If you’re the sort of person who likes frolicking in the sun, summer days are ace. If, conversely, you’re the sort of person who’s given to hunching beside the AC and occasionally peeking out the window to see if the streets have caught fire, the daylight hours between June and August are no fun at all. Either way, though, summer evenings are kinda great — half the time it’s too hot to sleep, but it’s perfect for sitting out on a stoop/rooftop/porch with your friends, drinking beer and listening to some suitably mellow tunes. With that in mind, we’ve got you covered for a soundtrack — here’s our selection of great songs for lazy summer evenings, along with a Spotify playlist.
Grandaddy — “Collective Dreamwish of Upperclass Elegance”
Officially your correspondent’s all-time favorite sitting-on-the-porch-and-drinking-beer song. It captures the atmosphere we’re looking for here perfectly, from the lazy drum beat and the weird loop that sounds like some sort of dragonfly buzzing past your head to Jason Lytle’s lazy acoustic strumming and his lyrics, which speak of dodging a trip into town to sit drinking beer and playing guitar.
Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood — “Summer Wine”
Nancy and Lee pretty much define the word “bittersweet,” with the former falling on the sweet side of the equation, while the latter has the bitter covered just fine. It’s a word that also applies to this song, right down to the recipe for the summer wine itself: strawberries, cherries and an angel’s kiss in spring. (Of course Lana Del Rey has done a cover of this.)
Blur — “Beetlebum”
It’s actually about heroin, but shit, there’s something about opiate music that’s just perfect for laid-back summer nights. It’s the lazy 90bpm tempo, I think, and the suitably narcotized atmosphere of it all. Still, just stick to the beer, eh?
Woods — “Be All Be Easy”
Woods have made a career out of making the sort of music that captures the ambivalence of the summer months. As the title suggests, their 2011 album Sun and Shade is an entire record that seems to explore this theme, and as such pretty much any of its songs would fit beautifully onto this playlist. But let’s go with this one, which sits very nicely between “Beetlebum” and…
Beasts of Bourbon — “Ride On”
You could also go for the AC/DC original, of course, but there’s something even more compelling about this cover of the Bon Scott-era classic. It’s somehow seamier than the uncharacteristically restrained, bluesy flavors of the AC/DC version — if the former sounds like something you’d listen to alone on the side of a road, this is something you’d hear in a steamy little venue on a night when it’s too hot to sleep.
Pixies — “Ana”
A simple pleasure from Bossanova. This is Pixies at their most understated, and a weird piece of music where the same chord progression repeats several times, rotating up and down a half step with each verse. (Also, interesting fact: the lyric is an acrostic where the first letter of each line spells out the word “SURFER.”)
Super Furry Animals — “Blerwytirhwng?”
No, I don’t speak Welsh, so I have no idea what this song is about. At all. But it’s perfect all the same.
Augustus Pablo — “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown”
You can’t go wrong with dub, and you might as well go straight to the source: Osbourne Ruddock, better known as King Tubby, and better known still as the man who basically invented the genre in his Kingston home studio back in the 1970s. Anything from this classic album will do nicely, but I’m particularly partial to the title track.
The Clash — “Rudie Can’t Fail”
Joe Strummer et al were also partial to incorporating Jamaican sounds into their music. This is perhaps the most successful example of them doing so, taking a lyric about Jamaican rude boys and marrying it to an exuberant ska-influenced jam. And it talks about drinking brew for breakfast, which is not of course something that we can recommend (but for the record it’s pretty ace, to be honest).
Clem Snide — “All Green”
A suitably melancholy song about Al Green: “Summer will come/ With Al Green and sweetened ice tea.” What could be better?
Al Green — “Summertime”
Ah, yes, of course.
Iron and Wine — “Passing Afternoon”
The closing track to the understated 2004 masterpiece Our Endless Numbered Days, which also takes its name from one of this song’s lyrics. A decade on, it’s still one of the best songs Sam Beam’s ever written, a somber meditation on the transience of love and life — its lyrics mention all the seasons, but for some reason it’s summer that lingers longest in the memory.
