Cassette Player Stereo in Retro Style
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The Biggest Summer Anthems From the Past 50 Years

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Cassette Player Stereo in Retro Style
RyanJLane/istockphoto

Summer Jams

There's something about music — the way it can evoke a time, a place, a feeling, even years after you first hear it. It's often regarded as the closest thing we have to a time machine. That statement seems to be especially true for summer anthems, particularly those tracks we listened to with more youthful blood in our veins, the warm wind in our hair, and shades of sunshine on our noses and shoulders. For a very musically focused trip down memory lane, we consulted Billboard's top-ranked singles on the Hot 100 chart for each summer dating back to 1971. 


To listen to this entire playlist on Spotify, click here


Related: 11 Classic Cars That Have Inspired Memorable Songs

Carole King Tapestry
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1971: "I Feel The Earth Move"

Artist: Carole King | Listen

Off the groundbreaking album "Tapestry," this song — and the 13 others that populated the release — took Carole King from "master songwriter into a music legend," wrote Pitchfork in 2019. As popular as "I Feel the Earth Move" proved to be, its B-side, "It's Too Late," threatened to eclipse that popularity. Both sides received tons of airplay for much of the summer of 1971.


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Still Bill- Bill Withers
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Jim Croce- Life and Times
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1973: "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown"

Artist: Jim Croce | Listen

Although it had a lot of competition in the summer of 1973, this song — about a man who "learned a lesson 'bout a-messin' with the wife of a jealous man" — stayed atop the charts for a couple of weeks in late July. Just a few weeks later, on Sept. 20, the singer/songwriter died in a plane crash at the age of 30.

Band on the Run Studio- Paul McCartney and Wings
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1974: "Band on the Run"

Artist: Paul McCartney and Wings | Listen

When the album that contained this title track of the same name was released, it was hailed as a comeback for McCartney, whose previous efforts after The Beatles disbanded had been met with a lukewarm reception. It would become the biggest-selling album of the year, eventually going triple-platinum. Little-known fact: The majority of this album was recorded in Lagos, Nigeria. 


Related: 12 Enduring Quotes From John Lennon

The Captain & Tennille: Love Will Keep Us Together
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1975: "Love Will Keep Us Together"

Artist: Captain & Tennille | Listen

Written by Neil Sedaka, this tune stayed atop the summer charts for four weeks in 1975. Although popular and undeniably catchy, it hasn't always fared well with critics. In a review on the website Stereogum, the writer called it "unbearably chintzy gloop" and went on to note that it was "singularly unappealing, that combination of demonstrative showroom belting and synthetic gurgle-burp." Ouch.

Elton John and Kiki Dee
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1976: "Don't Go Breaking My Heart"

Artist: Elton John and Kiki Dee | Listen

Proving that for two years in a row America loved a ditty sung by a woman with an impossibly shiny bowl cut and a piano-playing man in attention-grabbing accessories, "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" stayed atop the summer charts for four weeks in August. This one fared better critically, however — the same Stereogum writer called it a "deeply cheesy Broadway-disco shout-along, (but) a pretty good deeply cheesy Broadway-disco shout-along ..."

The Emotions- Rejoice
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1977: "Best of My Love"

Artist: The Emotions | Listen

This song hit the top of the charts in late August and stayed there for four weeks. The Emotions got their start in gospel music before branching out into R&B, soul, disco, and pop. "Best of My Love" is the only No. 1 hit this trio ever had.

Andy Gibb : Shadow Dancing
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1978: "Shadow Dancing"

Artist: Andy Gibb | Listen

Gibb — younger brother to the Bee Gees' Barry, Robin, and Maurice — rose to musical dominance in America with the release of this single and album of the same name. It stayed at No. 1 on the charts that summer for seven consecutive weeks starting on June 17.

Donna Summer- Bad Girls
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1979: "Bad Girls"

Artist: Donna Summer | Listen

"Toot toot, heeeyyy, beep beep." This single, off the album of the same name, spent five weeks atop the charts during the summer of 1979. This track, plus others on the release, noted BBC Music in 2003, "is a fantastic reminder of when (Summer) was the Britney, Christina, Mary J, and Missy of her day all rolled into one."

