Summer Jamz ‘07

Obsessing over the summertime soundtrack

European summer
“Sanninggan,” Sökerp! (Sweden)
“Hotel Room,” Lord Kossity (France)
“Hit That” & “Bird Flu,” M.I.A. (UK)
“Real Girl,” Mutya Buena (UK)
“Smother + Evil = Hurt,” The Kissaway Trail (Norway)
“Konichiwa Bitches,” Robyn (Sweden)

“If you hook up the speakers, man, we’ll bring the sound / And the music will be heard for miles and miles around”
–"Into Action,” Tim Armstrong

Right now someone is listening to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” In Bidwell Park a pack of dudes is kicking around a Hacky Sack while from a tinny speaker in an open car door, Angus Young’s Gibson SG has just announced, “Take those shirts off, it’s summertime!”

And so we have the summer jam. They help us remember those places and times of the year when we’re doing fun things, and doing them together. Play Outkast’s “Hey Ya” at your next barbecue and sit back and watch the mood lift. Play “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Hot in Herre,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” or any of the summer classics, and witness the air guitars coming out of pockets and heads nodding in approval.

Hell, play “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit’ It” or “Summertime” by Mr. Smith—it doesn’t matter, because “the weather is hot and the girls [and the guys] are dressing less,” and every time you hear those songs, you get to revisit it all again.

Of course, the dynamics of the summer jam have changed some. Radio still plays its part in proselytizing the masses (not so much in Chico, where radio is not our friend), but that little makes-life-almost-too-easy contraption the kids call the Internet has upped the game. It’s pretty much become the norm to have the “stereo” be an MP3 player or a PC with iTunes on shuffle. Used to its capacity, the Web can provide the obsessive song-seeker with the songs of people’s summers from every corner of the planet.

This is going to get crazy, fast. As I write this, I’m on iTunes downloading “Throw It on Me” by Timbaland (feat. The Hives!). It’s the 819th “recently added” song in my music library since the beginning of 2007, putting me on pace to have more than 1,400 songs to pick from for my year-end best-of (not counting CDs, most of which have yet to be uploaded).

That is just a little crazy … if only for the amount of time spent staring at a computer screen. But as the sprinklers tick across the lawn this morning, there’s a buzzy Hives guitar riff in my head, and an excited Timbaland rapping about being really horny is getting me hot to bust out this Summer Jams ’07 mix.

It is not all for nothing!

My weekly devotion to Tuesday’s new releases on iTunes and Monday’s update of the Euro 200 chart, and the borderline obsessive daily morning multitasking of reading a dozen music blogs and news sites—from Stereogum to Last Plane to Jakarta—while downloading the day’s free tracks while cross-checking the band’s homepage and MySpace page (and its label’s homepage) for bonus cuts and returning to iTunes to purchase the good ones while shortcutting music blogs that aren’t so fun to read at the Hype Machine MP3-blog aggregator will actually pay off with the most power-packed, over-researched soundtrack to the summertime party ever! Right? Don’t think, just follow.

In the best of years, the top summer jam is also the most popular song in the land—“Crazy in Love” (’04), “Walking on the Sun” (’97), “My Sharona” (’79), and this year Rihanna’s “Umbrella” is destined to be this summer’s in-the-club/at-the-pool-party pop/R&B winner (seven weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 going into July 14 and all over MTV). The song is fully international, having made it to the top of the charts in Russia, Canada, New Zealand and nearly every European country, but I’m not having it. It’s smooth and put together well, but completely forgettable. Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” and Gwen Stefani’s “Sweet Esecape” are both more interesting and memorable female Top 40 cuts, and 17-year-old Lil’ Mama’s “Lip Gloss” completely kills ’em all with a bone-jarring beat and tough and flirty throwaway lyrics.

The U.S. is not so friendly to foreigners. If there were any international justice, we would receive more imports for our charts in return for sending all the Rihannas and Stefanis around the globe (Winehouse and Lily Allen of the UK are a good start). You’re going to have to hit the MP3 blogs (investigate tracks on YouTube, and search for downloads via Hype Machine, or, um, some other kinds of music sites) to find any of these, but you must seek them out. Britain, France and especially Sweden are putting out some extremely summer-worthy jams.

The real coup for fans of things that are new are, of course, the MP3 blogs. The aforementioned Hype Machine is a must, as is Stereogum, but there are thousands to explore (again, Hype Machine—you’ll become addicted). And even though releases from Arcade Fire, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and other indie-kid obsessions have more-than-worthy prospects for summer, even a cursory perusal of MP3 blogs will yield worthy challengers.

I’ve spent just a few days with “You! Me! Dancing!” by Los Campesinos!, and … Oh. My. God (found on the most-excellent Said the Gramophone site). At more than six minutes, the tune is a hyper riff-driven late-night summertime dance party that is impossibly catchy.

But before we leave each other, if you care about summer at all, go online right now and download Tim Armstrong’s “Into Action.” It is a stone-cold lock! The Rancid frontman has created an indisputable summer jam—bouncy ska with sunny lyrics about playing outside all day, with the horn-section and bass riffing off the Batman theme song, a sexy female voice on the chorus (courtesy of Canadian pop/punk star Skye Sweetnam), and a sweet reverb-dripping surf-guitar solo. It’s perfect. So go now and burn it and the summer to the ground!