37 Songs You Should Listen To If You Love YA
They spend their time thinking like teenagers, so we figured their music taste would be spot-on.
"This is a song that feels like it’s going to run through all my summers and will, one day, when I’m ancient and sheltering under an enormous parasol, complaining that it’s too hot, string them all together.
"I remember my dad playing it next to the blow-up pool in the garden when I was tiny, and burning myself to oblivion with it in the background as a teenager. I danced to Ray Davis live in Hyde Park with a beer in my hand in my twenties, and in my thirties I’ve taken it to the beach with my friends more times than I can count.
"There’s a sweetness to it, and an optimism, and also a sadness: a realisation that things will change, and you have to be grateful for what you have now. I love it deeply and am looking forward to growing old with it too: It’s the summer theme tune of my life."
"'Lolita' by Lana Del Rey is the ultimate summer song. When I was writing Cruel Summer way back in 2012, this was the theme tune for bad gal Roxy. Lana's languid vocal over jarring samples somehow captures the stickiest, most seductive humidity of summer. ‘I know that I'm a mess with my long hair / and my sun tan, short dress, bare feet / I don't care.'"
3. David Leviathan and Nina LaCour recommend "Divided" by Tegan and Sara, and "Dancing on my Own" by Robyn.
"The first chords of 'Divided' by Tegan and Sara start to play, and for a moment I remember what it felt like for Lehna and me to stand in the sea of girl-loving girls at their concert when we were in eighth grade, how I felt something deep in the core of my heart and my stomach that told me yes." – Nina LaCour
"This sentence appears in the first chapter from my character's perspective in You Know Me Well as a group of friends drive into San Francisco for the night. "Divided" has a special place in my heart. I first heard it on a mix tape made for me by a girl I had a mad crush on. (I went on to marry her.) It's a bittersweet song, perfect for moments when you feel the growing pains of any relationship. Whenever it comes on I can't help myself--I have to drop everything and sing along."
"If you peeked on my iPod, you would see that the most played song is 'Dancing On My Own' by Robyn. It's not even a close race. Because sometimes you need a song to both break your heart and make you dance at the same time -- something, incidentally, the character of Mark also needs in You Know Me Well. (Though the dance moves he displays are NOTHING compared to Robyn's.)" – David Leviathan
"Certain songs stir my soul. You might find me sitting on a train, earbuds in and crying my eyes out, or dancing down the street on a sweaty summer’s night, or stopped at the traffic lights singing out of the window.
"'I Want to Save You' makes me want to do all those things – but most of all, it makes me want to write because, to me, it captures the essence of being a teenager. Of living a mundane life, selling yourself short to people who’ll only disappoint you, longing for someone to see you… and for someone to need you to see them. A YA novel in under four and a half minutes, this is songwriting perfection and I swear, Andrew McMahon – the man who wrote it – is magic."
"One of my all-time favourite Pulp songs, from their iconic 1994 album His ‘n’ Hers. It throbs with summer, commemorating it in nostalgic imagery without any of the sweat, mosquito bites, and heatstroke. It’s all cider in the park, the bottle put in the stream to chill, and 'walking to parties while it’s still light outside'.
"It encapsulates the lazy freedom that summer brings, and the sense of possibility with someone new: that this time, love will be different – something I aimed for in writing The Square Root of Summer. Green shade under trees, afternoons drifting away for hours, and a sense of time slowing down forever. Until autumn comes…"
"I'm pretty new to the Hamilton bandwagon, but it took less than a week for me to pay my fare in full and Wait for It is my song of the summer.
"Young Aaron Burr sings about the girl he loves belonging to another man, his parents dying and leaving him an orphan, and the rise of his friend and rival, Alexander Hamilton, to dizzying heights while he watches. This is Burr before the bitterness sets in, when he’s still convinced his time to shine will come, and that he’s waiting for it. That it’s worth waiting for. When he could still be a hero, too.
"I have loved this song – the origin story behind the villain, the beginnings of Burr’s catastrophic rage towards Hamilton – since the first time I heard it. It’s the song I listen to on repeat, it’s the song I sing in the shower. Legacy vs modernity, breeding vs tenacity, fire vs ice. And as well as that, it’s an absolute showstopper of a tune that deserves to be belted out of a moving vehicle with the windows down."
