Best Summer Albums Through the Decades

By Inaara S. RSS Thu, September 2, 2021

Whether it is eating ice cream, swimming, or visiting your neighborhood library, there are so many great summer pastimes. One of the most exciting parts of summer is listening to all the incredible music!

As we approach the end of summer, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best summer albums through the decades, beginning in the 1950s to current times. These albums are by U.S. artists that were either released during the summer or have some great songs to listen to as you enjoy the warmth of the long summer days.

Many of these albums and other works by these artists are available in our catalog.

 

1950s


That Bad Eartha
by Eartha Kitt | 1953 | CD

From the powerhouse of artistic talent, Eartha Kitt, comes this unique and classic album. Celebrated for her many iconic songs, including the winter classic "Santa Baby," Kitt delivers joyful summer songs here such as “C’est Si Bon" and "Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)". Kitt continues the theme of love, romance, and hope in her rendition of Cole Porter’s 1938 song written for the musical Leave It To Me! titled "My Heart Belongs to Daddy."

 


Porgy and Bess
by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong | 1958 | Jazz Music Library Online Database

This album is a collaboration between Ella Fitzgerald, known as the First Lady of Song, and Louis Armstrong, renowned trumpeter and singer. In Porgy and Bess, Fitzgerald and Armstrong perform songs from the opera of the same name, which was composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin in 1935. In honor of the summer season, listen to Fitzgerald’s melodic and moving performance in "Summertime." You can also listen to more of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s love songs in our catalog.

 

1960s


I Put a Spell On You
by Nina Simone | 1965 | CD

Nina Simone, referred to by many as the High Priestess of Soul, has a song named "July Tree" on this album that offers the imagery of a seed symbolizing true love that is planted in the "autumn ground," is "deep in the winter white snow," "buds in the April air," and finally "blooms high upon the July tree."

Although the summer may feel like it ends in August, especially with the start of school and the end of summer vacation, summer actually lasts until the fall equinox on September 22, 2021. In the final summer weeks in September, listen to Simone’s "One September Day" where she remembers through the tears, the blossoming of a young love that happened on one September day.

Needless to say, I Put a Spell On You also has the iconic and ever-powerful track "Feeling Good." This song alone makes this not just the best summer album, but truly merits it as one of the best albums of all time, while placing Nina Simone as one of the most talented and skilled musicians ever.

 


The Dock of the Bay
by Otis Redding | 1968 | CD

The title track of this album, "(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay," is about the ease of the day. Although we do not know for sure it was on a summer day, we can assume the speaker was sitting in the summer sun since they were able to sit and watch the ships and tides roll in and away until later into the evening. Redding sings of the melancholy and longing for home. Like many of us, who are able to relax during the summer days, Redding notes that he is able to "waste time" as he sits on the dock of the bay.

This album, in particular, holds great significance in Redding’s musical legacy, recording it only three days before he passed away in an unfortunate plane crash. He had originally planned to come back and re-record the title track to replace a verse he had whistled. Redding intended to work on the lyrics over the next few days as he prepared to leave for Cleveland for his TV appearance, which was going to be followed by a concert in Madison, Wisconsin. Later, this whistled version of the song was released and became one of Redding’s most popular hits of his career.

Like many who take the summertime to think about love and romance, Redding’s "I Love You More Than Words Can Say" and "The Glory of Love" are great tracks to listen to and reflect on as well.

 

1970s


Songs in the Key of Life
by Stevie Wonder | 1976 | CD

While released in late September of 1976, Stevie Wonder’s album has bright and exciting music for the summertime. "Sir Duke" is an especially memorable track as it reminds the listeners about the power of music and how it "knows that it is and always will be one of the things that life just won't quit." Wonder also pays tribute to some of music’s greatest contributors from William James Count Basie, Louis Armstrong (nicknamed Satchmo), Duke Ellington—who Wonder calls with the honorific title of Sir Duke—and Ella Fitzgerald.

Some of the most popular songs in the album also include "Pastime Paradise," "Isn’t She Lovely," and "As."

