The Ultimate Summer Barbecue Playlist for Fun Happy Times

happy barbecue

[This week’s post is brought to you by two weeks of interrupted sleep, dirty diapers, and belching with my beautiful daughter. It’s not my best nor most cerebral post, but I hope you enjoy it.]

First degree burns from your steering wheel. The smell of sun-dried ketchup. A run through the sprinkler to—as my 3-year-olds puts it—”wash the hot off.” Yes, summertime is in full swing in the northern hemisphere of our planet.

What summer would be complete without a fun happy barbecue in your back yard with good friends? And what barbecue would be complete without some feel-good musical accompaniment?

I wouldn’t characterize myself as a music snob, but those close to me know that I hold very particular notions about the correct music for the correct situation. Cooking music is quite different from dinner music, for instance (the best dinner music is Bossa Nova, by the way).

My musical opinions also extend to the appropriate tunes for a lazy Sunday afternoon cookout.

What makes a perfect summer barbecue song?

  • Upbeat. Radiohead is outstanding, but belongs nowhere near a grill.
  • Familiar. Partygoers should know the songs. We want people focused on fun and conversation rather than discovering new music.
  • Singable and Danceable. A given song needs not both, but must have one of these traits. At some point during the event, I’d like to see some lip syncing and head bobbing.

The List

Assuming a 4-hour event, I estimate we need about 60 songs averaging 4 minutes per song. I limit each artist to one song to improve variety. Because I am old and curmudgeonly, not many pop songs from the last decade made the cut.

OK, let’s have some fun! Why aren’t you having fun yet?! We are having an enjoyable time here!!

  1. China Grove – The Doobie Brothers: The quintessential barbecue song, and the initial inspiration for creating this list. The Doobies were my dad’s favorite band.
  2. The Way You Make Me Feel – Michael Jackson: Hard to pick just one MJ song, but this “felt” right.
  3. American Girl – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: One of their earliest and best songs.
  4. Ventura Highway – America: Great driving song, but equally great BBQ song.
  5. Everybody Wants to Rule the World – Tears for Fears: Does your heart not soar with the opening lick? Then you have no heart!
  6. Sussidio – Phil Collins: I refuse to google this song’s meaning. I like it better as a mystery.
  7. You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet – Bachman Turner Overdrive: 2 prizes here: best band name in history and best stuttering in a chorus.
  8. 1979 – The Smashing Pumpkins: SP are my boys, but this is their only song BBQ enough to include here
  9. I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love Tonight – The Outfields: This catchy song conceals some quasi-creepy lyrics, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt.
  10. Hold On Loosely – 38 Special: Masturbation jokes aside, a solid rock joint.
  11. She’s a Beauty (i.e. one in a million girl) – The Tubes: Why would I lie? I can’t help but sing this song when it comes on the radio.
  12. I Want You to Want Me – Cheap Trick: Must be the live version of this song from the Budokan with the screaming Japanese teenage girls.
  13. I Wanna Dance with Somebody – Whitney Houston: You may injure yourself if you try to resist dancing to this song. Just let it loose!
  14. Let’s Hear It for the Boy – Deniece William: I like this song even though it was popular during my summer of bad swimming lessons.
  15. Cruel Summer – Bananarama: Wow, this music video did not age well. Looks like it cost $100 plus the price of a catered lunch from McDonalds. The Karate Kid association saves it, though.
  16. Steal My Sunshine – Len: I include this feel-gooder in honor of my best friend from high school. It is his summer anthem.
  17. Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang – Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg: Most impressive rhyme by Snoop? “Perspective” and “contraceptive.”
  18. Three Little Birds – Bob Marley: Had to put a Marley song on here. So many great choices, but I like the message in this one.
  19. Rio – Duran Duran: My dog is named Rio. “The Reflex” seemed a weird name for a dog.
  20. Superstition – Stevie Wonder: No brainer.
  21. Live Forever – Oasis: Liam Gallagher seems to intentionally sing in his most nasally annoying voice here. It’s part of the charm.
  22. Unwritten – Natasha Bedingfield: Love the message of this song.
  23. Paradise City – Guns N’ Roses: Only GN’R knows Paradise City’s true locale, but my money’s on Cleveland.
  24. Groove is in the Heart – Deee-Lite: Possibly the most funkalicious song ever written.
  25. Simply Irresistible – Robert Palmer: This song holds up even without the famous video.
  26. Conga – Gloria Estefan: “Come on shake your body baby do that conga!”
  27. Fat Bottomed Girls – Queen: I can’t believe this is an actual song actually written by an actual band. No way it would have been released in these politically-correct days.
  28. Glory Days – Bruce Springsteen: I forgive The Boss for his cringeworthy “speedball” lyric (it’s called a fastball, dude).
  29. Barracuda – Heart: Nancy Wilson’s voice! Come on!
  30. Black Magic Woman – Santana: The man can sing with his guitar.
  31. The Boys Are Back in Town – Thin Lizzy: I don’t know where the boys had been, but the town seems thrilled at their return.
  32. Legs – ZZ Top: Their beards ahead of their time and their sexism timeless, ZZ top was the first band I recall dropping the S-word and somehow making it on the radio.
  33. Stuck With You – Huey Lewis and the News: Put your arm around your neighbor and sway back and forth for this sing-along classic.
  34. Prince – Let’s Go Crazy: A cornerstone to my Toddler Dance Mix playlist, it’s versatile enough to play here too.
  35. Summer of ’69 – Bryan Adams: Dr-Mrs-Dr. Curious would veto this song if she could, but it’s MY blog, bwahahaha! (Full disclosure: this song is not on our actual BBQ playlist.)
  36. Motownphilly – Boyz II Men: Philly is the city nearest my home town, so this one holds a special place in my heart, right next to cholesterol from the cheesesteaks.
  37. Borderline – Madonna: The funky synthesizer intro hooks me.
  38. Love Will Never Do (Without You) – Janet Jackson: Difficult to choose just one from Ms. Jackson, but this seems right for burger flipping.
  39. Red Red Wine – UB40. The cover far outshines the original. Sorry, Neil Diamond, your version was not reggae enough.
  40. Sexx Laws – Beck: In the end, this song’s danceability outshined Loser’s singability.
  41. I Get Around – Beach Boys: Gotta have one Beach Boys song.
  42. There She Goes Again – The La’s: This song seemed so happy and playful until I learned “She” was actually “Heroin.”
  43. Hey Ya! – Outkast: What the heck happened to these guys?
  44. Santeria – Sublime: Frugal types will be horrified to hear that Sublime had a million dollars (saved for retirement, presumably) but spent it all.
  45. This Is How We Do It – Montell Jordan: I kinda hate this song, but for inexplicable reasons felt obligated to include it,
  46. Manic Monday – The Bangles: Did you know this was penned by Prince?
  47. Island in the Sun – Weezer: I get such good, sunny vibes from this song.
  48. Here I Go Again – Whitesnake: If I ever meet Whitesnake, I need to ask them what it means to walk along the lonely street of dreams.
  49. Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag – James Brown: This song—well, just the title—got stuck in my head when I purchased a diaper bag after my oldest was born.
  50. Baby I Love Your Way – Big Mountain: Interesting. After Red Red Wine, this is the second song on my list in which the reggae-styled cover surpasses the original.
  51. Good Enough – Cyndi Lauper: Inclusion in “The Goonies” clinched this song’s place on the list.
  52. Panama – Van Halen: I could not in good conscience choose a Sammy-Hagar-era song when DLR is custom built for partying.
  53. Stand – R.E.M.: Another song from my toddler dance mix that made it here. It has a great choreographed dance!
  54. Poison – Bell Biv Devoe: Really, BBD? Never trust a bug butt and a smile?
  55. Just What I Needed – The Cars: The Cars—only surpassed by The The for least creative band name in history—have a great head-bobber with this one.
  56. More Than a Feeling – Boston: If you feel no emotional response to this song, you may lack a soul.
  57. Ready or Not – The Fugees: Man, the Fugees were so good in their heyday.
  58. Oh Sherrie – Steve Perry: You might want to kill yourself when “Don’t Stop Believin'” comes on the radio, but you can’t deny Mr. Perry’s incredible voice.
  59. Hurts So Good – John Cougar Mellencamp: I was born in a small town (for reals).
  60. Down on the Corner – Creedence Clearwater Revival – Despite the fact that CCR was from San Francisco, this song transports me right to the Bayou.

