Best summer songs: The 20 greatest sunny tunes to listen to in a heatwave

15 June 2021, 16:52 | Updated: 15 June 2021, 16:54

Summer songs
Summer songs. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

There aren't many greater feelings than going for a drive when the sun's out, the roof is down and you've got summer tunes on the radio.

So if you're in need of a perfect summer playlist, here's a perfect start:

  1. KC and the Sunshine Band - 'Give It Up'

    KC and the Sunshine Band may have seen a decline in their signature disco sound of the 1970s, but they scored a surprise huge hit with this classic in 1983.

    The synthpop-inspired tune was a number one it in the UK, and always puts a smile on our face. It was used in a memorable scene in the 2014 film Kingsman: The Secret Service.

  2. Take That - 'Pray'

    You just have to picture this song's sun-kissed music video to feel all summery.

    Read more: Take That's 20 greatest songs, ranked

    Its famous music video was filmed shot in Acapulco, Mexico, and features the band in the exotic location singing and dancing. Glorious.

  3. Hall & Oates - 'You Make My Dreams'

    You can't have this on without tapping your feet or having a bit of a boogie, whether people are watching or not.

    The song has been widely used in movie soundtracks, including The Wedding Singer and 500 Days Of Summer.

  4. Commodores - 'Easy'

    You don't get more relaxed and... well... easy than this.

    Written by Lionel Richie, the ballad expresses a man's feelings as he ends a relationship. However, rather than being depressed about the break-up, he says that he is instead "easy like Sunday morning".

  5. Bryan Adams - 'Summer of 69'

    Read more: Bryan Adams' greatest ever songs

    Originally titled 'Best Days of My Life', this song was amazingly not a hit in the UK (only reaching number 42), despite it being arguably his best known and most loved song!

    Bryan Adams later said: "That song is 25 years old now so it's had that many years to incubate. A lot of songs, like that one, hit big in America but really not anywhere else. It didn't chart anywhere in Europe until at least 10 years after it was released. I think songs can have a life of their own regardless of the promotion."

  6. 10cc - 'Dreadlock Holiday'

    This reggae classic was based on real events 10cc member Eric Stewart and Moody Blues singer Justin Hayward experienced in Barbados, but Stewart changed the location to Jamaica.

    One such lyric came from a conversation Graham Gouldman had with a Jamaican man, who when asked if he liked cricket replied, "No, I love it!"

  7. Eagles - 'Take it Easy'

    Again, pick any Eagles song and it would be perfect for a drive in the sun.

    This was the Eagles' first ever single, and began life as a song by singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, before Glenn Frey offered to finish the song for him. Browne later said: "After a couple of times when I declined to have him finish my song, I said, 'all right.'

    "I finally thought, 'This is ridiculous. Go ahead and finish it. Do it.' And he finished it in spectacular fashion. And, what's more, arranged it in a way that was far superior to what I had written."

  8. Michael Jackson - 'Rock With You'

    Written by Heatwave’s Rod Temperton – who would later write ‘Thriller’ – the song was originally titled ‘I Want To Eat You Up’, but it was quickly changed to fit Michael Jackson’s image as a wholesome heartthrob.

    It is considered one of the last hits of the disco era, and what a way to end it.

  9. TLC - 'Waterfalls'

    The lyrics of this song actually reference 1990s issues such as HIV/AIDS and violence connected with the illegal drug trade. T-Boz Watkins said that it was important for the group to "get the message across without seeming like preaching."

    It shares elements with Paul McCartney's song of the same name, which opens with the line "Don't go jumping waterfalls, please stick to the lake." McCartney noticed the resemblance, saying: "In fact, somebody had a hit, a few years ago, using the first line... then they go off into another song. It's like, 'Excuse me?'".

  10. Bob Seger - 'Night Moves'

    Bob Seger wrote this sweet rock song as a coming of age tale about adolescent love and adult memory of it. It was based on Seger’s own teenage love affair he experienced in the early 1960s.

    The catalyst for writing the song came after Seger saw the 1973 film American Graffiti: “I came out of the theatre thinking, ‘Hey, I’ve got a story to tell, too! Nobody has ever told about how it was to grow up in my neck of the wood’”.

  11. The Beach Boys - 'Good Vibrations'

    Written by Brian Wilson with lyrics by Mike Love, this iconic song is known for its subversion of the pop music formula of the time, and was the most expensive single ever recorded by 1966. And it's a summer bop.

    Read more: The 10 greatest Beach Boys songs ever

    Produced by Wilson, it was recorded during Pet Sounds, but not originally released as a standalone single. Its title came from Wilson's fascination with cosmic vibrations, as his mother would tell him as a child that dogs may bark at people in response to their "bad vibrations". Lead vocals on the song were shared between Brian, his brother Carl and their cousin Love.

  12. Bob Marley and the Wailers - 'Three Little Birds'

    We could have selected any Bob Marley song for this list, but we've gone for this chilled classic.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Three Little Birds'

    Marley's inspiration for the lyrics of this song is up in the air. They are partly inspired by birds that Marley was fond of, that used to sit next to his home. Friend Tony Gilbert said: "Bob got inspired by a lot of things around him, he observed life. I remember the three little birds. They were pretty birds, canaries, who would come by the windowsill at Hope Road."

    However, three female singers from reggae group I Threes claim it is a reference to them. Singer Marcia Griffiths said: "After the song was written, Bob would always refer to us as the Three Little Birds."

  13. Big Mountain - 'Baby I Love Your Way'

    First released in 1975 by guitarist Peter Frampton, it became a top 10 hit for American reggae band Big Mountain two decades later.

    They first released it in 1994, but it wasn’t a hit in the UK until a year later. It was one of several songs stuck at number two behind Wet Wet Wet’s ‘Love is All Around’ that summer.

  14. Bill Withers - 'Lovely Day'

    Read more: Bill Withers' greatest songs ever

    Released in 1977, this summer tune is notable for Bill's amazing sustained note towards the end, which at 18 seconds long, is one of the longest ever recorded.

    Bonus fact: 'Ghostbusters' star Ray Parker Jr played guitar on the song!

  15. The Isley Brothers - 'Summer Breeze'

    Folk duo Seals and Crofts recorded this song originally, and while it is also a sunny classic, the Isley Brothers put an incredible spin on it.

    The Isleys' version is known for the harmonies of the three vocal Isleys O'Kelly, Rudolph and lead singer Ronald, and also for the distinctive guitar solo by younger brother Ernie.

  16. Otis Redding - 'Dock of the Bay'

    For a chilled one as you soak up the sun, Otis Redding's sweet soul anthem is hard to beat.

    Read more: The Story of... 'Dock of the Bay'

    This song was recorded in the days leading up to the soul icon's untimely death in a plane crash, and it remains one of the greatest feel-good anthems ever.

  17. The Beatles - 'Here Comes the Sun'

    This song was written by George Harrison at the country house of his friend Eric Clapton, where Harrison had decided to escape for the day, to avoid attending a meeting at the Beatles' Apple Corps group.

    He later said: "It seems as if winter in England goes on forever, by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided I was going to sag off Apple and I went over to Eric Clapton's house. The relief of not having to go see all those dopey accountants was wonderful, and I walked around the garden with one of Eric's acoustic guitars and wrote 'Here Comes the Sun'."

  18. Don Henley - 'The Boys of Summer'

    Mike Campbell wrote the music to this power ballad while working on Tom Petty’s Southern Accents album, but later gave it to Eagles singer Don Henley, who wrote the lyrics.

    The song is about the passing of youth and entering middle age, and of a past relationship. We've all been there. It was covered twice in the early 2000s: as a trance track by DJ Sammy in 2002, and as a pop punk hit by The Ataris in 2003.

  19. Chris Rea - 'On the Beach'

    This song was inspired by the Spanish island Formentera off the coast of Ibiza. Chris Rea later said: "That's where me and my wife became me and my wife. That's what it's about. Yeah, I was 'between the eyes of love'. It's a lovely island if ever you're in Europe."

    It was later sampled in the dance track 'OTB (On the Beach)' by York, which reached number four in 2000.

  20. Wham! - 'Club Tropicana'

    Reda more: Wham!'s greatest ever songs

    Just look at those shorts! Written by both George and Andrew, this song was something of a departure from their previous singles, which had all been influenced by social or political issues.

    This song was a satire of the cheap package holiday boom of the early 1980s, and was a swipe at the Club 18-30 scheme of the time.