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Songs of Summer | The Last 50 Years

A Look Back at the Defining Summer Music Since 1966

By Nathan Wahl ·
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It’s one week until Memorial Day.

So it’s officially time we discussed the song of summer.

Join us as we look back at the last 50 years of summer songs—which we’re defining as the tune that spent the longest at #1 on the Billboard charts during the summer of a given year. We analyzed each song by beats per minute, compiled its most common lyrics and established the feeling it evokes as determined by our dauntless colleagues.

What was learned?

That maybe BPM doesn’t have bearing over a song’s chance at being “the one.” Though it was notably slower in the ’90s. (Ugh. The ’90s.)

That the most sung words of the last half century of summer songs were “baby” and “love.” Which, sure, we could have guessed.

That we never want to hear “Bette Davis Eyes” again.

Anything else? No?

Get to it, then.


1966–1975

Year: 1966
Song: “Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful
BPM: 110
Weeks at #1: August 13–August 27
Most used words: City, Summer, Night
Evokes: Oscillating fans; that damn landlord who better fix this air-conditioning.

Year: 1967
Song: “Windy” by the Association
BPM: 133
Weeks at #1: July 1–July 22
Most used words: Windy, Cloud, Above
Evokes: Driving with the top down along the coast; every Wendy you’ve ever met.

Year: 1968
Song: “People Got to Be Free” by the Rascals
BPM: 126
Weeks at #1: August 17–September 14
Most used words: Free, See, People
Evokes: High fives; teamwork; Schoolhouse Rock.

Year: 1969
Song: “In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)” by Zager & Evans
BPM: 125
Weeks at #1: July 12–August 16
Most used words: Year, Gonna, Man
Evokes: Space; acid flashbacks; oddly, the year 1969.

Year: 1970
Song: “(They Long to Be) Close to You” by the Carpenters
BPM: 89
Weeks at #1: July 25–August 15
Most used words: Close, Long, Just
Evokes: Rowing on a glistening lake in a faded dream sequence.

Year: 1971
Song: “It’s Too Late”/“I Feel the Earth Move” by Carole King
BPM: 112
Weeks at #1: June 19–July 17
Most used words: Feel, Down, Tumbling
Evokes: Your first time; the San Andreas Fault.

Year: 1972
Song: “Alone Again (Naturally)” by Gilbert O’Sullivan
BPM: 86
Weeks at #1: July 29–August 19
Most used words: Alone, Again, Naturally
Evokes: Your first breakup; going stag to a sock hop; “combing your hair” in the bathroom.

Year: 1973
Song: “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce
BPM: 148
Weeks at #1: July 21–July 28
Most used words: Leroy, Bad, Brown
Evokes: A sea of kids partying on summer break parting to make way for the school badass.

Year: 1974
Song: “(You’re) Having My Baby” by Paul Anka and Odia Coates
BPM: 75
Weeks at #1: August 24–September 7
Most used words: Love, Baby, Having
Evokes: Staying home from school and watching Maury.

Year: 1975
Song: “Love Will Keep Us Together” by Captain & Tennille
BPM: 130
Weeks at #1: June 21–July 12
Most used words: Love, Stop, Keep
Evokes: Sailor hats; jumpsuits; ’70s variety shows.

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1976–1985

Year: 1976
Song: “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee
BPM: 131
Weeks at #1: August 7–August 28
Most used words: Go, Heart, Breaking
Evokes: Transistor radios at the beach; basement dance parties; the heyday of Elton John’s eyewear.

Year: 1977
Song: “Best of My Love” by the Emotions
BPM: 115
Weeks at #1: August 20–September 10
Most used words: Love, Oh, Whoa
Evokes: Boogie Nights; light-up dance floors.

Year: 1978
Song: “Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibb
BPM: 102
Weeks at #1: June 17–July 29
Most used words: Shadow, Dancing, Through
Evokes: Feathered hair; California; silk shirts and white suits.