Lipps, Inc. • Mouth To Mouth Funkytown
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1980: "Funkytown"

Artist: Lipps Inc. | Listen

If you grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, you undoubtedly nearly broke your neck trying to get your roller skates on the rink floor when this single blasted over the speakers. Lipps Inc., often classified as a one-hit wonder, never got another song atop Billboard's Hot 100, but MusicRadar, in a dissection of the song, called it "a masterclass in how to assemble multiple hooks into one smash hit."

Kim Carnes-Bette Davis Eyes
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Survivor Performance
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1982: "Eye of the Tiger"

Artist: Survivor | Listen

This song stayed atop the summer charts for six weeks in 1982. Its inspirational and feisty lyrics have since spawned some clever YouTube comments, including, "somewhere on Earth there is a protagonist training to this song," and "I've just transitioned into a bada** within the last 4 minutes." Both of which explain why this tune is also the title track to the film "Rocky III."


Related: The "Rocky" Steps and Other Iconic Staircases Around the World

The Police- Every Breath You Take
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1983: "Every Breath You Take"

Artist: The Police | Listen

Three years before The Police disbanded, they released their final studio album, which included this stalkerish single that stayed at No. 1 on the summer charts for eight weeks. Despite Rolling Stone labeling them "the first British New Wave act to break through in America on a grand scale, and possibly the biggest band in the world," this was the only Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single the band ever released.

Prince- When Doves Cry
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1984: "When Doves Cry"

Artist: Prince | Listen

"Purple Rain," the release that included "When Doves Cry," was Prince's sixth album (and soundtrack to the film of the same name), but this song was actually Prince's first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single (he would go on to have four more), and it stayed at that spot for five weeks in the summer of 1984. It was the last song he wrote for the album, and he provided both the vocals and played all the instruments on the track.

Tears For Fears - Roland Orzabal And Curt Smith
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1985: "Shout"

Artist: Tears for Fears | Listen

British pop band Tears for Fears had a lot of competition during the summer of 1985 — including their own "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" — but in the end, it was this track that stayed atop the charts for three consecutive weeks in August of that year. The album that it came from, "Songs from the Big Chair," eventually was certified triple platinum in the U.K. and quintuple platinum in the U.S.

Madonna- Papa Don't Preach
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1986: "Papa Don't Preach"

Artist: Madonna | Listen

You didn't think we were gonna get through the '80s without a Madonna song, did you? The second release off her third album, "True Blue," this song addressing teen pregnancy marked a departure from the artist's previous work. As Stereogum writer Tom Breihan said in his review of the song: "... this story about a girl begging her father to accept her big life decision somehow became escapist club fare. That's a magic trick. That's cowboy sh*t."

Heart- Alone
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1987: "Alone"

Artist: Heart | Listen

This year's summer anthem was a power ballad sung by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, aka the band Heart. But it might surprise you to know it was a cover song — the song had been composed by others in 1983, and had already been recorded by actress Valerie Stevenson and actor John Stamos on the original soundtrack of the CBS sitcom "Dreams" in 1984. No surprise, however, that the musically talented Wilson sisters took it to new places, which gave it three consecutive weeks atop the Billboard 100 in July of 1987. 


Related: This Memorabilia From Woodstock Performers Sells for Thousands

Steve Winwood- Roll With It
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1988: "Roll With It"

Artist: Steve Winwood | Listen

The oft-underrated Winwood spent four weeks atop the summer charts with this song off his Virgin Records album of the same name. It wasn't his only musical success in 1988: The track was also nominated for two Grammys — Record of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance — and the album was nominated as Album of the Year.

Richard Marx- Right Here Waiting
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1989: "Right Here Waiting"

Artist: Richard Marx | Listen

The ballad makes a summer comeback with this song that spent three weeks at No. 1. Often billed as one of musical history's sappier love songs, Songfacts notes that Spotify U.K. "revealed just ahead of Valentine's Day, 2013 that this is their most popular love song, narrowly ahead of Foreigner's 'I Want To Know What Love Is.'" The list was based on figures from the streaming services "love song" playlists.

Mariah Carey 1990
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1990: "Vision of Love"

Artist: Mariah Carey | Listen

This debut single by American singer-songwriter Mariah Carey spent four weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 charts in August of 1990, making it the first of 19 eventual hits to reach that No. 1 spot. Carey once said of the track: "The song is very special to me because it encapsulates the story of my dream of becoming a recording artist, although most people interpret it as a love song."