 


Once Upon a Time
by Donna Summer | 1977

If you’re more in the mood for a disco soundtrack to enjoy in the summer weather, listen to this Donna Summer album. The title track introduces the fairy-tale journey that Summer begins, searching for true love. Filled with many danceable songs, Summer presents memorable tracks as a cohesive narrative that help take you on this magical journey with songs like "Fairy Tale High," "Queen For a Day," and "Happily Ever After." Set up as a modern Cinderella story, tracks like "Sweet Romance" and "I Love You" establish the journey of the main speaker as she travels through the challenges of finding love. 

Known as the Queen of Disco, Summer is also well known for her tracks "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls", which were part of her Bad Girls album, available in our catalog.

Fun Fact: Lizzo sampled Summer’s "beep beep, toot toot" vocals from "Bad Girls" for her 2018 song "Fitness." You can listen to Lizzo’s 2019 album Cuz I Love You, filled with upbeat summer songs like "Juice" and "Tempo (feat. Missy Elliott)."

 

1980s


Purple Rain
by Prince & The Revolution | 1984 | CD

Prince created the album Purple Rain as the soundtrack to the film of the same name in which he starred as the protagonist. The cultural impact and popularity of the album is undeniable. Purple Rain peaked at number one on the Billboard charts in 1984 for 12 weeks and re-entered Billboard’s 200 at the number four position in 2017 as a reissued soundtrack. The film made over $70 million and Prince won an Academy Award in the Best Song Score category. The Library of Congress included Purple Rain in the National Recording Registry in 2012 as a cultural, historical, and artistic treasure. Tracks like "When Doves Cry" and "Purple Rain" have remained classics throughout the decades. Purple Rain remains one of the most consequential and culturally important musical albums of all time.

 


All Hail the Queen
by Queen Latifah | 1989

While many of us may know Queen Latifah for her brilliant acting performances, she is also a superb hiphop artist. All Hail the Queen was Queen Latifah’s debut album in 1989. Seamlessly combining soul and reggae music, Latifah presented her Afrocentric and feminist thoughts in an album that displayed her lyrical prowess. Latifah’s track "Ladies First," a collaboration with Monie Love, is a feminist anthem that celebrates the power of women coming together and demonstrating their musical, lyrical, and artistic skills.

"Ladies first, there's no time to rehearse 

I'm divine and my mind expands throughout the universe 

A female rapper with the message to send 

the Queen Latifah is a perfect specimen”

 

1990s


Aquemini
by OutKast | 1998 | CD

The Atlanta hiphop duo of André 3000 and Big Boi released their album Aquemini in 1998. A combination of their birth signs of Aquarius and Gemini, the album was a display of Atlanta-specific sounds and storytelling. It marked the growing influence and popularity of not only Atlanta hiphop, but also symbolized the growing power of Southern hiphop within larger hiphop culture. Aquemini is considered by many to be one of the best and most influential Southern hiphop albums in history. Aquemini also shows off the musical expertise and innovation of André 3000 and Big Boi. A unique track from the album is "Liberation", which is about the different struggles of life and pursuing one’s art with verses from André 3000, Big Boi, Cee-Lo Green, Erykah Badu, and Big Rube. 

Fun Fact: Beyoncé sampled OutKast’s "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" from Aquemini in her song "All Night", off of her 2016 album Lemonade.

 


The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
by Lauryn Hill | 1998 | CD

A classic album if there ever was one! Lauryn Hill established herself as a significant cultural and artistic creator with this album, forever transforming the musical world by sharing her findings and questions on love, misogyny, life, pursuing a musical career, and parenthood. Hill showcased her storytelling, singing, and rapping skills throughout the album with extremely popular and moving songs like "Ex-Factor," "Doo Wop (That Thing)," "To Zion," and "Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You." Her album undoubtedly changed the reality of what was possible for a commercial musical artist during the era and demonstrated that artists could present a concept album with a clear story and substance while having commercial success. To this day, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill remains an integral part of U.S. musical culture and history.