R.E.M. — “I’ve Been High”
I’ve always thought of Reveal as R.E.M.’s summer album, what with all its talk of dragonflies and summer skies and beachballs. And this is that album’s summer night song — Michael Stipe sings of diving into “a pool so deep that if I sink, I sink/ And when I swim, I fly so high,” which is exactly the sort of feeling you’re after if you’ve ever gone for a cheeky dip down the beach on a hot night.
Kanye West — “Devil in a New Dress”
I love it, though. Y’know?
Kelis — “Jerk Ribs”
Curiously, this has been entirely absent from the obligatory Song of the Summer race this year, which only goes to show that there’s no accounting for taste, and/or that music journalists just aren’t a very fun bunch. (Trust me, they’re not.) Anyway, this sounds like something Stevie Wonder might have written circa Songs in the Key of Life, only just a little bit more languid, which makes it all the better for summertime boozing.
The Flaming Lips — “It’s Summertime”
Just try not to think about Wayne Coyne’s descent into douchedom in the decade since this was released.
Nick Drake — “Saturday Sun”
Nick Drake’s music is pretty much the English summer personified — fragile, ephemeral, liable to cloud over and rain at any moment. This song is as fine an embodiment of that feeling as anything he ever wrote: “Saturday sun came without warning,” he sings, “and nobody knew what to do.” The answer, clearly, is to enjoy it while it lasts.
Kishi Bashi — “Bright Whites”
If everything’s getting a bit too somber and reflective at this point, “Bright Whites” should cheer matters up somewhat. Former of Montreal dude and generally impressive talent K. Ishibashi’s solo debut 151a was one of the great pleasures of 2012, and this is its most infectiously upbeat moment. If you don’t find yourself singing along with that Japanese part, despite having no idea what it’s talking about, well, you’ve got more self-control than I do.
Martha Wainwright — “G.P.T.”
True fact: this is named after the Greenpoint Tavern in Williamsburg, which these days stands at the epicenter of neo-bourgeois ghastliness, but back in the day — a decade ago, specifically, which is when Wainwright wrote this song — it was no doubt a fun place to head on a Saturday night. The lyrics speak of a “starry cold night,” but its atmosphere of a bittersweet night on the town should do just fine for summer purposes, too.
The Sand Pebbles — “Future Proofed”
There’s gotta be some psych-rock on this list, and something from Australian band Sand Pebbles’ 2008 album Ceduna fits the bill nicely — the album is named for the small South Australian desert town where it was made, and the sessions apparently involved lots of running around in the desert on acid. Excellent.
Ofege — “It’s Not Easy”
A bunch of teenagers from 1970s Nigeria, singing about the transience of love. All together now: awwwwwww.
Neko Case — “I Wish I Was the Moon”
It’s really a case of pick your favorite Neko Case/New Pornographers song here, because pretty much her entire discography is characterized by the exact sort of bittersweet melancholy that goes well with a hot summer night. “I’m so tired/ I wish I was the moon tonight”? Well, yeah, at least it’s probably cool up there.
Fever Ray — “Coconut”
The last track on Fever Ray, and something of an outlier as far as that album’s sound goes. Apparently it was inspired by Karin Dreijer Andersson’s brother (and the other half of The Knife) Olaf’s visits to the tropics to do field recordings for the songs on their Charles Darwin opera thing. There’s certainly a weirdly tropical vibe to the song, which means it slots in very nicely here. (That’s a suitably strange fan-made video, too.)
HTRK — “Give It Up”
Psychic 9-5 Club is downright perky by HTRK standards, which means it’s perfect late-night music — this song nestles nicely toward the end of our playlist, and should be appreciated when the sky has long since deepened to black, and you’re mixing one last drink before heading off to bed to crank up the AC and pray for sleep.
Roxy Music — “Avalon”
“Now the party’s over, I’m so tired…” Go on, off to bed. Sleep well.
Hey, thanks for reading all the way through! Here’s a Spotify playlist for your trouble.