"This is a lean, bright, ferocious pop song that's all teeth. It sounds upbeat and light, danceable and approachable, but when you listen to the lyrics, you realise you can't tell if the song's teeth form a smile or a snarl. Turns out the Zolas' flammable lyrics were inspired by Ukrainian riots and the recently jailed band Pussy Riot.
"Bonus? The synth backbeat is loud enough to be heard over the engine of my car, even with the windows rolled down to let the summer in."
"Raised by Swans is one of those hidden gems that you almost want to keep to yourself, but also want to scream about to everyone you know. It's the solo project of Canadian musician and singer-songwriter Eric Howden, whose haunted voice makes you feel like you’ve been drawn into someone else’s dream. I've loved his music for a few years now, and often have it playing when I edit the Bone Season books – it's gentle enough that it lets me concentrate on my work as well as listen, and it puts me in just the right mood to immerse myself in dreamscapes and clairvoyance. ‘Hail of Arrows', from the album No Ghostless Place, is one of my favourite tracks for summer, with its beautiful lyrics and catchy beat."
"My friend Charlotte and I were the only kids in our year at my secondary school in the early '90s that liked punk, grunge and metal and '70s rock. Literally every other kid either liked Take That-type boy bands or rave/hip hop. On non-uniform days, we’d go to school with our Nirvana T-shirts and peasant skirts on (or I’d wear my ripped jeans and my favourite plain black T-shirt with the safety pins holding the side together if my mum didn’t see me on the way out and say, 'YOU’RE MAKING IT LOOK LIKE I’M TOO POOR TO DRESS YOU'), and the other kids would just make fun of us all day.
"Anyway, the Pixies are a super cool unclassifiable alternative noise/indie/punk band that influenced every other cool band on the planet that came after them, and to 15-year-old me, YOU WERE COOL FOR LIKING THEM. And this is a very sexy, laconic, punky hot summery Pixies song about… a breakup and a bloody dress. Perfect."
"We were both mildly obsessed with this song when we were 17, and it basically manages to pack all the best YA themes (or the ones we write about, anyway...) into three minutes of summery pop punk goodness.
"There's love, friendship, humour and general confusion and terror at how quickly life is changing. Plus, y'know, it's pretty catchy. All in all, a perfect YALC 2016 theme tune.
"Also, we're in the middle of writing our next book about teens in their first term at university, so it's currently providing us with excellent musical inspiration..."
"I am a strong believer in the power of a five-minute dance break to help relieve stress, and as of late this song has been my first choice for that.
"It’s the perfect kind of song for that singing-your-heart-out, no-holds-barred burst of emotion to clear your head and get you feeling ready to take on the world. It’s the kind of song that makes me want to turn my speakers up as loud as I can, and I think everyone needs at least one of those in their summer playlist.
"If you have ever been the type of person to sing at the top of your lungs along to My Chemical Romance or All Time Low or Funeral for a Friend, then 'Tragedy + Time' is probably the song for you."
"There’s one artist who, in recent years, has become the backdrop to some of my most intense writing sprints. Overlord of the ‘emotive scenes’, king of lyrics that read like poetry and melodies that sound like heartbreak – I worship at the altar of Hozier.
"My favourite song has got to be 'Take Me to Church', but I am especially feeling 'Better Love' at the moment – epic and romantic, and utterly compelling (and a video almost solely focused on Tarzan's abs to go along with it! Thaaaaanks, music video gods).
"In terms of an instant mood lifter, 'Africa' by Toto is always top of my playlist. In the most dire moments of self-doubt, it helps me roll out of bed in the morning and drag myself to my writing desk. It’s a writing anthem. Like coffee for the brain, and I still have no idea why."
13. CJ Skuse recommends "Demon" by Imagine Dragons.
"This song, more than any other, sums up my fifth YA novel The Deviants quite perfectly. The main character Ella is holding on to a deadly secret from childhood, for fear of its effects on others, particularly her boyfriend Max. The lyrics ‘I wanna hide the truth, I wanna shelter you / But with the beast inside, there's nowhere we can hide’ encapsulates Ella’s knowledge that the secret will soon be revealed and when it is, it will have huge repercussions.
