The Biggest Summer Anthems From the Past 50+ Years

A vintage looking tape player / recorder stereo sits on the counter of a 1970's - 1980's  living room with wood paneling.  A mans hand reaches down to insert a cassette into the machine.  Horizontal image with copy space.

There's something about music — the way it can evoke a time, a place, a feeling, even years after you first hear it. It's often regarded as the closest thing we have to a time machine. That statement seems to be especially true for summer anthems, particularly those tracks we listened to with more youthful blood in our veins, the warm wind in our hair, and shades of sunshine on our noses and shoulders. For a very musically focused trip down memory lane, we consulted Billboard's top-ranked singles on the Hot 100 chart for each summer dating back to 1971.

To listen to this playlist on Spotify, click here.

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Carole King Tapestry

Artist: Carole King | Listen

Off the groundbreaking album "Tapestry," this song — and the 13 others that populated the release — took Carole King from "master songwriter into a music legend," wrote Pitchfork in 2019. As popular as "I Feel the Earth Move" proved to be, its B-side, "It's Too Late," threatened to eclipse that popularity. Both sides got tons of airplay for much of the summer of 1971.

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Still Bill- Bill Withers

Artist: Bill Withers | Listen

In April 2020, shortly after Withers died at the age of 81, Rolling Stone called this tune the "song for every crisis ... an inspirational anthem to those rising up after tragedy, or a celebratory rallying cry of togetherness and resilience in times of trouble."

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Jim Croce- Life and Times

Artist: Jim Croce | Listen

Although it had a lot of competition in the summer of 1973, this song — about a man who "learned a lesson 'bout a-messin' with the wife of a jealous man" — stayed atop the charts for a couple of weeks in late July. Just a few weeks later, on Sept. 20, the singer/songwriter died in a plane crash at the age of 30.

Band on the Run Studio album by Paul McCartney and Wings

Artist: Paul McCartney and Wings | Listen

When the album that contained this title track of the same name was released, it was hailed as a comeback for McCartney, whose previous efforts after The Beatles disbanded had been met with a lukewarm reception. It would become the biggest-selling album of the year, eventually going triple-platinum. Little-known fact: The majority of this album was recorded in Lagos, Nigeria.

Related: Enduring Quotes From John Lennon

The Captain & Tennille: Love Will Keep Us Together

Artist: Captain & Tennille | Listen

Written by Neil Sedaka, this tune stayed atop the summer charts for four weeks in 1975. Although popular and undeniably catchy, it hasn't always fared well with critics. In a review on the website Stereogum, the writer called it "unbearably chintzy gloop" and went on to note that it was "singularly unappealing, that combination of demonstrative showroom belting and synthetic gurgle-burp." Ouch.

Photo of Kiki DEE and Elton JOHN, Elton John and Kiki Dee performing on stage
Gus Stewart/Getty Images CC

Artist: Elton John and Kiki Dee | Listen

Proving that for two years in a row America loved a ditty sung by a woman with an impossibly shiny bowl cut and a piano-playing man in attention-grabbing accessories, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" stayed atop the summer charts for four weeks in August. This one fared better critically — the same Stereogum writer called it a "deeply cheesy Broadway-disco shout-along, [but] a pretty good deeply cheesy Broadway-disco shout-along ..."

The Emotions- Rejoice

Artist: The Emotions | Listen

This song hit the top of the charts in late August and stayed there for four weeks. The Emotions got their start in gospel music before branching out into R&B, soul, disco, and pop. "Best of My Love" is the only No. 1 hit this trio ever had.

Andy Gibb : Shadow Dancing

Artist: Andy Gibb | Listen

Gibb — younger brother to the Bee Gees' Barry, Robin, and Maurice — rose to musical dominance in America with the release of this single and album of the same name. It stayed at No. 1 on the charts that summer for seven consecutive weeks starting on June 17.

Donna Summer- Bad Girls

Artist: Donna Summer | Listen

"Toot toot, heeeyyy, beep beep." This single, off the album of the same name, spent five weeks atop the charts during the summer of 1979. This track, plus others on the release, noted BBC Music in 2003, "is a fantastic reminder of when [Summer] was the Britney, Christina, Mary J, and Missy of her day all rolled into one."

Lipps, Inc. • Mouth To Mouth Funkytown

Artist: Lipps Inc. | Listen

If you grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, you undoubtedly nearly broke your neck trying to get your roller skates on the rink floor when this single blasted over the speakers. Lipps Inc., often classified as a one-hit wonder, never got onto Billboard's Hot 100 again, but MusicRadar, in a dissection of the song, called it "a masterclass in how to assemble multiple hooks into one smash hit."

Kim Carnes-Bette Davis Eyes

Artist: Kim Carnes | Listen

The 1980s ushered in a more angsty era of music, and this song was a perfect example. It stayed atop the charts for nine weeks in May through July 1981. The song has endured, being covered by modern artists such as Taylor Swift and even Gwyneth Paltrow.

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Rock group "Survivor" performs on a TV show in circa 1982.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images CC

Artist: Survivor | Listen

This song stayed atop the summer charts for six weeks in 1982. Its inspirational and feisty lyrics have since spawned some clever YouTube comments, including, "somewhere on Earth there is a protagonist training to this song," and "I've just transitioned into a bada** within the last 4 minutes." Both explain why this tune is also the title track to the film "Rocky III."

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The Police- Every Breath You Take

Artist: The Police | Listen

Three years before The Police disbanded, they released their final studio album, which included this stalkerish single that stayed at No. 1 on the summer charts for eight weeks. Despite Rolling Stone labeling them "the first British New Wave act to break through in America on a grand scale, and possibly the biggest band in the world," this was the only Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single the band ever released.

Prince- When Doves Cry

Artist: Prince | Listen

"Purple Rain," the release that included "When Doves Cry," was Prince's sixth album (and soundtrack to the film of the same name), but this song was actually Prince's first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single (he would go on to have four more), and it stayed at that spot for five weeks in the summer of 1984. It was the last song he wrote for the album, and he provided the vocals and played all the instruments on the track.

Tears For Fears - Roland Orzabal And Curt Smith - 1985
Brian Rasic/Getty Images CC

Artist: Tears for Fears | Listen

British pop band Tears for Fears had a lot of competition during the summer of 1985 — including their own "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" — but in the end, it was this track that stayed atop the charts for three consecutive weeks in August of that year. The album it came from, "Songs from the Big Chair," eventually was certified triple platinum in the U.K. and quintuple platinum in the U.S.

Madonna- Papa Don't Preach

Artist: Madonna | Listen

You didn't think we were gonna get through the '80s without a Madonna song, did you? The second release off her third album, "True Blue," this song addressing teen pregnancy marked a departure from the artist's previous work. As Stereogum writer Tom Breihan said in his review: "This story about a girl begging her father to accept her big life decision somehow became escapist club fare. That's a magic trick. That's cowboy sh*t."

Heart- Alone

Artist: Heart | Listen

This year's summer anthem was a power ballad sung by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, aka the band Heart. But it might surprise you to know it was a cover — the song had been composed by others in 1983 and recorded by actress Valerie Stevenson and actor John Stamos on the original soundtrack of the CBS sitcom "Dreams" in 1984. No surprise, however, that the musically talented Wilson sisters took it to new places, which gave it three consecutive weeks atop the Billboard 100 in July 1987.

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Steve Winwood- Roll With It

Artist: Steve Winwood | Listen

The oft-underrated Winwood spent four weeks atop the summer charts with this song off his Virgin Records album of the same name. It wasn't his only musical success in 1988: The track was also nominated for two Grammys — Record of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance — and the album was nominated as Album of the Year.

Richard Marx- Right Here Waiting

Artist: Richard Marx | Listen

The ballad makes a summer comeback with this song that spent three weeks at No. 1 but is still often billed as one of musical history's sappier love songs. Songfacts notes that Spotify U.K. "revealed just ahead of Valentine's Day 2013 that this is their most popular love song, narrowly ahead of Foreigner's 'I Want To Know What Love Is.'" The list was based on figures from the streaming services "love song" playlists.

Mariah Carey 1990
Bob King/Getty Images CC

Artist: Mariah Carey | Listen

This debut single by American singer-songwriter Mariah Carey spent four weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 charts in August 1990, making it the first of 19 eventual hits to reach that No. 1 spot. Carey once said of the track: "The song is very special to me because it encapsulates the story of my dream of becoming a recording artist, although most people interpret it as a love song."

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Bryan Adams, vocal-guitar, performs at the Ahoy hal in Rotterdam, Netherlands on 13th November 1991
Frans Schellekens/Getty Images CC

Artist: Bryan Adams | Listen

Proving that Americans love a sappy ballad during the summer months, this song spent seven consecutive weeks at the Billboard Hot 100's No. 1 spot in July through September 1991. It was also the best-performing single of the year and reached the top spot on the music charts of at least 19 other countries.

Sir Mix-a-Lot- Baby Got Back

Artist: Sir Mix-a-Lot | Listen

We'll call this one the anti-ballad and note that it gleefully topped the charts for five consecutive weeks in the summer of 1992. The video, which featured women shaking their ample behinds, was banned on MTV until after 9 p.m. Sir Mix-a-Lot noted in a Rolling Stone interview that he thought his "career was over. Then I called Rick Rubin, and I told him the video was banned, and he was like, 'Great!' We sold another 2 million records." The artist performed the song with the Seattle Symphony in 2014, and it's worth a watch.

Portrait of music group UB40
Paul Natkin/Getty Images CC

Artist: UB40 | Listen

First recorded by Elvis Presley in 1961 for the album "Blue Hawaii," British reggae band UB40 covered this as their first single on the 1993 album "Promises and Lies."  Though not all critics were kind to the band's take on a classic, Billboard's Larry Flick wrote that it was "a fun respite from usual top 40 fare."

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I Swear- All-4-One

Artist: All-4-One | Listen

All-4-One might not be among the most recognizable of boy band names considered against, say, Boyz II Men, NSYNC, or the Backstreet Boys, but the foursome held the Billboard Hot 100's No. 1 position for a full 11 weeks in the summer of 1994. Interesting side note: Country artist John Michael Montgomery recorded this same song in 1993.

TLC- Waterfalls

Artist: TLC | Listen

Establishing themselves as one of the best non-grunge artists to come out of the grunge era was TLC, who had a No. 1 hit with "Waterfalls" for seven weeks in the summer of 1995. It was their second Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 of that year after "Creep."

Los Del Rio's Raphael Ruiz and Antonio Romero stand with dancers at a Coconuts music store October 15, 1996 in New York City
Evan Agostini/Getty Images CC

Artist: Los Del Rio | Listen

Long considered one of the cheesiest things to play or dance to at a wedding, this song stayed somewhat unbelievably atop the charts for a full 14 consecutive weeks during the summer and fall of 1996. Just in case you're feeling nostalgic and want to relearn the Macarena dance, here you go.

Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Faith Evans during Faith Evans album release party for her new CD "Faithfully" at Saci Club in New York City, New York, United States.
KMazur/Getty Images CC

Artist: Puff Daddy and Faith Evans featuring 112 | Listen

Sampling another summer anthem from this list, this track by Puff Daddy — aka Sean Love Combs, aka P. Diddy, aka Puffy, aka Diddy — held the No. 1 spot on the charts for 11 weeks in the summer of 1997. The song sampled The Police's "Every Breath You Take," and Sting performed the song alongside Puff and Evans at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards.

Brandy and Monica
Ron Wolfson/Getty Images CC

Artist: Brandy and Monica | Listen

Proving that songs that reigned supreme in the mid- to late-’90s had real sticking power, "The Boy is Mine" enjoyed 13 consecutive weeks at the top of the charts this summer. Australian newspaper the Herald Sun evaluated the best and worst all-time musical duets in 2008 and placed this one at No. 15, noting that "the lyrical in-fighting over the same man was no act; the pair hated each other, recorded the song separately and fought over who got the most close-ups in the video" — claims their reps denied but that apparently have some truth to them.

Christina Aguilera- Genie in a Bottle

Artist: Christina Aguilera | Listen

Rounding out the last summer anthem of the 20th century is this hit from Aguilera's self-titled debut album. The New York Times noted in a review that "one of the summer's catchiest singles captures the moment's anxieties about teenage sex." For her part, the then-teenage singer insisted that "the song is not about sex, It's about self-respect. It's about not giving in to temptation until you're respected."

Enrique Iglesias- Be With You

Artist: Enrique Iglesias | Listen

Released as the third single from Iglesias's debut English album, "Enrique," this song became Iglesias's second number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100 ("Bailamos" had held the position for two weeks in 1999) and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording in 2001.

Pink, L'il Kim, Mya, and Christina Aguilera performing 'Lady Marmalade'
Dave Hogan/Getty Images CC

Artist: Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mýa, and Pink | Listen

Making a comeback to the world of summer anthems in 2001 was Aguilera — but with three fabulous other ladies in tow. The song was Track 2 on Bay Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack, and the music video followed this theme as well. The song was a cover, though, with the original written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan and performed in 1974 by (the also-fabulous) American girl group Labelle.

