How Music Has Changed Across Seven Decades of Summer

Summer is a time for vacations, friends, parks, pools, and music. Whether it’s a summer concert or your local radio host promising you the song they’re about to play will be “The Biggest Hit of the Summer” (!!!!!!), music comes alive in these particular three months. Artists enjoy having summer hits, while music fans love to find that new song they can jam to in the car, windows down, volume up.  

Recently,  I wondered about the history of summer music and what was popular in decades past. After finding a particularly helpful list of summer hits, I decided to write about the different summers of music. I chose from all the decades that end in 7 in honor of the year 2017: 1957, 1967, 1977, 1987, 1997, and 2007.

Breaking down these summers of music, I found that there’s everything from rap to rock and one hit wonders to iconic hit makers. Each summer offers a little taste of the music that was popular during the whole decade. Enjoy the list and be ready for whatever hits the Summer of 2017 brings!

1957: The Summer of Elvis Presley

By Published by The Minneapolis Tribune – eBayfrontback, Public Domain, Wikicommons.

Though the summer of 1957 did have hits from Pat Boone and Debbie Reynolds, its crown jewel artist was Elvis Presley. He became a cultural icon and amassed the nickname of “The King of Rock and Roll.” With two hits that ruled the charts for the whole summer, Elvis himself was definitely a 1957 summer hit.

The #1 Summer Songs From the 1957 Charts:

“All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley

“Love Letters in the Sand/Bernadine” by Pat Boone

“(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” by Elvis Presley

“Tammy” by Debbie Reynolds

1967: The Summer of Love

By Elektra Records-Joel Brodsky – eBay itemphoto frontphoto back, Public Domain, Wikicommons.

Like much of the rest of the 1960s, 1967 was a year of political, social, and cultural upheaval. Vietnam protests and social activism from this decade continued into the 1970s. Much of the music reflects the “hippie era,” with groovy hits from acts like the Doors and Aretha Franklin topping the charts.

The #1 Summer Songs from the 1967 Charts:

“Groovin'” by the Young Rascals

“Respect” by Aretha Franklin

“Windy” by the Association

“Light My Fire” by the Doors

1977: The Summer of Everything

By Motown Records – eBay item photo back, Public Domain, Wikicommons

1977 had no hits that stayed on the charts for very long. Nine different songs topped the charts during this summer, with genres like pop and disco gaining popularity. Notably, film culture impacted music during this era, as seen when Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” hit number one after it was used as the theme in celebrated motion picture, Rocky. 

The #1 Summer Songs from the 1997 Charts:

“Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder

“I’m Your Boogie Man” by KC and the Sunshine Band

“Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac

“Gonna Give It Up (Part 1)” by Marvin Gaye

“Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti

“Undercover Angel” by Alan O’Day

“Da Doo Run Run”  by Shaun Cassidy

“Looks Like We’ve Made It” by Barry Manilow

“I Just Want to Be Your Everything” by Andy Gibb

1987: The Summer of Big Hair

By PH2 Mark Kettenhofen – Whitney_Houston_Welcome_Heroes_1.JPEG, Public Domain, Wikicommons

The 1980s was a time of trends: punk, dance music, big hair, and more. It was also the time when technology began to influence the sound of music. The digital age brought about more tools to synthesize music. MTV also started in this decade, sparking the trend of releasing music videos  with recorded music. 1987 saw massive hits from notable acts like Whitney Houston, U-2,  and Bob Seger.

The #1 Summer Songs from the 1987 Charts:

“With or Without You” by U2

“You Keep Hangin’ On” by Kim Wilde

“Head to Toe” by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jams

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” by Whitney Houston

“Alone” by Heart

“Shakedown” by Bob Seger

1997: The Summer of Rap & Hip Hop

By Freelance photographer Richard Burdett (Website) – Own work by uploader, taken at eTalk Festival Party., CC BY 3.0, Wikicommons.

There was an increase in popularity surrounding the genres of rap and hip hop during the 90s. However, unlike past eras, 1997 only saw three summer hits.

The #1 Summer Songs from the 1997 Charts:

“Hypnotize” by the Notorious B.I.G.

“MMMBop” by Hanson

“I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans

2007: The Summer I Was 7

Rihanna sings during The Concert for Valor in Washington, D.C. Nov. 11, 2014. DoD News photo by EJ Hersom; found on Wikicommons.

This is the only year from all of these decades when I was alive and could actually listen to the music on the radio. However, since I was only seven years old, I don’t personally remember much from this summer of music. I do know of the longevity of these artists and songs from 2007, especially considering the star-studded careers of artists like Rihanna and Maroon 5 that have continued into the present. Genres during this era are similar to that of today, with pop and rap continuing to be popular on the charts.

The #1 Summer Songs from 2007:

“Buy U a Drink (Shawty Snappin’)” by T-Pain featuring Yung Joc

“Make Me Wonder” by Maroon 5

“Umbrella” by Rihanna featuring Jay Z

“Hey There Delilah” by The Plain White Tees

2017: The Summer We Don’t Know Yet

By Drew de F Fawkes – Ed Sheeran, V Festival 2014, Chelmsford, CC BY 2.0, Wikicommons.

2017 has been a mix of pop and rap. Since January, the biggest hit makers have been Ed Sheeran, Migos, Bruno Mars, and the Weeknd. I’m excited to hear some new music and see what artist or song holds the crown as the hit of 2017’s summer.


Mary Claire is a 17 year old student and writer who loves politics, campfire smores, traveling, classic movies, and new music.

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