Chart Watch Extra: The Songs of Summer

Paul Grein
Chart Watch (NEW)

“California Gurls,” the frothy 2010 smash by Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg, has been declared the #1 summer song by Billboard. The music trade magazine drafted a list of the 30 biggest hits “with summer-specific themes,” based on chart performance on the Hot 100 from the inception of that chart in August 1958 through May of this year. The Perry/Snoop collabo topped the Hot 100 for six weeks, longer than any other song on the list.

The Beach Boys, who practically invented summer music, are the top artists on the list with five of the top 30 songs: “Surfin’ U.S.A.” at #8, “California Girls” at #16, “Surfer Girl” at #23, “Wipe Out” (on which they were guests of Fat Boys) at #28 and “Surfin’ Safari” at #30. That’s fitting for a group that topped the chart with a compilation titled Endless Summer.

The Lovin’ Spoonful’s 1966 classic “Summer In The City” is #2 on the list, followed in order by the Surfaris’ 1963 smash “Wipe Out” (the only instrumental recording on the list), Brian Hyland’s 1960 smash “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” (the only novelty song on the list) and Jan & Dean’s 1963 smash “Surf City.” Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys’ mastermind, co-wrote “Surf City” and sings a backing vocal.

All of these songs reached #1 on the Hot 100, except for “Wipe Out,” which wiped out at #2.

Percy Faith’s shimmering instrumental “The Theme From ‘A Summer Place,’” which headed the Hot 100 for nine weeks, didn’t make the list. Billboard apparently didn’t deem the movie theme “summer-specific,” despite its title and mellow vibe.

The oldest hit on the list is Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” a hit from 1958. (It’s #26 on the list.) The recording has been voted into both the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cochran was just 19 when the song was released.

Cochran is one of several artists on the list who were still in their teens at the time of the release of their summer classics. Brian Hyland was just 16 when “…Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” was released. The Surfaris were a teen surf rock’n’roll band. Three of the five Beach Boys were still in their teens at the time of the release of their oldest song on the list, “Surfin’ Safari.”

The oldest song on the list is the classic “Summertime,” which George Gershwin co-wrote for the 1935 folk opera Porgy And Bess. The song has been recorded by everyone from Billie Holiday to Janis Joplin. It made the list because of Billy Stewart’s soulful 1966 cover version, which made the top 10. It’s #29 on the list.

The only songs on the list from this century are Justin Timberlake’s 2007 hit “Summer Love” (#19 on the list) and Perry’s 2010 smash.

Most of the songs were hits in the summer, as you would expect, but several were not. Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze” (#22 on the list) peaked in late November 1972. The Motels’ “Suddenly Last Summer” (#24 on the list) peaked in mid-November 1983. At the other end of the calendar, Richard Marx’s “Endless Summer Nights” (#6 on the list) peaked in late March 1988.

Most of the songs on the list celebrate various aspects of summer, including the end of the school year (Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” #21 on the list) and a mellower pace (Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze,” #22 on the list). But Don Henley’s “The Boys Of Summer,” a brilliant, brooding song about disillusionment and regrets, is hardly a celebration. (It’s #11 on the list.) Neither, for that matter, is Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer,” #27 on the list.

There are some oddities. “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” which was considered somewhat risqué in 1960, is listed, but its modern-day equivalent, Sisqo’s “Thong Song,” is not. (It’s not for lack of chart performance: Sisqo’s smash spent three weeks at #3 in 2000.)

D.J. Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime” is listed (at #7), but the summer song it samples, Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness,” is not. The Kool & the Gang song wasn’t a big enough hit to make a list like this. It peaked at #35 in 1975 as the double-listed B side of “Spirit Of The Boogie.” (All of the songs on the list made the top 15 on the Hot 100. All but two made the top 10.)

Also, there are no country songs on the list. Kenny Chesney’s “Summertime,” which was #1 on Hot Country Songs for five weeks in 2006, didn’t accrue enough Hot 100 points. (It peaked at #34 on the Hot 100.)

The list includes one true one-hit-wonder. The British skiffle group Mungo Jerry had a #3 hit in 1970 with “In The Summertime” (it’s #12 on the list) and never returned to the Hot 100.

“Wipe Out” is the only song to appear on the list twice. In addition to the Surfaris’ recording at #3, a cover version by Fat Boys (with the Beach Boys) is listed at #28.

Here’s a little summer song trivia. War’s “Summer” (#15 on the list) was released on the first day of summer in 1976. (It scaled the chart all summer and peaked at #7 the first week of fall.)

Most of these artists are still with us, but several have enjoyed their last summers. Eddie Cochran was killed in a car crash in 1960, less than two years after the release of “Summertime Blues.” Nat “King” Cole died of cancer in 1965, less than two years after the release of the zesty “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days Of Summer” (#20 on the list). Others on the list who have died include Billy Stewart and Jan Berry of Jan & Dean.

You'll find a link to Billboard's list in the second sentence of this blog. Here’s Billboard’s detailed explanation for how the list was compiled:

“These 30 hot tunes with summer-specific themes are ranked based on each track's performance on the Billboard Hot 100 chart from August 4, 1958 -- the inception of the chart -- through the chart dated May 25, 2013. Songs are ranked based on an inverse point system, with weeks at No. 1 earning the greatest value and weeks at No. 100 earning the least.

“The ranking is based on actual performance on the weekly Billboard Hot 100. Songs are ranked based on an inverse point system, with weeks at No. 1 earning the greatest value and weeks at No. 100 earning the least. Prior to the Hot 100's implementation in 1991 of enhanced radio and sales information from Nielsen BDS and Nielsen SoundScan, songs had shorter reigns at No. 1 and shorter chart lives. To ensure equitable representation, earlier time frames were each weighted to account for the difference between turnover rates from those decades and the turnover rates that have occurred since the advent of Nielsen Music data.”