The Most Nostalgic Summer Songs Of The 1960s
The JFK assassination, increasing racial tensions, and the Vietnam War all occurred in the 1960s. Despite some very tumultuous and trying times, the decade also kicked off the flower power movement and marked a period of reflection that included plenty of fun in the sun. From feel-good boppers to songs with strong political and socio-economic messages, the summer music of the decade perfectly reflected the long summer days in both positive and negative ways. Much of the music from the decade has withstood the test of time and can still be heard blaring out speakers from today’s youth. Grab your transistor radio and let’s take a look back in time at the epic summer songs from the 1960s.
The Drifters: “Under The Boardwalk” – 1964
Recorded in 1964 by The Drifters, Under the Boardwalk was intentionally released in June, just in time for summer. The song tells the story of two lovers who agree to meet out of sight from others and under the boardwalk at the beach.
By August, the song peaked at No.4 of the Billboard Hot 100 with countless covers of the song charting as well. Surely, this song inspired many young lovers to take refuge under the boardwalk for some privacy on the beach.
The Everly Brothers: “Cathy’s Clown” – 1960
Bringing their 1950s sound into the 60s, The Everly Brothers released their hit “Cathy’s Clown” in April 1960. Although there were many contenders for the top summer song of 1960, “Cathy’s Song” takes the cake. It was No. 1 on the Hot 100 for five weeks and No.1 for one week on the R&B chart.
The track was also extremely successful in the UK, spending seven weeks at the No.1 spot on the UK Singles Chart. It was the Everly Brother’s most successful single and their last US No.1 hit.
The Lovin’ Spoonful: “Summer In The City” – 1966
Even though the song has “summer” in the title of the song, that doesn’t mean that it is speaking of the season entirely positively. The lyrics essentially describe how miserable and hot summer can be during the day, yet change completely at night. However, it appealed to people that lived in cities and the song’s catchy tune is almost irresistible to dance to.
In August 1966, the track Reached the No.1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 where it remained for three consecutive weeks. It is currently ranked as No. 401 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The Rascals: “People Got To Be Free” – 1968
During a time of political upheaval, “People Got to Be Free” became an anthem for the hippie counterculture, preaching tolerance and freedom. Released in between the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the protests at the Democratic National Convention, it was the soundtrack to an incredibly tumultuous summer.
It was so popular that it managed to stay at the No.1 spot for five weeks on the Billboard pop singles chart. After the release of the song, the Rascals would only perform if they were joined by an African America act and would cancel shows in protest if they were denied their request.
Zager & Evans: “In The Year 2525” – 1969
A song that really hit home in the summer of 1969 was Zane & Evans’ “In the Year 2525.” Although catchy, the song reflects the countless social anxieties of the time describes how humanity is doomed if we continue on the path we are headed.
The song held the No.1 spot on the Hot 100 for six weeks during the summer of 69′. Zager & Evans were a one-hit wonder, although they are the only group to reach No.1 both in the United States and the UK without ever having another charting single.
Sonny & Cher: “I Got You Babe” – 1965
Released on July 9, 1965, “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher became the ultimate song to listen to while watching a beach sunset with your summer fling. Written by Sonny Bono, the track was the first single off the duo’s debut album Look at Us.
After its release, it sold over 1 million copies and spent three weeks at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song grew to become the couple’s signature song and is often associated with the early counterculture movement.
Bobby Lewis: “Tossin’ And Turnin'” – 1961
Another timeless love song, “Tossin’ and Turnin,'” was recorded in the fall of 1960 and released in December. By early July 1961, the song had reached the No.1 position on the Hot 100 and R&B charts.
That same year, it was named the number one single of 1961, having spent seven weeks at the top of the charts. Today, the song is considered to be an oldie classic and was featured in the soundtrack for the 1978 movie Animal House. The upbeat music and relentless energy throughout surely inspired many dance parties on warm summer evenings.
The Rolling Stones: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – 1965
Fitting perfectly with the teenage angst of the time, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” is a song that deals with themes of sexual frustration and commercialism. Supposedly, Kieth Richards had written the song in his sleep and recorded the opening riff om a Philips cassette player before falling asleep while still recording. The song was released in the United States in June 1965 and was instantly wildly popular.
However, after its release in the UK, it was mostly played on pirate radio stations because of the song’s sexually suggestive lyrics. Mick Jagger commented on the song saying, it captures a spirit of the times, which is very important in those kinds of songs … Which was alienation.”
The Beach Boys: “I Get Around” – 1964
Nothing screams summer more than the Beach Boys 1964 hit, “I Get Around.” With its twangy surf rock sound, it’s the perfect pump-up song on the way to the beach or just hitting the road with friends.
Upon its release in May 1964, it became the groups first No.1 charting song in the United States and did well on the UK charts as well. It was also the title song for their sixth studio album All Summer Long and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2017.
The Doors: “Light My Fire” – 1967
One song that stands out in the second half of the decade is the Doors 1967 track “Light My Fire.” The song was sexually charged and had references to illegal substances, two things that were of particular interest to teenagers at the time.
When performing the song on the Ed Sullivan Show, Jim Morrison was instructed to censor the lyrics “girl we couldn’t get much higher.” Needless to say, he ignored this request. In July 1967, the song held the No.1 spot on the Hot 100 chart for three weeks and helped to establish Jim Morrison’s image as a rock and roll icon.
Sly & The Family Stone: “Hot Fun In The Summertime” – 1969
In 1969, Sly & The Family Stone released “Hot Fun in the Summertime” as a non-album single. The song describes the many summer activities that people enjoy during that time of the year, so it was perfect to play on just about any occasion.
The song was a success, one of the reasons being that it was released not long after their revered performance at Woodstock. It peaked at No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart and has been described by Yahoo! Music, and AskMen as one of the greatest “summer anthems” of all time.
Donovan: “Sunshine Superman” – 1966
Released July 1965, “Sunshine Superman” is a single by singer-songwriter Donovan. After reaching No.1 on the Billboard Hot 1 in the United States, it became the title track for Donovan’s third album, Sunshine Superman.
It was Donovan’s only song to ever reach No.1 and has grown to become one of his most well known. It is one of the first songs to be classified under psychedelia and is described as “a classic of its era”, and “the quintessential bright summer sing-along.” If you listen to it, you’ll understand why.
The Association: “Windy” – 1967
Written by Ruthann Friedman and recorded by the Association, “Windy” was released in 1967 and managed to reach the top of the Hot 100 in July. Although originally written about a man, with Association member Larry Ramos changing the lyrics to be about a woman.
The song was the epitome of the Summer of Love, being very lighthearted and positive, a common trait for much of the music at the time. “Windy” went on to be ranked the No.4 song of 1967 by Billboard.
The Supremes: “Where Did Our Love Go?” – 1964
The Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go?” was a perfect reflection of the social issues occurring in 1964. In the wake of the assassination of JFK, increasing racial tensions, and America’s involvement in the Vietnam war, people were beginning to truly wonder where our love really went.
Released in June 1964, the song became the Supremes’ first single to hit the No.1 mark and remained there for two weeks in August. The song was later added to the National Recording Registry for its “cultural, historical, and artistic significance.”
The Turtles: “Happy Together” – 1967
Another fitting song to come out of the Summer of Love was “Happy Together” by the Turtles. Released in March 1967, it’s an overall uplifting song that fits in perfectly with the ideals that many of the youths at the time shared.
In the United States, it took over the No.1 spot on the Hot 100 by knocking the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” out of the way. There, it remained for three weeks, although it was the Turtles on chart-topper in their career. The song was described by Allmusic’s Denise Sullivan as “a most sublime piece of pop heaven.”
The Riverias: “California Sun” – 1964
When listening to “California Sun,” one can’t help but picture themselves laying on the beach after a pleasant surf or swim in the ocean. It has high energy and has established itself as one of the most classic summer tracks ever.
Although it was originally recorded by Joe Jones, the most popular version is the Rivieras cover. It peaked at No.5 on the Hot 100 chart and stayed there for ten weeks. “California Sun” is even considered to be the last American rock and roll hit before the British Invasion.
The Surfaris: “Wipe Out” – 1963
Potentially one of the most classic summer sounds of the decade and most associated with surfing is the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out.” Released in 1963, the song came about when the group was trying to write a B-side for their single “Surfer Joe.”
They ended up writing “Wipe Out” extremely quickly, and the song turned out to be more successful than “Surfer Joe.” The song peaked at No.2 in the charts but has since been featured in over 20 films and movies since its release.
Cream: “Sunshine Of Your Love” – 1967
Cream’s bassist, Jack Bruce, was inspired for the iconic baseline in “Sunshine of Your Love” after seeing Jimmy Hendrix in concert. After contributions from other Cream members, the track was released in 1967. The song was the second track on the album Disraeli Gears and was released as the second single of the album.
The songs soon became one of Cream’s most popular tracks and were one of the best-selling singles the following year. Although it was released in November the song’s popularity carried well into the summer of 1968.
Connie Francis: “Vacation” – 1962
There are very few songs that have the ability to excite people about summer break more than Connie Francis’ “Vacation.” With lyrics like “Put away the books we’re out of school, the weather’s warms but we’re playing it cool,” it’s the perfect song to kick off summer. Released in 1962, the song entered the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at No.9 in July.
The track would also mark Francis’ final Top Ten hit in both the United States and the UK. According to Francis, “when [“Vacation”] was brought to me, they only had ‘V-a-c-a-t-i-o-n in the summer sun.’ That’s all they wrote. I wrote the rest of the words and didn’t even take credit for it.”
Van Morrison: “Brown Eyed Girl” – 1967
Recorded in 1967, “Brown Eyed Girl” was released as a single in June of the same year. Considered to be Morrison’s signature song, it peaked at No.10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Amazingly, at the time, the lyrics about a past lover were deemed to be too suggestive to be played on many radio stations.
So, some edits were made to make some of the more lewd lyrics to appear more innocent. Today, the song is regarded as a classic and more than likely sparked more than a few beach dance parties upon its release.