Your particular 3-point cred stance is powerless against the successful summer single. You might be a card-carrying avantist who listens exclusively to backwards-sounding Bruce Gilbert solo albums. Maybe the leftist worldbeat pop of NPR’s online shop is your bag. Doesn’t matter. Most every summer, there’ll be a song that transcends genre and demographics, spilling sticky icky icky sunscreen all over your precious pop culture cone of silence. At first it’ll be clicks and buzzes, wafting into your ride from the open windows of the driver education sedan stuck next to you in the traffic jam. But soon, it’ll start to take shape. Spins at wedding receptions, wafting through the mall where you buy your organic shampoo, slicing through the background din at that baseball game your brother-in-law made you attend. And before you know it, your badass hipster brain’ll be wondering: Just who did let the dogs out?
The Baja Men’s 2000 monster hit didn’t start the trend, of course. The summer single can be traced all the way back to the 1960s, when the Beach Boys and the Lovin’ Spoonful were a few of the most notable contenders. Besides 1965’s ageless “Do You Believe in Magic,” the latter group returned the following June with “Summer in the City,” containing the classic John Sebastian complaint “Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty.” Fast-forwarding to 1998, Will Smith had everyone from the beachfront to the bingo hall “Gettin Jiggy Wit It.” A year later, it was Ricky Martin’s turn with the ooh-ah hipsway of “Livin’ la Vida Loca” and “Shake Your Bon-Bon.” In the case of these songs, they were announcements to the world. For Smith, Big Willie Style was his first time on the mic since Hollywood came calling. Martin’s eponymous 1999 LP introduced the Latin superstar to the rest of the world. As such, their success was almost guaranteed, since the knob twiddlers back at the command center had almost deemed it so. It was impossible NOT to feel jiggy when Smith came on the radio; similarly, the spy movie guitar line of Martin’s breakthrough single wriggled like a severed tension wire. These songs were feelgood hits, yes. But they were also determined to be so by the powers that be.
There’s no question that the booty bounce skiffle of “Who Let the Dogs Out” owned summer 2000. But it’s Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” that hit on a more lasting formula. Like Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5” or the Macarena, “Dogs” tipped much too far toward novelty to have any staying power beyond 12 weeks or so. “It Wasn’t Me” was sandwiched between the Baja Men and Sisqo’s equally goofy “Thong Song” that same summer. Its singalong bounce and audacious lyricisms (“We even did it on the shower”) made it the perfect mix of summertime anthem and naughty club track. In doing so, it set up Nelly’s 2002 success with his bomb track, “Hot in Herre.” Just as brazen (“I got secrets can’t leave Cancun;” “I was like good gracious ass is bodacious;” the hilariously blunt chorus chant), and just as juiced with primitive dancefloor bounce (this time courtesy of mega-Platinum helmers the Neptunes), “Hot in Herre” effortlessly took the title for the ’02’s most ubiquitous single. Together, “Hot in Herre” and “It Wasn’t Me” helped shift the focus of the summer single from good times and lemonade (“Good Vibrations;” “Jiggy”) to sweaty lovin’ and Axe body spray. Looks like John Sebastian was a prophet – the grit, the grit, the grit is back.
Now, if you’re anything like a portion of the Glorious Noise braintrust, you welcomed this year’s summer solstice deep in the woods, dining on roast quail, drinking flagons of Pinot Grigio, and dancing to the music of a Renaissance-themed recorder quintet. You might have done this (was that you in the satyr mask?), but it’s more likely that you were in your backyard, at a street fest, or in a gutter, listening to the initial burst of this summer’s radio singles. Justin Timberlake hit too early with “Rock Your Body,” his irresistible intersection of “Another One Bites the Dust” with the hee-hee’ing of Michael Jackson, and 50 Cent’s much too gruff for the summer months. But though a brace of veterans and newcomers are making a late June play for summer bragging rights, it’s still anyone’s jam.
Some of the offerings:
Wayne Wonder, “No Letting Go;” Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell, “Beautiful” – Both tracks access the breezy qualities of the Southern Hemisphere. Wonder’s “No Letting Go” marries a whirring synth hook to lovey-dovey lyrics and a rhythmic Caribbean bottom end that accentuates Wonder’s pop-ragga scatting. “No Letting Go” likely won’t have the staying power to last until September, but for now it’s as fresh and crisp as a summer dress. Meanwhile, Snoop not only enlisted the Neptunes for the gorgeous, slip-sliding “Beautiful,” but head ‘Tune Pharrell sings the hook and joins the Doggfather in Brazil for the accompanying video clip. Snoop might be overexposed faster than bong water stains the carpet, and ubiquitous hook singer Pharrell is becoming the new Ja Rule. But “Beautiful,” like its counterpart “No Letting Go,” is possessed of an irrepressible summertime groove.
Pink, “Feelgood Time” – The lead single from this summer’s Charlie’s Angels sequel, “Feelgood Time” will likely be unavoidable even if it’s not a hit. Written by Beck but performed by Pink with the aid of beat-whore William Orbit, “Feelgood Time” actually still sounds quite a bit like a Beck song. But even if the dancing pixie had performed it, the track doesn’t have the intangible quality it needs to make the summer jam grade on its own, without Full Throttle marketing money behind it.
Fannypack, “Cameltoe” – Do you miss J.J. Fad? Kris Kross? Well, then you’ll love “Cameltoe.” A song about the, er, pants affliction of the same name suffered by many, usually at large outdoor gatherings in July that feature too much spandex, “Cameltoe” has already worked its way up into the top spots of many East Coast radio outlets. A quickly-produced, hiked-up creation from the get-go, Fannypack’s whining goof-rap style and whimpering, too cute to be real old school beats might win them some novelty points this summer, but aren’t going to cut it in the trenches. It’s too affected, not hooky enough, and ultimately too amateur.
Lumidee, “Never Leave You” – Another NYC teen sensation, this time out of Spanish Harlem. Lumidee’s debut single is spare and sweaty, channeling the street-level, incessant percussion of ESG, moving through the Dixie Cups’ “Iko Iko,” and adding Lumidee’s own wavering, out of key (yet oddly alluring) vocal over the top. “Ah o Ah o Ah o” she warbles, eventually giving way to a particularly smooth rap from Busta Rhymes (only one shout out to the Flipmode Squad? Busta, you’re slipping, my man). “Never Leave You” is definitely going to kick off a few mix tapes this summer, and will sound great coming out of windows while you jump through the sprinkler (or open fire hydrant). And the dipping, dirty rhythm will keep in rotation. But again, it’s unclear how much resonance the song will have beyond the sweaty basement parties.
Beyoncé Knowles ft. Jay-Z, “Crazy in Love” – Irrepressible. Dominated by a hard-blowing horn sample straight out the Temptations’ “Psychedelic Shack” and defined by a post-chorus drum break that’s better than similar ones from Lumidee or Wonder, Beyoncé even one-ups her competition with a similar “Uh oh Uh oh” chant before kicking the chorus line open with her huge voice. The lead single to Dangerously in Love, Knowles’ official arrival as a solo artist and adult performer (as if “Bootylicious” was for kids, but whatever), “Crazy in Love” is also spiked with a typically unassuming guest shot from Sean Carter (“Stick bony, but the pocket is fat like Tony Soprano/The Roc handle like Van Exel”). It’s the best thing to happen to radio in 2003, and gets my vote as the single of the summer.
Walking on the sidewalk, hotter than a match head,