‘All Summer Long’ by The Beach Boys (1964)
The Beach Boys pretty much wrote the book when it came to summer songs. But this gem is different from their early period odes to fun, fun, fun. Despite the chirpy melody, this number comes off as wistful because it confronts just how transient that fun can be with the line “Won’t be long till summertime is through.” Composers Brian Wilson and Mike Love, who were barely in their 20s when this came out, sound as if they’ve realized for the first time that youth is fleeting (a theme the band would more fully explore on “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man),” released months later. The song evidently impressed “American Graffiti” writer-director George Lucas, who used it at the end of that landmark film. (Honorable mention: Mark Eric’s Beach Boys-inspired sunshine pop cult favorite from 1969, “Where Do the Girls of the Summer Go?”)
‘A Summer Song’ by Chad & Jeremy (1964)
Sounding like a folkie version of the Beatles, this U.K. duo charmed their way into the American Top 10 for the first time with this melancholy ballad about bidding farewell to a summer lover. This one is considered a ’60s classic, but should also be considered a proto-mope rocker. Consider the plot: even though the sun is still shining, Chad & Jeremy can only think about the sad day when the rain will come beating against their window pane and they’re left with nothing but memories. Was Morrissey taking notes? The song’s influence could be heard 35 years later in Sugar Ray’s “Someday,” which has a similar melody and lyrical concept. Both songs, coincidentally, reached No. 7 on the pop charts.
‘Long Hot Summer’ by The Style Council (1983)
The Style Council was Paul Weller’s band after the Jam, and few people were happy with his excursions into jazzy electronica like this coming after the raucous sound of that band. No matter. While a lot of Jam tunes now comes off as period pieces, this U.K. hit sounds uncannily modern, with its spacious arrangement and quirky, synthesized bass line. There’s also the lyric, which tells the story of a failed relationship, using the ephemeral nature of summer as a metaphor: “Don’t know whether to laugh or cry/ the long hot summer just passed me by.” The homoerotic overtones of the video raised a few eyebrows back in the day, but now even that seems ahead of its time.
‘End of the Summer’ by Dar Williams (1997)
Cult folkie Dar Williams hits all the sore spots related to the season’s ending in this poetic ballad. The storyline has Dar’s friends packing up and heading off to college while she stays behind, presumably to finish out another year of high school. In the middle of all this, she has a mysterious dream: “It felt like the first day of school/ but I was going to the moon instead.” A few lines later, Williams sums the dream up: “It’s the end of summer/ when you send your children to the moon.” Could there be any better description of how kids feel having to make the transition from going to the pool to trudging off to school? The haunting, minor key melody validates the ghostly lyric.
‘Wake Me When September Ends’ by Green Day (2004)
Green Day singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong supposedly wrote this as a memorial of sorts for his late father. The video, though, is something else entirely, since it makes an overt anti-war statement with a storyline about a soldier being killed. But Armstrong left the lyric open ended enough so that whether you know all that or not, the tune can still conjure the feeling of summer fading away. The opening lyric sets the downbeat tone: “Summer has come and passed/ The innocent can never last/ Wake me up when September ends.” Whatever Armstrong’s intent, this song hit the U.S. Top 10 when it was pulled off 2004’s “American Idiot” album for a single release in July 2005. It was getting maximum airplay just as September was rolling around, and will probably always be remembered as a sad send-off to that year’s summer.