Some of the greatest 80s songs remind us of summer, whether by their words or just from hearing them every day at the beach.
Tons of summertime hits came to mind when we thought about it, but we narrowed our list to our seven favorites.
Ready? Put on your neon t-shirt and jelly shoes, and grab your Walkman.
Let’s dive into an 80s summer!
What Makes a Tune an 80s Summer Song?
Every year, the chart company, Billboard, monitors the best performing songs of the summer. The hits are ranked according to sales, radio play, and more from memorial day to labor day. Each year, Billboard chooses one tune and crowns it ‘The Song of the Summer.’
But the concept of a summer song came long before Billboard made its annual declarations.
An article in the 1910 New York Tribune asked its readers, “What will this year’s summer song be? Will it be romantic or sentimental? Crude or nonsensical? When it’s warm enough to open your windows and everyone is outside, what tune will permeate our collective experience?”
Our list of the greatest 80s summer songs is a mish-mash of both concepts. Some were official Billboard selections from the 80s, while others are simply about summer. And every song reminds us of the great summer days and nights of that gnarly neon decade.
In alphabetical order because we couldn’t decide which one of these radical hits is the best…
#1 Boys of Summer by Don Henley
About the Song: Before the Boys of Summer music video hit MTV in 1985, only die-hard Eagles fans knew about Don Henley. Henley co-founded The Eagles and happily hid behind his drum kit until starting his solo career in 1981.
The Boys of Summer music video won numerous awards and gave the world a charismatic idol behind that soft, raspy voice.
Boys of Summer is a coming-of-age story about summer love that never lasts. The music evokes a longing for youth and times past. We can’t stop the clock, so why do we want to hold onto what’s gone?
I thought I knew what love was
What did I know?
Those days are gone forever
I should just let ’em go, but
First Appearance: Geffen Records released the single for Boys of Summer on October 26, 1964. It’s the first track on Don Henley’s second album, Building The Perfect Beast.
#2 Cruel Summer by Bananarama
About the Song: This iconic tune by Bananarama epitomizes the 80s summer. It’s brilliant, starting with the tempo and lyrics all the way to the look! Cruel Summer is about feeling drained by the summer heat. Feeling lonely from a recent break up with no friends around just makes things worse.
The city is crowded, my friends are away and I’m on my own
It’s too hot to handle so I got to get up and go
It’s a cruel (Cruel), cruel summer
First Appearance: This single hit record stores on June 27, 1983. But most of the world probably first heard Cruel Summer from the widely aired 1983 music video. By the time it was featured in the 1984 film The Karate Kid, people worldwide felt ‘summer’ and ‘Bananarama’ were inseparable.
#3 Every Breath You Take by The Police
About the Song: Every Breath You Take is the most popular song by The Police. Released on their fifth studio album, Synchronicity, it was the top-selling single of 1983.
The lyrics describe a stalker keeping tabs on the object of his obsession. On the other hand, the music evokes feelings of love and romance. Many have misinterpreted the song to be about healthy love. But it’s quite the opposite.
According to BMI, Every Breath You Take is the most played song in radio history.
Every move you make
And every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you
First Appearance: The Police released Every Breath You Take on May 20, 1983. As the first track on side B of The Police’s last album, we wonder if Sting was sealing his exit with a subliminal kiss goodbye.
#4 Vacation by The Go-Go’s
About the Song: When Vacation by The Go-Gos came out, teens worldwide could roller skate around town with the song on repeat in their walkman. Vacation was the first-ever cassette single, or cassingle.
The tune is upbeat and perky, a synthy dancefloor lamenting a short summer fling. Vacation reached #8 in the billboard charts and is one of the most well-known Go-Go’s songs.
Now that I’m away, I wish I’d stayed
Tomorrow’s a day of mine you won’t be in
First Appearance: The Go-Go’s remake of Vacation was a summer smash single upon release in 1982. But bassist Kathy Valentine originally wrote and recorded it with her prior band, The Textones, in 1980.
#5 Roll With It by Steve Winwood
About the Song: Roll With It is a groovin’ song about vibin’ with what life throws at you. Take the hand you’re dealt with, and roll on through. There’s a bit of inspiration from a woman, or a muse, in the lyrics. Musically, the horn section adds a laid-back, summer Motown feel.
Roll With It is Steve Winwood’s biggest US hit. It remains a favorite 80s summer song in adult contemporary and blues rock genres.
When this world turns its back on you
Hang in and do that sweet thing you do
You just roll with it, baby
First Appearance: Winwood released Roll With It in the summer of 1988, both as a single and on his album of the same name. It spent four weeks at #1 that summer and was nominated for a Grammy the following year.
#6 Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves
About the Song: If you love a boisterous, high-energy song overflowing with joy, look no further. Walking on Sunshine is an anthem for exhilaration.
The lyrics are about love taking you higher than the sun. With a fast tempo and crisp horns, it’s no wonder this 80s summer song is often used in feature films to punctuate a scene.
Katrina and the Waves topped the charts worldwide with I’m Walking on Sunshine. Although some see the band as a one-hit-wonder, others cherish the lifelong joy it has brought them.
I’m walking on sunshine, whoa
And don’t it feel good
Hey, all right now
First Appearance: Walking on Sunshine first Appeared on the album by the same name in late 1983. Originally only released in Canada, the band re-recorded the song for their third album in 1985 with worldwide distribution.
#7 When Doves Cry by Prince
About the Song: Prince not only wrote the lyrics for this masterpiece, but he also played all the instruments. It has no bass line, a zippy intro guitar solo, and low vibrating vocals looped throughout the song.
When Doves Cry is genuinely unique and serves as a perfect introduction to Prince as a musical prodigy.
This signature tune charted at #1 for five weeks in the summer of 1984. A song about love lost and family strife, When Doves Cry is considered one of the greatest rock songs of all time.
How can you just leave me standing
Alone in a world that’s so cold? (So cold)
Maybe I’m just too demanding
Maybe I’m just like my father: too bold
First Appearance: This legendary single from the Purple Rain album took flight on May 16, 1984. The B-side, 17 days, is a cherished dance floor hit amongst subcultural music enthusiasts.
Which Summer Songs of the 80s is Your Favorite?
80s summer songs are about many things. Instinctively, we think of fun, hanging out, and celebrating. But they’re also about life’s ups and downs.
Which of these songs reminds you most of those 80s (or any year’s) summer days and nights?