24 Greatest Summer Anthems of All Time

Published on 04 July 2024


Music needs its correct season in order to truly shine. Just as you wouldn’t blast your Christmas playlist in June (you don’t, do you?), so the summer months need their own suitable soundtrack. 

Today, I present such a list for your sunny season! From timeless classics to latter-day bangers, and from sunshine party anthems to more reflective and nostalgic songs for summer evenings, it’s all here!

Whether your summer is all about martinis and dancing at the beach, or quiet contemplation whilst on a summer afternoon’s walk, you’ll find plenty to accompany and glorify those moments here. Enjoy!


24 Greatest Summer Anthems of All Time

Holiday - Madonna

First up is the reigning queen of pop herself, Madonna Louise Ciccone, with a tune that has heralded more good times across the world than most. This song has it all: an instantly recognisable intro, a great singalong melody, and a sentiment that’s all about letting your hair down and having a party. I always thought the ‘just one day of our lives’ bit was a little severe (4 or 5 weeks a year, surely?), but that aside, you know it’s summer when you hear this!


School’s Out - Alice Cooper

‘School’ here could mean literally that, or it could be your workplace, or indeed any other institution that you’re escaping from for your summer hols. It’s all about that initial blasting out the door and running into the sun, with weeks of sunshine ahead of you. You’re unstoppable!


Get Lucky - Daft Punk

Limmy likes to make a joke out of this tune being the ‘sound of the summer’ because - oh my goodness - was this song overplayed when it was released, but still, it has a feel good vibe that’s difficult to argue with. People fell over themselves to praise this Pharrell-guesting funk workout, but now that the cringe hyperbole has settled, what is left is a great summer tune. 


Good Vibrations - The Beach Boys

How many top tunes have a theremin in them? Not enough, obviously. This Beach Boys classic is the epitome of that summer feeling, and even if it took them four studios and 50 grand to make the song, it was worth it: Good Vibrations is like sunshine in a bottle.


Sun is Shining - Bob Marley & the Wailers

Bob Marley was such a potent writer that many of his finest moments were also his simplest. His ability to distil a whole vibe into some straightforward chords, a melody and a few choice words was like a special sort of alchemy. Jamaican music always seems full of sunshine when you come from the rainy UK, and this song is a particularly glowing example.


Lovely Day - Bill Withers

Looking to take it easy this summer? Maybe go for a nice seaside stroll, and perhaps sit at a cafe for an iced coffee? If this sounds like you, then your ultimate summer song is this easy-going vibefest from Bill Withers. It’s impossible to feel stressed when this song is playing!


(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding

If you’ve just finished up listening to the Bill Withers song, then why not follow it with this? Otis Redding’s idyllic chill near the water fits any time of the day and is a hazy, great example of summer bliss.


California Dreamin - The Mamas and the Papas

Although this song talks about California dreaming “on such a winter’s day”, that part never seems to register with me as much as the summer vibe I get from it. The Mamas and Papas were from 1960s California, a time and place which is already impossibly sun-hazed in my mind's eye, and this wonderful tune just carries that ambience for me.


Scar Tissue - Red Hot Chili Peppers

Occupying a similarly ‘summer melancholy’ as the last few tunes on the list, Scar Tissue makes the most of that particular breezy heartbreak that only Californian bands seem to offer. Prior to this, the Chilis were best known for their hedonistic funk tracks, but Scar Tissue ushered in a new sound for them; one mixed with wistful longing.


Porcelain - Moby

Whether you find yourself relaxing on an exotic beach or chilling in the early-hours haze after a night’s clubbing, Moby’s elegiac classic hits that feeling like no other. Very much a ‘Millennium’ tune, Porcelain was, like the Daft Punk song we looked at earlier, overplayed to the point of exhaustion, but at this level of distance, it gets all of its whimsical power back.


Summertime Sadness - Lana Del Rey

Coming from Del Rey’s kaleidoscopic debut album Born to Die, this sweeping epic is simultaneously timeless and contemporary. The chorus talks about summertime sadness, but the rest of the lyric seems to be a celebration of the joy that precedes it: the excited anticipation of an endless summer night.

Endlessly remixed, it’s probably fair to say that the original album version is the one you want.


Cruel Summer - Taylor Swift

If there’s one thing that Taylor Swift can write about, it’s that ache of longing. Lyrics like ‘So cut the headlights, summer’s a knife, I’m always waiting for you to cut to the bone, devils roll the dice, angels roll their eyes, and if I bleed, you’ll be the last to know’ are about as evocative as it gets without losing the audience. 

Summer Song - Joe Satriani

Right, enough introspection: it’s summer time! Let’s kick things back into an energetic gear with Satch’s immortal ode to the summer season.

