Okay, Memorial Day Weekend is here. That means things can be summer again, right? We might not be able to change the weather right away, but we can get ready for summer by playing some awesome music. Every year there are a couple of songs that are so good they’re played all summer long. Maybe that song for you last year was “Fever” by the Black Keys or “Do You” by Spoon, something catchy and fun to listen to with the windows down. As we wait for this year’s song of the summer to emerge, let’s take a look at some of the best songs in summers past.
These songs were hot in the hottest of summers, and they still sound good today.
“Sledgehammer” By Peter Gabriel- The first single off of Peter Gabriel’s hit album So, this song was definitely one of the songs of the summer for 1986. “Sledgehammer” eventually hit number one in the US Billboard hot 100 chart in July of that year. Can you guess which song he knocked off the top of the chart? Ironically enough, it was “Invisible Touch” by his former band Genesis. “Sledgehammer” was popular with mainstream audiences, but critics from left and right had great things to say about the song and the album it was on. Gabriel even earned three Grammy Award nominations, including “Sledgehammer” being nominated for “Song Of The Year.” Let’s not forget the music video, which is still one of all-time most played videos on MTV.
“Under The Bridge” By The Red Hot Chili Peppers- Our next summer song comes from the city of angels. Red Hot Chili Peppers found themselves launched into the mainstream when they released this gem from the album Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Mostly known as an underground rock band from LA, David Fricke of Rolling Stone wrote that “the song unexpectedly kickdropped the band into the top ten.” The highest the song charted was number two in the summer of 1992. Lead singer Anthony Kiedis said the song was mostly about his three year stint at sobriety, saying that the process started to make him feel estranged from his friends and bandmates.
“Pumped Up Kicks” By Foster The People- Packed with a beat that would fit at any summer barbecue, this song put Foster The People on the map. It would have easily been the number one song on the XRT Listener poll of 2011 if there wasn’t a certain English lady named Adele. As for the not as cool charts, it spent eight consecutive weeks at number three on the Billboard hot 100. Lead singer Mark Foster wrote this song while he was still working as a jingle writer for commercials. That would soon change when they released Pumped Up Kicks on the internet for free in 2010, gaining enough exposure for a major record deal by the time their debut album came out in May 0f 2011.
“Shout” By Tears For Fears- Jumping back to the 80’s, many consider this summer track one of the definitive songs of the decade. British Band Tears For Fears received a lot of attention in the UK for their debut album The Hurting, but America didn’t quite feel the same way until they roared onto the scene with 1985’s “Shout.” The song eventually made it all the way to the number one spot in August of 1985. In addition to success here in the US, “Shout” made the top ten in over 25 different countries around the world. The band’s Roland Orzabal was convinced he wrote a good track for the album, while other members of the group knew he had just written a hit.
“Last Kiss” By Pearl Jam- Unlike every other song featured on this list, this one’s a cover. Pearl Jam recorded this old Wayne Cochran tune from the 60’s for a charity album called No Boundries: A Benefit For The Kosovar Refugees. The album’s goal was to raise money for people from Kosovo who were sent to Australia during the Kosovo War. Eddie Vedder said he got the idea to cover the song when he found it on an old record at an antique mall in Seattle. They tried the song a few times on tour and recorded it live at soundcheck one day at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. Bassist Jeff Ament at the time said it “was the most minimalist recording we’ve ever done.”
“Band On The Run” By Paul McCartney and Wings- Sir Paul and Wings released this single in April of 1974, and they ran their way to the top of the charts by June. McCartney has given some interesting anecdotes as to what the song is about. The famous lyric “If I ever get out of here” apparently comes from something George Harrison said once at one of their many meetings with Apple Records. Then there’s the concept of being on the run. “We were being outlawed for pot and our argument on “Band On The Run” was don’t put us on the wrong side, we’re not criminals, we don’t want to be. So I just made up a story about people breaking out of prison.”
“Call Me” by Blondie- “Call Me” had the lasting effect of a great summer song. It came out in february, yet the song remained in the top 20 of the charts for most of the summer in 1980. That must have been an exciting summer for Debbie Harry and the band. “Call Me” hit number one and impressively stayed there for six weeks. It was the main theme song from the film American Gigolo, but Blondie wasn’t always the first choice to record the theme. European disco producer Giorgio Moroder originally intended to have an opening song done by Stevie Nix of Fleetwood Mac, but contractual reasons prevented the two from working together. Lucky for us, we were given “Call Me.”
“Black Hole Sun” By Soundgarden- Soundgarden gave us this appropriately titled gem in the summer of 1994. A signature rock song of the mid 90’s, this song actually wasn’t able to be considered for the hot 100 charts. Something to do with the physical/commercial release of the single, it wasn’t deemed eligible to join a chart topped by artists like Celine Dion and Ace Of Base. You don’t have to feel bad for Chris Cornell, “Black Hole Sun” still topped other rock charts around the world. Cornell said he actually wrote this song in a rather short amount of time. Also the former lead singer of the band Audioslave, he said he wrote the song in 15 minutes. “I wrote the song thinking the band would like it- then it became the biggest hit of the summer.”
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” By The Rolling Stones- Our oldest song on the list is an important one. It’s 1965’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfation.” It immediately became the band’s first number one song in the United States, but it wasn’t as easy to hear in their native England. Fans had to tune into pirate radio stations, because the lyrics of the song were accused of being too sexually suggestive. Have you heard how Keith Richards came up with that amazing guitar riff? In his sleep. The mighty Keith was dreaming when he heard the three notes. The next morning he heard the riff in his tape recorder with the mumbled words “I can’t Get No Satisfaction.” Sleep’s a magical thing.
Heavy Metal Drummer By Wilco- Rounding off our list of summer songs is a song about watching bands “on the landing in the summer.” Sounds pretty fitting, right? “Heavy Metal Drummer” is just one of the many treats you can find on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the best-selling album from Chicago band, Wilco. Released in may of 2002, the album was praised and played all summer long. This song was voted as the second best song of the year in the 2002 XRT Listener Poll. It may not be at the top of any hot 100’s, but that doesn’t mean this song isn’t a number one in our Chicago hearts.