Maybe it’s the vast blue above and the promise of golden sands.
Perhaps it’s those ramshackle road trips and patio parties, taking music out of our earplugs and back into more social settings.
Whatever the why, when summer comes, the volume simply must go up – and there’s something particularly radiant and comforting about hearing your own accent in song when exploring New Zealand or just finding a shady spot in the backyard.
Kiwi music and summer go together like white bread and sausages.
To this end, Stuff’s regional journalists, darted throughout Aotearoa, were asked what Kiwi song would be their touchstone this summer and why it mattered to them.
Here is the mixtape and the memories they conjured up.
Cruise Control – Headless Chickens (1991)
It came out towards the end of my time at university and just as I was headed to Melbourne.
Cruisey but slightly subversive, it got a lot of airplay, and I was stoked to be able to see them live in the basement of a local club in Smith Street.
What’s not to love about “Sometimes days seem to move just like a big fat man…” It’s impossible not to sing/hum along to.
Cruise Control will always take me back to hot Aussie summers, which is close enough!
– Victoria Guild, Nelson
Love Letter – Katchafire (2007)
One of many bangers in Katchafire’s back catalogue, it just has that Kiwi roots-reggae sound that captures a New Zealand summer and is heard so often at festivals, beaches and on road trips.
A couple of great Katchafire gigs stand out from the haze of memory over the years, including one at the Waihi Beach Hotel, but they’re just as good to chuck on when around the barbie with a cold one in hand and some asparagus on the hot plate.
– George Heagney, Palmerston North
Garageland – Beelines To Heaven (1996)
One of many songs indelibly tied to Decembers in the mid-90s spent thinning apples and baking under the Hawke’s Bay sun. An old Sony walkman was my only relief from what was fairly monotonous work.
But I saw the promise of January, and slacking about at the beach and in bars, in Beelines To Heaven’s laid-back vibe.
The lyric “Here we go / I just got given what I owe/ And blown it on a stereo/ Can I have some more?” always made me think of student loans back then and how we treated them. – Matthew Dallas, Feilding
How Bizarre – OMC (1995)
Whenever I hear this song, I’m an 8-year-old running around the backyard in Cape Town, South Africa, while the grown-ups braai (that’s a barbecue to you Kiwis).
The smell of wood fire, grilled meat, sunscreen and chlorine fill the air and I can feel a cool breeze brush over my sun-baked skin.
It was on one of those “Now That’s What I call Music!” compilations (number 22 in SA) and I actually had no idea it was a Kiwi classic until I rediscovered it in New Zealand. The song won “Single of the Year” here in 1996.
– Louisa Steyl, Invercargill
Running To The Sea – Corben Simpson (1973)
I can’t recall whose idea it was but it was a good one. We’d take John’s mother’s car and visit our mate who was staying solo at the family bach in Kinloch on the shore of Lake Taupō.
In the days before texting, arriving unannounced was mostly acceptable and, in general, the reception was one of delighted surprise.
It was the final year of high school and those endless summer days and weeks all ran into one. We had musically consumed quite a bit on the 4-hour drive.
There we were in a parking space off the main drag into Taupō, facing the lake with the front seats in recline, feet out the side window, and the voice of Corben Simpson floating on the warm breeze.
That voice, that amazing voice. Everyone at the time had heard it, though most unknowingly. His was the voice behind the astonishingly popular “Dance all Around the World”, recorded by Blerta.
But now it was Corben’s own masterpiece, “Running to the Sea”, filling our ears and our summer.
With great delight a couple of years later, from a second-hand record store in Ōtaki, I purchased his self-titled LP with the Dick Frizzell-designed cover.
– Warwick Smith, Palmerston North
Why Does Love Do This To Me – The Exponents (1991
This band, this album and this song were the soundtrack to the summer of 1993/94. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing Why Does Love Do This To Me.
My brother had his 21st that summer and the day after his party, and from memory after about four kegs, we went to see The Exponents live at our local, the Paraparaumu Beach Tavern.
No-one was dancing except us and once we managed to get people around us up and about, lead singer Jordan Luck gave us the thumbs up. A pure rock’n’roll moment from one of NZ’s best.
It was the sound of summer.
– Barnaby Sharp, Nelson
I Love My Leather Jacket – The Chills (1986)
This song was seven years old before I heard it but it already felt like it came from another world long in our past.
An ode to a dead friend, the predictable but heartfelt rhyming makes it a great sing-along, and I strongly identified with the lyrics as I’d lost a friend too.
Even though I no longer carry around all that teenage angst that made this song feel like an anthem, I still find myself humming the chorus at the strangest of times.
– Matt Rilkoff, New Plymouth
Cheeky Kids – Marlin’s Dreaming (2017)
I’d loved this song for a little while before seeing Marlin’s Dreaming perform at Butler’s Reef in Oakura in the summer of 2020.
The pub has a long history of hosting gigs every summer and the tour saw the band play alongside Soaked Oats, another favourite.
Both bands’ surf rock vibes suited the coastal haunt and this song epitomises the upbeat, warm and playful sounds of the summer.
– Blanton Smith, New Plymouth
Oceanic Feeling – Lorde (2021)
When Lorde released her first hits, I was 20. Living in Italy, New Zealand sounded like a faraway country, which I might have heard about when the All Blacks would play.
The then-15-year-old Lorde appeared graciously on the world stage.
