Katy Perry spared no expense when she set out to release the song of the summer. “California Gurls” was practically made to be sung by the ocean and covers Perry’s affinity for wearing bikinis, sipping cocktails, and…doing other activities on the beach. Not to mention the song features Snoop Dogg’s long-awaited return to the radio in a fun guest verse – even if “on ya” and “California” don’t necessarily rhyme.

“Umbrella” by Rihanna feat. Jay-Z

Rihanna has reinvented herself many times throughout her career, but “Umbrella” was the lead single during her first major image change in the summer of 2007. While Rihanna had a few hits before “Umbrella,” this was the song to truly cement her as a pop superstar, and her new bad girl image separated her from the countless other pop divas with whom she was competing. “Umbrella” became one of the biggest songs of the year, and had the world singing along in rain or shine.

“Hot in Herre” by Nelly

This track embraced the heat of summer and became a sensation in June of 2002, as “Hot in Herre” was one of the biggest songs of the early 2000’s. Nelly and co-writer Pharrell Williams used numerous samples from 60’s and 70’s music influences, but mixed them in a way that created a new-sounding bombastic club hit. When he only had the hook recorded, Nelly was already receiving industry praise: Busta Rhymes indeed, busted, into Nelly’s studio when he overheard the hook, saying the song was “infectious.”

“Waterfalls” by TLC

“Waterfalls” isn’t upbeat like most of the songs on this list — it discusses the effects of drug abuse and HIV/AIDS. However, that’s one of the reasons that it was so popular: back in 1995, it was the first number-one song to talk about AIDS, and listeners instantly connected to its honesty. “Waterfalls” is proof that a song doesn’t have to compromise quality or depth to be a summer hit.

“When Doves Cry” by Prince

The late, great Prince’s 1984 album “Purple Rain” spawned some of his greatest hits, one being “When Doves Cry.” The song puts Prince’s high-energy guitar and vocals at the forefront, but is missing a key component – bass guitar. Prince wanted to use this absence to complement the song’s lyrics regarding relationship anxiety, and it didn’t stop his fans from jamming – the song was on every station that summer as he began his journey to becoming a music icon.

“Let’s Dance” by David Bowie

This summer, you’ll want to put on your red shoes and dance the blues just like everybody did in the summer of 1983, when this Bowie hit was released. The song’s lyrics are simple, and the music has a timeless groove supported by legendary guitarists Stevie Ray Vaughan and Nile Rodgers. As the 80s began, many thought that Bowie’s career was on the decline, but “Let’s Dance” introduced a new generation to his music and became a long-standing favorite for his fans.

“Bad Girls” by Donna Summer

This 1979 hit came towards the end of the disco era, but is an excellent example of the genre’s inescapable ability to make you want to dance. With a band including a guitar, piano, horns, and of course Summer’s incredible voice, “Bad Girls” is a great jam if you want to get a party going but have gotten tired of current dance tracks.

“Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass

This song had a resurgence in popularity when it was featured in last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” but it first hit the radio back in 1972. The song is a natural choice for summer – its lyrics conjure up the image of sitting seaside with a drink in hand, and the mellow instrumentals are guaranteed to put you in vacation mode.

“I Get Around” by The Beach Boys

A list of summer music simply isn’t complete without the Beach Boys. It may be hard to believe since The Beach Boys were one of the most iconic acts of the early 60s, but it took until 1964 for them to reach a number one spot on the charts with “I Get Around.” The song transports you to the shore with its narrative of cruising around a beach town — and of course, Brian Wilson’s falsetto. Even now, you can play this song “All Summer Long.

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