Year: 1979
Song: “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer
BPM: 120
Weeks at #1: July 14–August 11
Most used words: Toot, Beep, Girl
Evokes: Dark alleys; hot nights; leopard prints.

Year: 1980
Song: “Magic” by Olivia Newton-John
BPM: 104
Weeks at #1: August 2–August 23
Most used words: I’ll, Magic, Believe
Evokes: Oversize blazers with shoulder pads.

Year: 1981
Song: “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes
BPM: 117
Weeks at #1: May 16–June 13, June 27–July 18
Most used words: She’ll, Davis, Bette
Evokes: Black-and-white movies; sultry stares; that lunch lady with the husky cigarette voice.

Year: 1982
Song: “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor
BPM: 109
Weeks at #1: July 24–August 28
Most used words: Eye, Tiger, Rising
Evokes: Getting ready for work even though you definitely want to call in sick.

Year: 1983
Song: “Every Breath You Take” by the Police
BPM: 117
Weeks at #1: July 9–August 27
Most used words: Every, I’ll, Watch
Evokes: That drunken mistake you just can’t seem to get rid of no matter how hard you try.

Year: 1984
Song: “When Doves Cry” by Prince
BPM: 127
Weeks at #1: July 7–August 4
Most used words: Cry, Dove, Just
Evokes: The color purple, but not The Color Purple.

Year: 1985
Song: “Shout” by Tears for Fears
BPM: 98
Weeks at #1: August 3–August 17
Most used words: Come, Shout, Without
Evokes: Letting it out. All of it. Whatever “it” is.

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1986–1995

Year: 1986
Song: “Papa Don’t Preach” by Madonna
BPM: 122
Weeks at #1: August 16–August 23
Most used words: Papa, Baby, Keep
Evokes: A disappointed pastor.

Year: 1987
Song: “Alone” by Heart
BPM: 88
Weeks at #1: July 11–July 25
Most used words: Alone, How, Get
Evokes: Romance scenes from any ’80s movie.

Year: 1988
Song: “Roll with It” by Steve Winwood
BPM: 117
Weeks at #1: July 30–August 20
Most used words: Baby, Roll, Just
Evokes: The heyday of “dad rock.”

Year: 1989
Song: “Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx
BPM: 89
Weeks at #1: August 12–August 26
Most used words: Waiting, Whatever, Go
Evokes: The slowest of slow dances.

Year: 1990
Song: “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey
BPM: 103
Weeks at #1: August 4–August 25
Most used words: Love, Vision, Given
Evokes: Fedoras and oversize vests.

Year: 1991
Song: “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” by Bryan Adams
BPM: 131
Weeks at #1: July 27–September 7
Most used words: Yeah, Tell, Can’t
Evokes: Montage-y music videos at sunset.

Year: 1992
Song: “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot
BPM: 128
Weeks at #1: July 4–August 1
Most used words: Want, Butt, Baby
Evokes: Baby oil in place of sunscreen.

Year: 1993
Song: “(I Can’t Help) Falling in Love with You” by UB40
BPM: 86
Weeks at #1: July 24–September 4
Most used words: Fall, Help, Can’t
Evokes: British Jamaicans.

Year: 1994
Song: “I Swear” by All-4-One
BPM: 83
Weeks at #1: May 21–July 30
Most used words: I’ll, Swear, Heart
Evokes: The wedding song you never wanted.

Year: 1995
Song: “Waterfalls” by TLC
BPM: 86
Weeks at #1: July 8–August 19
Most used words: Go, Know, River
Evokes: Thinking you’re cool because you memorized Left Eye’s rap.

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1996–2005

Year: 1996
Song: “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)” by Los Del Rio
BPM: 103
Weeks at #1: August 3–November 2
Most used words: Macarena, Cuerpo, Alegria
Evokes: Bad wedding dances; ’90s spring break trips; “The Song that Never Ends.”

Year: 1997
Song: “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans featuring 112
BPM: 110
Weeks at #1: June 14–August 23
Most used words: Every, Day, Can’t
Evokes: Overhearing the radio from just about every passing car on any New York street in the summer of ’97.

