You can’t just drop a single right before June hits and expect to get “summer anthem” status. It doesn’t work that way. It goes deeper than release date, and can’t actually be planned. Simply put, you can’t just predict what you’ll be jamming to at the summer turn-up years from now. Catchiness, clever lyrics, and a fun beat to dance to all help, but each worthy song also has an unexplainable layer of magic that adds to its ubiquity, popularity, and, ultimately, timelessness. And here are the 10 greatest summer anthems that have that special miracle blend.
Head to 7-Eleven, grab a SOUR PATCH Watermelon Slurpee and click play below for the ideal summer vibe.
Katy Perry ft. Snoop Dogg, “California Gurls”
What started out as a cavity-inducing pop track has become an infectious hit that still stands five years later. An answer to Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” Katy Perry’s California ode might not exactly carry the song’s same historical value, but it does embody more than just the Golden State. Sun, fun, partying, beautiful girls, 24/7 beach weather—“California Gurls” is a celebration of the hottest season of the year, all year round.
Lana Del Rey, “Summertime Sadness”
What’s a summer anthem list without a nod to summer love? Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” carries that torch perfectly, a track about a haunting, fleeting romance never meant to live long enough to see the leaves die. Del Rey’s vivid lyrics and soulful, quivering voice evoke a sense of urgency, as if she’s willing the listener to live and love as hard you can for the season because there’s nothing you can do about its end. Tragic, sure, but a perfect reminder to cherish every single moment.
The Beach Boys, “California Girls”
Of course The Beach Boys are on this list. We’d be remiss to not include them—the band embodies summer. While they’re entire timeless discography can be the soundtrack to the season, we had to choose one that stood above them all: 1965’s “California Girls.” If you don’t even listen to The Beach Boys, you know the lyrics to the song about summer girls around the world. That’s simply how classic it is.
DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, “Summertime”
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime,” aptly released May 1991, is unlike any summer anthem here. This one’s cruising the PCH with the top down, barbecuing by the pool music. No urgency. No raging. Just good old-fashioned chillin’. That’s what this season gives us an excuse for right? Reveling in the freedom to do nothing but hang out every day, all day.
Martha and the Vandellas, “Dancing in the Street”
Is there a feel-good song out there quite like “Dancing in the Street?” That was rhetorical, obviously. The Motown trio’s signature single is perfect for the season. Throw every care you have out the window—as the song invites you to step outside yourself, enjoy the sun, meet new people, and quite frankly, suck up all your worries, and dance your ass off.
Bananarama, “Cruel Summer”
It may make you giggle now, but this song was the quintessential ‘80s jam. The synthpop single, performed by a trio of British sisters has been described by the band as “play[ing] on the darker side of summer songs.” Think a new wave version of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness,” if you will. It was a staple on every end-of-summer-camp mixtape (blame the fact that the track skyrocketed after its inclusion in The Karate Kid soundtrack), and continues to live on as that song everyone knows, yet can’t remember why. But who cares—if it’s this recognizable over 20 years later, that’s anthem status to us.
Bryan Adams, “Summer of ‘69”
Sure, it’s your dad’s favorite song and it’s annoying when he blasts it on Sunday mornings. But it’s also your one of your go-to karaoke jams, so you can’t complain. Yes, Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ‘69” is such a ridiculously blue-collar American summer anthem it’s almost embarrassing. Yet, just try not to jump up and dance to this song when it plays. We know, you’d be doing it ironically, but at least in this moment, admit to yourself that it’s pretty damn fun to get silly to. Oh, and fun fact, this song dropped in 1985.
Sly and the Family Stone, “Hot Fun in the Summertime”
Sly and the Family Stone, fresh off their ‘69 Woodstock high, dropped this gem in its wake, keeping the good vibes going. Almost instantly, the track was welcomed with open arms and quickly climbed the Billboard Hot 100. Now, it’s revered as not just one of the greatest songs of seasons past, but of all time. Listening to its slow, sweet melody, and lyrics that simply reminisce over summer days, “Hot Fun in the Summertime” is the ultimate love letter to the season.
The Ramones, “Rockaway Beach”
Even if you weren’t a punk kid listening to this in 1977, “Rockaway Beach” elicits some kind of nostalgia, whether it’s for your own wild days gone by or a crazy life you wish you’d lived. Now just imagine being a teenager wreaking havoc all over New York City when The Ramones released this track. Could you even fathom the pandemonium? The adrenaline rush of a song never lets you up for air –perfect for a season meant for living up every moment.
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, “Summertime”
Absolutely nothing compares to this. Listening to this song is like having fine wine course through your veins. Louis Armstrong’s luxurious trumpet stylings and Ella Fitzgerald’s delicious voice are simply transformative here. You can’t help but feel like a different person—sexier, unfailingly confident, and mischievous. It’s the tailor-made track for a season that’s meant to strip you down.