Top ten songs for summer

By Tom Quiner

You know how it goes: there are some songs you want to listen to in the Fall.

There are some you want to listen to in Winter … or in the Spring.

And then there are those Summer songs. Oh how I do love those summer songs!

It might be that the song is about summer, such as “Summer Nights” from Grease. Or maybe  you heard it the first time in summer. Or maybe you were in a relationship and the lyrics spoke to you at the time, and still speak to you.

All I know is that when summer hits, I like to open the doors, throw open the windows, and crank up some good summer tunes. I want to hear them humming whether I’m on the patio barbecuing or simply surveying the back forty.

Here is the official list of Quiner’s Diner’s top ten songs for summer. Please let me know what some of your favorite summer songs are.

#10 THOSE LAZY, HAZY, CRAZY DAYS OF SUMMER. Nat King Cole’s voice was one-of-a-kind. I love the way he expresses a very American outlook on summer in this 1963 song. It reached #14 on Billboard’s LP chart.

#9 A SUMMER SONG. Another throwback song to my youth. Wistful and romantic, this 1964 folk song is performed by the British folk duo, Chad and Jeremy.

#8 YOU GO TO MY HEAD. “You go to my head with a smile that makes my temperature rise, like a summer with a thousand Julys, you intoxicate my soul with your eyes.” Wow! How can you not love a song with a lyric like that! This song was written in 1938 with music by J. Fred Coots and lyrics by Haven Gillespie. It has been sung by the greats: Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Vaughn. I opted to share Diana Krall’s sultry rendition. This is a song I want to listen to on a hot summer night in July (of course).

#7 CALIFORNIA GIRLS. There had to be a Beach Boys song on the list. The group has produced a string of hits perfect for listening to in the summer. Let’s face it, practically ALL Beach Boys’ music is summer music. For me, California Girls is their iconic summer song, ranking #7 on Quiner’s Diner list.

#6 UNDER THE BOARDWALK. A catchy tune and lyrics about summer romance under Atlantic City’s Boardwalk. I’ve walked that Boardwalk many times. The reality of the Boardwalk kind of diminishes the fantasy of the song. It’s a ratty city. Setting that aside, this became an iconic song for the soul group, The Drifters, whose harmonies could melt butter. The sign of a good song is if other artists want to sing it. The answer is yes with Under the Boardwalk, which has been covered by many other singers, including Bette Midler. The song was written by Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1964.

#5 SATURDAY IN THE PARK. I’m stopped in my tracks the second I hear the intro to this great song by Chicago. The pounding piano chords set the stage for a trumpet and that great Chicago brass sound. Robert Lamm, the group’s keyboard man, wrote the song and sang the lead vocals. This is a happy song about a day in a park on the 4th of July. The lyrics tell a great story: “People dancing, people laughing, A man selling ice cream; singing Italian songs.” It reached #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list in 1972. This isn’t even my favorite Chicago song. That would be “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” However, I like ‘Saturday’ better in summer.

#4 DOWNTOWN. You’ve noticed that I’m kind of stuck in the sixties and early 70s. No question about it. I love Petula Clark, but Downtown is her best song, the perfect tune to listen to in the summer. Downtown is where the action is on a hot summer night. Here in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, there aren’t any more “movie shows” downtown since the theaters have moved to the suburbs and shopping malls. Doesn’t matter. Downtowns are great, especially in summer. This great song was written by Tony Hatch, sung by England’s Petula Clark, and it reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1964. I opted to link a more recent performance by Ms. Clark singing her hit song, because the energy is simply timeless. I like happy songs in summer. This is a happy song for me.

#3 SAMBA DA BENCÃO. Sultry. Sexy. This song sucks me in with its opening guitar chords. And when you add in the smoldering vocals of the great Bebel Gilberto, you’ve got summer music at its finest. The sax solos are simply seductive, as is our vocalist! Ms. Gilberto is the daughter of Bossa Nova great, João Gilberto. She is popular in Brazil and New York. The Bossa Nova rhythms on the song were made for summer music. Although the song was written in 1963, I discovered it in this recording from 2000.

#2 THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA. Speaking of Bossa Nova, this is THE quintessential song of the genre. The music was written in 1962 by the great Brazilian composer/singer Antonio Carlos Jobim with English lyrics by Norman Gimbel. The hit song features Jobim on piano; American jazz sax great, Stan Getz, on sax; João Gilberto (Bebel Gilberto’s father) on guitar and vocals; and Astrud Gilberto (João’s first wife) on vocals. Astrud was an untrained singer with a fairly flat, unadorned style. And yet her unaffected approach to the lyric is totally appealing. The song reached #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list in 1964. I’ve linked my favorite version, the original one, complete with sax and piano solos.

#1 SUMMERTIME. Is there any doubt on the best summer song ever? I shall acknowledge my love of all things Gershwin. George and Ira Gershwin produced some of the greatest American songs. Summertime is one of their finest gems. It was written as an aria for their classic folk opera, “Porgy and Bess.” Here’s the thing: “Porgy and Bess” bombed when it first came out. It took a solid decade for it to find its place as an American masterpiece. “Summertime”, one of the foundational songs in the piece, is such a beautiful song, that it has been covered by some 33,000 singers/musicians, one of the most covered songs in history. Although Ira Gershwin is co-credited with writing the lyrics, in fact they were primarily penned by Dubose Heyward, author of “Porgy” on which the opera was based. The song is usually performed as a haunting ballad, but it holds up even when the tempo is revved up. One of the great interpreters of this classic song is Ella Fitzgerald. Enjoy the best summer song ever!


  1. parrillaturi on May 25, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    Thank-you. Loved all of them with the exception of the Beach. Never liked this group. Thanks for sharing.

    • quinersdiner on May 26, 2016 at 9:22 am

      The Beach Boys wrote a lot of catchy music, but it is all pretty similar. Not for everyone, that’s for sure. What would you add to the list?

      • parrillaturi on May 27, 2016 at 1:04 am

        All the ones sung by my favorite singer, Johnny Mathis. Chances Are, and A Certain Smile are my two favorites by him.

        • quinersdiner on May 27, 2016 at 6:28 am

          Those are good ones.

  2. nickcthompson on May 26, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Great list, Tom. Love seeing Bebel Gilberto – and Samba da Bencao – on this list. That song is one of my all-time favorites for summer. Think I heard it for the first time the last day of class my sophomore year of college, played it on repeat all summer (and for many summers after). I once saw her do a concert/fashion show at Macy’s in Chicago. It was strange and fun.

    • quinersdiner on May 26, 2016 at 9:21 am

      Thanks, Nick. What would you add to the list?

  3. bluebird of bitterness on May 26, 2016 at 9:52 am

    What — no “Summer in the City”?

    • quinersdiner on May 26, 2016 at 9:59 am

      No. I considered it, it’s not in my top ten. I gather it is in yours?

      • bluebird of bitterness on May 26, 2016 at 10:15 am

        Well, is it at least in your top 11?

        • quinersdiner on May 26, 2016 at 10:21 am

          Hmmm … I’m going to need to re-listen to it again. I’m guessing it’ll make my top twenty.

  4. Oliver on May 26, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    In my opinion, you can’t beat Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Concerto no.2 in G Minor: Summer.

    Geek alert.