Calling out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat? Summer’s here and the time is right, for ... listening to your favorite summer songs.
Independence Day weekend is just around the corner, which marks the height of the summer season, a time when certain songs just seem to capture the feeling. Whether it’s riding around town with your drop-top dropped, the wind blowing through your hair (or at least tickling your exposed scalp); soaking in the sun on a beach/poolside with a tasty beverage in your hand; gathering at a cookout; or bumping and grinding with someone in a hot, sweaty club, summer songs tend to make you feel upbeat.
Musical taste is subjective, of course, so the same song that provides the perfect theme for one person’s summer may sound like a rabid fruit bat impaled on the end of a rusty fork being jabbed deep into the ear canal of another listener (hello, Iggy Azalea). But there do seem to be some commonalities that can help elevate songs to the level of pop culture zeitgeist “Song of the Summer” status.
Summer songs tend to be short, punchy and melodic, with a memorable hook embedded somewhere in the groove. They are also often lyrically upbeat or light and fluffy — unless they manage to catch a perfect pop culture moment, like Gnarls Barkley’s searching, confused “Crazy” that spent seven weeks at No. 2 and was largely inescapable for much of the summer of 2006.
In recent years the ladies have been having a good run. The aforementioned Iggy Azalea’s massive hit of summer 2014, “Fancy,” benefited greatly from Charli XCX’s catchy chorus. Also last summer, newcomer Meghan Trainor’s retro-soul empowerment anthem “All About That Bass” became one of the best-selling singles of all time (11 million) during its summer run.
Similarly, the infectious chorus and purposefully unobtrusive production on Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2012 bubble-gum pop smash “Call Me Maybe” was an insistent earworm, as was the less upbeat “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye from 2011, and the big rafters-reaching staccato chorus of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” back in 2010.
For the R&B and funk lover, there is always DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s perfect cookout jam “Summertime,” which rides a smooth sample from Kool & the Gang’s instrumental hit “Summer Madness” and Will Smith’s natural charisma as he raps (nonthreateningly) about cookouts with friends and family. Rapper/actor Nelly’s career was jump-started in the summer of 2002 with the ubiquitous “Hot In Herre,” which used Nelly’s way with a rap-sung melody and the familiar funky thump of Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose.”
Last year, up-and-coming R&B singer Jason Derulo managed the feat of having one of the most simultaneously hated and loved summer songs: Booty song “Wiggle,” which uses its sparse-tuned 808 kicks, digital whistle melody and Snoop Dogg verse (he might be the official rapper of summer songs) to rule “blazing hip hop and R&B” and urban pop radio, while being named one of the worst songs of 2014.
Say what you will about Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s Marvin Gaye-“inspired” “Blurred Lines,” but it was bumping out of every radio and grocery store, as was the throwback groove of Daft Punk’s (featuring Pharrell) “Get Lucky.” Of course, you could also just go with the extended 12-minute mix of Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” from 1977, or jump ahead a decade or so and put on Rob Base and the late DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two,” which ruled the summer of 1988’s cars, bars and radios.
The Black Eyed Peas unleashed their arena dance-rap hit “I Gotta Feeling” back in June 2009, and it grabbed the zeitgeist on radio and television so firmly that it wound up spending 14 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. So clearly, good taste and longevity is not always a factor in a successful song of summer.
Looking a bit further back are obvious choices such as Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave” or “Dancing In The Streets.” A sizeable chunk of Beach Boys hits (“Surfin’”; “Surfin’ Safari”; “Surfin’ USA”; “Fun, Fun, Fun”; “I Get Around”; “California Girls”; “Good Vibrations”; “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, you get the idea) generally trigger images of bikini-clad girls and groovy dudes for boomers. So do standard movie soundtrack tunes such as Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ anthemic “American Girl” (we’ll just forget about that abduction scene in “Silence of the Lambs,” OK?).
You don’t have to be a current student to appreciate the unbridled freedom and metaphorical middle finger inherent in Alice Cooper’s start-of-summer anthem “School’s Out.” Power-pop songs also seem ripe for the season, such as Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” with its catchy “Mommy’s alright, Daddy’s alright!” chants; Weezer’s breezy, midtempo and (for band leader Rivers Cuomo) relatively upbeat “Island in the Sun”; or the Violent Femmes’ peppy alt-rock-jock jam “Blister in the Sun.”
Summer songs aren’t always happy, of course. Don Henley’s laid-back “Boys of Summer” took a more wistful boomer-centric look at lost innocence and youth, and the Go-Go’s peppy “Vacation” was more about getting away from a failed relationship than actually taking a trip.
Billboard recently released a list of all the popular summer songs from 1985 to now, and besides the surprising amount of ballads in the latter half of the ‘80s — Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road,” Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love” (?!!), Heart’s power ballad “Alone” — there are plenty of songs that some folks may have forgotten but may still conjure up images and feelings of summer. Songs such as Los Lobos’ version of “La Bamba” or Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” from 1987, or Sir Mix-A-Lot’s formerly controversial, now quaint “Baby Got Back,” and “Achy Breaky Heart” by Miley Cyrus’ dad’s hair.
So what will be the Songs of the Summer of 2015? It’s tough to say, with the calendar yet to reach the first of July. Rapper Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” a hip-hop love song about a man and his fellow drug-dealing paramour, isn’t lyrically “summery” but the synth stabs, popular trap-style beat and Wap’s strangely catchy wailing on the chorus has already made it a top 3 song on Billboard.
Taylor Swift is currently on top of the pop heap, so her current single “Bad Blood” featuring hot emcee Kendrick Lamar certainly has a chance to become a summer radio mainstay. Pop rockers Walk the Moon have offered “Shut Up and Dance,” a blandly catchy tune with a big hook that works an ‘80s groove (gated drums, icy synth solo, Edge-like chiming guitar riffs) and some background “oooh-ooohs.”
One Direction may be heading toward minute 12 of their boy-band reign, but their peppy single “No Control” with its familiar ringing chorus and polite guitar groove should rule Radio Disney, and could easily sit atop the Hot 100. And let us not forget that the bros of country continue to crank out “dusty-dirt-road, taillights-in-the-moonlight, Daisy-Dukes-and-Bud-Light” songs that never seem to get old to their fans.
We’re only six days into summer, so trying to predict which songs will wind up as earworms is a crapshoot. But no matter your personal musical tastes — short punchy pop-rock jams, throbbing hip-hop thumpers or beer-hoisting country bros — you can be sure that during the summer season there will always be music, everywhere, and it will have people swinging and swaying while their (MP3 players) are playing, and that can always lead to some dancing in the streets.
©2015 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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