The 10 Best Summer Albums


Beach Boys Summer Fun

Editor’s Note: This list was originally published in 2012, but works for any hot day, regardless of year.

So here we are, deep into this relentlessly hot and sticky summer of 2012, and hopefully you are enjoying it as much as we are. It’s the time of the year for swimming pools and popsicles, baseball and biking, and sweating your ass off not matter what, no matter where. Thus we bring you our favorite albums to accompany such occasions. What makes a summer album you ask? In our opinion it is somewhat upbeat, but not overly so. Something that you can groove too whether you’re too hot to do so or not. Since I was a young lad, Austin was only knee high to a grasshopper, and Wes was just a Pooh-cub scrounging for honey, there have always been these certain songs, artist, and albums that have always left their impression on our young summers. So we decided to list out some of our favorites. Making a particularly strong appearance are some favorites from the nineties. We aren’t really sure why, but I suppose some nineties artist just really know how to set the tone for a particular summer mood. Please feel free to tell us what does it for you …

10. Kings of Leon – Aha Shake Heartbreak
Kings of Leon album cover for Aha Shake
Before Kings of Leon began there Bono tribute phase, they used to have a full on Americana rock vibe that left a pretty country summer-esque taste in your mouth. When I listen to this album I can go through a wide variety of scenarios in my head, from fishing on a country back road pond, to drinking on the beach, or an outdoor summer party. In every case the common theme is clearly summer. We have taken quite a few jabs at these guys in the past, but all only in hopes that the Followill clan will eventually return to this phase instead of whining about getting shat on by a few birds.

9. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique
album cover for beastie boys pauls boutique
Just a few weeks ago you could find me pacing the streets blasting this album from my iPhone as I hauled it on my shoulder like a 90’s boom box.

Abraham Lincoln Boom Box
Due to the fact I look exactly like ole honest Abe, I’d say it looked something like this ^ … only without the beard, the suit, and if you replaced the boom box with an iPhone.

If that doesn’t scream summer vibes than I just don’t know what does. If you read us consistently, you are probably getting weary of the LxL gush over this album. But what can we say, it fits the bill for almost any occasion. Probably because it’s so jammed-packed with samples from all walks of music that it just has to work out that way. To be fair, almost any Beastie’s album could fit the bill for this list, but we are clearly biased for ole Paul’s Boutique.

8. M.I.A. – Kala
album cover art for mia kala
Remember four years ago when “Paper Planes” was the soundtrack to everyone’s summer? … Remember how in 2012 is still is? … ’nuff said!

7. T. Rex – Electric Warrior
album cover art for t rex electric warrior
Personally, this is among my favorite albums of all time. This is largely due to the fact that I used to cruise around in my Jeep on those hot summer days blasting tracks like “Mambo Sun”, “Life’s A Gas”, and of course, “Jeepster”. T. Rex’s guitar tone was a true signature original tone, that has been copied many times, but never replicated. This tone also seems to set the groove just right for any summer mood whether your cruising in your Jeep, having a party, or taking a hot date to the drive-in picture show for some necking.

6. Beck – Odelay
album cover art for Beck - Odelay
Thick surf-rock guitar tones, melodramatic vocals, and “two turn tables and a microphone” … what else does summer feel like? Get this album going at your pool party and right about “Novacane”, things will start to get real weird. Some consider this album to be Beck’s “magnum opus”. It’s certainly perfect in many ways, and still hasn’t aged a bit.

5. A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
cover art for the album A Tribe Called Quest - Peoples Instinctive Travels
Similar to Paul’s Boutique, there is something about samples in hip hop that just seem to scream summer. This album has some of the best use of sampling in hip hop history and additionally, you have Q-Tip just spitting venom all over the place in almost every track. Q-Tip has never fallen off his game, but this was certainly a huge height for him. And as far as samples go, everyone from Beasties to Kanye owe Tribe a debt of gratitude. Not that they invented it, but they did take it to a whole new level.

4. Sublime – Sublime
cover art for the album Sublime - Sublime
Point blank, Sublime had to be on this list. Hardly anything feels like a groovy summer evening more than some reggae rock bass lines and Bradley Nowell’s unique brand of Spanglish vocals. When discussing which Sublime album to put on the list, Austin read the track listings of all the albums. As far as 90’s singsongs, creative hits, and just an all-around great album, this one had to be chosen. It looks like a track listing to a greatest hits album, and you will be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know half of these tracks completely by heart. It’s catchy, it’s funky, its groovy, it’s fun …. it’s summer.

3. Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life
cover art for the album Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life

Two discs of pure summer bliss, Stevie’s Songs in the Key of Life has that sunny, life-affirming sound that just sounds true. By the time you get to disc two, and you have already heard “Love’s In Need of Love Today”, “Sir Duke”, “I Wish”, “Summer Soft”, and “Past Time Paradise”, you can’t believe there is another disc of absolute classics, perfect for the sunniest of summer days.

2. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication
cover art for the album Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication
The summer of ’99 felt like it was yesterday … mostly because I did nothing else but listen to this album from June to September (only alongside the single I purchased of “Scar Tissue” that featured another awesome Chili Peppers B-Side (“Gong-Li”) from that era. Chili Peppers are another band that we tend to not show a lot of love too only because of the recent changes made with the band. Rest assured, that doesn’t mean that haven’t ever, and won’t always hold a truly special place in our heart. “Californication” is widely hailed as one of their best albums, and in our opinion that may be up for debate … however, it does fit the bill for a pitch perfect summer album.

1. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
album cover art for Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

Pretty impossible to argue. We actually debated including the rereleased Smile instead because of just how great it is, but ultimately, the most deserving Pet Sounds won out. Beach Boys sing about just about everything to do with summer – cars, girls, beaches, surfing – but on Pet Sounds, you get some of that mixed with a lot of reflective Brian Wilson, which actually in many ways makes this song better for laying out on the beach thinking than actually playing around on the beach. Other way, the sound, the harmonies, the words, it’s simply synonymous with the summer season.
The “just missed our list” list …

Wes: Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, The Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle
cover art for the album Bruce Springsteen - Wild and Innocent and the E String Shuffle

Springsteen’s sophomore effort is about fun and lively as it gets. Maybe not summer on the beach, but Fourth of July in the park, going to the circus, and hitting the city at night. Plus, “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” is probably worth of a spot on this list just on its own back.

Austin: Jimmy Buffett – Songs You Know By Heart
cover art for the album Jimmy Buffett - Songs You Know By Heart

Austin lives two very different lives – one as a Deadhead, and the other, more hidden one, as a Parrothead. Wes and I could not promote Jimmy Buffet in any fashion, but Austin does have a point in saying anyone who invented the “Island music” genre is probably pretty fit for the summer.

Todd: Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
cover art for Alabama Shakes - Boys and Girls
This one is a bit of a “heat of the moment” pick. Not only is it a big hit on everyone’s playlist this summer, and never mind that I just saw them perform a fantastic set and Bonnaroo, or the fact that most tracks on the album sound like they could be on the soundtrack to The Sandlot (which we all know is a perfect depiction of the American summer). The thing that drove me to this pick was the fact that last Saturday, while attending one of my best friends fourth of July party, I had a perfect moment with this album. Most of my dearest friends, after a long day of fun, food, games, and drinks … still drinking away as we all went for a midnight swim whilst Brittany and her cronies set the tone perfectly for our summer night in the background. A night for the ages as “they” say.

So there is the list. Let us know what we unforgivably missed, or got right, but still feel free to just rip on us in general …

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Author: Todd

I dig musics ...

15 thoughts on “The 10 Best Summer Albums”

  1. Could not agree more with your stance on KOL. Why the heck did they all the sudden decide to become whining babybithces, I will never know. Aha Shake Heartbreak please come back to that! I also must say yay that Pet Sounds was your number 1. One of my most cherished albums of all time, hands down. I would have added Rubber Soul and Abbey Road to my list.

    1. I think Rubber Soul is fitting, but I do think Abbey Road has its dark sides that make it less fitting for summer. I think of spring for the Beatles, but it is all subjective.

      1. I agree with it being a little dark. It just reminds me of jammin in my car on a summer night.

    1. Thanks for the reblog. I think early Kings is really great rock and roll and a lot of people take some time to get into Springsteen, but once you do, you get hooked.

  2. Great list. I’d recommend tossing some Ventures into the playlist, as no summer is complete without some genuine Surf Rock. Have to agree though, T. Rex rules. I’ll rock some Slider or Electric Warrior any day.

    1. Yea, we thought about some surf rock but I don’t think any of us know any surf rock albums too well. We also thought reggae is super fitting but had a hard time deciding on Marley’s best album or Jimmy Cliff, and we didn’t want to include a greatest hits.

      1. Oh yeah, tough call. Ventures “Walk, Don’t Run.” Classic surf circa 1960. It’s hard to say, because would the best Bob Marley album really be the best summer album? With Jimmy Cliff, all I can think of is “The Harder They Come,” which again is an awesome album, but it is it summer worthy? The trials and tribulations of Top Ten lists…

  3. Like the list. My favourite Kings of Leon is still, by a long shot, the first, Youth and Young Manhood. The first three tracks are some of the best rock’n’roll I know. As for favourite summer albums, it’s hard to get away from Bob Marley, who is played in every beach bar in the world. As you are banning greatest hits, then I guess I would go for Natty Dread or Exodus. Some of the later Steely Dan like Two Against Nature or Everything Must Go have that breezy quality for summer – or Donald Fagen’s solo stuff. And there’s a great poppy surf rock album by an Irish band called the Thrills, titled So Much For City, from a few year back. My kids used to enjoying singing along to it in the car. And finally, Van Morrison lifts the spirits in any season – Moondance makes a nice summer soundtrack.

    1. John, sorry for lateness in my reply. I just checked out The Thrills, and you are spot on with them. Moondance is a great summer album as well. Summer evenings actually, that is a good one to wind down with I feel like. Also, I highly respect your outlook regarding your Kings of Leon preference. One thing that I have always been curious about is how the UK seemed to catch on to the Kings before US did. I feel like it took the majorities here a long time to catch up on the Kings whilst you fellas were already on board after the first album. The funny thing to me is that they seem like such an Americana band. Especially in the early days. Any thoughts on this? Thanks!

      1. Todd, I have to give credit to our our premier music paper, the NME – New Musical Express – here. I’ve been reading it since 1974. Always has its finger on the pulse of new music. Alerts you to bands, then you can check them out and decide if you like them. King of Leon were a classic example. NME really got behind them and that is why I bought the first album. It’s like having a friend who just knows about everything. As I progress into my fifties I don’t find quite as many of the NME recommendations hitting my spot, but it’s still my best source for new albums. As well as blogs like yours of course! If you’ve not seen it, worth checking the NME website.

      2. KOL’s not alone in that, Todd. A lot of blues in the ’50s and ’60s largely ignored in the States resonated well with the UK crowd.

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