10 Essential Summer Albums

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10 Essential Summer Albums

We’re sweating without moving, drinking more cold ones during the daytime, and all of a sudden a lot more self-conscious about the extra holiday pounds we meant to shed back when we made those New Year’s resolutions, but didn’t. It must be summer. And whether we’re ready for swimsuit season or not, we’re pretty excited anyway — simply for the joys of being able to blast our favorite summer jams. It gets a little more complicated when you start to discuss great summer albums. That’s a subtle blend of accessibility, tempo, nostalgia, energy and ability to motivate oneself to haul ass down the beach. It’s not a science — it’s an art. And we’re working on feelings rather than measurements for this one. But we’ve tested them, seen how they perform along the coast, in a convertible or at a party. These summer albums get our stamp of approval; don’t forget your sunscreen.

Beach Boys Pet Sounds review

The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds

(1966; Capitol)

The Beach Boys are essential summer listening; few other groups have been able to capture a feeling so joyful and carefree in two-minute installments as they have. But Pet Sounds? It’s so melancholy and baroque, angsty and arty. Which is why it’s here, actually. In some ways, it’s actually a perfect summer album even before you get into the complex emotional content — just take a look the exotica instrumentals, the San Diego Zoo album cover, and “Sloop John B,” which is a song about sailing (“the worst trip I’ve ever been on” but still). In some ways, summer is a melancholy season, simply because of its impermanence, and how quickly good things fade away. And Pet Sounds is, in a manner of speaking, an album about uncertainty and the hesitation to face up to the inevitable. “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” is romantic and buoyant, but with the subtext that in asking “Wouldn’t it be nice?“, Brian Wilson is implicitly suggesting it’s actually not going to end up that way. “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)” has a lingering sadness beneath its tender facade. And “God Only Knows,” well, it begins with “I may not always love you,” in case you needed a reminder of the bargain that inevitably comes with loving someone. But the thing is, the album is achingly gorgeous. It sounds like summer—a tear-soaked one paralyzed by fear, perhaps, but a memorable and beautiful summer all the same. – JT

best summer albums Zombies

The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle

(1968; CBS)

More than 45 years after the fact, “Time of the Season” has become a summer staple — an anthem of sorts. It has that carefree, loose feel and sexy bite to it that just screams late nights and infidelity. This is — for many — the only recognizable song from The Zombies’ rather sporadic back catalogue. And that’s a shame, considering the 11 other pocket-pop symphonies that make up this baroque masterpiece are all forces to be reckoned with. Fresh-out-of-prison narrative “Care of Cell 44” has a jovial, exuberant way about it that few songs have ever managed to recreate. “Butcher’s Tale,” on the other hand, is one for the night, a passionate anti-war tune that uses a butcher as a metaphor for the atrocities in Vietnam. “Beechwood Park” is summertime encapsulated, an organ, dripping with nostalgic overtones, guides the song on which Colin Blunstone sings about a “golden summer sun,” “the sound of laughter in our ears” and “counting the evening stars.” Odessey and Oracle acts as a comprehensive look at what makes summer the most adored season of the year. It is a time capsule of sorts, one that refuses to be forgotten, and one you’ll be spinning all summer long. – GS

best summer albums Abba

ABBA – Arrival

(Polar; 1976)

Say what you will about euro-pop, disco, or singing groups in general; I triple-dog dare you to spin “Dancing Queen” without tapping your foot and cracking a smile. The Swedish mega-hit-makers scaled the summit of ’70s pop for one reason: They have a combination of optimistic cheer and pure musical talent that hit strong enough to crack even the hardest badass. On 1976’s Arrival, the band was at their peak. You already know “Dancing Queen,” but there’s a lot more here in the way of charming euro-pop. The folk-influenced title track, the sweet-yet-angular “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” the sassier “Money, Money, Money,” and six other stellar tunes. So go ahead. Indulge, a little. Slap on your sparkliest sequin outfit and give the hustle a try in the privacy of your bedroom. Or even in your front yard. It’s summer: your audacity will be forgiven—appreciated even. – ATB

linda lindas growing up review

Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady

(1979; IRS)