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Nelly- Hot in Herre

Artist: Nelly | Listen

"Hot in Herre" stayed at Billboard Hot 100's No. 1 spot for seven weeks this summer, but it wasn't Nelly's only hit that year. Another of his songs, "Dilemma," featuring Kelly Rowland, hung onto the No. 1 spot for 10 weeks during the summer and fall of 2002.

Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z- Crazy in Love

Artist: Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z | Listen

Queen Bey's song featuring then-boyfriend/now-husband Jay-Z stayed atop the summer charts for eight weeks in 2003. One bit of musical history: The album the track was on, "Dangerously in Love," was set to be released in 2002, but was postponed several times to make the most of the success of Nelly's hits that year.

Usher- Burn

Artist: Usher | Listen

Starting in May and lasting into July, "Burn" stayed at No. 1 on the charts for eight nonconsecutive weeks, furthering the success of another chart-topper that Usher released earlier in the year, "Yeah!," which he recorded with Lil John and Ludacris. "Burn" was apparently inspired by Usher's relationship with another summer anthem artist — TLC's Chilli.

Mariah Carey- We Belong Together

Artist: Mariah Carey | Listen

One of only a handful of artists whose name appears on this list more than once is Carey. "We Belong Together" was at the No. 1 spot for 14 nonconsecutive weeks — broken up only by Carrie Underwood's "Inside Your Heaven" for one week on July 2.

ingers Nelly Furtado and Timbaland perform onstage at the 8th Annual Teen Choice Awards at the Gibson Amphitheatre on August 20, 2006
Kevin Winter/Getty Images CC

Artist: Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland | Listen

Furtado — for us olds, not to be confused with Nelly of "Hot in Herre" fame — recorded this song with musician, record producer, DJ, and songwriter Timbaland. It was Furtado's first No. 1 single in the U.S., won 'Best Pop Single of the Year' at the Billboard Music Awards, and received a Grammy nomination.

Jay Z performs with Rihanna
Samir Hussein/Getty Images CC

Artist: Rihanna featuring Jay-Z | Listen

Although now we can't imagine anyone else recording the original version, "Umbrella" was written with Britney Spears in mind. Her label rejected it, and Rihanna likely laughed all the way to the bank. In addition to making it on our list of summer anthems, Rolling Stone ranked this at No. 412 on its "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list.

Katy Perry- I Kissed a Girl

Artist: Katy Perry | Listen

Likely getting pearl-clutchers in a tizzy everywhere, Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" proved it had staying power — not to mention an enthusiastic audience — by remaining atop Billboard's Hot 100 charts for seven weeks during the summer of 2008. Ten years after its release, Billboard called it a "queer touchstone [that] opened the door for sexual fluidity, but not without criticism."

Black Eyed Peas perform at the 2009 American Music Awards
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images CC

Artist: The Black Eyed Peas | Listen

This late-aughts party anthem was one of two songs from the Peas that exploded onto the charts in 2009. The first, "Boom Boom Pow," spent 12 weeks on the charts just before the "I Gotta Feeling" track's even more successful 14-week run. The song itself is a fun listen — if not exactly lyrically deep — but if you want to get a more humorous take on it, check out the version performed by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco.

Eminem and Rihanna perform on stage at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images CC

Artist: Eminem featuring Rihanna | Listen

This duet by Rihanna and Eminem had some stiff competition in the summer of 2010. While "Love the Way You Lie" held a seven-week run on the charts, Katy Perry's "California Gurls" featuring Snoop Dogg had a six-week run just before it.

Adele- Rolling in the Deep

Artist: Adele | Listen

This, the lead single and opening track on Adele's second album, "21," spent seven weeks atop the summer 2011 charts. It wasn't the song's only honor: It also was the best-performing single of 2011, according to Billboard, Rolling Stone gave it the No. 1 spot on its "50 Best Singles of 2011" list, and Time named it as one of the 10 best songs of the 2010s.

Carly Rae Jepsen- Call Me Maybe

Artist: Carly Rae Jepsen | Listen

Originally written by Jepson and Tavish Crowe as a folk song, "Call Me Maybe" was modified as a pop song with producer Josh Ramsay on board. While undeniably catchy, it didn't leave critics' pants on fire. Some called it "guilty pleasure pop" while others crowned it the "new perfect pop song."

Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke and T.I. perform onstage during the Clive Davis and The Recording Academy present The Annual Pre-GRAMMY Gala held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 25, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.
Michael Tran/Getty Images CC

Artist: Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell | Listen

With "Blurred Lines," Thicke earned his first No. 1 single, and it stayed atop the charts for 12 straight weeks. It didn't come without controversy — plenty of critics said the song and video were sexist, misogynistic, and glorified rape culture. It was also subject to a copyright infringement case, with Marvin Gaye's estate noting its similarities to his 1977 classic "Got to Give It Up."