Year: 1998
Song: “The Boy Is Mine” by Brandy and Monica
BPM: 93
Weeks at #1: June 6–August 29
Most used words: Mine, Know, Boy
Evokes: Brandy. Remember Brandy?

Year: 1999
Song: “Genie in a Bottle” by Christina Aguilera
BPM: 88
Weeks at #1: July 31–August 28
Most used words: Baby, Come, Bottle
Evokes: Nothing sexual. Only platonic thoughts since Aguilera was so young.

Year: 2000
Song: “Bent” by Matchbox Twenty
BPM: 95
Week at #1: July 22
Most used words: Bent, Get, Just
Evokes: Angsty days into angsty nights.

Year: 2001
Song: “U Remind Me” by Usher
BPM: 94
Weeks at #1: July 7–July 28
Most used words: See, Knew, Look
Evokes: Caribbean steel drums. Only sexier.

Year: 2002
Song: “Hot in Herre” by Nelly
BPM: 107
Weeks at #1: June 29–August 10
Most used words: Hot, Off, Take
Evokes: A sticky summer dance party that’s too crowded but you just don’t care.

Year: 2003
Song: “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé featuring Jay Z
BPM: 99
Weeks at #1: July 12–August 30
Most used words: Oh, Uh, Crazy
Evokes: Trying to do that butt thing.

Year: 2004
Song: “Confessions Part II” by Usher
BPM: 138
Weeks at #1: July 24–July 31
Most used words: Confession, Know, Tell
Evokes: Things Usher should have saved for his journal.

Year: 2005
Song: “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey
BPM: 140
Weeks at #1: June 4–June 25, July 9–September 10
Most used words: Baby, Together, Gonna
Evokes: Nick Cannon. Really? Really?

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2006–2015

Year: 2006
Song: “Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland
BPM: 114
Weeks at #1: July 8–August 12
Most used words: Get, Promiscuous, Girl
Evokes: Your wild oats.

Year: 2007
Song: “Umbrella” by Rihanna featuring Jay Z
BPM: 87
Weeks at #1: June 9–July 21
Most used words: Eh, Ella, Rain
Evokes: Onomatopoeia as lyrics.

Year: 2008
Song: “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry
BPM: 130
Weeks at #1: July 5–August 16
Most used words: Girl, Kissed, Like
Evokes: Your experimental phase; cherry ChapStick.

Year: 2009
Song: “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas
BPM: 128
Weeks at #1: July 11–October 10
Most used words: Good, Night, Tonight
Evokes: Noon on the first day of Summer Fridays.

Year: 2010
Song: “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem featuring Rihanna
BPM: 125
Weeks at #1: July 31–September 11
Most used words: Love, Way, Lie
Evokes: The thought that Eminem should definitely seek therapy.

Year: 2011
Song: “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO
BPM: 130
Weeks at #1: July 16–August 20
Most used words: Put, Hands, Just
Evokes: Drugs you shouldn’t do; lights that shouldn’t flash so much; hangovers.

Year: 2012
Song: “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen
BPM: 120
Weeks at #1: June 23–August 18
Most used words: Bad, Call, Maybe
Evokes: Viral videos; indecisiveness.

Year: 2013
Song: “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke
BPM: 120
Weeks at #1: June 22–September 7
Most used words: Hey, Get, Want
Evokes: Inappropriate touching; “Maybe don’t.”

Year: 2014
Song: “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX
BPM: 95
Weeks at #1: June 7–July 19
Most used words: I-G-G-Y, Fancy, Money
Evokes: The outback; iguanas, for some reason.

Year: 2015
Song: “Cheerleader” by Omi
BPM: 118
Weeks at #1: July 25–August 25
Most used words: Need, Think, Right
Evokes: A literal cheerleader, which was not the point, probably.

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Nathan Wahl watched a lot of Roseanne growing up and wonders how much bearing that has on who he is as a person now.

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