Lots of Joe’s music is actually fit for inclusion on a summer playlist, such is the life-affirming optimism he calls frequently upon. Still, this banger is named Summer Song for a reason, and if you need a blast of unadulterated, uplifting shred, this is your tune!


Everywhere - Fleetwood Mac

When it comes to perfect pop, Fleetwood Mac are the reigning champions. This dreamy ode to love works well in any season, but as part of a blissful summer playlist, this Christine McVie-penned classic remains unmatched.


Steal My Sunshine - Len

Riding that rainbow of perfect pop, here’s a one hit wonder that retains its potency some 25 years after its original release. Brother and sister duo Len crafted, in Steal My Sunshine, a vibe that fit in perfectly with the Beck/Eels/Bran Van 3000 sound of the time, but has remained an evergreen source of summer sunshine ever since.


Pure Shores - All Saints

If this smash hit sounds like it belongs on Madonna’s Ray of Light album, that could be because producer William Orbit was a major creative force on both. The synths on this track summon the sounds of sand and surf, while the vocalists all take turns to express that breathless feeling of an endless search for a perfect place of sanctuary.


Lambada - Kaoma

Since its release in 1989, Lambada has enjoyed radio play at every beach and coastal party in the universe. It’s the irresistible Brazilian Forro rhythm, mixed with a real earworm of a melody that hooks you in, along with the carnivalesque feel.

For those who don’t speak Portuguese, the translated lyrics do seem to border on the bizarre (“Crying is gone who one day only made me cry” is the first line, according to Google’s translate function…), but it’s a tale of lost love remembered, so there’s that essential bittersweet ache in there, a required ingredient for any great song.

Fun fact: this tune is actually a cheeky (read: unauthorised) rendering of a 1981 ballad called “Llorando se fue” by Los Kjarkas.


Set You Free - N Trance

Summer is all about freedom and spontaneity, and nothing screams those two things quite like early 90s rave anthems. This is one of the best; a real crystallisation of the hope and joy felt by the acid house generation. As with all of the best summer anthems, it’s simple, direct, irony-free and full of romance for the night ahead and all of the possibilities that are entailed.


Summertime Rolls - Jane’s Addiction

As the sun sets and the palm trees darken, you may need a little moodiness and mystery in your summer evening. There is no better song for such a moment than this mercurial epic from LA’s alternative heroes, Jane’s Addiction. The lyrics suggest carefree daytime vibes, but every note played evokes the darkening purple sky of Santa Monica at its most beguilingly beautiful.


Everybody Loves the Sunshine - Roy Ayers

If this song sounds familiar, it could be because it's been sampled by everyone from Common to 2Pac to Mary J Blige. It has also been covered loads of times, but as is often the case, the original by Ron Ayers remains the defining rendition of this excellent tune.


Summertime - Sam Cooke

When is it ever a bad time to hear Sam Cooke? Undoubtedly one of the world’s great singers, Cooke had a voice that just oozed beauty and improved everything it appeared on. Summertime is one of his best known songs and - like the Roy Ayers tune he just heard - it has been heavily covered over the years. I understand why, but who wants to compete with that voice?


Under the Boardwalk - The Drifters

We’re approaching the end of our playlist now, and whilst this tune lyrically concerns itself with daytime shenanigans (teenagers ‘making out’ under said boardwalk whilst people carry on above it oblivious), there’s something of the relaxing evening piece to those soulful harmonies. Interestingly - not to mention tragically - this was singer Johnny Moore’s first lead vocal, being recorded one day after the heroin overdose death of previous lead singer Rudy Lewis.


Everyday People - Sly and the Family Stone

Sly Stone is another artist with a plethora of potential contenders for inclusion here. There’s so much positivity and good intentions in the music of the Family Stone. I’ve gone for this particular track since it’s a nice way to wind down slightly whilst still enjoying a groove. It’s about inclusion and tolerance: what messages could be more important?


Lil Nas X - Old Town Road

Let’s finish with a song that was huge a few summers ago, whilst attracting no small amount of controversy from country music’s more puritanical fans.

It’s a hip hop/country mashup (allegedly inspired by videogame Red Dead Redemption) and now, a few years later, it feels less like a fun anachronism and more like a forerunner to today’s trend for pop artists like Beyonce and Machine Gun Kelly ‘going country’.

Plus, full points for the inclusion of guest artist Billy Ray ‘Achy Breaky Heart, dad of Miley’ Cyrus.


Endless Summer

Whether you get the weather or not this summer, I hope this list of bangers has inspired you to make the most of your season. Pack a raincoat AND a beach ball this summer, it’s the British way!

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I'm a musician and artist originally from the South West coast of Scotland. I studied Visual Arts and Film Studies at...

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