The Perfect Summer Song

Posted in The Weekly on July 1, 2024 by

Billboard magazine launched its Songs of the Summer chart in 2010, ranking the most popular songs of the season based on radio airplay, sales, and streaming data compiled by Nielsen. Prior to then, Billboard’s “Song of the Summer” was determined by the track’s summer performance on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, which began ranking songs in 1958. MTV introduced a “Song of the Summer” category in 2013.

But the phenomenon of “summer songs” can be traced back to Tin Pan Alley as early as the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the most successful sheet music titles sold during summer seasons is the jazz standard “Summertime” (written by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, and DuBose Heyward for the 1935 opera “Porgy and Bess” and recorded by more than 25,000 artists including Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, Ella Fitzgerald with Louis Armstrong, and Janis Joplin.) “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” is a 1908 Tin Pan Alley song written by Jack Norworth and Sean Hagan that has been recorded by an array of artists including Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, Carly Simon, Harpo Marx, Bruce Springsteen, and the Goo Goo Dolls. It is considered among the three most recognizable songs in the U.S., along with “Happy Birthday” and “The Star Spangled Banner.”

In the Good Old Summertime” (written by George Evans and Charles Lowe, with additional lyrics by Ren Shields) from the 1949 Judy Garland and Van Johnson film of the same name, is another summer classic that has endured the test of time. It has been recorded by artists including the Andrews Sisters, Nat King Cole, Connie Francis, and Bing Crosby. 

So, what makes a great summertime song? Let’s examine the common denominators—those elements consistently found in songs that top the summer charts.

Like some of the above-referenced songs, 1966’s “Summer in the City” (written by John Boone, John Sebastian, and Mark Sebastian; recorded by the Lovin’ Spoonful) and 1969’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime” (written by Sly Stone; recorded by Sly and the Family Stone) include “summer” or “summertime” in their titles. Seals & Crofts’ 1972 hit “Summer Breeze” (written by Darrell Crofts and Jimmy Seals) was ranked among Rolling Stone magazine’s “Best Summer Songs of All Time.”

But not all summertime hits include the word “summer” in their title or within their lyrics. Many of the most popular songs associated with summer mention fun, carefree activities that young listeners might engage in during their summer breaks from school. These include Martha and the Vandellas’ 1964 smash “Dancing In the Street” (written by William Stevenson, Marvin Gaye, and Ivy Hunter). While it does not include “summer” in its title, it is in its opening verse.

1964’s “Under the Boardwalk” (written by Arthur Resnick and Kenny Young; recorded by artists including the Drifters, Bette Midler, the Rolling Stones, and Lynn Anderson), “Surf City” (written by Jan Berry and Brian Wilson; recorded by Jan & Dean), and “California Gurls” (written by Snoop Dogg, Bonnie McKee, Benny Blanco, Douglas Brian, Dr. Luke, Mike Love, Max Martin, and Katy Perry; recorded by Katy Perry, featuring Snoop Dogg) are among the summer hits that reference warm weather pastimes.

While the lyrics to OMI’s 2015 Song of the SummerCheerleader” (written by Mark Bradford, Clifton Dillon, Ryan Dillon, Sly Dunbar, and Omar Pasley) do not specifically mention summer activities, the video was shot on a Florida beach and features bikini-clad dancers in the surf.

Many songs by the Beach Boys, such as the Brian Wilson and Mike Love penned “California Girls” and “Fun, Fun, Fun” epitomize the concept of a “summer song.” Their lyrics extol warm-weather activities such as surfing, going to the beach, and driving with the top down. But some songs earned their spot at the top of the Songs of the Summer chart simply by virtue of being released during the summer months—and being great songs with irresistible “ear worm” melodies.

“Whatever the big song was in 1964, 1958, 1972 was ubiquitous. You couldn’t get in your car to drive more than five to ten minutes without hearing it. You couldn’t walk around the mall or the shopping center or the downtown area without hearing the hit of the day.” (David Hajdu, music critic/author of Love for Sale: Popular Music in America)

The diverse songs listed below all topped Billboard’s Songs of the Summer chart.

  • Where Did Our Love Go” (written by Holland/Dozier/Holland; recorded by the Supremes in 1964)
  • The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and recorded in 1965)
  • Wild Thing” (written by Chip Taylor; recorded by the Troggs in 1966)
  • Call Me Maybe” (written by Tavish Crowe, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Joshua Keeler; recorded by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2011)

2023 saw a first when Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” (written by John Byron, Ryan Vojtesak, Ashley Gorley, and Jacob Hindlin) became the first country song to top the Billboard and Spotify Songs of the Summer charts. When Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry” (written by Dub Allbritten and Ronnie Self) achieved that feat in 1960, it was considered a pop song and had not been released to country radio.

Hajdu added, “Because the pop music monoculture has fractured to some degree, you have more disagreement of what was actually the song of the summer and what defined each summer for different audiences.”

Hajdu also noted that although some songs go viral quite quickly, the algorithms used by streaming platforms have made it almost impossible for one song to remain on top through an entire summer season. Additionally, the Internet has allowed more artists to vie for attention. These factors have made it more difficult to determine a definitive “Song of the Summer.”

However, titles that include the words “summer” or “summertime,” lyrics that evoke summertime pastimes, and hooky, instantly memorable melodies can help your songs become summertime hits.

To view the top 10 Billboard “Songs of the Summer” since 1958 use this link.

Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His latest book, Happy Tails—Life Lessons from Rescued Cats and Kittens (SPS/Blue Mountain Arts) combines his love of photography and cats. Jason’s songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies, and in hit TV shows and films. A guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, he has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. To receive a free video, “3 Things You MUST Do for Success” and weekly tips to enhance creativity click on Join Songwriting With Jason Blume on Facebook for free events and song critiques. For information about his workshops, recorded lessons, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit

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