This time of year, everybody comes out with their list of the best songs of summer, and it seems like most every list boasts the same songs every year. But there’s nothing like discovering new music, especially this time of year. So, here’s your alternative summer playlist.
A quick note: not all of the songs specifically mention summer or take place in summer, but they have a summertime sound or feel. Here we go…
10. Zac Brown Band, “Uncaged”
With songs like “Toes,” “Jump Right In,” and “Where The Boat Leaves From” in their repertoire, Zac Brown Band just about has the market cornered on summer songs. As latter-day disciples of Jimmy Buffett, they’re the perfect band to kick off our countdown.
The title cut from their most recent full-length record, “Uncaged” extols the virtue of just getting outside and experiencing what the great outdoors has to offer. Who doesn’t want to escape the cages of the daily grind and take part in the excitement of nature? After all, isn’t that what summer is really about?
9. Bridgit Mendler, “Ready or Not”
Kenzie, Kayla, and Hadley: this one’s for you.
For me, summer means spending time with my three nieces, and spending time with them means listening to Bridgit Mendler — a lot. Mendler starred on Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie, which ended its run earlier this year. Since then, she’s kept a good head on her shoulders and not suffered the fate of so many former Disney child stars.
Mendler’s distinctive, appealing voice and mostly solid songcraft make her music far better than most pop these days. “Ready or Not” is pure, unadulterated pop music done right, which makes it a nice addition to any summer playlist.
8. The B-52s, “Rock Lobster”
Over a decade before they hit the mainstream with “Love Shack” and “Roam,” the B-52s created loose-limbed, sweaty party music that rocked the South (and I’m proud that they originated in and around my alma mater, the University of Georgia). Their eponymous 1978 debut album cemented the tone of their unique — ok, oddball — fusion of retro rock, funk, and novelty music filtered through the burgeoning new wave scene of the day.
“Rock Lobster” is a staple of the B-52’s repertoire even today. Not even a cynic can deny its quirky infectiousness, and it possesses the kind of goofy charm you can only experience in the summer.
The above video comes from one of their first public performances.
7. Janelle Monáe, “We Were Rock & Roll”
What good is summertime if you can’t take some time to dance? Letting go of your inhibitions and moving to the music makes for great summer fun, even if it’s not a terribly good way to beat the heat.
I’ve put quirky sci-fi soulster Janelle Monáe in this countdown for a tasty slice of pitch-perfect vintage disco. “We Were Rock & Roll” sounds like a long-lost Donna Summer tune and grabs your attention from start to finish. Monáe gets in some of her best singing in a song that transports you all the way back to the 1970s. Go ahead and dance — I promise we won’t laugh.
6. Weezer, “Island In The Sun”
If you’re like me, you don’t automatically think of Weezer when you’re looking for upbeat songs, but a few years ago, Rivers Cuomo and company got into the summer songs business with a pleasant, melodic ditty about getting away to paradise.
“Island In The Sun” could be the theme song for a lazy summer day on a secluded beach where no one’s there but you and the one you love. You can close your eyes and imagine yourself there, without a care in the world. If you’re looking for a chill tune about relaxing on your summer vacation, look no further than this gem.
5. Smashing Pumpkins, “Inkless”
Back in the fall and winter of last year, I went track by track through the Smashing Pumpkins’ stellar 2012 album Oceania. Though the album is chock full of incredible tracks, “Inkless” sounds the most like summer to me, both lyrically and musically.
In my post on “Inkless,” I noted that the song suggested the idea of spending time in the presence of God. But on the surface, the lyrics and sound conjure up a windows-down, moonlit drive on a perfect summer night — way better than any of that “bro country” crap ever could.
4. Green River Ordinance, “Outside”
Before you even watch the video, just from the title you can sense the theme here. These Texas boys kicked off their 2009 Out Of My Hands album with this driving rocker, the kind of song they don’t do often enough anymore. Like so many other songs that scream summertime, “Outside” celebrates getting out in the open to escape the routine of daily life.
Haven’t we all been there, ready to break out on a sunny summer day? “Outside” captures this feeling almost perfectly. If this song doesn’t give you the desire to get up and go, check your pulse, because I’m not sure anything else will.
3. The Paragons, “Island In The Sun”
You may not know it, but you have the Paragons to thank for “The Tide Is High,” and their original version far surpasses any remakes — yes, including Blondie. One of the principal groups on the Rocksteady scene (think Reggae meets Motown), the Paragons dominated Jamaica’s airwaves in the 1960s.
It’s hard to pick just one Paragons song, but this Harry Belafonte-penned tune (from the point of view of a man who inherited an island from his father — communism for thee, but not for me) is one of their absolute best. The beautiful melody, stellar harmonies, and sweet, easy groove suggest a sun-splashed cruise around an island paradise. Just try to keep it out of your head.
2. Dakoda Motor Co., “Wind ‘An’ Sea”
One of my all time favorite albums is Into The Son, the 1993 debut by Christian surf-rock band Dakoda Motor Co. (don’t laugh — it’s incredible music). Throughout their too-short career, DMC spanned the gap from the sublime country-rock of “Grey Clouds” to the punk-inspired playful nonsense of “Where Did It Go?” And they sought to reach out not just to Christians, but to the surfing community around La Jolla, CA, where leaders Peter King and Davia Vallesillo led Bible studies.
Into The Son opens with the high energy “Wind ‘An’ Sea.” Named after a popular beach for surfers near San Diego, this song drives with a great beat and lyrics that sound like summer. I keep hoping against hope that the band’s rumored reunion will lead to some more amazing music like this.
1. Alabama Shakes, “Hang Loose”
Too many people only know Alabama Shakes for the song “Hold On,” but that track pales in comparison to most of the rest of the Boys & Girls album. That record is packed with powerhouse musical gems — I’m rather partial to the wall of sound ballad “I Found You” myself.
“Hang Loose,” a fresh blast of classy retro soul, celebrates the idea of getting away from it all — specifically to Hawaii — and escaping the troubles of life. How can you not smile at lyrics like, “Let the ocean worry ’bout bein’ blue”? I’ll let these folks take me to the beach anytime!
There you have it. I could go on and on with great, off-the-beaten-path songs for summer. What are your favorites?