For as long as we can remember, people have been conditioned to adore the summer. Swimming pools, firecrackers, barbecues, family vacations, soap operas, streetlight curfews, and camping in the yard—and, best of all, no school. Sure, our favorite network television shows are traditionally on hiatus, but, when it’s summer, we’d prefer not to be locked down to commitments, anyway. We want the wind blowing through our hair. We want iced tea while laying on a beach towel. We want everyone pretty and happy and without a care in the world, and often we want our summer music—whether from Brian Wilson or Stephen Malkmus—to reflect that.
There’s another school of thought, though, and it doesn’t owe the summer a thing. Heartbreak doesn’t take the season off, and plenty of folks see the gloomy bummer-fest the summer can be, particularly as it contrasts heightened expectation.
We’ve gathered 40 angst-ridden or depressing or just plain sinister summer-related tracks for you below, without the typical fare like “Summertime Blues” or newer mediocre tracks like “Summertime Sadness.” These aren’t just the only 40 we could find, but, rather, 40 songs worth spending time with and discovering.
And then we ranked them in order from barely sad to utterly depressing…
40. Sparklehorse – “Knives Of Summer”
The thing about Sparklehorse is even if this is a love song, which it might be, the imagery is still not anywhere near cheery. But without real clarity, “Knives of Summer” is only the slightest bummer, not cutting deep enough.
39. Queens Of The Stone Age – “Feel Good Hit Of The Summer”
“Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, Marijuana, Ecstasy and Alcohol/C-c-c-c-c-cocaine.” Bummer summer for some, best summer ever for others. We’ll error on the side of caution and label this a bummer, because dying from an absurd drug cocktail can ruin your summer. Food for thought, kids.
38. Lambchop – “The New Cobweb Summer”
Lambchop’s contradiction parade is only half-gloom, but with lyrics this clever, it barely qualifies as a bummer: “The last thought that you think today / Has already happened / The link between profound and pain / Covers you like Sherwin Williams.”
37. The Decemberists – “July, July”
Trying to figure out what is going on in this song might be a bummer in of itself, but The Decemberists’ faithful “rocker” that still pops up in concert—thanks to both it’s seemingly light subject matter and short duration—is more of a bummer than appears on the surface. An uncle is shot in the stomach in the first verse, ghost chickens haunt in the second, and the unrelenting march of time spoils a perfectly good July, July.
36. The Flaming Lips – “It’s Summertime”
Wayne Coyne’s ode to summer is an interesting one in that it presupposes sadness, convincing the listener to look outside and see that summer isn’t all bad. Sure, that’s a message of hope, but it’s also a bummer to know that summer is expected to bum.
35. The Fiery Furnaces – “Here Comes The Summer”
The Friedberger siblings’ wonderful summer anthem isn’t a bummer for the first several verses where waiting for the summer and remembering it’s pleasures preoccupies the rest of the year. But, when summer actually comes, the preoccupation turns to an anticipation of loss, worrying about missing summer more than actually enjoying the time it is there. A bummer, but also a little life lesson from the experimental indie popsters.
34. Interpol – “Summer Well”
Interpol may be clawing at the same tired theme we’ve seen repeatedly, summer heartbreak. They may even take away some of the song’s power with a conclusion of “it’s alright.” But, they’re the only one of these bands to use summer as a verb, for which this song is forgiven any transgressions.
33. Phoenix – “Summer Days”
This is a Phoenix song that appears to be about spending summer as a trucker. And, that’s all I have to say about that.
32. Superchunk – “This Summer”
Superchunk’s standalone single plays with the whole “This summer was so great but now I miss it so I wish it never happened” trope. Not convinced? How about the side-B cover of Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer.” Yep, it’s a 2 for 1 summer special!
31. Elliott Smith – “Independence Day”
A Carpe Diem theme runs throughout one of the more optimistic Elliott Smith ballads, but, living every day like it’s the last carries the baggage of eventual death no matter how you cut it. Couple that with Smith’s life story and it still rings sad.
30. Palma Violets – “Last Of The Summer Wine”
On August 29, 2010, the longest running sitcom in history ended its 37-year stay, as Britain’s Last Of The Summer Wine aired its final episode. Were Palma Violets’ inspired by this event so profoundly that they wrote a soul-searching track and named it after the show? I hope so.
29. Best Coast – “Summer Mood”
The summer makes Bethany feel moody. That’s the mood in which moods can change suddenly, essentially putting her in a bad mood. The voice of our generation, people.
28. Fucked Up – “I Hate Summer”
Sure, a title like “I Hate Summer” seems like it’s going to take you to the depths of hell, but really, Damian Abraham just doesn’t like it when it’s hot. He sounds tough, but part of the bummer in this one is realizing that he’s shouting intensely about his favorite three seasons, and basically just whining about the weather.
27. Iron & Wine – “Summer in Savannah”
Sam Beam’s summer in Savannah plays with the gothic and macabre imagery that can be associated with the area, like “Mama’s missing finger had a mind of its own / The dog that we lost keeps coming home.” From torturing insects to foreshadowed suicides, little is pleasant about this summer, and if not a bummer, it’s just a bit disturbing.
26. of Montreal – “Oslo In The Summertime”
Who doesn’t like a summer vacation? Kevin Barnes, apparently, whose stay in Norway is soured by the never-ending days, leading a listener to wonder how can this place have the highest quality of life in the world? “Everyone’s away on holiday,” the singer notes.
25. Deftones – “My Own Summer [Shove It]”
Replace Oslo with Seattle and never-ending daylight with a desire to sleep during the day, and the Deftones and of Montreal are virtually writing the same song. This one, unlike Barnes’, is not the summer’s fault and the fact that summer is involved at all is purely coincidental. However, Chino Moreno sounds much, much more affected by the difficulty sleeping.
24. Grandaddy – “Summer Here Kids”
Jason Lytle has always maintained an integrity in his music that seems to trump all, so on Grandaddy’s debut classic Under The Western Freeway, he offers up this song condemning both vacation and season, urging all to “stay alone / put a record on / listen to the songs / keep yourself at home / cause summer here kids.” It makes more sense when you realize “kids” is short for kidding. But, the refrain of “I’m not having a good time” leaves little room for interpretation. More like Gransaddy, eh?
23. Low – “July”
No idea what they missed in July, but the slowcore icons could make “Happy Birthday” sound like a death march, so, ambiguity aside, it doesn’t quite bum me out as much as if I actually knew why to be bummed.
22. Littler Dragon – “Summertearz”
We never really get a full sense of who or what is making Yukimi Nagano upset, but she’s crying, it’s summer, and she “can’t let it go.” I can think of 39 other songwriters that would totally relate to this.
21. Bright Eyes – “June On The West Coast”
This is actually a pretty optimistic tune for Conor Oberst, but within every potential happiness, lines like” Because I know I can’t keep living in this dead or dying dream” hold the narrative in place, a reminder that joy is a very relative emotion, and for the length of a song, the summer is always shadowed by existential crisis.