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Summer Music: The Top 10 Summer Albums

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Here's a list of the best summer music and oldies CD compilations, in no particular order, as hand-picked by your Guide. It's subjective, of course, but it covers the 50s, 60s, and 70s in search of what your Guide considers the classic summer songs, beach classics, surf music, and drag hits. If you have any suggestions for this list, feel free and e-mail me!

1. Various Artists, "25 All-Time Greatest Summer Songs"

A disc from Varese Vintage that's simply packed with all manner of summer songs. Unlike some collections, this one remembers what summer's about - not just surf and sun but vacation ("School Is Out"), amusement parks ("Palisades Park"), and "Dancing in the Streets." Not to mention songs that rarely appear on these type of compilations, like the Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon."
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2. The Beach Boys, "Endless Summer"

What would summer be without the Beach Boys? Other compilations are arguably longer and more thorough, but this 1974 classic comp fits the purpose better than any other -- one, because it contains none of the Seventies or Eighties hits, and two, because it catches the group in their early surf music years, before ambition led them away from the beach.
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3. Various Artists, "Endless Summer Legends" [Box Set]

Although it starts out with Eddie Cochran's classic "Summertime Blues," this 3 disc collection is only setting the tone. The remaining tracks make up the greatest collection of surf music you can get in this size package, from hits to classic rarities that never get played anymore. There are only 10 songs on each disc, but the price is still right.
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4. Various Artists, "25 Beach Music Classics"

From the fine folks at Varese Sarabande comes this essential compilation, a great beginner's intro to Carolina "beach" or "shag" music. This isn't surf music - these are sexy, laid-back, easygoing sweet soul and R&B classics designed to get you and yours dancing in the sand. You'll know some of these songs ("Build Me Up Buttercup"), and you'll fall in love with the rest.
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5. Jan and Dean, "All the Hits: From Surf City to Drag City"

Few other groups visited the beach and the drag strip in their music as often as Jan and Dean, and certainly no act did so with such chart results. Yet the surf music duo are never given the respect due them, in part because of the near-fatal car crash that sidelined Jan permanently in 1966. As this single disc comp makes clear, the two were almost as big an influence on Brian Wilson as the Beatles were. Which should be enough of a summer-music credential for anyone.
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6. The Lovin' Spoonful, "Greatest Hits" [Buddha]

The Spoonful contributed the perfect urban summer anthem with the timeless "Summer in the City," but truth be told, everything these guys did was bright and easygoing - in other words, a perfect soundtrack for your lazy summer day. This compilation is by far the best, featuring the latest in remastered sound. Do You Believe In Magic?
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7. Various Artists, "Monster Summer Hits: Wild Surf!"

A better value and a poppier look at surf (in keeping with the title), "Monster Summer Hits" is geared towards the surf fan who knows the Top 40 classics but wants to delve a little deeper. "Wipeout" and "Hawaii Five-O" and the Beach Boys/Jan and Dean hits are here, but so are tracks by the Fantastic Baggys, the Sunrays, and the aptly-named Mr. Gasser and The Weirdos. If you want to surf without having to change music every five minutes, this collection is your best bet.
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8. Various Artists, "Beach Party: Garpax Surf & Drag"

Let's face it: the nearly-interchangeable "surf" and "drag" scenes never produced that many hits in the first place, even during their heyday. So this release, a rare comp that features both genres, is a fascinating look at the underground culture of the time. Garpax stands for Gary Paxton, Hollywood Argyles member and producer who started this legendary label in the Sixties; this comp does an excellent job of plundering the vaults of same for summer music.
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9. Various Artists, "Summer Of Love Vol. 1: Tune In"

Well, the Summer of Love did happen in the summertime. Most people don't think of psychedelic music when they dig for summer songs, but as this single-disc collection proves, they're forgetting how perfectly the Youngblood's "Get Together" and the Animals' "San Franciscan Nights" fit the summer music mold. A perfect mix of flower power and summer fun.
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10. Various Artists, "Biggest Hits of Summer"

There are, indeed, a few duff cuts on this single-disc, all-purpose compilation of big summer songs. ("The Pina Colada Song"? Why?) But pick one or two out, and you end up with one of the more solid collections of summer music out there. This collection leans a little heavy on the '70s, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it means King Harvest's "Dancin' In The Moonlight" gets sandwiched between "Summer In The City" and the Brian Wilson tribute "Beach Baby."
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