Although this is an objective, definitive list of perfect barbecue music, I would be curious to hear your (incorrect) opinions on what else one might play at summer fête.

4 Replies to “The Ultimate Summer Barbecue Playlist for Fun Happy Times”

  1. This is an intense post. Clearly lots of work went into it and showing your playlist is like bearing your soul! That being said, I would totally use this list at a party. If I knew how to use Spotify I would make it into a playlist for you.

    I wouldnt subtract much: Whittney Houston possibly, RIP
    I would add:
    More MJ, I make it a point to put Man in the Mirror on every playlist
    Tom Petty and some Traveling Wilbury’s
    Beatles – I like Yellow Submarine album for jolly good fun
    Van Morrison – I like Astral Weeks album best but would stick to pop staples.
    Dave Mathews – first 3 albums only. Depending on what state you live in, you might have to break out the left handed cigarettes 😉
    Some upbeat BB King and Clapton, I am big blues fan
    And some personal eclectic choices as I used to frequent Bonaroo in residency: Arcade Fire, Dan Auerbach, Sturgill Simpson, Lone Below, Record Company, Laura Marling, Florence and the Machines

    Funny, you can tell people a lot about yourself by what music you like.
    Happy Partying!

    1. It’s funny how personal songs can be, and how connected they often are to a certain time and place in one’s life. Whitney Houston’s song reminds of sailing off the coast of St. Lucia during sunset, so I gotta keep it on the list 🙂

      My real party playlist has about 2 dozen MJ songs on it. I realize now I didn’t include a Stones or Beatles song! Maybe I need to make this a 24 hour party to include all the songs I want!

      Dr. C

  2. Beach boys, maybe some calypso music. Just like the cruise ships play when they are getting ready to head out. very festive, very tropical.

    1. I’ve not yet been on a cruise, but I can almost hear the music 🙂

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