That summer feeling
Roll down the windows, turn up the stereo and sing along with a lively mix of fresh summer jams
As long as there have been pop-radio stations there have been summer jams, songs that take over the airwaves and become so popular as to provide a shared soundtrack for that time of year when we let our hair down, take our shirts off and get out and reconnect with our world and the people in it.
Last week, in celebration of the first day of summer, NPR’s The Mix posted The Songs of Summer playlist online featuring the top track(s) for each summer from 1962 (“The Loco-Motion,” by Little Eva) to 2012 (“Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen). And in a testament to the power of music to mark a specific moment in time, each tune that I lived through took me back to summer.
As the NPR intro puts it, the songs of summer are “fun to sing. The hooks are catchy. They speak to something larger than our tastes, fulfilling a collective need for music that’s as danceable as it is escapist as it is a shared experience.”
Every year I like to make a brand-new summer mix to help inspire me to make the most of my summer. For me, all styles are fair game. The more variety the better the party, backyard barbecue, road trip or afternoon spent beside a body of water. If I can dance like a spaz, sing my guts out, throw my fist in the air, or just nod in agreement to those gathered outside under the stars on a hot night, then it is on the list. As my personal tradition dictates, the only hard-and-fast rule I have for inclusion on a new playlist is that the song has yet to have a summer’s chance to shine. It doesn’t have to have been targeted specifically for this year’s sunny days—it can be anything released since the close of the previous summer.
Of course the big, fun jams that make their way into our collective summer consciousness don’t ever veer from the current styles on the pop charts, so simply keeping an ear to the bestsellers will yield only a fraction of summer’s musical bounty. But (unh!), is it ever some sweet bounty. Looking back at some of the signature tracks, even those which, during their time, might have worn out their welcome before season’s end—TLC’s “Waterfalls,” Smash Mouth’s “All Star,” Nelly’s “Hot in Herre”—stirs up some of those old summer feelings.
There are three tracks that likely will be dancing for the 2013 crown: the sexy slow-burn “#Beautiful,” by Mariah Carey and Miguel; Daft Punk’s repetitious, world-dominating EDM/disco collaboration with Pharrell and Nile Rodgers, “Get Lucky”; and, my personal pick, “Blurred Lines” the sparse and playful taste of sexy fun by Robin Thicke (also with Pharrell, plus the annoying and creepy T.I.).
If Justin Timberlake’s smooth-and-funky The 20/20 Experience came out closer to summer, we’d be talking about the cool, understated “Suit & Tie” (or maybe “Pusher Love Girl,” despite its cringe-inducing attempt at metaphor). The dance-floor dark horses are the super-hot “Q.U.E.E.N.,” the first single from the stylish Janelle Monáe’s soon-to-be-released sophomore album, The Electric Lady, and Kanye West’s gloriously crazy-making, dark arena-rocker, “Black Skinhead.”
But, if you come down a tier or two from the big-dogs’ dance party, you’ll find there’s a great variety of summer sounds waiting to be discovered: some spirited pop (“Lovers,” by locals Surrogate; “Diane Young,” Vampire Weekend); summer-flavored rave-ups (“Silver Lining,” or any other reverb-soaked splash on Guards’ In Guards We Trust; “Cayucos,” or any other beach-friendly surf track on Cayucas’ Bigfoot); shout-out rockers (the enormous riff-heavy “Xanman” by Australia’s Pond; the stomping “Holy Ghost” by Philly’s DRGN KING), plus a couple of late-night chillers (“Royals,” by Lorde, a 16-year-old prodigy from New Zealand; Yo La Tengo’s latest looping jam, “Ohm”).
My early favorite (along with Thicke’s irresistible naughtiness) is by the brand-new-to-me Seattle band Telekinesis—a sneaky slice of power pop called “Power Lines” that draws you in with an infectious acoustic hook and waits a full minute before a burst of distorted riffage launches you into another memorable summer.