thu 25/07/2024

Listed: Songs of Summer | reviews, news & interviews

Listed: Songs of Summer

Listed: Songs of Summer

From seaside nostalgia to a consumerist jihadi paradise, we list the sounds of summer

Johnny Rotten goes on holiday

It’s forecast to rain for a fortnight, just as the schools tip out their restless young. The roads are jammed, and Calais hasn’t been this bunged up since Edward III laid siege for the whole year in 1346. It must be summer. To help you celebrate if you’re one of the lucky ones who got away, or to get through it if not, our new music team has suggested a summer playlist both eclectic and exhilarating.

From Madonna to Motörhead, the Beach Boys to My Bloody Valentine, whether you’re downing cocktails, or drowning out the rain on the tent roof, these are our songs of summer.


A Man Called Adam - 'Barefoot in the Head' 

The British duo of Sally Rodgers and Steve Jones cut this definitive Balearic house song in 1990 with Paul Daley, who later formed Leftfield. With its lapping waves, lyrics bathed in wide-eyed bliss at Ibiza’s ecstasy culture, dreamy spoken word interlude (courtesy of poet/songsmith Rod McKuen, who died this year), and yearning for hazy holiday lassitude, it almost physically emanates beachside heat. Thomas H Green


Sex Pistols – 'Holidays in the Sun'

Inspired by a visit to Berlin, Sex Pistols’s fourth single was a lacerating slab of self-hatred. The opening lyric, “a cheap holiday in other people’s misery”, and the ensuing couplet “I don't wanna holiday in the sun, I wanna go to new Belsen” also unambiguously let the world know Johnny Rotten thought about the contradictions inherent to cultural tourism. Kieron Tyler


Joey Arias & Claron McFadden - 'Summertime'

Even the exquisite brilliance of a writer like Gershwin couldn’t save this from becoming a cliché of the season, so worn out even advertisers have stopped using it. Performing at this year’s Brighton Festival, however, cabaret artist Joey Arias cleansed all memory of schmoozy ads with a crackling, dessicated, voice that evokes not so much rich daddies as the delirium of a hot, hot sun. We can hope. Here, he duets with soprano Claron McFadden, combining her gossamer thrills on the top line with his own extraterrestrial rasp. Matthew Wright

Madonna - 'Holiday'

As shots across the bow go, this was – and remains – an absolute belter. Like a dose of vitamin D to the soul, Madonna’s debut cast sunlight over a cold British January in 1984 and transported those who heard it away from the grim confines of a British winter to a place where handclaps and bongos seemed a more appropriate backing. The relentlessly upbeat tends not to be celebrated and that’s a shame. Optimism is in short supply these days – foreboding and despair are taking over. We need a Holiday. Barney Harsent


Malcolm Mclaren - 'Double Dutch'

The moment the mercury hits 80, you can bank on one of a dozen or so pop anthems – usually containing the word summer in the chorus – hitting the airwaves.  Few, though, can compete with Malcolm McLaren’s Eighties’ hit “Double Dutch” for sheer summeriness. Combining the sounds of Soweto with early hip-hop, the song recounts a craze for competitive skipping amongst teenage girls in the Harlem area of New York. The effect, though, is to make you feel as if you have spent hours in the baking sun cooled by a fire hydrant spray. Russ Coffey


The Isley Brothers – 'Summer Breeze'

The perfect encapsulation of lazy moods and the romantic allure of a soft summer wind, The Isley Brothers’s sensuous version of Seals & Crofts’s “Summer Breeze” is the seductive soundtrack to holiday romance and the heightened emotions brought on by relaxation. This is what holidays are for – forget beaches, booze and sunburn. Kieron Tyler

Kevin Ayers – 'Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes' 

Kevin Ayers was a kind of anti-vampire, living in the sun, drinking wine and smoking spliffs. In Majorca most of the time in Deja shooting the breeze with drifters and poets like Robert Graves. “I wanna get out in the sun and rain, and feel the wind on my skin again.”  Ayers was a guru of non-productivity, of lassitude, of unfulfilled potential and patron saint of summer slackers everywhere. No-one, as they say, died wishing they had spent more time in the office. Cheers, Kevin. Peter Culshaw


Metronomy – 'The Look'

It’s a peculiar sense of the British seaside that permeates Metronomy’s The English Riviera – something unromantic and yet curiously nostalgic. Second single “The Look”, in particular, evokes youth and holidays along with awkward longing. Musically, the effect comes from Wurlitzer motifs that speak of faded end-of-pier entertainment, matched to simple, insistent rhythms. The result is a gloriously bittersweet mix of sun, sand and ennui. Russ Coffey


Motörhead - 'Going To Brazil'

In 1990 Lemmy moved to LA and a couple of songs from Motörhead’s next album, 1916, thrill at travel and new circumstance. The best of them is “Going to Brazil” which, although actually about heading out on tour, explodes with the anticipation of boarding a plane en masse for adventure. It’s a searing ode to joyful escape set to the heaviest Chuck Berry-alike rock’n’roll. Thomas H Green


Astrud Gilberto - 'Samba de Verão'

Brief and fragile, like the summer, Marcos Valle’s 1964 song “Samba de Verão”, (usually titled “So Nice” in English though the literal translation is “Summer Samba”), slinks and wisps its way to three minutes with little gasps of desire. It’s not a philosophical song: they’re simple wishes, for “Someone to take my hand / And be a team with me” and the like, but in the shimmering, steamy heat of a summer night, they’re all most of us want. Caetano Veloso and Diana Krall give the best contemporary versions, but despite the picture quality, Astrud Gilberto’s early performance on Italian TV still captures the faux innocence of it best of all. Matthew Wright

My Bloody Valentine – We Have All the Time in the World

Six long weeks lie ahead. The end and the inevitable return to school seems impossibly far away, and even when it does come, it will be full of fresh starts – crisp first pages in brand new books. Until then, worries are put on indefinite hold as days stretch out, like the long, languid strokes in My Bloody Valentine’s version of the Louis Armstrong classic. The end is inevitable but, for a moment, time has never felt more relative. Barney Harsent


The Beach Boys - 'I Get Around'

California, endless summer – the age of innocence. The Beach Boys. Actually they look so unbelievably dorky in the video but, hey “the bad guys know us and they leave us alone”. America wasn’t so great if you were black in Mississippi in 1962, but California if you were white young and full of come was heaven, if you believe the music. Two girls for every boy – a consumerist jihadi paradise. And you didn’t even have to blow yourself up. Reagan tried to bring back Morning in America but then things got dark. These days the whole country is like a sweet teenager who got hooked on heroin. Daddy took the T-Bird away. Peter Culshaw

Kevin Ayers was a guru of non-productivity, of lassitude and patron saint of summer slackers everywhere

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters