That’s right. It’s summer once again, that time of year when we kick off our shoes and head outside to make the most of a little extra sunshine. Whether you’re out by the beach or spending the afternoon barbecuing with neighbors, it’s hard to deny there is a certain “je ne sais quoi” about summer that makes the season simply special.
“Summertime,” just as DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince say in their 1991 hit single, is a “time to sit back and unwind.”
And what better way to celebrate than with the perfect summer soundtrack? But before you go cherry-picking through mp3 files or digging through your old CD collections, let’s first explore some of our favorite summer albums and the qualities that make them stick.
First and foremost, a good summer album should be kind of calm and mellow, but fun with a touch of excitement and intrigue thrown in. Not necessarily an album that makes you want to get up and dance, but one you can enjoy while sipping ice cold lemonade in the shade.
Blondie – Autoamerican
In the early 1980’s, as the generation of punk music began to dwindle and a “new wave” started to begin, Blondie tried something rather experimental. Autoamerican, the band’s fifth studio album, blends together different genres—everything from jazz to hip-hop and reggae—to create this summertime classic.
The album most notably includes the song “Rapture,” which was the first song to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts that also features elements of Hip-Hop, and a cover of The Paragons‘ 1967 Jamaican ska hit, “The Tide Is High.”
Outkast – ATLiens
“Cooler than a polar bear’s toenails,” the sophomore album from Atlanta hip-hop group, Outkast, was easily one of the duo’s most lyrically-driven and influential record
“Elevators (Me & You)” is another example of Southern Hip-Hop in its prime, with this laid back, summertime vibe. Meanwhile, classics like “Wheelz of Steel” and “Jazzy Belle,” are perfect for a nice summer drive.
Lit – A Place in the Sun
If you were a child of the ‘90s then you probably have fond memories of listening to this pop-punk gem.
Featuring fast-paced rock guitar licks and a simplistic, yet catchy chorus, “My Own Worst Enemy” is a summer karaoke classic. And who could forget the coming of age tune, “Miserable,” or the music video for that matter, which featured sex symbol, Pamela Anderson.
Foster the People – Torches
The Los Angeles indie pop group, Foster the People, rose to popularity in 2010 with their sleeper hit, “Pumped Up Kicks” — an infectiously track that was originally written by frontman Mark Foster while he was working as a commercial jingle writer. And as soon as the song went viral, the band was offered a deal with Columbia Records for their first full-length album, Torches.
The album has a light-hearted, almost bubbly sound that makes it the perfect listen on a hot summer day.
Dr. Dre – The Chronic
Shortly following his departure from N.W.A., California Hip-Hop producer Dr. Dre co-founded his own label, Death Row Records, for the release of his 1992 solo debut, The Chronic.
With the help of a few labelmates, including Snoop Dogg, Kurupt, Warren G and Lady of Rage, to name a few, Dre was able to put together a “laidback” stoner classic.
Otis Redding – The Dock of the Bay
R&B legend Otis Redding did not get to see the release of his seventh studio album, The Dock of the Bay, but he would’ve been blessed to know that it went on to be a tremendous success.
The title track, “(Sitting on) The Dock of the Bay,” went on to become one of the singer’s best-known songs of all time.
Sublime – 40 Oz. To Freedom
What better way to relax in the summer sun than to kick back and “smoke two joints?” Although the California ska-punk band wouldn’t gain mainstream acclaim for another four years, Sublime‘s 1992 debut, 40 Oz. to Freedom quickly became a summertime hit for its unique hybrid of Jamaican reggae and ska music with elements of more conventional pop-punk and hip-hop of the time.
The album also features six cover songs from Bad Religion, The Toyes, Toots & the Maytals, The Melodians, The Grateful Dead, and The Descendents as well as references to artists like KRS-One, Bob Marley, Beastie Boys, Pink Floyd, Just-Ice, Public Enemy, and The Specials, to name a few.
Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
“You could feel it all over” whenever this R&B classic comes on. With such feel-good hits as “Sir Duke” and “I Wish,” it’s an energetic and soulful album that is perfect for the season.
The double LP from Stevie Wonder also features the heartwarming hit, “Isn’t She Lovely,” which was written to celebrate the birth of his daughter, Aisha.
Rusted Root – When I Woke
Pittsburgh jam-rock band Rusted Root’s major-label debut, When I Woke, first hit the airwaves in 1994, with the hit single “Send Me On My Way.” Blending improvisational and acoustic rock with indigenous percussions from all over the world, they bridged a gap few knew existed, combining contemporary pop and world music, to form a funky, upbeat sound.
Squeeze – Argybargy
Based on the slang terminology for a heated argument or quarrel, Argybargy, is a light-hearted summertime romp. English new wave group Squeeze go “behind the chalet” with this 1980’s classic, featuring such hits as “Pulling Mussels (from the Shell),” “If I Didn’t Love You,” and “Another Nail In My Heart.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication
Don’t be fooled by the cover, what makes this album a summertime classic is not the title, nor the artwork, it’s the lyrics. With the return of on again, off again guitarist, John Frusciante, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were finally back to writing quality music.
Produced by Rick Rubin, the album went on to become the group’s biggest commercial success, thanks to such hit singles as “Otherside,” “Scar Tissue,” “Around the World” and the title track, “Californication.”
Lewis Del Mar – Lewis Del Mar
Nothing screams “it’s summertime” more than some experimental surf rock. The eponymous debut from the Rockaway Beach, Queens-natives, Lewis Del Mar is a hypnotic concoction that embodies the spirit of the coastal community and its many locals, who are somehow able to cope with the thousands of tourists who flock to its beaches every summer.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist
Whether or not you were into summer fashion, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis had the country “poppin’ tags” with their venerable 2012 hit single, “Thrift Shop.” The album also features a bevy of special guests including singer-songwriter Mary Lambert, Top Dawg Entertainment recording artists Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul; and indie rock singer Ben Bridwell of the group, Band of Horses.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Kaya
Summer albums don’t get more laid back than this. In fact, Bob Marley & The Wailers’ tenth studio album was so relaxed that it was criticized as “soft” compared to some of their earlier, more militant style of roots reggae.
Kaya is one of Marley’s most underrated accomplishments. It is also the perfect pick for our summertime playlist, featuring such dub classics as “Easy Skanking,” “Is This Love,” and “Satisfy My Soul.”
Now that you have a better understanding of what it takes to be considered the “perfect summer album,” you’re finally ready to make a summertime playlist that is the envy of all your friends and neighbors.