Angel Olsen, Yaya Bey and Others On Their Favorite Songs of Summer

A lot of us still remember the labor of love that was the mixtape, those countless hours spent pressing record, stop, rewind and play. But, while less time-consuming, curating a digital playlist, rather than relying on an algorithm-fueled compilation, can still be a thoughtful gesture, one that might make all the difference at a dinner party. Song choices can be a way to share (or forget) what’s going on in the world, act as a conversation starter and, above all, set the mood.

Personally, I treat any get-together as a cause for celebration, especially after the last few years, and tend to start the night with margaritas (2 ounces mezcal, 1 ounce Cointreau and the juice of one lime, shaken with ice) and country songs old and new — Miranda Lambert’s “Scenes” is a guilty and, of late, daily pleasure. For easing into dinner, I’d suggest “Another Change” by Psychic Ills, or “Diary of a Lover,” the bare-bones acoustic song by the usually more boisterous Johnny Thunders. What about the post-meal period? If you’re after a chill time devoted to deep conversation, consider “Mother of Earth,” a dark and swampy song by The Gun Club, followed by “Boku wa Chotto” by the incredible Haruomi Hosono. If, however, you’d like for this to be only the beginning of a long and raucous evening, read on. For this story, we asked musicians and other creative types what they’ve been listening to and would play for friends, and there’s something for every kind of night.

“Angeles,” “Pitseleh” and “Somebody That I Used to Know” — Elliott Smith

“Elliott Smith feels like summertime to me — driving with the windows down after a swim and thinking back to growing up in Atlanta, summers on the Cape and college days in New York.”

“Mysterious Femme” — Kolumbo

“Frank LoCrasto, the hands behind Kolumbo, is a wonderful musician as well as a friend and collaborator. Frank has also actually invited me to dinner before. He made lasagna.”

“Hallelujah Baby” — Weak Signal

“Weak Signal are close friends and their music gives me hope. Their most recent record, ‘War and War,’ came out in March. Not really background music, though. To be played loud.

“Sometimes it’s relaxing to put on a local radio station and free myself from the burden of choice. Flow along with the eccentricities of a D.J. Learn to love static. Switch over to AM and check the score of the game, then switch back. There are so many great independent stations around [where I live], like KPOO San Francisco, OZCAT Vallejo, KCSS Turlock, KALX Berkeley, KPFA weekends, KPIG, WFMU, KXLU and so on.”

“Obomi Nga” — Moonshine, MC RedBul, Uproot Andy and MC Azas

“Because a great amapiano song always sets the vibe. This happens to be one of my faves lately.”

“Party (feat. Andre 3000)” — Beyoncé

“There are those songs that just feel right and come at the right time — that time when we need a little reminder that the party is lit. Queen B, always!”

“Loi” — Koffi Olomidé

“Congolese national party anthem. Loi means ‘law.’ So we must obey! You can never go wrong with this track.”

“Week-end à Rome” — Étienne Daho

“This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” — Talking Heads

“Sound and Vision” — David Bowie

“One gets the feeling that time almost stops in the middle of summer. Maybe that’s why I often feel so nostalgic at this time. At any rate, my song choices are definitely nostalgic.”

“Such a Good Day” — Lewis OfMan

“Summer Girl” — Haim

“Summer Breeze” — The Isley Brothers

“Cranes in the Sky” — Solange

“We think they speak for themselves.”

“Mamata (Affection)” — Ananda Shankar

“A friend sent this song to me and said she always listened to it in the morning. I really loved it and have been listening to it every summer morning myself. It gives me hope just hearing it and makes me want to move my body.”

“Why, Buzzardman, Why?” — Alabaster dePlume

“This song is just very sweet, and makes me think of attending a beautiful ceremony. It’s giving big ceremony in Amalfi energy.”

“Andalucia” — John Cale

“I’ve been listening to this song on repeat as I drive around in the mountains. It has the best production and I just love John Cale’s voice so much — it’s like a big blanket.”

“Angel” — Anita Baker

“This makes me feel like I look even better than I thought I did with whatever outfit I’m wearing, which is essential for dinner party confidence.”

“Love, Love, Love” — Donny Hathaway

“This always makes the room joyful.”

“I’m in Love” — The Gap Band

“It’s one of the most romantic songs I know. And summer is for romance.”

“Hentai” — Rosalía

“A song for driving down the Pacific Coast Highway after the beach and as the sun sets.”

“Strawberry Letter 23” — Shuggie Otis

“A summer classic meant for any atmosphere. I particularly love it while cooking at home. It sets the tone for ice-cold drinks and grilling all night.”

“Afterlife” — BFRND

“Play late night at an outside dance party for best results.”

“It’s My House (12” Remix)” — Diana Ross and Jimmy Simpson

“Playing this song as a party host may seem a little on the nose, but there are plenty of reasons why it’s the perfect track for hospitality. It exudes both warmth and glamour, building toward drama and then retreating from it.”

“Sweet Talk” — Jessie Ware

“A dinner party asks for music that teeters at the edge of excitement but doesn’t dominate the atmosphere, a gateway to dancing. In its loucheness and yearning, ‘Sweet Talk’ sits perfectly at that borderline.”

“That’s the Way Love Goes” — Janet Jackson

“Lush, layered and full of desire — a flame that stays burning in the background.”