Related: Mariah Carey's Skyscraper on Wheels and More Over-the-Top Celebrity RVs

Bryan Adams 1991
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1991: "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You"

Artist: Bryan Adams | Listen

Proving that Americans love a sappy ballad during the summer months, this song spent seven consecutive weeks at the Billboard Hot 100's No. 1 spot in July through September of 1991. It was also the best-performing single of that entire year and reached the top spot on the music charts of at least 19 other countries.

Sir Mix-a-Lot- Baby Got Back
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1992: "Baby Got Back"

Artist: Sir Mix-a-Lot | Listen

We'll call this one the anti-ballad and note that it gleefully topped the charts for five consecutive weeks in the summer of 1992. The video, which featured women shaking their ample behinds, was banned on MTV until after 9 p.m. Sir Mix-a-Lot noted in a Rolling Stone interview that he thought his "career was over. Then I called Rick Rubin, and I told him the video was banned, and he was like, 'Great!' We sold another 2 million records." The artist performed the song with the Seattle Symphony in 2014, and it's worth a watch.

Portrait of music group UB40
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1993: "Can't Help Falling in Love"

Artist: UB40 | Listen

First recorded by Elvis Presley in 1961 for the album "Blue Hawaii," British reggae band UB40 covered it as their first single on the 1993 album "Promises and Lies."  Though not all critics were kind to the band's take on a classic, Billboard's Larry Flick wrote that it was "a fun respite from usual top 40 fare."


Related: The Shocking Truth About Elvis Presley's Hit Songs

I Swear- All-4-One
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1994: "I Swear"

Artist: All-4-One | Listen

All-4-One might not be among the most recognizable of boy band names when considered against, say, Boyz II Men, NSYNC, or the Backstreet Boys, but the foursome held the Billboard Hot 100's No. 1 position for a full 11 weeks in the summer of 1994. Interesting side note: Country artist John Michael Montgomery recorded this same song in 1993.

TLC- Waterfalls
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1995: "Waterfalls"

Artist: TLC | Listen

Establishing themselves as one of the best non-grunge artists to come out of the grunge era was TLC, who had a No. 1 hit with "Waterfalls" for seven weeks in the summer of 1995. It was their second Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 of that year — the first, "Creep," enjoyed success earlier in the year.

Los Del Rio Sing The Macarena
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1996: "Macarena" (Bayside Boys Mix)

Artist: Los Del Rio | Listen

Long considered one of the cheesiest things to play or dance to at a wedding, this song stayed somewhat unbelievably atop the charts for a full 14 consecutive weeks during the summer and fall of 1996. Just in case you're feeling nostalgic and want to relearn the Macarena dance, here you go.

Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Faith Evans
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1997: "I'll Be Missing You"

Artist: Puff Daddy and Faith Evans featuring 112 | Listen

Sampling another summer anthem from this list, this track by Puff Daddy — aka Sean Love Combs, aka P. Diddy, aka Puffy, aka Diddy — held the No. 1 spot on the charts for 11 weeks in the summer of 1997. The song sampled The Police's "Every Breath You Take," and Sting performed the song alongside Puff and Evans at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards.

Brandy and Monica
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1998: "The Boy Is Mine"

Artist: Brandy and Monica | Listen

Proving that songs that reigned supreme in the mid- to late-90s had real sticking power, "The Boy is Mine" enjoyed 13 consecutive weeks at the top of the charts this summer. Australian newspaper the Herald Sun evaluated the best and worst all-time musical duets in 2008 and placed this one at No. 15, noting that "the lyrical in-fighting over the same man was no act; the pair hated each other, recorded the song separately and fought over who got the most close-ups in the video" — claims that their reps denied but that apparently have some truth to them.

Christina Aguilera- Genie in a Bottle
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1999: "Genie in a Bottle"

Artist: Christina Aguilera | Listen

Rounding out the last summer anthem of the 20th century is this hit from Aguilera's self-titled debut album. The New York Times noted in a review that "one of the summer's catchiest singles captures the moment's anxieties about teenage sex." For her part, the then-teenage singer insisted that "the song is not about sex, It's about self-respect. It's about not giving in to temptation until you're respected."

Enrique Iglesias- Be With You
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2000: "Be with You"

Artist: Enrique Iglesias | Listen

Released as the third single from Iglesias's debut English album, "Enrique," this song became Iglesias's second number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100 ("Bailamos" had held the position for two weeks in 1999) and earned a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording in 2001.

