Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The unforgettable summer songs that have us singing and swaying since the 1960s

Beachgoers listen to music. (Getty Images)
Beachgoers listen to music. (Getty Images)

What’s 2023’s song of the summer? It might be too early to say. But we do know that it will be, in the words of Washington Post music critic Chris Richards, a song “capable of changing the nation’s psychic temperature.”

The concept goes way back to the early 1900s when songs were mostly distributed by sheet music. In 1923, the choice would probably have been “Yes, We Have no Bananas.” In the years since we’ve seen artists from Prince to the Black Eyed Peas giving us some of the toe-tapping, sing-along summer hits that we just can’t get out of our heads.

One song that’s dominated summer playlists since it came out in 1962 is “Surfin’ U.S.A” by The Beach Boys.

“I think this was part of the youth culture of the time that movement to like sell the idea of summer to people, and especially to teenagers,” says NPR music critic Ann Powers, who introduced the bracket-style song of the summer competition that MTV use. “There was actually a surf-oriented summer song every subsequent year until 1966.”

What changed in 1966? Powers says the cultural context shifted, and music had to adapt to have staying power. The Beach Boys did, and the song “Good Vibrations” hit the mark.

“By 1966, well, things were changing and youth were getting trippy,” Powers says. “‘Good Vibrations,’ which came out in December, redefined The Beach Boys’ songs.

Songs of the summer through the years

“Surfin’ USA” by The Beach Boys (1963)

Watch on YouTube.

“Groovin'” by The Young Rascals (1967)

Watch on YouTube.

“Silly Love Songs” by Paul McCartney (1976)

Watch on YouTube.

“When Doves Cry” by Prince (1984)

Watch on YouTube.

“The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley (1984)

“I Swear” by All-4-One (1994)

“Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas (2009)

“Despacito” by Luis Fonsi ft. Daddy Yankee (2017)

This article was originally published on

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit