Chart Beat

The 100 Biggest Summer Songs of All Time: A Complete List

Looking back nearly 60 years and ranking the one-hit wonders, pop outliers and funky jams reveals how the season's most massive singles share two essential elements: sincere emotion and a touch of novelty.


Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
Faith Evans and Sean "Diddy" Combs perform at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 28, 2015, in Los Angeles.

1. "I'll Be Missing You" - Puff Daddy & Faith Evans feat. 112

On March 9, 1997, Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace was murdered leaving a Soul Train Awards afterparty in Los Angeles. Soon after, Puff Daddy, R&B group 112 and Wallace's widow, Faith Evans, paid him tribute on a song that sampled The Police's "Every Breath You Take" and Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings." The video -- which culminates with Evans singing the spiritual "I'll Fly Away" from atop a hill -- premiered in early May and quickly became one of MTV's most-played clips. "It really hit home when I saw the video," says New York DJ Funkmaster Flex, who remembers broadcasting the song from a promo CD before Bad Boy Records sent him a proper 12-inch. The single then debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on June 14, remained there for 11 weeks and was succeeded by Wallace's own "Mo Money Mo Problems" from his posthumous LP Life After Death. "It was a tough time," recalls Flex. "But between Big's album and Diddy's album, it almost felt like Biggie didn't pass." —NICK MURRAY

Fun Fact: Sting joined 112, Evans and Puff Daddy to perform the track live at the 1997 Video Music Awards. 

Crispin Rodwell/Rex Shutterstock
Bryan Adams performs in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1991.

 9. "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You" - Bryan Adams

Bryan Adams was finishing up his sixth LP, Waking Up the Neighbours, when film composer Michael Kamen approached the Canadian musician's team about collaborating on the theme to Kevin Costner's early-'90s vehicle Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Co-written with Adams' frequent collaborator Mutt Lange, the lyrics for Robin and Maid Marian's surging love song were composed in 90 minutes - and then went on to become the foundation of the biggest hit of the year. Remembers Adams' manager Bruce Allen: "It was a big wedding song, but you heard it at the mall -- everywhere." —GARRETT KAMPS

Fun Fact: "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" lost the best original song Academy Award to "Beauty and the Beast" (a Hot 100 top 10 for Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson).

Summer Songs 1985-2016: The Top 10 Tunes of Each Summer

Jim Smeal/WireImage
Chilli, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and T-Boz of TLC on uly 18, 1996. 

22. "Waterfalls" - TLC

Amped from the success of its triple-platinum debut, TLC entered the studio in late 1993 to record a follow-up with a dream team of producers -- among them Babyface, Jermaine Dupri, Puff Daddy and production team Organized Noize. What resulted was 1994's CrazySexyCool, an LP that has sold 7.7 million copies stateside (according to Nielsen Music) and delivered the act's biggest hit. Written by Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes, Marqueze Etheridge and Organized Noize -- with backup vocals by then-unknown Cee Lo Green -- the Grammy-winning, chart-dominating single wasn't just a commercial juggernaut.

Released in the midst of the AIDS epidemic and the drug war, the song's lyrics addressed these issues (e.g., "His health is fading and he doesn't know why/Three letters took him to his final resting place"), and its MTV Video Music Awards-sweeping clip, helmed by director F. Gary Gray (Friday, Straight Outta Compton), brought these concerns into the living rooms of millions. —GARRETT KAMPS

Fun Fact: The video cost more than $1 million. "I had no idea how huge the record was until I heard how much the video budget was," says Etheridge. 

Courtesy Photo
The Doors perform "Light My Fire."

30. "Light My Fire" - The Doors 

This 1967 breakthrough single catapulted Jim Morrison's four-man psych circus from Whiskey a Go Go house band to Elektra Records' million-selling success. Countless acid trips, 14 platinum certifications and one Oliver Stone biopic followed, along with a 1968 Jose Feliciano cover that hit No. 3 and extended the song's life. "The jazz world picked it up, then I'd hear it in elevators," says drummer John Densmore.

Fun Fact: Buick offered $75,000 to adapt the smash for an ad, which The Doors ultimately declined, a decision Densmore has never regretted: "Would this song be on this list if we'd done 'Come on Buick, Light My Fire'?" —CAMILLE DODERO


Seven Songs That Weren't 'Song of the Summer' (But Should Have Been)

Columbia Pictures
Ray Parker Jr. with "Ghostbusters" cast Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson in the single's 1984 music video.

45. "Ghostbusters" - Ray Parker Jr.

The year 1984 was a colossal one for pop culture: Madonna, Michael and Bruce owned the airwaves; Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid and The Terminator lit up the box office; and the CD player and the first Apple Macintosh arrived in stores. Against this backdrop, Ray Parker Jr. wrote one of the 20th century's most memorable movie themes. While Parker later settled out of court with Huey Lewis to avoid a copyright suit over similarities to Lewis' hit "I Want a New Drug," "Ghostbusters" was an international smash. "I remember hearing the song and thinking, 'This isn't like anything else on the radio -- he is basically talking," says Bowling for Soup frontman Jaret Reddick, whose pop-punk band covered the tune for 2005 film Just Like Heaven. "It's the keyboard line that sucks you in: You find yourself whistling it for two days." —GARRETT KAMPS

Fun Fact: "Ghostbusters" was initially tied to a summer blockbuster, but now it's the second-most Shazam-ed track on Halloween, after Michael Jackson's "Thriller."  

Scott Weiner/Retna/Corbis
Rick Springfield performing at the Spectrum in Philadelphia on December 1, 1981.

50. "Jessie's Girl" - Rick Springfield

After emerging from the 1970s as a pop heartthrob, Rick Springfield hoped that 1981's Working Class Dog -- his first album in five years -- would convince critics that he had grown into a serious artist. "I thought, 'OK, I wrote and played all these songs and produced most of the album, so they can't see me as a teen idol any frigging longer," he remembers now. "But they did." At least with "Jessie's Girl," he was a teen idol with a No. 1 hit. The track peaked on Aug. 1, 1981, a little more than a year after he met the woman (and her boyfriend) who inspired the lyrics in a stained-glass class. "Writing the song took about three weeks," he says. "Being hot for the girl took about five seconds." —NICK MURRAY

Fun Fact: Springfield accepted his part as General Hospital's Dr. Noah Drake after recording "Jessie's Girl," unsure if the song would ever be released. 

And, the Nos. 51-100 biggest Songs of the Summer all-time:

51, Hurts So Good, John Cougar, 1982

52, One Dance, Drake featuring WizKid & Kyla, 2016

53, Alone, Heart, 1987

54, Wild Thing, The Troggs, 1966

55, Stay (I Missed You), Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories, 1994

56, Rush Rush, Paula Abdul, 1991

57, Fingertips – Pt 2, Little Stevie Wonder, 1963

58, Fancy, Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX, 2014

59, Love the Way You Lie, Eminem featuring Rihanna, 2010

60, Brandy (You're a Fine Girl), Looking Glass, 1972

61, One of These Nights, Eagles, 1975

62, Summer in the City, The Lovin' Spoonful, 1966

63, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, Jim Croce, 1973

64, Payphone, Maroon 5 featuring Wiz Khalifa, 2012

65, If You Had My Love, Jennifer Lopez, 1999

66, Don't Go Breaking My Heart, Elton John & Kiki Dee, 1976

67, This Guy's in Love With You, Herb Alpert, 1968

68, I Can't Stop Loving You, Ray Charles, 1962

69, Cheerleader, OMI, 2015

70, Give Me Everything, Pitbull featuring Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer, 2011

71, Kiss and Say Goodbye, The Manhattans, 1976

72, Shout, Tears for Fears, 1985

73, Hips Don't Lie, Shakira featuring Wyclef Jean, 2006

74, Where Did Our Love Go, The Supremes, 1964

75, It's Now or Never, Elvis Presley with The Jordanaires, 1960

76, I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch), Four Tops, 1965

77, Annie's Song, John Denver, 1974

78, Bent, matchbox twenty, 2000

79, Love Will Keep Us Together, Captain & Tennille, 1975

80, Party Like a Rockstar, Shop Boyz, 2007

81, Hello, I Love You, The Doors, 1968

82, Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian), The Raiders, 1971

83, Coming Up (Live at Glasgow), Paul McCartney and Wings, 1980

84, You're Makin' Me High/Let It Flow, Toni Braxton, 1996

85, Weak, SWV, 1993

86, I Get Around, The Beach Boys, 1964

87, Right Here Waiting, Richard Marx, 1989

88, Flashdance…What a Feeling, Irene Cara, 1984

89, Bette Davis Eyes, Kim Carnes, 1981

90, What's Love Got to Do With It, Tina Turner, 1984

91, Everybody Loves Somebody, Dean Martin, 1964

92, Rude, MAGIC!, 2014

93, Three Times a Lady, Commodores, 1978

94, I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), Whitney Houston, 1987

95, People Got to Be Free, The Rascals, 1968

96, See You Again, Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth, 2015

97, Somebody That I Used to Know, Gotye featuring Kimbra, 2012

98, Good Times, Chic, 1979

99, U Remind Me, Usher, 2001

100, Honky Tonk Women, The Rolling Stones, 1969



The Biggest Summer Songs of All Time chart is based on each track’s performance on the Billboard Hot 100 during the summer tracking period from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The chart was compiled utilizing an inverse point system for 1959 (the Hot 100’s first full summer) through 1991 (the final summer prior to the advent of Nielsen Music data), with weeks at No. 1 earning the greatest value and weeks at No. 100 earning the least. From 1992 through 2016, the chart incorporates point totals accumulated from radio airplay and sales, as well as points from other data sets (i.e., streaming) that were included in the Hot 100. Years were then weighted to ensure fairly equal representation for songs of all eras of the Hot 100’s history.


Portions of this story originally appeared in the July 25, 2015, issue of Billboard.