5 Must-Hear Songs to Begin Your Road-Trippin’ Summer Playlist

There’s a brightness to summer that elicits warm feelings of overwhelming joy and freedom. But sadness lurks behind those fleeting good times, and summer’s best anthems sometimes share both feelings. With age comes increased nostalgia for (perceived) better days as older generations wonder where all the time has gone.

Videos by American Songwriter

Great summer songs sound invincible, empowering, and naturally high from the sparkling chords and wistful words. Summer is just around the corner. So, here are five must-hear songs of summer to kick off your road-trippin’ beachy playlist.

“Girls in Their Summer Clothes” by Bruce Springsteen

No one does nostalgia better than “the Boss.” This song should demand tears from the stoniest of humans. It’s profoundly beautiful, innocent, impossibly picturesque. It’s taking simple language and turning it into poetry. Rock and roll lyrics outside the song aren’t always the best read. But you can read Springsteen’s lyrics like a great poetry collection. A prerequisite for a well-done summer song is the urge to turn up the volume dial. “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” makes you reach for the big stereo knob so your neighbors think the E Street Band is practicing in the garage.

Well, the streetlights shine
Down on Blessing Avenue
Lovers they walk by
Holdin’ hands two by two
A breeze crosses the porch
Bicycle spokes spin ’round
Jacket’s on, I’m out the door
Tonight I’m gonna burn this town down

“Soak Up the Sun” by Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow and Jeff Trott co-wrote a bubbly pop song that begins with a “communist” friend stalled in an RV. Crow laments her crummy job and everyday life’s ennui but chooses to forget it all for the simple pleasure of looking up. Trott’s swirling guitars color the track in a sepia tone while Liz Phair joins Crow during the chorus. The rhetorical jujitsu of I’m gonna soak up the sun, Gonna tell everyone to lighten up is worthy of a chef’s kiss.

I don’t have digital
I don’t have diddly squat
It’s not having what you want
It’s wanting what you’ve got

“Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams

There’s some dispute over whether ’69 references the year or a certain agile bedroom position. However, Adams states his case by singing: Me and my baby in a 69. Either way, “Summer of ’69” sounds like a refined version of The Replacements’ power pop and Tom Petty’s radio anthems. The opening guitar riff just sounds like the summer, like Adams had plugged his guitar straight into a nostalgia machine.

Me and some guys from school
Had a band, and we tried real hard
Jimmy quit, Jody got married
I should’ve known we’d never get far

“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley

Mike Campbell, one of the greatest rock guitarists ever, wrote “The Boys of Summer” on a LinnDrum drum machine. He showed his idea to Tom Petty, who passed on the song. Campbell then played it for Don Henley, who wrote lyrics and recorded his vocals. They re-recorded the song after Henley changed the key. Campbell played an Oberheim synthesizer and layered summery, jangly guitars on the track. Henley writes about his generation’s failures, inspired by a Grateful Dead sticker on a bourgeois car. “The Boys of Summer” longs for faded memories and the abandoned ideals of youth.

But I can see you
Your brown skin shining in the sun
You got your hair combed back
And your sunglasses on, baby
I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the boys of summer have gone

“Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys

You could fill this list with nothing but Beach Boys’ songs. “Surfin’ in the U.S.A.,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” or “Kokomo” are as summery as it gets. But there’s something to the psychedelic sunshine pop of “Good Vibrations.” Brian Wilson’s “pocket symphony” is a collection of stark scene changes that sound like portals to another dimension. And isn’t that what summer is all about? The escape, the great getaway. Music is like a wildflower pushing its way up through dry dirt, and Wilson knows what it sounds like. Sound is the disturbance of particles, instrument vibrations, the physics of waves. Vibrations are also a disturbance in your body—butterflies in the stomach when you’re falling in love. That’s why “Good Vibrations” tops this playlist. Happy summering.

I, I love the colorful clothes she wears
And the way the sunlight plays upon her hair
I hear the sound of a gentle word
On the wind that lifts her perfume through the air

When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Photo by John Shearer/WireImage

Leave a Reply

Rolling Stones Announce Final Concert for Hackney Diamonds Tour in 2024

Rolling Stones Announce Final Concert for Hackney Diamonds Tour in 2024

Watch Mick Jagger Sing a Blake Shelton Tune in Recap Video for The Rolling Stones’ Recent Seattle Concert

Watch Mick Jagger Belt out a Blake Shelton Tune to Seattle Crowd at The Rolling Stones Concert