Summer Nights and My Radio

Alexander Calder's SunYour 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,

JTL

32 thoughts on “Summer Nights and My Radio”

  1. i can’t wait to see the result of this summer battle like i can’t wait to know what level of hell i’m going to.

  2. Wasn’t, like, “Walking On Sunshine” like the official, un-official hit of the summer back in like ’84?? Oh my gawd!!!

  3. 1985. And don’t forget “Steal My Sunshine” by LEN and “Summer Girls” by LFO, both from 1999. “I like girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch / Chinese food makes me sick…”

  4. “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt saved my summer in … 1997? I was working in the shipping warehouse at Upjohn. Oh my gawd. If it weren’t for that song and “You Were Meant for Me” by Jewel, I probably would have gone under.

  5. Beyonce gonna win it all, fa shizzle. But you got to give it up for 50 Cent “21 Questions”, dog! “I love you like a fat kid love cake.” Nate Dogg be doin his thang in da background. That song stupid easy to sing along to. You got to give it up. 21 Questions be blowin up this summer.

  6. I totally hate that Jewel song. It’s so whiny and full of boring minutiae – “I pick up a cup, I cook some eggs, I brush my teeth….” *snore*

  7. Gleefully, gratefully, I can say that I haven’t heard even one of the singles in contention for this years “summer single.” For that matter, there’s a handful of the more recent summer singles mentioned above, that Nellie “song” for example, that I wouldn’t know if Sisqo came and performed a medley in my living room with a lap dance thrown in. The few that I do know – Ricky Martin, Baha Men – I hate with a white-hot passion. I have become hermetically sealed in my own insular, woefully elitist musical universe, and I could not be more perversely happy. Jesus, maybe I should listen to top 40 once in a while or watch MTV for 15 minutes a week. I obviously need help.

  8. awwww, i think that jewel song is soooo *cute*!! the part of the song where she talks about putting her PJs on in adorable. i gush over the old jewel before she sold out and went pop.

  9. I always thought the tune of “Don’t Speak” sounded like “Fame,” really slow.

    “Don’t speak/I know what you’re thiiiiinking…”

    “Fame!/We’re gonna live foreeeeeeever…”

  10. i have another contender for you… “gimme the light” by sean paul. though released around spring break (more likely earlier, that’s when i noticed it in heavy rotation), there’s a remix that was recently released featuring busta rhymes. though i’m not exactly a fan of dancehall-reggae-rap (been turn off to it ever sinc the whole snow incident) i have to admit i was roped into this song when i first heard it earlier this year. then in the same day i saw a video for the remix of the song and heard it booming out of a car in my neighborhood while walking my pooch. i gotta say it’s pretty catchy and has enough hooks and bass to sound good coming booming out of a car. the only question is, will it have enough legs to compete with all the songs just being released now and those that are tied to summer blockbuster films.

  11. Vit

    Sean Paul has followed up the success of “Gimme the Light” with an equally hot jam entitled “Get Busy” that features the same diwali rhythm and infectious, sing-song chatting, all wrapped around an even hotter bottom end. I would have included it in my review of summer hit contenders, but I agree with you – it probably won’t have the legs. SP mixes in liberal doses of hip-hop and pop/R&B into his dancehall flava; however, he’s still more of a ragga type guy than a straight MC, and that could hurt him in the crossover dept. Nevertheless, “Get Busy” is a great jam.

    JTL

  12. Johhny, what’s that song I was asking you about the other day? Something about the “Flavor” by Craig David or something? That jam is DOPE!

  13. d,

    does it always have to be about rock and roll? the joy about summer pop songs are the aural sugar buzz they can give you. i love throw away songs that capture a moment in time, soon to vanish as the season changes.

    some of the greatest summer moments are fleeting and so should their soundtracks. i couldn’t imagine taking a stroll down the lakefront in the summer suffering through some self-righteous ironic indie composition while the world is a live with that summer feeling.

    could you imagine how boring the mark hammill epic teen roustabout “corevette summer” would have been without the throw away songs of 1978? you’re probably trying to figure out what songs may have been in the flick, and that’s just the point… sugar sweet and gone to bubble gum babylon (yes, obviously i’ve been watching too much vh-1).

    just enjoy the tunes until the buzz turns into a headache. by that time it’ll be fall and we’ll all be overjoyed to turn to heady music that will challenges us and possibly change our lives.

    vitas

  14. I’ve put the rock & roll on hold while The Cooler Kids blow up my hi-fi with the good-timin’ Pizzicato Five-style grooves of “All Around the World (Punk Debutante)”. Long live saccharine proto new-wave disco! (At least while it’s hot out and girls are wearing less).

    JTL

    http://www.coolerkids.com

  15. It’s weird, I sit and read these posts and remember when I had a mustache, winged hair, and a black camaro with red leather upolstry. It’s almost embarassing to look at those pictures now. Mr. Mister was the jam back then on those hot summer night in the beautiful San Fernando Valley. Ooh wee!

  16. I don’t know about the music, but the verdict on the look for summer is late renaissance — purple velvet pantaloons gathered at the knee, stockings, and a whole lot of puffy shirt.

  17. I never knew there was a contest for “hottest summer single.” Call me an elitist, but I too am happy to be insulated from the sugary sweet pop and ridiculous anthems. (At least somewhat anyway, I did occasionly catch a channel surfing glimpse of Nelly’s raunchy video, is that the new soul? Give me Marvin Gaye or the Dells anyday over that!)

  18. re: “beautiful.” (we are talking about the christina aguilera nonsense, right?) that song was the second half (uppercut???) of a one-two punch that made me realize that certain songs are inescapable and summer-y and poppy and just kind of lovely. subsequently an epiphany that I’m Probably A Poser Because I Only Admitted My Feelings For That Song After Hearing Clem Snide Cover It was had. after finishing it eef went “there’s a little ag for ya.” brilliant. the first half came after hearing ben gibbard sing “complicated” during a christmas 2002 benefit show thing.

    i also blame these two events for leading me to want to throw justin timberlake & his plea to “rock your body” in the ring for contention of summer songs that i can’t get out of my head and have downloaded for some reason…

    oof.

  19. Yeah, I suppose I’m a bit elitist too, I usually can’t wait for the summer to end so the radio tones down the crap a notch. They are horribly horribly catchy though, I must admit, and I’m in high school. Hearing summer tunes is inevitable.

    And yeah, I spend the summers out in the bush at a cottage, listening to Sgt. Pepper far too much. Eh, I’m just nuts.

  20. The Ataris cover of “Boys of Summer” was played constantly all summer long on all ‘alternative’ radio stations. It may not be Beyonce or Sean Paul but I’d rather listen to the Ataris.

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