"The lyrics ‘When you feel my heat, look into my eyes / It's where my demons hide’ is Ella wishing someone else would understand the pain she’s in, realise why she’s so angry and take the pain away. She doesn’t want to have to say those agonising words she’s been choking on all these years but she knows soon she will have to. The song makes me cry every time I hear it."
The full Spotify playlist for The Deviants can be found here.
14. Alwyn Hamilton recommends "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel.
"Did I pick this song just because it has the line "Blue eyes, blue eyes, how come you tell so many lies?" and that basically sums up that one book I wrote? Fair question, imaginary voice in my head that I’m sure I shouldn’t be worried about, but no.
"I’ve loved this song ever since I heard it on the Full Monty soundtrack. I love the retro, unapologetically upbeat, hopeful joy of it. And it seems like unabashedly cheery love songs are rare these days. There’s plenty of time for sad Adele breakup songs in the dark days of winter. But summers are for heady endless days and falling in love, especially when you’re a teenager and you’re free of the school grind. So what better than a song that makes me smile every time?"
"No summer playlist is complete without some Euro pop so I'm recommending 'Not Born Beautiful' by Fabrika, or 'Не родись красивой' by Фабрика if you want it in the original Russian.
"I discovered Fabrika when writing my novel, Mother Tongue, set in Moscow and North Ossetia-Alania. Like Girls Aloud, Fabrika were constructed on a TV talent show, and like our Sugababes their line-up rotates more than a washer on full spin.
"I'm most fond of their track 'Not Born Beautiful', which has an incomprehensible video featuring the girls in saucy wedding dresses, twerking their way around a traditional and very muddy Russian village while boys in trackie bottoms and flat caps pull doughnuts in souped-up Subarus and spin on their heads. If that wasn't enough, it has an infectious huh-huh-huh refrain that will have you jumping and a breathy bridge to sing along to. Altogether now, 'Vyberi menya, Vyberi menya…'"
"This is such a bright, happy song – even the opening bars make me feel summery. It's a song about having adventures with someone you love, whether that's a friend or a boy/girlfriend, and that's *very* YA!
"The opening lines of the chorus – 'I'll be flicking stones at your window / I'll be waiting outside till you're ready to go' – also make me think of Suzanne and Caddy from Beautiful Broken Things, running around together in the middle of the night, which is just another reason why I love this song so much!"
"Great YA novels transport you. They spirit you away; they ignite memories and stir deep-seated emotions. And the song 'Boys of Summer' does the same thing for me. When I was 13, my best friend and I sat in a tree in his garden, on a blazing hot summer’s evening, and made a vow to start a band together, and to one day tour the world. TO BE BEST FRIENDS FOREVER.
"This song reminds me of sitting in that tree. It reminds me of hazy summer nights, of being so full of passion and fire that sometimes it felt like your heart would explode. I hear it, and I’m transported. Every time. (In fact, I’m welling up just thinking about it.)"
18. Julia Gray recommends "Boys of Summer" too.
"It's impeccably crafted, both musically and lyrically. The forthright beat with its sumptuous layers of riffs and synths over the top and the soaring chorus contrast beautifully with the mournful tale that's told by the lyrics.
"The loneliness and longing are clear from the outset, as after a brisk, sparse drum intro, in a generous swirl of reverb, the vocal comes in: 'Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach.' Henley is singing to a lost love. She has moved on, drawn to other people; he knows he should forget her, but he can't. I love the mood of this song, somehow both sad and hopeful, and the picture it paints of deserted beaches, sepia-toned with end-of-summer nostalgia."
"Don’t laugh. I know I’m acting like your auntie – proposing you some stuff straight from the '90s – but this song reminds me of my first love, my first kiss, and my first break-up (all with the same boy, the one I looked up on Facebook many many years later, to find out if he was happy and if his wife was prettier than me).
"His name was Luca and he was like Georgia Nicolson’s Luuuurve God: motorbike-lover, dark-haired, black-eyed, hot Italian boy. Unfortunately, teenage years are all about ‘red bottomosity’ but also devastating splits, so when we broke up I listened to 'Don’t Cry' all the time, in floods of tears, while trying to put back together the 1,567,988 pieces my heart had shattered into, occasionally distracted by Axl Rose’s package on show in the video.