Fun Fact: Drake sampled Lauryn Hill’s "Ex-Factor" in his 2018 song "Nice For What." Hill later flipped Drake’s sampled track and performed her own version at the Apollo Theater in 2018.

 

2000s


Under Construction
by Missy Elliott | 2002

Missy Elliott released her second album, Under Construction, in 2002. Elliott’s "Work It" is one of her most popular songs. With the upbeat track, Elliott raps, "I put my thing down, flip it, and reverse it," which she actually does reverse in the following line. The song is not only a musical track that is individually celebrated, music producers throughout the decades have sampled Elliott’s music in their own works. This has given Elliott’s "Work It" an even longer lifespan and made it an even more significant part of our musical culture. Elliott’s album also marks just how great of a collaborator she is with her tracks, featuring Jay-Z, Beyoncé, TLC, and 50 Cent. Together, Elliott and Jay-Z reminisce about the good old days of hiphop in their track "Back in the Day." Elliott and Jay-Z pay homage to some of the most notable hiphop contributors like Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Public Enemy, Run-DMC, Salt-N-Pepa, KRS-One, LL Cool J, Slick Rick, MC Lyte, and Rakim.

You can also check out and listen to Missy Elliott's first album, Supa Dupa Fly, which is available in our catalog.

 


Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds, Vol. 2
by Jill Scott | 2004 | CD

Like Missy Elliott, this Jill Scott album was her second, as well as the second of a trilogy. Released four years after her debut album, Scott cemented herself as an authentic and musically gifted performer and lyricist. "Golden" is arguably a summer anthem, with the visuals of the music video showing Scott riding through her neighborhood on a sunny afternoon. Scott sings that she’s "living my life like it’s golden" and the music video shows people who are pursuing their dreams, sharing time with their family, and becoming their better selves. Scott also champions her freedom and her individual agency with lyrics like, "I'm holding on to my freedom / Can't take it from me / I was born into it / It comes naturally." If you’re searching for an album that shares Scott’s personal journey, as well as her invitation to live your truest life, all the while being impressed with her musical talent—then this album is for you!

 

2010s


Ctrl
by SZA | 2017 | CD

Ctrl is one of the most versatile and well-crafted albums to listen to and is a remarkable musical debut project, exploring SZA’s reflections about who she is as a person and who she wants to become while also understanding her romantic challenges and desires. From "Love Galore", which features Travis Scott, SZA sings, "Why you bother me when you know you don’t want me?" Through the track, SZA comes to terms with a romantic partner who continues to enter her life although they do not have a sincere interest in her. SZA invites her listeners into her everyday life with "Broken Clocks", where she intertwines her concept of time with her ever-demanding job and romantic relationships. Along with these tracks, "Normal Girl," "Garden," "Drew Barrymore," and "The Weekend" are incredible tracks worth a listen.

 


Eve
by Rapsody | 2019

Rapsody’s Eve is named for the biblical mother of humanity, while honoring and celebrating the incredible inspiration of Black women. Each track is named after a woman and explores the values and lessons each embodies for the listener to learn from. The lead single of the album, "Ibtihaj," is named after Ibtihaj Muhammad, a remarkable fencing athlete known to be the first Muslim to wear a hijab while representing the United States at the Olympics. Featuring a sample of GZA’s "Liquid Swords," GZA himself raps in the track. "Ibtihaj" also features D’Angelo and cameos from Roxanne Shante and Mary J. Blige. Honoring musicians like Nina Simone and Aaliyah, Rapsody also has tracks named for Sojourner Truth, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Serena Williams, and Michelle Obama, among many others. A complete, honest, and moving tale of brilliant women that continue to shape our world, Eve is a summer album of Rapsody’s heartfelt tracks that inspires and moves listeners.

You can also listen to Rapsody’s 2017 album, Laila’s Wisdom, which is available in our catalog.


What are your favorite summer albums? Let us know in the comments below. Make sure to check out our calendar to find summer events happening near you!


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This is a solid music list! I haven't listened to some of the albums listed in a long time, thank you for reminding me to add them my rotation!
Camille T. - Philadelphia (East Oak Lane)
Friday, September 3, 2021