The race for song of the summer starts long before the temperature changes and Memorial Day Weekend heralds an end to the rainy spring season. Whether it'll be Justin Bieber, Cardi B, or someone we've never heard of that provides the soundtrack to our barbeques, our beach days, and our most beloved warm-weather memories is anyone's guess, but years past remind us that this choice will stay with us beyond this summer and into music history. We're taking a look back at the songs of the summer so you can remember which bops were inescapable the year that you were born (and probably influenced the type of person you are today).
Before Usher unleashed Justin Bieber on an unsuspecting public and effectively disappeared, he was one of the best-selling musical artists of the '00s, largely because of his RIAA Diamond Certified 2004 album Confessions. "Confessions Part II" didn't make as big of a chart impact as "Burn" or "Yeah!" but the scandalous earworm was released in June and became that summer's big hit. For the record, Usher didn't ~actually~ get his mistress pregnant, but confusion surrounding the possibility of the R&B singer cheating on TLC's Chili probably helped bring the song to number one.
It's so depressing that generations of Americans had to grow up without Beyoncé. What did people do before Dangerously in Love was released in 2003? What was the point of music without its Queen Bey? It's hard to overstate the enduring importance of her first single, "Crazy In Love," or it's massive, immediate popularity when it was released in mid-May. Not only was it the song of the summer in 2003, but it might be remembered as the song of the century. Since that summer, Beyoncé has gone from a promising member of a girl group to the biggest living star of our time. The world as we know it began in summer '03.
"Hot In Herre" is still a fun song, but it's an even better meme. From the elderly church choir that decided to put their own twist on the track to the campaign for Nelly fans to stream his best-known song 287,176,547 times to help Nelly with his debt to the IRS, "Hot In Herre" has stayed on our minds for reasons that aren't exactly musical. It was one of the top songs of the year, and a party anthem perfect for beach parties where it was quite literally getting so hot that people preferred to stay in their bathing suits.
"U Remind Me" hit its highest peak in the middle of summer 2001 before giving Usher his first of eight Grammy Awards. It was a simpler time. People had finally let that whole Y2K thing go, George W. Bush hadn't been president for long enough to ruin anything yet, and one would imagine 2001: A Space Odyssey would never get more popular. Chili and Usher were just starting their relationship, and she even appeared in the music video for this very song. "U Remind Me" isn't the best-known song of the summer, but it exemplifies its year well.
Another song that remains alive in memes, "It's Gonna Be Me" was actually *NSYNC's only number-one Billboard Hot 100 single, once again proving that The Backstreet Boys were the far superior group even without Justin Timberlake. Still, the BSB never had a song of the summer, and "It's Gonna Be Me" regains its popularity every May through memes, meaning it now does herald the beginning of the end of spring. It's kind of like the Groundhog Day of summer: Once Justin Timberlake sees his frosted tips, we know it's going to be a short road to June.
Another former Mouseketeer locked in the middle of a career-defining feud, Christina Aguilera's first single was released in June of 1999 to massive success, topping charts in 21 countries and being certified platinum by the RIAA. The music video was shot in Malibu, where it's summer all the time, and jumpstarted Christina's solo career as a pop icon. The New York Times called it "one of the summer's catchiest singles," and the public apparently agreed. Christina even performed the song on Beverly Hills 90210. If that's not a summer vibe, then nothing is.
People thought that Brandy and Monica had beef — maybe because they were both single-name pop stars, but more likely because the media doesn't realize there can be more than one successful black female in each genre. "The Boy Is Mine" was the best-selling song of 1998, but it was released in mid-May of that year, making its ascent a summer triumph. The artists would reunite fourteen years later on the single "It All Belongs To Me," but "The Boy Is Mine" still reigns supreme as the best R&B duet of all time.
Universal Music Group
Whatever happened to Hanson? Like, they're still making albums and have been on tour over fifteen times, but "MMMBop" seems to be the only song by the band that anyone remembers. The song was nominated for two Grammy Awards, was a chart-topper in 27 countries, and was considered one of the best singles of the year. The light, teeny-bopping hit was inspired by The Beach Boys and surf music from the '50s and '60s, and it was the perfect sunny addition to the summer of 1997.
