Summer is the most subjective of seasons. It offers infinite options, particularly in Southern California, land of chronic sunshine and birthplace of surf rock, beach goths and G-funk — whose synthesizer whines are as iconic to the time of year as ice cream trucks, fireworks and barbecues.
If the weather remains unstintingly pleasant, you can see subtle changes in slightly blonder highlights and unwanted Facebook invites for “hosted” hotel pool parties. But it’s not all ice cream; songs such as Love’s “Maybe the People Would Be the Times…” remind us of the tense undercurrent that’s always shadowed summer.
In honor of these wide-open months filled with intense light and darkness, I present the most totally subjective thing imaginable: a list of the all-time best summer songs written from Long Beach to La Cañada Flintridge.
10. Domino, “Geto Jam” (produced by DJ Battlecat)
The freaks are moving. The jams are slamming. The gin and juice is drunk. The old-school Chevy has been acquired and the chilling is obligatory. For his first and most famous single, the Long Beach rapper intuitively understood how to make every cliché seem mythic and every hangover revelatory.
9. Beach Boys, “Surf’s Up”
For all its harmonic beauty, the early material from the Hawthorne beach bros is mostly corny. Their finest hours came in the Nixon years, when they inverted their angelic, towheaded image and realized that a wave crashing is more interesting than one cresting.
8. The Doors, “Summer’s Almost Gone”
A song for when the August heat grows nauseating, the vacation extends slightly too long and the air conditioner combusts. On this bleak ballad, Jim Morrison — the original Jon Snow — reminds you that winter’s coming whether you want it to or not.
7. Joni Mitchell, “The Hissing of Summer Lawns”
“He bought her a diamond for her throat/He put her in a ranch house on a hill/She could see the valley barbecues/From her window sill/See the blue pools in the squinting sun/Hear the hissing of summer lawns.” It could be “A Doll’s House” or Joan Didion, but it’s Joni at her best — darkness with a joyful mask.
6. Coolio, “Fantastic Voyage”
Artis Ivey popped a mariachi band out the trunk to rock at his impromptu beach fiesta. Give this man the respect he deserves.
5. Warren G and Nate Dogg, “Regulate”
Every single Nate Dogg song is the best L.A. summer song. Maybe there were other songs released in the summer of ’94, but I doubt it.
4. Sublime, “Doin’ Time”/“Snoop Time Remix”
The first time I ever took bong hits was to a Sublime song. It was a lazy boring summer day. And 94.2 percent of Southern California residents born between 1980 and 1995 can say the same thing.
3. DJ Quik, “Pitch In on a Party”
The best summer BBQ song ever written about how annoying it is to have people at your house for a summer BBQ. Quik has won zero Grammys, but he has won every Street Pulitzer.
2. Love, “Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale”
In this oblique ode to the late-’60s Sunset Strip riots, L.A.’s most archetypal band blended psych-pop, Latin rock, jazz, funk and soul to distill L.A.’s sunshine/noir dialectic and its diverse spirit.
1. The Dove Shack, “Summertime in the LBC”
This song is to summer what Irving Berlin is to Christmas, “Auld Lang Syne” is to New Year’s Eve and the Cupid Shuffle is to Valentine’s Day. It’s a slab of mouthwatering ribs, a perfectly rolled blunt, a cold beer. Timeless.
Honorable mention: YG, “Twist My Fingaz”; Snoop Dogg, “Gin & Juice”; Quincy Jones, “Summer in the City”; Dam-Funk, “Hood Pass Intact”; Cypress Hill, “Hits From the Bong”; Vince Staples, “Summertime”; Ice Cube, “You Know How We Do It”; Best Coast, “Summer Mood”; Guns N’ Roses, “Paradise City”; Weezer, “Surf Wax America”; Van Halen, “Ice Cream Man”; The Surfaris, “Wipe Out”; Dick Dale, “Miserlou.”
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.