Recording artists Charli XCX (L) and Iggy Azalea perform onstage during the 2014 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 18, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images CC

Artist: Iggy Azalea Featuring Charli XCX | Listen

Holding its No. 1 spot for seven straight weeks, "Fancy" — which was written by Azalea and XCX — earned both women their first spot atop the Billboard Hot 100. The song's video was inspired by the 1995 classic comedy movie, "Clueless."

Hollywood Song Award honorees Charlie Puth (L) and Wiz Khalifa perform onstage during the 19th Annual Hollywood Film Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on November 1, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images CC

Artist: Wiz Khalifa Featuring Charlie Puth | Listen

Part of the "Furious 7" soundtrack, this hip-hop and pop-rap ballad topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts for 12 nonconsecutive weeks in 2015, starting in late April and going through mid-July. It was nominated for a number of awards, including Song of the Year at both the American Music and Grammy awards, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song.

Drake- Views

Artist: Drake Featuring WizKid & Kyla | Listen

This song, a Drake collaboration with Nigerian afrobeats singer WizKid and British artist Kyla, topped the charts for 10 nonconsecutive weeks in 2016. It was well-received by critics, with Pitchfork noting its multicultural influences, saying it was "a cultural 'Inception:' an afrobeat pulse inside a UK funky sample inside a dancehall gyrator."

Justin Bieber & Luis Fonsi- Despacito

Artist: Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber | Listen

Few songs have held the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 like "Despacito," which claimed the No. 1 spot on May 27 of 2017 and didn't relinquish it until Sept. 16, when Taylor Swift's "Look What You Made Me Do" overtook it after 16 straight weeks. The song was already popular when it was remixed with Bieber's involvement and rereleased on April 17, helping it to take over the charts for the entire summer.


Artist: Drake | Listen and Listen

Drake proved that he could pretty much own the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 2018, as "Nice For What" bounced in and out of the position starting in April until July 21, when "In My Feelings" ranked No. 1 and stayed there for 10 straight weeks.

Lil Nas X Featuring Billy Ray Cyrus- Old Town Road

Artist: Lil Nas X Featuring Billy Ray Cyrus | Listen

Lil Nas X changed the face of the music industry in many ways with "Old Town Road." For a start, it was a country rap song, two genres that had rarely if ever been combined. He also used TikTok to make the song more popular, estimating that he created 100 memes that eventually instigated the incredibly viral #yeehaw challenge. Finally, when the song did go mainstream, it stayed atop the Billboard Hot 100 charts for 19 straight weeks, breaking the record for the longest-running No. 1 song in the chart's history, and later ranked as the best-performing single of the year.

DaBaby Featuring Roddy Ricch- Rockstar

Artist: DaBaby Featuring Roddy Ricch | Listen

Lots of songs held the top spot on the charts in the summer of 2020, but none for as long — seven nonconsecutive weeks — as "Rockstar." Notably, DaBaby released a "BLM (Black Lives Matter) remix" of the song after the murder of George Floyd, highlighting his own experience with police violence. At the Grammy Awards that year, the song got nominations for Record of the Year, Best Melodic Rap Performance, and Best Rap Song.

Related: 50 Things Turning 50 This Year

BTS performs at the 63rd annual GRAMMY Awards
BTS performs at the 63rd annual GRAMMY Awards

Artist: BTS | Listen

Billboard named this 2021's "Song of the Summer" after it spent 12 weeks on the Top 100 chart at position No. 1. It was the second English-language song released by Korean pop band BTS and its appeal was captured by Rolling Stone magazine writer Brian Hiatt, who called it a "pure, swaggering dance-pop celebration in the retro vein of Bruno Mars."

Harry Styles
Joseph Okpako / Getty Images

Artist: Harry Styles | Listen

As a downbeat song about loneliness, "As It Was" is an unusual Billboard choice for endless listens during a time that usually gravitates to bangers — but is nonetheless on track to dominate a summer otherwise turned over to war in Ukraine, inflation at the grocery stores and gas pumps, Congressional hearings over the attempted Jan. 6 insurrection, and controversy over Supreme Court decisions on guns, abortion, and the separation of church and state. Maybe it's telling that another standout song of the season is "Running Up That Hill," a stirring but melancholy Kate Bush song from 1985 that hit the charts after being featured on Netflix's retro horror show "Stranger Things."

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