Death Row Records
California does know how to party, and in the war between East and West coast rap, it's no surprise that the Best Coast would take the summer for themselves. "California Love" was 2Pac's first release after his time in prison, his debut single with the mythic Death Row Records, and his most successful single. The collaboration with Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman has appeared on at least two dozen major publication's "Best Of" lists, and even though it was released in December of 1995, it was popular long enough to be the song of the summer in '96.
TLC released "Waterfalls" right at the beginning of the summer season, where it shot to number one and stayed at the top of the charts for nearly two months. TLC won the Video of the Year Moonman at the VMAs that year, making them the first African-American act to ever receive the award, and "Waterfalls" was the first number-one song to reference AIDS. The single tackled other heavy topics as well including drug abuse and safe sex, and it features one of Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes' best raps.
"I Swear" started its long tenure as a number-one hit as a country song by John Michael Montgomery in 1993 on the Hot Country charts, which became a modest crossover success in 1994. Two months later, All-4-One covered the song, which brought it to number one in multiple countries including the United States. When "I Swear" gets stuck in your head, it's probably the All-4-One version you're thinking about. John and the band collaborated on a new version of the song in 2016 because we *can* all just get along.
If you haven't heard of UB40, because it's nearly 2020 and no one has heard of them, this English reggae-pop band was kind of a big deal in the '80s, but their version of Elvis Presley's big hit "Can't Help Falling In Love" was their biggest and final hit in the summer of 1993. Their cover was at number one for seven weeks and stayed on the chart for 23 weeks after based on the strength of its appearance in the Sharon Stone and William Baldwin movie Silver.
This 1992 hit was heavily sampled in Nicki Minaj's 2014 hit "Anaconda," but "Baby Got Back" is still a well-known bop in its own right. Despite controversy around the song's explicit lyrics (LOL, if only they could see us now) and the song's music video being briefly banned by MTV, it was the second best-selling song of 1992 in the US, but it hit its peak during the summertime. "Baby Got Back" hit number one twelve weeks after its April release and stayed there for five weeks, through the end of the summer.
Another Canadian crossover hit, "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" was on both Bryan Adams's sixth album and the soundtrack to Kevin Costner's dramatic romance Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. If you learn anything from this list, it's that people are suckers for a movie soundtrack. It did even better overseas in the UK than it did in the US, but this power ballad somehow beat all of the pop divas of the early '90s to become the biggest hit of the season after its June release.
It's hard to tell which is wilder, that Mariah Carey has only been releasing music for three decades or that someone who's that hot is old enough to have been releasing music for three decades. "Vision of Love" is the vocal powerhouse's debut single, a slow-burning pop-soul hit that showcases Mariah's whistle tones and her four-octave range. It popularized the use of melisma in contemporary music and showed that unlike most of the late-'80s divas, Mariah actually has the range. "Vision of Love" spent the first nine weeks of summer climbing the charts until it reached the summit and remained there until the end of the season, like any good summer smash must.
~Kids today~ don't know who Richard Marx is, but the singer-songwriter was the first solo artist to have his first seven releases reach the top five of the Billboard Hot 100, and he's had songs he wrote top the charts during four different decades after his song "Long Hot Summer" was recorded by Keith Urban in 2011. While that was Richard's latest success, "Right Here Waiting" was a global hit after its release in June 1989, and it remained in Billboard's Hot Adult Contemporary Reccurents chart from 2000 to 2003, over a decade after its original release.
Universal Island Records
Full disclosure: I had neither heard of "Roll With It" or Steve Winwood before writing this article, but it spent a month at number one during the summer of 1988 after its August release, and it's generally agreed upon that "Roll With It" was the undisputed song of summer '88. The song was nominated for two Grammys and Steve's album of the same name was nominated for Album of the Year. Steve is low-key a big deal and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a part of the brand Traffic, and he had a pretty solid solo career despite not being a household name amongst millennials.
