The Best Summer Albums Ever

In case you haven’t noticed, the Japandroids have the summer of 2012 on lockdown. According to a recent Stereogum poll, “The House that Heaven Built,” is the indie song of the summer — and with good reason. Its lit-fuse guitar riff, hammering drums, and “oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh” cries should be blaring out of every car stereo and earbuds from Vancouver to Provincetown.

But its not just that single that has given the Japandroids domain over these infernally hot months — Celebration Rock is built for summer; for sweaty days and boozy nights, with one soaring road-ready anthem after another. And while there’s always a lot of discussion about the best summer songs and singles, there’s rarely much chatter about the best summer albums of all time — albums that own the summer in which they’re released, so they’re eternally connected to a specific few months in history.

So what are the best summer albums ever? Roll down the windows, let the wind blow back your hair, and click through.

First, the criteria:

  • We’re only considering albums released in late spring and early summer (May 1 – July 31), so that they could be enjoyed during the summer in which they came out. You’d be amazed how many potentially great summer albums this criterion eliminates (sorry Jay-Z, John Mellencamp, Tom Petty…).
  • The albums have to contain great summer music, obviously. Exciting, itchy, contagious music that goes along with everything that summer is and means. Good driving music. Good walking music. That doesn’t mean every song has to be upbeat — late summer nights, sitting around on a deck or patio, drinking a few final beers…that has to be taken into account too. So…good campfire music. Good last call music.
  • This is not subjective at all. These are completely objective, scientific judgments. Many equations were used.

Here we go…

10) Weezer/Weezer (May 10, 1994)

I’m not among those who consider Weezer’s debut their best album, but holy shit is it a great summer listen. The gods invented power pop for summertime, and the blue album’s about as efficient and catchy a work of power pop as exists. It’s no wonder that JEFF the Brotherhood sound more like Weezer with each passing album.

9) Jimmy Cliff/The Harder They Come (July 7, 1972)

So…reggae. Not really my thing, y’know? But summer is definitely reggae’s natural home, and Jimmy Cliff in general and this soundtrack in particular are as good as it gets. You can keep your Bob Marley tapestries. I’ll be over here listening to “Many Rivers to Cross” at 2 a.m. in my living room after getting home from the bars. Plus the album cover is fantastic:

8) Guns N’ Roses/Appetite for Destruction (July 21, 1987)

I think we’re contractually obligated to include this album on any music-related list. But even so, I mean…Jesus Christ. Just listen to the opening riffs of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Paradise City.” Why are we even arguing about this?

7) Free Energy/Stuck on Nothing (May 4, 2010)

Free Energy is unabashedly devoted to bringing back the best of ’70s AM radio. They play music equally well suited to big stages at sweltering music festivals and cramped back corners of sweaty clubs. There might not be an album from the last decade that more evokes the nostalgia and freedom of summer.

6) Rolling Stones/Exile on Main Street (May 12, 1972)

A sprawling, inclusive, beautiful mess of an album that provides an ideal soundtrack for parties and road trips. There’s a song for every mood. “Rocks Off” and “Rip This Joint” provide the push and thrust and swagger to get your night started. “Happy” and “All Down the Line” are perfect background songs. “Sweet Virginia” and “Shine a Light” take over when it’s time to chill out, decompress, and contend with that unique remorse that appears in your stomach at the end of an out-of-control summer night.

5) Girl Talk/Feed the Animals (June 19, 2008)

Just listen to the first five seconds of “Play Your Part (Pt. 1).”

4) Beastie Boys/Ill Communication (May 23, 1994)

“Sabotage” is the Beasties’ best summer song, and Ill Communication is their best summer album. Other than the adrenaline-laced thrash of “Sabotage,” “Tough Guy,” and “Heart Attack Man,” it gives us “Root Down” and “Get it Together,” both perfect for blazing days at the beach or sitting or moving through the city with headphones up. Plus, we’re still officially in The Year of Mourning MCA, so this has to make the list.

3) New Pornographers/Electric Version (May 6, 2003)

This album is the Pornographers at the height of their powers. Just one song after another of the most ridiculously catchy pop music you could ever hope to hear, buoyed by gorgeous vocals and the best harmonies since the Beach Boys in their prime.

2) Prince/Purple Rain (June 25, 1984)

For some albums, it’s easy to explain why they fit so well with summer. Certain types of music apply well to certain seasons, and some songs lend themselves well to images of highway driving, beach lounging, and outdoor drinking. Other albums, though, like Purple Rain, just bend the season to their will. If Prince had released this soundtrack in January, it would be one of the great winter albums of all time. In this case, the music is so good and so original that it seems to transform the summer and the way we think about it, instead of the other way around.

1) Bruce Springsteen/Born in the USA (June 4, 1984)

Yep, Purple Rain and Born in the USA were released just three weeks apart. 1984, you guys.

This was the album where Springsteen stopped fucking around, whipped it out, and slapped it across America’s face. “Glory Days.” “No Surrender.” “Darlington County.” Born in the USA features more indisputable summer anthems than any album in history, and that’s why it merits the number one spot.

Yeah, they’ll pass you by.

Honorable Mention:

  • Fountains of Wayne/Welcome Interstate Managers (June 10, 2003)
  • Killers/Hot Fuss (June 7, 2004)
  • Replacements/Pleased to Meet Me (June 17, 1987)
  • The Thrills/So Much for the City (May 27, 2003)
  • White Stripes/White Blood Cells (July 3, 2001)
  • Run DMC/Raising Hell (July 18, 1986)
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