Surf’s up! Before heading down to the water for the best waves in the warm sun, building sand castles with the family on the beach, or winding down at your favorite boardwalk bar and arcade, you need to make sure your playlist is in order for all the fun in the sun you’ll have this summer.
It’s not all The Beach Boys these days (though, spoiler alert, they will be on this list). Many American songwriters have glamorized the best part of summer living in the United States: living on the coast or an annual family visit to the ocean.
From Ocean City, Maryland to Santa Monica, California, Americans coast to coast have largely been jamming the same ocean tunes for decades now, and more sprout up each year as the warm months ensue and the kids are let out of school for vacation. Below is a list of some of the most defining songs of the summer perfect for sunbathing, splashing in the waves, or having a beachside cocktail party.
Whether soaking up the sun in the Florida Keys or taking a road trip from Kokomo, Indiana, The Beach Boys are the obvious kings of enjoying the beachy summer in America. As rivals to The Beatles in the 60s, The Beach Boys captivated the spirit of the summer through hits like “Surfin’ USA”, “Fun, Fun, Fun”, and “California Girls”.
But “Kokomo”, made famous through the 1988 Tom Cruise movie Cocktail, is maybe their most iconic and sing-along-able song to date, second to only “Good Vibrations”, perhaps. It doesn’t take 10 seconds to wish you were in Aruba, Jamaica, Bermuda … you get it. This is the perfect song for any summer playlist.
Taking a more alternative sharp left turn, Ween turned many already-fans into ocean men from their 1997 classic, “Ocean Man.” This song rings in my ears every time I jump into a big wave for the first time, or when I run from the sand to the water on the first day of vacation.
The song became an immediate and popular success, made even more famous by its use in the end credits of the Spongebob Squarepants movie in 2004. It later became a popular internet meme through Vine, Redditt, and other popular social media sites. It’s an easily applicable meme that can be attached to literally any man jumping in the ocean, which is likely why it’s so ingrained in the minds of beach goers.
The most wistful song for a wannabe sailor, “Beyond the Sea” by Bobby Darin invokes a longing for the open sea beyond the visible horizon. When enjoying a day on the beach, this song could come on and make you wish you could ditch your towel and sand castle and swim across the ocean.
The song is actually the English version of the French song “La Mer” by Charles Trenet, made popular by Darin in 1959. Since it came on the scene, it’s been covered by greats like Frank Sinatra and Robbie Williams, and was a feature on the Disney classic Finding Nemo in 2003. Take a boating trip on your beach vacation and pretend to sail beyond the sea.
Beach life is much more than soaking up the sun, playing in the waves, or digging in the sand. A good beach vacation includes a stellar boardwalk, with bars, arcades, funnel cakes and french fries, seagulls and happy tourists.
The 1964 single by The Drifters details all the youthful fun a boardwalk brings to a beach setting, and the relief it provides from the hot sun. Consider jamming this one when you’re getting your face painted, playing skee ball with friends, or simply taking refuge from the heat of the beach. The song has since been covered by various legendary artists and bands, like Bette Midler, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Willis, and John Mellencamp, to name a few.
Hip hip? Yep yep? No matter what they actually say, you know this song. When the electric guitar riff comes in, joined by the snap of the snare drum and melody, it’s hard not to bop your head to Weezer’s classic, “Island In The Sun.” It makes you feel so fun you can’t control your brain!
This hit tune came out in 2001 on the band’s self-titled album, and is perfect for a bright summer offday with no responsibilities or to-do list. “Island In The Sun” is the peak early-2000s sound during the turn of the century that defined a generation of alternative rock listeners.
Lay back in your lawn chair at a Sedona property rental with a margarita, or cocktail of your choice, and play some good old-fashioned Jimmy Buffet. “Margaritaville” is one of his many classics, and it became so popular that it turned into a restaurant franchise with locations across the world. The song came out in 2007, and quickly became one of the most defining songs of the summertime.
Buffet certainly is a niche musician, best served in the sun and less effective during cloudy, fall or winter days. But he does what he does better than anyone else, and has been a captain of the summer since he first became famous.
For a list of Margaritaville restaurants potentially in your area to enjoy after a long day at the beach, click here.
This tune is perfect to jam during the car ride on the way to the ocean, or any vacation activity for that matter. Sheryl Crow’s 2002 hit was named one of the best 35 country beach songs to add to your playlist by Country Living, and is one of the themes of the arrival of the warmer months.
It’s easy to see why. The feel-good, bubbly vibes of this hit song compliment beautiful summer days perfectly, and is an ideal background tune for beach volleyball, a beachside bike ride, or grilling out on the deck.
Don’t agree with our list? Or did we leave out your favorite summer jam? For a more in-depth look at some of the best summertime songs made over the past few decades, check out Rolling Stone’s list of the best summer songs of all time.