Every summer is pop-punk season for an ample number of teenagers thanks to Warped Tour, but contrary to popular belief, pop-punk wasn’t invented in Southern California. Nope — you can thank Manchester’s Buzzcocks for slapping punk’s manic energy with bubblegum hooks. And it’s basically as perfect as pop gets, just a hell of a lot louder. Singles Going Steady collects most of the band’s early 7-inch tracks (though interestingly enough, not the Spiral Scratch EP), and if there’s a finer soundtrack for tearing ass out of the high school parking lot into three months of reckless leisure, I certainly haven’t found it. “What Do I Get?” is all nervous energy and giddy execution, “Ever Fallen in Love” is sing-along hook euphoria, and “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” is jittery dancefloor fodder. It turns out you don’t have to live next door to the Pacific coast to make the perfect soundtrack for visiting it. – JT

De La Soul Buhloone Mindstate

De La Soul – Buhloone Mind State

(1993; Tommy Boy)

By 1993, De La Soul were fed up with rap music. They had been successful with their groundbreaking debut, 3 Feet High And Rising and when the D.A.I.S.Y. backlash arrived, they bounced back with the satirical and brilliant De La Soul Is Dead. Those two albums positioned De La Soul as hip-hop’s weird stepchild. They went against the trend of gangsta rap and rejected the hippie label — so what exactly were De La? At the time it was released, Buhloone Mindstate was the opposite sound of the contemporary hip-hop trends injected into the mainstream. “Long Island Wildin’” features a Japanese rap from Scha Dara Parr and Takagi Kan, which threw many fans and critics for a loop, only further proving how contrasting the group could be to their contemporaries. Simply put, the direction of the group wasn’t clear, but the content they produced was nothing short of phenomenal. Featuring a few guest spots from Guru (“PattiDooke), Biz Markie (“Stone Age”), and jazz great Maceo Parker (“I Be Blowin’”), Buhloone Mindstate is littered with an assortment of colorful performances and refreshing production from Prince Paul — his final collaboration with the group. Buhloone Mindstate was a transitional piece for the group, allowing them to reinvent themselves and remain an unstoppable alternative entity in hip-hop. – GM

Smashing Pumpkins

Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream

(1993; Virgin)

Maybe it’s the ice-cream-truck road-trip video for “Today.” Maybe it’s the memory of hearing the opening snare rattle and massive chug of chords on “Cherub Rock” in heavy rotation during the summer of 1993. Or maybe it’s because it’s the first thing I listened to after returning from sixth grade camp, but I can’t separate Siamese Dream from summer. Nor would I want to; this is an album of angst and torment in parts, certainly, but it’s all expressed with such joy and boundless energy that whatever baggage Billy Corgan & Co. carried into and out of it, I still can’t hear it without a smile forming on my face. It helps that Corgan borrowed liberally from some of rock music’s biggest and brightest bands of yesteryear, like Led Zeppelin, who likewise represent the perennial sound of summer — at least most of their albums anyway. Siamese Dream is music that sounds and feels alive—whether you’re taking advantage of the sunshine or just wasting the idle hours doing nothing in particular, hearing this album will make it feel like time well spent. – JT

best summer albums Animal Collective

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

(2009; Domino)

Merriweather Post Pavilion is a barefoot walk through the summer woods, at night, on psychedelics. It’s sitting around the campfire and letting the smoke sting your eyes, then looking up through the treetops at the stars in the night sky. It’s running with your brothers and sisters through your yard, catching fireflies while your parents watch you from the front porch. True, Animal Collective’s eighth and best album is a great listen at any time of the year, but the sparkling production best evokes a summer spent in the woods (or in the flowers), maybe falling in love (“Summertime Clothes”), or finally taking time to just breathe (“No More Runnin”). Just listen to it see if you can’t smell the pine needles.- SP

best summer albums Best Coast

Best Coast – Crazy for You

(2010; Mexican Summer)

