Summertime Bruce: Springsteen’s Top 20 songs of summer

Springsteen summer songs

Bruce Springsteen, in the cover photo of his “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” digital EP.

With the news that Bruce Springsteen will devote his next SiriusXM satellite radio DJ show, July 15, to summertime music, it seemed like a good time to take a look back at some of his own summer-y songs. He’ll probably devote most of the show to other artists’ music, but does have some extremely appropriate songs of his own to play, and may play the original versions of some of the summertime songs he has covered, over the years. (July 16 Update: Click here for a report on the show itself.)

So here, below, is a Top 20 list, featuring both studio tracks and concert performances, with a YouTube video for each one.

Note: Inclusion on this list is more about mood than lyrics, in some cases. A song needs a certain lightness, and an upbeat quality, to be a summer song. “Racing in the Street” and “Jungleland,” for instance, both include references to summer, but they’re too dark to be appropriate for a list like this, in my opinion. But the joyous instrumental “Paradise by the ‘C'” feels, to me, like a summer song, even though it has no lyrics, so it’s here.

A Spotify playlist is embedded below the video, though it only has 18 of the songs (two of the covers were not available on Spotify).

Here is the list:

1. “Sherry Darling.” From The River, 1980. A perfect summertime song, in terms of both lyrics (there’s “a hot sun beating on the black top” and “girls melting on the beach”) and mood.

2. “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).” From The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, 1973. Literally set in summer, and Springsteen’s most perfect evocation of the Jersey Shore’s “carnival life.”

3. “Seaside Bar Song.” 1973 outtake included on Tracks, 1998. “There’s something about a pretty girl on a sweet summer night that gets this boy excited,” sings Springsteen in this song, which also includes a line about running barefoot in the sand, listening to music.

4. “Summertime Blues.” A cover of the Eddie Cochran hit — a quintessential summer song, also covered by Blue Cheer, The Who and many others — from 2014.

5. “California Sun.” Another live cover, from 2012, of a classic summer song, this one a 1964 garage-rock hit for The Rivieras.

6. “Jersey Girl.” A Tom Waits song, frequently covered by Springsteen (this version is from 1981). Waits wrote it about his wife, who is from New Jersey, but was likely paying homage to Springsteen with lines such as “Down the shore everything’s all right/You and your baby on a Saturday night.”

7. “Spirit in the Night.” From Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., 1973. No specific references to summer but the story, about a bunch of kids partying by a lake, certainly has a summertime feel.

8. “Girls in Their Summer Clothes.” From Magic, 2007. A bittersweet, gorgeous pop song.

9. “Heat Wave.” 2014 cover of the Motown classic, a No. 1 hit for Martha & the Vandellas in 1963.

10. “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day.” From The Rising, 2002. “Funny, I thought I felt a sweet summer breeze/Must have been you sighing so deep/Don’t worry, we’re going to find a way,” sings Springsteen in this mainstay of his concerts of the last two decades.

11. “Hello Sunshine.” From Western Stars, 2019. Moody but optimistic enough to qualify as a summer anthem.

12. “Hungry Heart.” From The River, 1980. Again, no specific summer references. But it feels like a summer song to me.

13. “Darlington County.” From Born in the USA, 1984. This song does have a dark twist — the singer’s friend ends up getting arrested, for an unspecified crime — but is set on the Fourth of July and sounds undeniably sunny throughout.

14. “Paradise by the ‘C.'” A raucous showcase for Clarence Clemons’ saxophone playing.

15. “Frankie Fell in Love.” From High Hopes, 2014. There’s nothing about summer in the lyrics, but the song represents Springsteen at his most upbeat.

16. “Ain’t Good Enough for You.” Versions of this song were recorded during both the Darkness on the Edge of Town and The River sessions. It may have been excluded from the latter because its party vibe made it too similar to “Sherry Darling.” It was released on The Promise in 2010.

17. “Surprise, Surprise.” From Working on a Dream, 2009. Just a simple, catchy pop song.

18. “Tomorrow Never Knows.” From Working on a Dream, 2009. Perhaps the only song Springsteen ever wrote that could accurately be described as “winsome.”

19. “Talk to Me.” Written by Springsteen in the ’70s, the buoyant “Talk to Me” became a trademark song for Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, but was released with Springsteen on lead vocals (but the Jukes’ horns parts remaining) on The Promise in 2010.

20. “County Fair.” A 1983 recording included on the 1993 Essential Bruce Springsteen collection. It’s understandable why this track took a long time to be released: The music is bland and generic. But the song’s sweet, nostalgic lyrics were evocative enough to make it a notable bonus track on a compilation, and a worthy entry on this list as well.

And here is the Spotify playlist:

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