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Soundtrack for the Season: AARP's Summer Music Playlist

Stream these 20 tunes for an instant dose of sunshine

A man lying on a pool chair relaxing while wearing headphones listening to music

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The official first day of summer is here, and it's time to kick the season into high gear with this playlist of 20 songs that have summertime and long, lazy days at their heart. Whether you're streaming them for coffee or cocktails on the patio, in the car on an afternoon drive, or just in the background all day long, this playlist is built to be your summer soundtrack. We've put classics from every decade starting from the 1950s in chronological order, but you can change the sequence on your favorite streaming service. To listen to the whole playlist right now on Spotify, scroll down to the bottom of the story.

"Summertime," Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald (1957)

Written by George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward for 1935's Porgy & Bess folk opera, the classic lullaby has been recorded by many, with few challenging this haunting version.

"Summertime Blues,” Eddie Cochran (1958)

The Who and Blue Cheer later released hard rock versions of Cochran's original, but the authentic rebel heat and rockabilly jaunt of this version still rules the airwaves.

The album cover for The Beach Boys Surfin Safari record

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The Beach Boys' album cover for their record "Surfin' Safari."

"Surfin’ Safari,” the Beach Boys (1962)

Any number of Beach Boys tunes would fill the bill as classic summer fare. This 1962 hit, an invitation to hit the waves, has all their hallmarks: a catchy beat, smooth harmonies and spirited lyrics.

"(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave,” Martha Reeves and the Vandellas (1963)

Written by the legendary Motown songwriting team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland, the sizzling song was inspired by a Detroit heat wave.

"Under the Boardwalk,” the Drifters (1964)

On their sequel to Up on the Roof, the Drifters sing about a Coney Island tryst. It still tops every version that followed, including covers by the Rolling Stones, Bette Midler and John Mellencamp.

"Summer in the City,” the Lovin’ Spoonful (1966)

Jackhammers and car horns blare on this rock tune about crowded, muggy New York City, the band's home. It was released on July 4 and topped the charts in August.

"Hot Fun in the Summertime,” Sly and the Family Stone (1969)

The San Francisco funk ensemble released this soulful summer jam shortly after appearing at Woodstock, boosting its chart performance.

"School's Out,” Alice Cooper (1972)

The shock rocker's rebellious anthem cheers the end of school and proudly bellows, “We got no class, and we got no principals.”

"Rockaway Beach,” the Ramones (1977)

The punk band's escapist classic takes listeners from the sticky concrete jungle to the public beach of their native Queens, New York.


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Olivia Newton John and John Travolta on the beach in the film Grease

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Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta on the beach in a scene from the film "Grease."

“Summer Nights,” Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta (1978)

Danny and Sandy swap contradictory memories of their romance on the buoyant pop tune from the musical Grease.

“Sweet Summer Lovin’ ,” Dolly Parton (1979)

“Sweet summer lovin’ keeps me high as candy wine,” the country queen sings in the light, unabashed love song included on her Great Balls of Fire album.

“Vacation,” the Go-Gos (1982)

Infectious, lively and a bit mindless, “Vacation” is the perfect escape from workday drudgery. At No. 8, it was the L.A. new wave band’s second-highest-charting single.

“Boys of Summer,” Don Henley (1984)

Eagles singer Don Henley’s solo hit about lost innocence, with guitar by cowriter Mike Campbell, is simultaneously dreamy, biting and doleful.

“Summertime,” DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince (1991)

Duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince (pre-Hollywood Will Smith) tout the bliss of the beach season in an upbeat rap number that samples Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness.”

“Island in the Sun,” Weezer (2001)

The L.A. alternative-rock band’s mellow power-pop tune was the second single from their self-titled 2001 album, produced by the Cars’ Ric Ocasek.

“Soak Up the Sun,” Sheryl Crow (2002)

The catchy pop single from Crow’s C’mon, C’mon album, featuring backing vocals by Liz Phair, shimmers with light and cheer.


“At the Beach,” Avett Brothers (2004)

The North Carolina folk rock band sing about sand and the ocean with joyous longing: “Summer, summer, summer, time to help us forget, nine to fives, we have got to leave all that behind.”

“Girl,” Beck (2005)

The second single from Beck’s Guero album is a buzzy acoustic love song that combines serious romance with a sense of frivolity.

“California Gurls,” Katy Perry (2010)

This playful, frothy party jam from the pop star’s third studio album, Teenage Dream, features rapper Snoop Dogg.

“Summertime Sadness,” Lana Del Rey (2012)

The title says it all. The singer-songwriter milks melancholy and melodrama from an ethereal plaint that explores the season’s moodier side.

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