What Makes a Summer Song Stick?

ABC News Nightline
Nightline Fix
What Makes a Summer Song Stick?

Ah summertime … everyone is eager to give this season a soundtrack to remember it by.

Over the past few years, the song of summer has become a genre in itself, with its own exclusive chart on “Billboard” and, this year, its own category at the Video Music Awards.

“The two things that trigger memories are songs and smells,” said JJ, a radio host at Z100 in New York City. “They’re two very different things but the minute you hear a song, it’s better than a time machine. You instantly remember where you were when you first heard that song.”

He thinks he knows the formula: “Especially in pop radio they call it an earworm. It infects your soul. You hear it and you find yourself at random times humming that song or reciting lyrics.”

It’s true. These songs of summer stay in your head forever because they’re catchy and capture the feeling of fun.

Take Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” the anthem of 2010.

“You’re talking about the summer and Katy Perry, she's a California girl,” said Leah Greenblatt, Music Editor at “Entertainment Weekly.” “She grew up in Santa Barbara. She knows bikinis, she knows palm trees, she knows roller skates.”

But of course you can take it way back. The Beach Boys were “invented for the summer,” according to Greenblatt.

“All the songs they wrote were about the beach -- getting to the beach, getting home from the beach, getting the girl to the beach.”

There’s even a science behind our love for summer songs. Some U.K. studies suggest that thinking back, being nostalgic for something, can actually counteract loneliness and anxiety. It can even make people nicer.

“Nightline” asked its viewers to vote on their favorite summer song of all time. The winner – by a landslide – was “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, rapping about everything that makes summer kind of awesome: barbecues, pools and that heartbreaking crush that you never really quite got over.

“I was in the 7th grade and school had just let out,” recalled JJ. “That song was playing everywhere. He's talking about going to barbecues and the temperature hits 88, and now every time the temperature hits 88, I think of that song.”