When she released Oceanic Feeling on the album Solar Power in 2021 I was in Wellington, and it was winter, but the sound of cicadas and crushing blue waves reminded me of summer at the end of the tunnel.
It’s an easy-to-listen-to song that can be played while driving as well as in the kitchen while cooking.
– Federico Magrin, New Plymouth
In the Air – L.A.B. (2019)
This song probably isn’t old enough yet to be called a summer classic, but it will be.
Whether I’m sitting on my hometown Tahunanui Beach in Nelson, warming up before taking a plunge, or driving around with the windows down and the air con on blast, nothing quite captures the sound of summer like Kiwi reggae.
My 2019-2020 summer was my longest ever after skipping winter and heading to Europe for my big OE, and this song makes any beach in the world feel close to home.
– Matt Hampson, Blenheim
Slice of Heaven – Dave Dobbyn & Herbs (1986)
A classic Kiwi song in general, but always makes me think of summer.
When a couple of friends came over from the UK to be bridesmaids at my wedding we did a Kiwi roadtrip and I introduced them to this song.
They’d never heard it before but were soon singing along at the top of their lungs.
– Stephanie Ockhuysen, New Plymouth
Bliss – Th’ Dudes (1980)
There are better NZ songs, but 1980 was my era. Second year varsity in Wellington; regular Sunday night appointment viewing – Radio with Pictures. Life without rules.
I clearly remember making an appointment of another type with a girlfriend at the Angus Inn in Hastings while Th’ Dudes were on stage.
NZ being NZ, I also had a beer with Dave Dobbyn while working in TV in 1990. Bliss – carefree Sunday sessions with your mates – Wingnut, Big Mac, Mother Tucker, etc., long before the wives came along.
And who can’t sing ya ya ya ya ya? Memories of an easier time, stirred by the turntable.
– Grant Harding, Wairarapa
Cool Me Down – Black Seeds (2009)
The poppy beat to this song always brings me joy when I listen to it.
The words take me to the beach on a hot, summer’s day and bring back memories of being in the sun, needing a cool drink (sometimes a crisp, cold beer) to cool me down.
I’ve loved this song since it was released and the band’s inspiration for the song is said to be that they wanted to offer a sense of respite from the hectic nature of everyday life.
People go up a notch in my books if they too enjoy this track.
– Che Baker, Invercargill
West Coast Drive – Coterie (2022)
While we may share this band of brothers with Australia, I first came across this song after listening to Coterie at a pre-show for Six60 in 2022.
Ever since, it has been a staple on many road trip playlists and played multiple times on summer nights drinking gin and chatting with mates.
It will always be something me and my partner can belt out at a moment’s notice.
– Kiah Radcliffe, Wellington
Room That Echoes – Peking Man (1985)
Whenever I hear this song, I am taken back to long, hot summers with dying grass breaking under my jandals and the sounds of the annual Caroline Bay Carnival in Timaru.
It was here that this song used to be a regular on the radio in the mid to late 80s.
As the big wheel spun, and the horror train ride tempted me in with its hand-painted images of ghosts and signs warning of its terror, Margaret Urlich’s voice sang out, promising those listening that she would build a room that echoed, around and around and around and around with its own sound.
It was also those lyrics that caused a fight between me and my younger brother. I thought the lyrics Urlich was singing were about going “around and around and around and around in an ocean”.
Without the luxury of Google and a quick search, we had no way to prove who was right, and we argued non-stop about who was right. I pushed him, so he winded me, and we didn’t talk for a whole afternoon.
Even now, when I hear the song, it takes me back to the carnival, and losing my breath. And I have never told him he got the lyrics right.
– Rachael Comer, Timaru
We Don’t Lie – The Upbeats (2022)
The first time I tried to watch these guys live after listening to my brother showcase their bangers for years was at Rhythm & Alps 2018, when I unfortunately fell unconscious in my tent. They were set to play the main stage at 4am but, given the blur of the day-turned-night party, I missed them.
The Wellington-born group have dominated the Aotearoa drum and bass scene for years, and this summer their hit We Don’t Lie will be running through my playlist daily.
This isn’t the kind of song you’ll be singing around a campfire, it’s the kind of song you’ll put on as you’re heading to a festival after kissing your mum goodbye and thanking her for Christmas dinner.
It’s the quick, rhythmic drums and deep bass tones, mixed with the synths and the surprise drops, that makes this one of the sounds of summer.
A paddock, surrounded by thousands of people, water bottle in hand, and sunglasses on at night is the perfect setting for this song.
– Maxine Jacobs, Ōtautahi
Road Trip – Sons of Zion (2022)
Road Trip is a great casual summer jam to listen to. The Kiwi band sings about a trip away and what better time to do this than in summer with mates on a road trip visiting all the Kiwi classics.
Beaches, bottle stores, sights of New Zealand – it’s just a great vibrant tune that perfectly describes summer.
I always chuck this on when I am heading on holiday. It reminds me of all the great things about summer.
– Brayden Lindsay, Invercargill
Catching Feelings – Drax Project featuring Six60 (2019)
Catching Feelings is like the soundtrack to the love story between me and my partner. When we first started talking on a dating app, the song kept playing within a song or two when I hit shuffle on my music app, and its lyrics felt like they were telling our story.
Now that we’re living together, every time it plays it takes me back to those early days when I was secretly hoping she’d be my girlfriend.
The lyrics perfectly capture the excitement and nerves of our first meeting. It’s not just a song; it’s the background music to our love story, and it means the world to me.
– Yashas Srinivasa, Timaru