15 primo summer jams from the 1970s (2023)

When you make your summer playlist, you'll surely load up on great new music, but no summer playlist is complete without some classic jams from the 1970s. It doesn't matter if it's rock, soul, country or funk, the decade just exuded fun (at least in the musical sense), and we're here to help you select the right artists.

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Kool & the Gang

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“Summer Madness” is the ultimate summer jam, and we wouldn’t have DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime” without it. You know the synthesizer vibe that raises an octave every measure until it’s almost at the frequency of a dog whistle. You might’ve also noticed it’s playing in the background before Rocky Balboa hits the streets for a jog in the original “Rocky”. In any event, it’s a lovely groove, made for cooking out or falling asleep in a hammock in your backyard.

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The Edgar Winter Group

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There is something about The Edgar Winter Group’s “Free Ride” that makes you feel like hitting the open road and lighting out to parts unknown. There’s freedom in that song, and there’s a devil-may-care quality to the band’s tracks – including the amazing “Frankenstein” – that feel like the last day of school.

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They wrote a classic summertime jam called “Summer”, and yet there’s nothing quite as summer-y as “Low Rider”. That’s a track that makes you want to crack open a beer and wash your car – and then go out cruising the boulevard to check out the lovely guys and girls in their summer clothes. Being that they’re out of Los Angeles, War essentially lived in a perpetual summer, and their music reflected this.

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For a time, it was hard to hit up a county fair without discovering that Foghat was scheduled to play. But that’s not why they’re linked to summer. It’s the use of “Slow Ride” at the end of Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” that truly made them a summer band. School is out, the kids are going to see Aerosmith and all is right with the world.

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Alice Cooper

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“School’s out forever!” Alice Cooper’s classic 1972 rock song, “School’s Out”, is a rousing declaration of independence for kids at the end of the school year. Back in the day, radio stations would sit on the song until May; then they’d use it as a tease for the looming summer break. “No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks.”

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Seals & Croft

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“Summer Breeze” is a gentle, calming song from the songwriting duo that exemplified “soft rock” throughout the 1970s. “Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine of my mind.” Those lyrics may sound nonsensical, but they work in the context of the song. It sounds like a lover’s embrace at 6 AM in August after a long night of carousing.

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Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta

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The first big number in “Grease” is “Summer Nights”, and let’s admit it’s not the most enlightened song (“Did she put up a fight?”). But it’s the catchiest melody you’ll ever hear, and it’s a blast to sing with friends at a cookout or karaoke. And it’s never been performed with more swagger or élan than in the 1978 film version via Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta – both of whom were at the height of their stardom.

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“Saturday in the Park” is a song about a perfect July 4th (or so the narrator thinks), and, lyrically, it paints a beautiful, big-city picture of revelry and relaxation. Like many Chicago hits, it’s a little square, but lead singer Peter Cetera, backed up by that great horn section, puts it over. Cetera would go on to record “Glory of Love” for “The Karate Kid Part II”, which was a big summer movie.

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Mungo Jerry

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“In the summertime when the weather is hot/You can stretch right up and touch the sky.” Mungo Jerry didn’t have many hits, but they nailed the bull’s eye with the leisurely paced “In the Summertime”. They sound like a bunch of half-drunk musicians hanging out on a porch, jamming on a humid July day in the Deep South (even though they hail from Colpington, England). They’re a great good-time band.

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Curtis Mayfield

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Curtis Mayfield didn’t record his classic summer jam “Summer Hot” until 1983, but there’s a loose, behind-the-beat brilliance to his best songs that makes you want to kick back and lose an hour or ten. “Super Fly” is a stone groove gassed up by a bass line that’s begging for mischief. And “People Get Ready” is a beautifully optimistic protest song that makes you believe we’ve still got a shot at resolving our differences. Curtis Mayfield possessed a generous soul.

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Critically reviled in their prime, these face-painted goofballs are all about fun and very little else – and isn’t that what summer’s about, too? “Rock and Roll All Nite” is a summer anthem in its recklessness and abdication of responsibility (after all, if you’re going to rock and roll all night, you’re probably not going into work the next day). KISS sounds best blaring out of speakers dragged out onto the front porch in June. Get a case of beer, call your friends and have a ball.

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Earth, Wind & Fire

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The three elements wrote the greatest end-of-summer jam of all time in “September”. The 21st night of September is typically the final day of summer, and there’s a sense of one last stolen night of ecstasy before the autumn comes rolling in. Maurice White sings of “only blue talk and love”, and it sounds like a gift. Overall, there’s never been a cookout that didn’t benefit from an abundance of Earth, Wind & Fire.

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Sly and the Family Stone

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“Hot Fun in the Summertime” came out in 1969, but Sly was musically ahead of his time (and arguably the inventor of funk music as it is now known). Sly had an effortless talent for getting booties shaking and then bringing the party down to a relaxed groove. “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)” is guaranteed to get everyone dancing, while “Family Affair” is a head-bobbing break from the action.

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Stevie Wonder

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Stevie Wonder is an artist for all seasons, but he did record a reggae-infused tribute to summer called “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” for his 1980 LP “Hotter than July”. That song cooks like concrete under a blistering sun. As for the summertime value of the rest of Stevie’s oeuvre, when has a party ever been brought down by a Stevie song? Summer is about being happy and carefree, and that is how Stevie makes us feel.

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Donna Summer

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The season is in her name, but the disco diva (who left us far too soon in 2012) was the hip-bumping soundtrack of every nightclub in the 1970s. Songs like “Last Dance”, “Love to Love You Baby” and “Bad Girls” will always get the party started. She also recorded a diva-tastic, Giorgio Moroder-produced song called “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” with Barbra Streisand. Is there anything more 1970s than that?

Jeremy Smith is a freelance entertainment writer and the author of "George Clooney: Anatomy of an Actor". His second book, "When It Was Cool", is due out in 2021.

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