Whitney Houston's first platinum single in the US was "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)," which became the biggest hit in the country's history until Whitney surpassed herself with "I Will Always Love You" five years later, like a true icon. Strangely, the enduring bop received mixed reviews from critics because no one appreciated pure fun in the '80s except, you know, the listeners. The song helped Whitney's self-titled album become the first time a female artist had a number-one debut on the Billboard 200.
"Papa Don't Preach" debuted Madonna's first major image transformation, a bold move she would become known for throughout her storied career. It also spurred a classic Madonna controversy, with organizations interpreting the song as an endorsement of teenage pregnancy with a pro-life agenda. So, basically, neither liberals nor conservatives were thrilled, the literal Pope amongst its detractors. Still, the song became her fourth number-one single, and the hits haven't stopped since. While politicians didn't get it, pop music critics saw the song as an outstanding, high-profile song with a strong hook.
"Shout" and "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" made Tears For Fears *the* band of the mid-1980s. "Shout" was released first, making it their summer contender, and it's the song that the band has remixed the most themselves with fifteen different versions coming from Tears For Fears alone — which means that doesn't include the hilarious cover done by James Roday and Dulé Hill on Psych. The song regained popularity (after never really losing it) in 2010 when the England Football team in the FIFA World Cup used it as their unofficial theme song.
Paisley Park RecordsWarner Bros. Records
Prince's career spanned four decades, but his worldwide fame can be traced back to "When Doves Cry," the lead single from Purple Rain. It was the top-selling single of the year and one of the signature songs of an artist who to many is known as the greatest artist of all time. "When Doves Cry" recharted in the top ten after Prince's death in 2016 over thirty years after its initial release. The song would have gone down in history regardless of its summer status, but it just so happened to come out right before Memorial Day Weekend and leave its mark on the world when it was sunny and 75.
It's been known that "Every Breath You Take" is a hella sketchy song, but it still managed to become so popular that nearly a third of Sting's publishing income has come from the song and its licensing. It won two Grammys was voted the 1983 song of the year in a Rolling Stone critics' and readers' poll, and was the fifth best-selling single of the '80s. The song benefitted from being one of MTV's earliest music videos to enter heavy rotation, even though Sting himself told BBC Radio 2 that he intended for the song to be "very, very sinister and ugly," and he doesn't understand why fans have interpreted it as a gentle love song.
Scotti Brothers Records
"Eye Of The Tiger" really was risin' up straight to the top when it was released as a single from Survivor's third album. This was thanks to its inclusion as the lead single on the Rocky III soundtrack released the day before. After Queen denied Sylvester Stallone the use of "Another One Bites The Dust" for the song's theme, the world was gifted with "Eye Of The Tiger," the number-two single of 1982 behind only Olivia Newton-John's "Physical." Either song could really be considered the song of the summer in 1982, but it's so much funnier to picture '80s teens partying to "Eye Of The Tiger."
I wonder if "Jesse's Girl" would have the same impact if Rick Springfield had used the actual name of his romantic rival. Somehow, "Gary's Girl" doesn't have the same ring to it. The song was inspired by a stained glass class Rick was taking with his friend Gary and Gary's girlfriend but changed the name to Jessie because of a football jersey Gary was wearing at the time. Songfacts once tried to find Gary's girl, who never actually spoke to Rick but hit a dead end after discovering the class records had been thrown away after the teacher's death two years prior to their search. The song has remained popular since its release without any signs of stopping because of its constant use in films over the past three decades — and, of course, the Glee cover.
"It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" was at the top of the charts from mid-July until the first day of August, taking over the peak summertime airwaves. Billy Joel used the song as a cynical takedown of the music industry's focus on appearance and the declining influence of rock and roll as punk and funk started their stratospheric climb, so it's Platinum-certified success is both ironic and proves that Billy was right in his assertion that his music would be relevant no matter what new fads were coming and going.