There are certain things that are quintessential to summer, and Best Coast’s debut album, Crazy for You, packs them all in 31 minutes. It’s an album to be listened to on long, sunny car rides to the beach, each song generously peppered with oohs and aahs that give them a double-scoop of dreaminess. The fuzzy, Wall of Sound melodies and lazy, Shangri-Las-style vocals that seem to float on a gentle breeze (or puff of weed smoke) only add to the melancholy sweetness that punctuates the record as a whole. And let’s not forget the almost embarrassingly earnest, Dear Diary-style lyrics. They’re filled with the pains and excitement of having a sanity-wrecking crush on a cute boy that may or may reciprocate your feelings (“I wish he was my boyfriend/I’d love him to the very end/But instead he is just a friend/I wish he was my boyfriend”). Seriously, deep this album is not. But who needs deep, man? It’s summertime. Crazy for You is the perfect soundtrack to having a bitchin’ summer before heading to 11th grade, even when you’re 30 and way too old to be making out with a total babe your parents disapprove of. But you can play this album and picture that dreamy make out sesh while you’re sitting at your desk working like a boring adult. Growing up sucks. – AZ

Kendrick Lamar - good kid maad city

Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city

(2012; Top Dawg/Interscope)

With good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Kendrick gifted 2012 and every backyard barbecue, porch hangout and cruise through the city that would subsequently happen therein after for all eternity an album that can be played in its entirety and everyone will rap along (the white folks awkwardly skipping over the n-words, obviously). It’s arguably the first rap album that epitomizes West Coast summer since Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, crossing the social and racial divides with every smooth hook, clever rhyme and overarching chillness. It’s notable that both Dre and Kendrick are from Compton; it’s as though the mic torch has been passed on, Kendrick seeming to have inherited Dre’s laid back delivery and a penchant for keeping the vibe cool. Dre even lends a few verses on a song appropriately titled “Compton,” on which the chorus rings, “Compton/Compton/ain’t no city quite like mine.”

Not that you have to be a Comptonite to appreciate this essential album—it’s just so damn chill. Each track is like a summer activity merit badge: getting faded by a pool (“Swimming Pools (Drank)”); catching some shade (“Money Trees”); and a desire to cool out without drama (“Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”). There is little-to-no histrionics on the album as a whole which makes it stand out against the blinding flash the rapper’s contemporaries often fall back on. (Ahem, Lil Wayne.) Even when Kendrick ventures into the cash ‘n’ hoes territory so prevalent in rap, he does it in a way that’s so nonchalant you’d think he was old money. When that third track, “Backseat Freestyle,” comes in though, you’re like oh fuuuuuck. It’s a head-bobbing jam that expounds his dreams of money and power and having a “wifey, girlfriend and mistress” to help him enjoy those luxuries. Just like the good Dr. King (“Martin had a dream“). Never have I ever wanted to own a dick as big as the Eiffel Tower so I could fuck the world for 72 hours, but Kendrick Lamar makes it sound kind of awesome. While some might prefer their rap loud and covered in chinchilla fur coats, Kendrick Lamar brought the game back to Southern California’s laid-back summer style. That’s just how I feel. – AZ

best summer albums Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

(2012; Def Jam)

We love summer because it offers us an escape from the routine of the rest of the year, allowing us to retreat from our jobs and studies in favor of the comforts of the beach. It’s intoxicating, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange seems to suggest, mollifying us in an almost narcotic way. “Don’t know why see the world when you’ve got the beach,” he sings on “Sweet Life,” and it’s hard for us to argue. It’s a perpetually sun-dappled album, from the glowing swell of “Sierra Leone” to the tropical bounce of hidden track “Golden Girl.” The characters of Channel Orange have latched onto that feeling, unwilling to let go even when it vanishes and they’re left in freefall (“Super Rich Kids”). It’s a mesmerizing celebration and examination of our summertime culture, providing us with relaxing summer vibes while quietly cautioning against overdosing on them. – SP

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