"Listen to this ancient song: It tells you not to cry because love is forever and it’s never wasted when it’s true. It also suggests that there’s a place somewhere inside you where lost things outlive time – it’s where I meet Luca sometimes, and we are as we were back then: two teenagers in love, with hideous haircuts. (My, I’m really crying now.)"
"This is one of my favorite songs of all time, because it reminds me almost spookily of my childhood growing up in Wolverhampton.
"My twin brother and I shared a bedroom (times wuz ‘ard) and we used to make up stories together (games consoles and social media had yet to be invented!). In the darkness, our ‘disembodied’ voices would take turns to speak the next bit of the story. It was a magical experience, which we called ‘Going Somewhere’, and it’s where my urge to tell stories comes from.
"For me, Neil and Tim’s song celebrates the power of imagination and the hopes and dreams of youth. ‘We could be anywhere,’ they sing in the chorus, and it’s so true. Enjoy your summer. Close your eyes and make up stories with your friends. Have your own disembodied voices experience!"
"When I first heard Bastille's 'Flaws' it felt as if it had been written for Noah, from The Boy who Drew the Future. I played it every time I wrote one of his chapters.
"The song speaks of a damaged soul, which captures what we all feel like sometimes, but that's OK because our flaws are part of us. Flaws suggests that none of us are perfect and it's fine to wear your flaws on your sleeve. That's what make us human. As Jo says in Little Women, 'I am hopelessly flawed,' and she should know, the best people always are."
"I love Nat King Cole, and listened to a lot of his work while writing Broken Sky, which takes place in a distorted, futuristic 1940s. 'Orange Colored Sky' makes me think of Amity and Collie when they first get together – that wild feeling of being just crazy-happy. But there’s also something kind of weirdly apocalyptic and ominous about the lyrics, despite the bouncy tune, which is very fitting. Hope you love it as much as I do!"
"Don’t judge my mainstream-ness but this song is THE best. And it (well, more just the line ‘all the single ladies’) continues to be ~extremely~ relevant for me.
"It’s so fun, upbeat and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I also think, and I’ll admit this is slightly tenuous, that it has an important philosophical message. Sometimes when you’re upset, whether it’s over some guy or failing a maths test, you just need to sit in a bath with as comforting a YA novel as you can find. But sometimes you need to get out there and as Queen B says ‘do your own little thing’. Preferably with ‘gloss on [your] lips, a man on [your] hips’ but that’s not absolutely necessary."
"One of my readers sent me an excellent playlist for The Lie Tree, and the first track was 'Marooned' by The Gathering. It's a brilliant choice, and perfect for my heroine Faith. She's a smart 14-year-old who has the misfortune to live in Victorian times, so nobody takes her dreams of being a scientist seriously, not even the father she worships. Faced with endless rejection, she has learned to choke back her feelings and hide her intelligence.
"'Marooned' is about being invisible, and having an intense intelligence and inner life that other people don't see or appreciate. It's haunting and a little heart-breaking."
"The perfect summer song has to be 'Pencil Full of Lead' by Paolo Nutini. It’s the perfect dancing-up-and-down song that captures that summertime feeling of being completely, utterly happy, free of all real-life worries because it’s sunny outside and you’re at the beach, digging your feet into the sand. Less obligations, more rock-pooling, please.
"Because who would pick one song when they could choose three, I’m also going to recommend Taylor Swift’s BBC Live Lounge cover of the Vance Joy song 'Riptide', which I listened to on constant repeat all last summer while I wrote my second novel, The Last Beginning, as it perfectly captures how my main character feels about her girlfriend. Also 'Shut Up and Dance' by Walk the Moon, because: It’s summer! Shut up and dance.
"And I'm going to cut myself off there, before I list a dozen more songs and take over the playlist."
"Pulp were my favourite Britpop act. More interesting lyrically than Oasis and Blur and the kind of frontman antics that make a point instead of merely being the point.
"'Babies' is a sad tale of teen loneliness and sex angst all wrapped up in a kitchen sink narrative that’s parting twist is one of the most satisfying in pop history: 'I only went with her coz she looks like you.' But don’t let the lyrical content fool you; its counterpoint is the arch vocal delivery, shimmering guitar riffs, and the overriding vibe that it’s all gonna be pretty fucking wicked in the end. Or at least that’s how I took it.