'Lady Marmalade' Performance
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2001: "Lady Marmalade"

Artist: Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim, Mýa and Pink | Listen

Making a comeback to the world of summer anthems in 2001 was Aguilera — but with three fabulous other ladies in tow. The song was track two on Bay Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack, and the music video followed this theme as well. However, the song was a cover of the original, written by Bob Crewe and Kenny Nolan, and performed in 1974 by (the also-fabulous) American girl group Labelle. 


Related: Gift Ideas for Music Lovers

Nelly- Hot in Herre
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2002: "Hot in Herre"

Artist: Nelly | Listen

"Hot in Herre" stayed at Billboard Hot 100's No. 1 spot for seven weeks this summer, but it wasn't Nelly's only hit that year. Another of his songs, "Dilemma," featuring Kelly Rowland, also hung onto the No. 1 spot for 10 weeks during the summer and fall of 2002.

Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z- Crazy in Love
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2003: "Crazy in Love"

Artist: Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z | Listen

Queen Bey's song featuring then-boyfriend/now-husband Jay-Z stayed atop the summer charts for eight weeks in 2003. One interesting bit of musical history: The album the track was on, "Dangerously in Love," was set to be released in 2002, but was postponed several times to make the most of the success of Nelly's hits that year.

Usher- Burn
Amazon

2004: "Burn"

Artist: Usher | Listen

Starting in May and lasting into July, "Burn" stayed at No. 1 on the charts for eight nonconsecutive weeks, furthering the success of another chart-topper that Usher released earlier in the year, "Yeah!," which he recorded with Lil John and Ludacris. "Burn" was apparently inspired by Usher's relationship with another summer anthem artist — TLC's Chilli.

Mariah Carey- We Belong Together
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2005: "We Belong Together"

Artist: Mariah Carey | Listen

One of only a handful of artists whose name appears on this list more than once is Carey. "We Belong Together" was at the No. 1 spot for 14 nonconsecutive weeks — broken up only by Carrie Underwood's "Inside Your Heaven" for one week on July 2.

Nelly Furtado and Timbaland perform onstage
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2006: "Promiscuous"

Artist: Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland | Listen

Furtado — for us olds, not to be confused with Nelly of "Hot in Herre" fame — recorded this song with musician, record producer, DJ, and songwriter Timbaland. It was Furtado's first No. 1 single in the U.S., won 'Best Pop Single of the Year' at the Billboard Music Awards, and received a Grammy nomination as well.

Jay Z performs with Rihanna
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2007: "Umbrella"

Artist: Rihanna featuring Jay-Z | Listen

Fun fact: Although now we can't imagine anyone else recording the original version, "Umbrella" was initially written with Britney Spears in mind. Her label rejected it, and Rihanna likely laughed all the way to the bank. In addition to making it on our list of summer anthems, Rolling Stone ranked it at No. 412 on its "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list.

Katy Perry- I Kissed a Girl
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2008: "I Kissed a Girl"

Artist: Katy Perry | Listen

Likely getting pearl-clutchers in a tizzy everywhere, Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" proved it had staying power — not to mention an enthusiastic audience — by remaining atop Billboard's Hot 100 charts for seven weeks during the summer of 2008. Ten years after its release, Billboard called it a "queer touchstone (that) opened the door for sexual fluidity, but not without criticism."

Black Eyed Peas perform at the 2009 American Music Awards
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2009: "I Gotta Feeling"

Artist: The Black Eyed Peas | Listen

This late-aughts party anthem was one of two songs from the Peas that exploded onto the charts in 2009. The first, "Boom Boom Pow," spent 12 weeks on the charts just prior to the "I Gotta Feeling" track's even more successful 14-week run. The song itself is a fun listen — if not exactly lyrically deep — but if you want to get a more humorous take on it, check out the version performed by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco.

Eminem and Rihanna
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2010: "Love the Way You Lie"

Artist: Eminem featuring Rihanna | Listen

This duet by Rihanna and Eminem had some stiff competition in the summer of 2010. While "Love the Way You Lie" held a seven-week run on the charts, Katy Perry's "California Gurls" featuring Snoop Dogg had a six-week run just before it.

Adele- Rolling in the Deep
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2011: "Rolling in the Deep"

Artist: Adele | Listen

This, the lead single and opening track on Adele's second album, "21," spent seven weeks atop the summer 2011 charts. It wasn't the song's only honor: It also was the best-performing single of 2011, according to Billboard, Rolling Stone gave it the No. 1 spot on its "50 Best Singles of 2011" list, and Time named it as one of the 10 best songs of the 2010s.

