It’s Labor Day weekend. You can see summer’s end in the body language of every kid laden with a backpack and in the slant of the sunlight in the late afternoon. Which means it’s time to look back at the Top 20 summer records of all time. Well, not all time, but from the British Invasion to the year I went into elevator music radio and quit listening to the Top 40 on a regular basis–1964 through 1986, which is close enough to all time for me. The list contains tunes that peaked at Number One in June, July, or August, and is ranked by total weeks at Number One, in the Top Ten, and in the Top 100. Plus I made a couple of minor adjustments in a couple of spots because this is my website and I can do any damn thing I want. In the end, I was mildly surprised by the results–even knowing the charts as well as I do.
1. Every Breath You Take/Police ’83
2. Shadow Dancing/Andy Gibb ’78
3. Bette Davis Eyes/Kim Carnes ’81
4. Eye of the Tiger/Survivor ’82
5. Flashdance/Irene Cara ’83
6. Alone Again Naturally/Gilbert O’Sullivan ’72
7. In the Year 2525/Zager and Evans ’69
8. When Doves Cry/Prince ’84
9. Ebony and Ivory/Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder ’82
10. Bad Girls/Donna Summer ’79
11. Silly Love Songs/Paul McCartney and Wings ’76
12. It’s Too Late-I Feel the Earth Move/Carole King ’71
13. I Just Want to Be Your Everything/Andy Gibb ’77
14. Close to You/Carpenters ’70
15. Magic/Olivia Newton John ’80
16. Funkytown/Lipps Inc ’80
17. My Love/Paul McCartney and Wings ’73
18. Windy/Association ’67
19. Satisfaction/Rolling Stones ’65
20. Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart/Elton John ’76
It’s interesting to me how few of these are still radio staples today. “Satisfaction” on classic rock, “Windy,” “It’s Too Late,” and “In the Year 2525” on oldies stations, “Every Breath You Take,” “Eye of the Tiger,” and maybe “Flashdance” and “When Doves Cry” on adult contemporary. But most of the rest, despite having been Number One for between four and seven weeks, would be banished to 70s or 80s specialty shows, or in the case of the Carpenters, nostalgia formats targeted at your grandmother. And look at who’s not here: Lots of McCartney but no Beatles (although “A Hard Day’s Night” was close). No Beach Boys. No Motown (although “I Can’t Help Myself” by the Four Tops was close).
Sure, what makes a summer memory is not necessarily chart position. It’s not even necessary for a song to have been a hit in the summer to be associated with the season–for example, the Temptations’ “My Girl” topped the charts in the dead of winter, but it’s a summer song for me because I heard it a lot one particular summer. Which only proves that memory isn’t necessarily history. But it’s weirdly illuminating to know that while we were listening to the summer songs we remember–the ones we worked by, played softball by, or made love by, we were listening to these songs, too.