"His ‘n’ Hers is a little pop gem of an album and if you haven’t investigated it yet then I suggest you do."
"I take different things from this song at different times. There's beauty and power and cruelty and wildness in there. It's like a fairy-tale, or the world. Pretty, full of dark lessons. There's a pulse of witchcraft through it, an alchemy. There's a wildness to the song, an art, but music is structured and practised and honed as well, and I find it inspiring and motivating to think about that while I'm editing my work. Things I love have taken time. And found me when I needed them.
"The whole album, Star, is great, but this is the standout track for me. At the moment I'm writing a lot about girls, and the different shapes a life inside the world can take. The pain and joy of it. That said, I can't listen to anything with lyrics while I'm actually writing because I'd just end up typing out the lyrics in the middle of sentences or taking too many dance breaks."
"I spent the summer of 1995 in the grip of a full-blown, stir-crazy obsession with Alicia Silverstone. Me and my best friend Daisy had put on our most grown-up clothes (Tammy Girl peace sign chokers, crushed velvet jumpers) to sneak into Clueless – slightly out of our reach with its 12 rating – at the Frome cinema. We watched breathlessly as Cher Horowitz whatever-ed her way into our hearts. She had a pager, A PAGER for god’s sake, and a computer that chose her outfits for her, and a PINK FLUFFY PEN. She was a goddess.
"That summer, I cut every photo of Alicia out of Sugar Magazine and stuck it haphazardly on the wall, I knew the name of all of her pets, I wrote to her fan club so many times I must have been on some kind of watch list. We were destined to be best friends. I would play her younger (and super sassy) kid sister in a variety of movies if she would JUST. ANSWER. MY. LETTERS. I had practised my American accent in the mirror just in case I was called upon.
"I was watching MTV, when a song came on. In the video, two schoolgirls climbed out of a window, leapt into a convertible and drove through America. There was Alicia, more beautiful than ever, and Liv Tyler too, also gorgeous, but brunette, and therefore sadly the wrong casting to play my older sister. The song was 'Crazy' by Aerosmith, and it was the best song, and the best video, in the world. Twenty years later, it still remains the definitive sound of the summer. I never managed to become Alicia’s best friend (PAGE ME, ALICIA!), but I do still listen to the song every time the sun is out."
"I make my living writing romances, but my ultimate summer track is a love song dedicated to the joy of being single. There is something celebratory about this song: laughter, clinking champagne glasses, seagulls, and waves can all be heard over the lyrics ‘Since I left you, I found the world so new’.
"When this song came out, I loved it so much I ignored the lyrics and gave my cousin a copy on her wedding day. Don’t worry, the wedding still went ahead, but it’s so persuasive who’d have blamed her if she’d ripped off her dress, pulled on a bikini, and swum off into the sunset?
"Being in a relationship can be exciting and thrilling – that’s why I love writing about them – but as this song proves, being single can be pretty euphoric too."
"This song, for me, totally captures the feeling of staying up late with your friends, drinking and dancing and having fun. Probably on a beach. With a campfire. And someone hot playing a guitar.
"It’s not something I identify with at all, since my teens were spent in my room reading, yearning, daydreaming about exactly that kind of thing. So now I try to capture this feeling in my books (this song is on almost all of my writing playlists). 'A.M.' by One Direction has a similar vibe/theme: 'We're just swimming 'round in our glasses and talking out of our asses,' which is basically the story of my life."
"When I was a teenager, my greatest love was Axl Rose from Guns N' Roses. I was this tiny, shy thing, squashed amongst the leather-clad rockers at Wembley Stadium, singing my heart out to 'Paradise City’. I couldn't have had more different music taste to June, the protagonist of Paper Butterflies.
"When June was young, her mum used to play gentle songs on the guitar and she had a beautiful singing voice. When she died, the music in June's house stopped too.
"June only finds happiness again a few years later in her friendship with Blister. And when they stumble across a singing man, June doesn't hesitate in her song choice of Carole King's 'You've Got a Friend'. She was thinking about her mum when she chose it, yet the words could have been written by Blister for June: 'They'll hurt you... and take your soul if you let them, don't let them.' There aren't many songs more beautiful than this – and every YA reader needs it nestled amongst the other tracks."
