Music News & Reviews

Best songs about summer to listen to in SLO County

A massive crowd of college-age beach-goers gathers on the sand Friday afternoon at the end of Silver Shoals Drive in Shell Beach.
A massive crowd of college-age beach-goers gathers on the sand Friday afternoon at the end of Silver Shoals Drive in Shell Beach.

It’s always fun to listen to music that fits the moment —whether you’re listening to “I Love L.A.” during a Southern California road trip, “Centerfield” en route to a baseball game or “Here Comes the Sun” during a break from the fog. And with summer upon us, this is a perfect time to crank up the summer-themed tuneage.

Songs written with summer in mind typically invoke images of sun, fun and seasonal love. And they beg to be played at campgrounds, pools and cookouts.

Rather than just list our favorite summer songs, we’ve also noted what activities these songs might best be paired with in San Luis Obispo County.


In this infectiously fun tune, featuring guest vocals by rapper Snoop Dogg, the colorfully coiffed pop star conjures up images of sun-kissed college girls in “Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top.” Her descriptions of the “fine, fresh, fierce” women of the Golden State are enough to inspire a trip to the sandy paradise of Shell Beach, below, a popular hangout among Cal Poly and Cuesta College students. “Once you party with us,” Perry promises, “you’ll be fallin’ in love.”

‘SURF CITY’ | JAN & DEAN (1963)

Those folks in Huntington Beach and Santa Cruz can bicker all they want about which gets to be called Surf City; we’ve got our own — Pismo Beach. So this would be the perfect tune to crank up before a surf session at Pismo Pier. Written by Beach Boy Brian Wilson, he offered it to friends Jan Berry and Dean Torrence (they initially asked for “Surfin’ USA,” but Wilson kept that for his own band). Like Beach Boys tunes “Surfer Girl,” “Surfin’ Safari” and scores of others, this vocal harmony highlight offered fantasies of endless summers to even the most landlocked sun lovers.


Chances are, you were humming this hard-rock hit under your breath as Junior marched down the aisle at his graduation ceremony. “School’s Out,” featured in the movies “Dazed and Confused,” “Rock N’ Roll High School” and “Scream,” has become a popular song heralding the beginning of summer vacation. Whatever you’re celebrating — the end of high school, college or graduate school— Alice Cooper’s words have never been truer: “School’s out for summer. School’s out forever.”


OK, sure, this song’s urban-centric lyrics — paired with actual city traffic and construction noises — might not typify life in quiet little San Luis Obispo County. But if you were to take a road trip to Los Angeles on a blistering hot day, you might crank this up as you veer toward the downtown area. While Spoonful songs normally channeled a laid-back, love-not-war vibe, this one — with its moody bass coda — featured a much grittier side of the band.


Of all the songs that mention the Fourth of July, this one is the most descriptive, with references to people playing guitar, selling ice cream and singing Italian songs. We’re not sure how many people sing Italian songs in Paso Robles, but this would be a perfect tune for the annual July 4 fireworks show at Barney Schwartz Park. Lead vocalist Robert Lamm wrote the song after a visit to a New York City park on Independence Day. Other July 4 candidates include “Darlington County” by Bruce Springsteen, “Born on the Bayou” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and “Fourth of July” by Dave Alvin.


What happens when a squeaky-clean teenybopper falls in love with a rebellious greaser? The answer is “Grease,” a cheerfully cheesy movie musical set during the era of hot rods, malt shops and poodle skirts. Bad boy Danny and good girl Sandy describe their sweet “summer fling” in “Summer Nights,” a chart-topping hit that has become a popular karaoke duet. Make your own summer memories at the Sunset Drive-In movie theater in San Luis Obispo or the California Mid-State Fair, July 18-29 in Paso Robles.


Since “boys of summer” often refers to baseball players — as in “The Boys of Summer,” Roger Kahn’s book about the Brooklyn Dodgers — why not knock this one out at a San Luis Obispo Blues game this summer? Henley’s song is not about baseball — or his then-former band the Eagles, as some speculated. Rather, it was about a man approaching middle age and looking back at his youth.


There are several great boardwalks in the county, but none you can make love under, as the character in this song aspires to do. So the best we can offer is that you put this tune on as you snuggle on a blanket with your baby under the Cayucos Pier. (But please — get a room before it gets too hot and heavy.) The day before this song was scheduled to be recorded, lead singer Rudy Lewis unexpectedly died. So former lead singer Johnny Moore stepped in and recorded this summer classic.


Is “Dancing in the Street” an innocent party song or a civil rights anthem? Although lead singer Martha Reeves claimed the former, some have cited the Motown classic as a call for social change in locations as diverse as Baltimore, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. We recommend that you heed the song’s melodious message by organizing a fun flash mob at the San Luis Obispo Farmer’s Market. After all, “Summer’s here and the time is right for dancin’ in the street.”

‘SUMMER OF ’69’ | BRYAN ADAMS (1985)

Canadian rocker Bryan Adams was 9 years old in 1969. Of course, that didn’t stop him and fellow songwriter Jim Vallance from waxing nostalgic about his “young and restless” past — buying his “first real six-string,” holding hands with his sweetheart, and so on — in this upbeat ode to summers past. Listeners can relive the summer of ’69 this weekend while cruising down Dolliver Street in a cherry Dodge Charger at The Classic at Pismo Beach Car Show. (Folks north of the Cuesta Grade can look forward to Atascadero’s Hot El Camino Cruise Nite, above, on Aug. 17.)