Carly Rae Jepsen- Call Me Maybe
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2012: "Call Me Maybe"

Artist: Carly Rae Jepsen | Listen

Originally written by Jepson and Tavish Crowe as a folk song, "Call Me Maybe" was modified as a pop song with producer Josh Ramsay on board. While undeniably catchy, it didn't leave critics' pants on fire. Some called it "guilty pleasure pop" while others crowned it the "new perfect pop song."

Pharrell Williams, Robin Thicke and T.I. perform onstage
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2013: "Blurred Lines"

Artist: Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell | Listen

With "Blurred Lines," Thicke earned his first No. 1 single, and it stayed atop the charts for 12 straight weeks. It didn't come without controversy, however — plenty of critics said both the song and video were sexist, misogynistic, and glorified rape culture. It was also subject to a copyright infringement case, with Marvin Gaye's estate noting its similarities to his 1977 classic "Got to Give It Up."

Charli XCX and Iggy Azalea
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2014: "Fancy"

Artist: Iggy Azalea Featuring Charli XCX | Listen

Holding its No. 1 spot for seven straight weeks, "Fancy" — which was written by Azalea and XCX — earned both women their first spot atop the Billboard Hot 100. The song's video was inspired by the 1995 classic comedy movie, "Clueless."

Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa perform onstage
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2015: "See You Again"

Artist: Wiz Khalifa Featuring Charlie Puth | Listen

Part of the "Furious 7" soundtrack, this hip hop and pop-rap ballad topped the Billboard Hot 100 charts for 12 nonconsecutive weeks in 2015, starting in late April and going through mid-July. It was nominated for a number of awards, including Song of the Year at both the American Music and Grammy awards, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song.

Drake- Views
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2016: "One Dance"

Artist: Drake Featuring WizKid & Kyla | Listen

This song, a Drake collaboration with Nigerian afrobeats singer WizKid and British artist Kyla, topped the charts for 10 nonconsecutive weeks in 2016. It was well-received by critics, with Pitchfork noting its multicultural influences, saying it was "a cultural 'Inception:' an afrobeat pulse inside a UK funky sample inside a dancehall gyrator."

Justin Bieber & Luis Fonsi- Despacito
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2017: "Despacito"

Artist: Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber | Listen

Few songs have held the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 like "Despacito," which claimed the No. 1 spot on May 27 of 2017 and didn't relinquish it until Sept. 16, when Taylor Swift's "Look What You Made Me Do" overtook it after 16 straight weeks. The song was already popular when it was remixed with Bieber's involvement and re-released on April 17, helping it to take over the charts for the entire summer.

Drake- Scorpion
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2018: "Nice For What" and "In My Feelings"

Artist: Drake | Listen and Listen

Drake proved that he could pretty much own the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 2018, as "Nice For What" bounced in and out of the position starting in April until July 21, when "In My Feelings" ranked No. 1 and stayed there for 10 straight weeks.

Lil Nas X Featuring Billy Ray Cyrus- Old Town Road
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2019: "Old Town Road"

Artist: Lil Nas X Featuring Billy Ray Cyrus | Listen

Lil Nas X changed the face of the music industry in many ways with "Old Town Road." For a start, it was a country rap song, two genres that had rarely if ever been combined before. He also used TikTok to make the song more popular, estimating that he created 100 memes that eventually instigated the incredibly viral #yeehaw challenge. Finally, when the song did go mainstream, it stayed atop the Billboard Hot 100 charts for 19 straight weeks, breaking the record for the longest-running No. 1 song in the chart's history, and later ranked as the best-performing single of the year.

DaBaby Featuring Roddy Ricch- Rockstar
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2020: "Rockstar"

Artist: DaBaby Featuring Roddy Ricch | Listen

Lots of songs held the top spot on the charts in the summer of 2020, but none for as long — seven nonconsecutive weeks — as "Rockstar." Notably, DaBaby released a "BLM (Black Lives Matter) remix" of the song after the murder of George Floyd, highlighting his own experience with police violence. At the Grammy Awards that year, the song received nominations for Record of the Year, Best Melodic Rap Performance, and Best Rap Song.


Related: 50 Things Turning 50 This Year