It’s June, and the longest day of the year means one thing in Philly: Summertime. Time to sit back and unwind. (And, yes, today’s temperature is about 88.)
As we officially move from springtime to summer — hello, solstice — the airwaves and playlists will be (read: should be) inundated with the smooth, slow jams of DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s 1991 hit “Summertime.” For many, it was a summer anthem growing up around here. For others, it’s a silly memento of just how weird ’90s music was, and for the rest of you, it’s a reminder that the guy who has all those blockbuster movies is from Philly and used to have a music career.
The song “Summertime” was released in May 1991 and won a Grammy Award in ‘92 for the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. The Best Rap Solo Performance that year went to LL Cool J for “Mama Said Knock You Out.” What a time to be alive.
“Summertime” was a hit for the local duo, but it wasn’t as big a chart smash as some (read: I) remember. Smith was a huge star in the United States at the time. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air debuted on TV in September 1990, and season one’s finale aired on May 6, 1991, right around the time “Summertime” was released as a single.
The song reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 that summer, spending a week at No. 1 on both the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Rap Singles charts. But according to Billboard, “Summertime” wasn’t the most popular song that summer; it was seventh, behind some early-90’s classics like “(Everything I Do) I Do it For You” by Bryan Adams, “Rush Rush” by Paula Abdul, “Unbelievable” by EMF, “Right Here, Right Now” by Jesus Jones, “Every Heartbeat” by Amy Grant and “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over” by Lenny Kravitz.
Thankfully, “Summertime” beat out “I Wanna Sex You Up” by Color Me Badd. Barely.
So, “Summertime” wasn’t even the most popular summertime song the year it came out. But is it the best “Summertime” song of all time? There are some other strong contenders. (Note: We’re not looking for the best ‘summer’ song. That’s obviously The Beach Boys’ 1974 “Endless Summer” compilation album on repeat. It’s also another debate for another solstice.)
Here are some other “Summertime” contenders. There’s one — the first one — that gives ours a run for summer superiority.
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – “Summertime”
This is one of the most covered songs of all time, and if we’re being honest, clearly a better summertime tune than Smith’s. This is the best “Summertime” song ever.
Originally composed by George Gershwin for “Porgy and Bess” in 1935, the song has been performed by the likes of Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Sam Cooke, The Zombies, Annie Lennox, Willie Nelson, Nina Simone and even actress Scarlett Johansson, to name a few. But the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong version is probably the best.
(Special shout to Billy Stewart’s version, which made it a totally different song, but still technically the same song.)
Mungo Jerry – “In the Summertime”
Mungo Jerry’s summer song was as much an anthem of the ‘70s as Smith’s was of the ‘90s, but like the more contemporary tune, it had moderate success the year it came out. In 1970, it ranked as the 10th-most popular song of the summer, according to Billboard.
Shaggy – “Boombastic/In The Summertime”
The year TLC’s “Waterfalls” was the most popular song of the summer and Seal came out with “Kiss from a Rose,” Shaggy had the sixth-most popular song of the summer with “Boombastic/In The Summertime.” God bless you, 1995.
Kenny Chesney – “Summertime”
Kenny Chesney’s “Summertime” reached No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart in 2006, reaching 34th on the Billboard Hot 100.
Jason Aldean – “A Little More Summertime”
Last summer’s big summertime hit was Jason Aldean’s ode to the hot season, ranking No. 1 for Country Airplay and reaching No. 5 on the Country Songs chart. It didn’t crack the top 50 of the Hot 100, though.
New Kids on the Block – “Summertime”
This is a song that exists. It was released in 2008. It comes with a video of NKOTB dancing with a bunch of girls we can only assume are their daughters or friends of their daughters because these guys are so old and creepy, why didn’t someone tell them how old and creepy they looked? And that was almost 10 years ago!
Lana Del Rey – “Summertime Sadness”
This is a haunting tune, but it’s not exactly the kind of summertime theme the rest of us these songs are giving off. The 2013 song by Lana Del Rey is often covered, but it’s really depressing. And, today at least, we’re happy for summertime to be here.
Z-Ro & Slim Thug – “Summertime”
This rap song titled “Summertime” was released in 2012. Not exactly the staying power of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince.
Vybz Kartel – “Summertime”
This song has nearly 52 million views on YouTube and now I can’t get it out of my head. Happy “Summertime.”