"David Bowie’s 'Rebel Rebel' is my ultimate summer song – and ultimate life song, come to think of it. We lost the icon earlier this year and I still can’t quite believe it – his music’s so woven into my life. 'Rebel Rebel' is the song for when you’re feeling a bit gloomy, a bit tired. It’s the song I stuck on before exams or important meetings. There’s something immensely cheering about hollering “your face is a mess!” or “Hot tramp, I love you so!” (doo doo dah-doo doo doo doo doo). And it’s the perfect glam rock song, an ode to androgyny and queerness, to mixing it up and not playing by the rules.
"Whether you want to be 'calamity’s child' or just take them dancing, this is the song to stamp around to before you need to face the world."
"There’s a famous scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – one of the best films of all time by the way, in case you didn’t know – when Matthew Broderick stands on top of a float in the middle of a Chicago parade and begins a hilarious, hip-swinging, lip-synced performance of the Beatles’ 'Twist and Shout', causing the whole crowd to scream in excitement and start dancing wildly in the street, including a gyrating builder and shimmying window cleaner.
"I challenge anyone to listen to this song and not feel the urge to smile and start bopping your head like a turkey, or do that awkward clap-nod-and-sway thing that people do at the same time as yelling 'TUNE'. I love it when it is played at weddings, offering me the perfect opportunity to make some room on the dance floor to crack out my world-celebrated Octopus dance move. Uplifting, happy, and pure genius, 'Twist and Shout' is the ultimate summer song. No wait. Scratch that. It’s the ultimate song."
"I heard Haircut 100’s ‘Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)’ on the radio the other day. I had to turn it right up.
"Like Marlon, in my book Orangeboy, I’ve never been cool. Bum-skimming flouncy ra-ra skirts, toe-crushing winklepicker stilettos, voluminous New Romantic knickerbockers, I was always chasing fashion’s shadow. It was partly down to cowardliness. I only wanted to look ridiculous if everyone else did. But it was money, too. We were not rich and I had to rely on bargain bins and markets to chase – and never catch up with – the trends.
"And then came Haircut 100. No maximum-strength hair mousse would ever persuade my hair into a quiff but fishermen’s jumpers and tweeds? I grew up in a town that is still blessed with many a charity shop. My wardrobe was sorted.
"Okay, the track’s a bit odd. Squeaky funk guitar meets slightly bonkers percussion meets what-the-hell lyrics. There’s a hint of samba – yep, they dance a conga in the video – and an ill-judged rap. But come on, isn’t it balanced by the sort of sax that makes you want to throw open the window to share with the world? As Nick Heyward sings, 'Feel a little love!'"
"This song is just so incredibly cool and uplifting. It's on my driving/touring playlist and one of the very few songs that I can write to. (Usually I write to film scores.) On several occasions, however, some of the song's lyrics have absently leaked through my brain, through my fingers, and ended up on the page!"
"For me, the best thing about summer is obviously festivals – from the time I wore a wedding dress to Reading, to that time I ended up playing drums at Glastonbury. I love festivals so much I wrote a whole booked based around one (Glastonbury, summer romance, and all the festival dramas = My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend).
"This summer, I am most excited about going to End of the Road – it’s my dream line-up, like somebody reached into my brain and picked out all my favourites. Bat for Lashes! Joanna Newsom! Devendra! Most of all, I am excited about seeing Cat Power playing in a field. This song seems to me like the perfect one at the moment. I can’t wait."
37. Nicole Burstein recommends "I Want You to Want Me" by Letters to Cleo.
"My ultimate YA anthem, and not just because it was featured in the soundtrack for the best teen movie of all time, 10 Things I Hate About You (I will actually fight you if you disagree).
"It's a song about longing, about raging hormones, and about girls going out there and getting what they want. I think it would be stretching things to call this a love song, but it's definitely a 'lust' song, and we could always do with more of those.
"When you're done listening, go check out the entire 10 Things soundtrack. And then the soundtrack to Empire Records. And Baz Lurhman's Romeo + Juliet. You've practically got the essence to the entirety of my teenage years right there."