A Tight Race, But We Declare A Summer Song Winner

The competition for Summer Song of 2008 was easy to handicap, but hard to call at summer’s end.
From the week before Memorial Day, a battle was shaping up between Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long,” genetically engineered to be a summer song and laying in wait for nearly a year until the time was right, and Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl,” which was missing the lyrical tie-in, but had the undeniable crunch and energy of a summer anthem.
As is increasingly the case each year, there were other songs positioned as “summer songs.” But New Kids on the Block’s “Summertime” mid-charted (except in Boston, where it remains a hometown hit at summer’s end). Natasha Bedingfield’s “Pocketful Of Sunshine” pushed through to be a real hit–but not the summer song. Boys Like Girls’ “Thunder” — more a summer memories song — was still forging ahead at the end of the summer, and besides, it was a ballad. (So was Jesse McCartney’s not-summer-themed but chart-topping “Leavin’.”)
There were lots of great sounding uptempo records that were great summer songs, but not the summer song either: Metro Station’s “Shake It” (which nevertheless put on an extra burst of speed when warm weather kicked in, after hovering outside the top 10); Chris Brown’s “Forever” (lost some of its luster when it was revealed to be a commercial jingle but went to No. 1 anyway); Flo Rida’s “In The Ayer” (just really kicking in now).
Compared to previous years, there were a surprising number of uptempo summer hits that weren’t released (or whose magnitude wasn’t quite apparent) by Memorial Day: Pussycat Dolls’ “When I Grow Up,” Rihanna’s “Disturbia,” Estelle and Kanye West’s “American Boy,” the Jonas Brothers’ “Burnin’ Up” and even Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida.” If you use pop culture and not radio ubiquity as a guideline, you could make a case for either of the latter as a major summer song contender.
There was the most unavoidable song of the summer at R&B/Hip-Hop radio, “A Milli” by Lil Wayne, but that one never cracked No. 40 at CHR. Compared to last summer, which turned out to be a battle between “Beautiful Girls” and “Umbrella,” there wasn’t any undeniable record that spanned both Pop and Urban radio – which is a column unto itself.
At the end of the summer, it was still Kid vs. Katy. And it was a close one. So we threw it open to readers of The Infinite Dial (www.infinitedial.com) last week and most chimed in for Kid. “Over 1600 spins later, it’s no contest,” wrote WIOG Saginaw, Mich., PD Jerry Noble, one of the song’s earliest supporters. Asked CMT’s Jay Frank, “Is this even a debate? Nearly everyone in the country has heard [Kid Rock]. Meanwhile, with Katy, while it’s been big in urban centers and pop worlds . . . try seeing if rural America, older adults and country fans have heard it.”
There was also a certain amount of antipathy from the beginning toward “I Kissed A Girl.” One comment after our May column handicapping the contenders declared that “the message is muddy – it’s not innocent, revolutionary, progressive, or innocuous. I can’t see it being all over the radio.” A more recent comment proclaimed that Kid Rock’s “timeless imagery of youthful abandon is far more universal in its appeal than a song about sexual experimentation with a high creep factor to many listeners even as it tittilates others.”
But it’s a little hard to position a song about teenage sex, drinking and “smoking funny things” as the wholesome alternative. And, besides, that’s not a requirement. (Remember “Semi-Charmed Life”?) Nor is being universally loved. “Promiscuous” and “SexyBack,” the unavoidable songs of two summers ago, both managed to polarize in their own ways.
Still, by any criteria, it was a tough decision:
Was it format reach that mattered? Kid Rock had Top 40, Hot AC, Country, AC and Active Rock. But Perry had Top 40, Hot AC, Rhythmic Top 40 and Alternative.
Was it currency? Phil Wilson argued that “I Kissed A Girl” was more of the moment than samplng two mid-’70s Classic Rock hits. But Gary Glitter’s “Rock & Roll Part 2,” which “I Kissed A Girl” evoked, was two years older than “Sweet Home Alabama.” And the title itself prompted anybody of a certain age, hearing about it for the first time, to ask “did someone remake that [1995] Jill Sobule song”?
Likelihood to endure? That one probably goes to “All Summer Long,” which I expect to be hearing played by wedding bands and on Memorial Day weekend kickoffs for years to come. If Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” is any indication, “I Kissed A Girl” won’t be in many gold libraries in 18 months – more for musical than lyrical reasons.
Ultimately, though, the Summer Song has to be the one that was most unavoidable during the summer. “SexyBack” outlasted “Promiscuous,” but on Labor Day two years ago, it was easy to tell which one I had heard more, up to that date. And as recently as five days ago, I found myself hopscotching from one station on the Internet to another and hearing “I Kissed A Girl” three times by 11 a.m. So I’m going to have to declare it the winner in an Olympic swimmer’s photo finish. Which should in no way diminish a second incredible comeback when most artists are lucky to get one.
So for the years that we’ve been handicapping the summer song and declaring a winner (and we skipped one), the honor roll is:
2003 – Beyonce, “Crazy In Love” (declared retroactively when we wrote our first column a year later)
2004 – Kevin Lyttle, “Turn Me On”
2006 – Nelly Furtado, “Promiscuous”
2007 – Sean Kingston, “Beautiful Girls”
2008 – Katy Perry, “I Kissed A Girl”
Okay, it’s clear from the previous comments that readers will have a lot to say about this. So please leave your comment now.

13 replies
  1. Michael McDowell/Blitz Magazine
    Michael McDowell/Blitz Magazine says:

    Too bad that the Jonas Brothers’ take on Hello Goodbye is a bit outside of the parameters of this survey. That has far and away been the most omnipresent track around here this summer.

  2. Mark Vanness
    Mark Vanness says:

    The all time greatest summer song ever: DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, Summertime! Ah, that takes me back!

  3. Butch Waugh
    Butch Waugh says:

    My daughter attends the University of Alabama and I live in the south in Nashville, how Kid’s song can not be # 1 by far is a mystery to me. I think you need to review again.

  4. Brian Davis
    Brian Davis says:

    This fly-over stater is surprised that there’s even a debate about a song other than Katy Perry being this year’s “summer song.” Kid Rock’s a good record, but it doesn’t even come close to the amount of buzzworthy hugeness of Katy. (BTW, we had #1 phones on “I Kissed A Girl” for 6 weeks, and with our red state location, we told our staff to keep careful track of any complaints, and we had…one.)

  5. Jeff Scott
    Jeff Scott says:

    These days I tend to judge hits not only through my old and experienced ears (!) but also using the ears of my 11 year old daughter–a current CHR radio maven– and my 7 year old, Disney-Channel addicted son. My daughter refers to “I Kissed A Girl” as “ewe–creepy-but-fun!” My son still doesn’t get why a girl would ever actually WANT to kiss another girl; “I mean, considering the cooties and all…” Well, that’s good enough for me. At least the song is somewhat original, even if the theme is not new. And I LIKE girl “cooties.”
    As for Kid Rock, ONLY he could rip off the piano line from Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and the guitar riff from “Sweet Home Alabama” in the same song. Fun? Not really. Trite? YES. Original? Far from it. The songs it is derived from are far more fun and original.
    So, I also have to vote for Katy Perry! “…and I liked it!”

  6. rich appel
    rich appel says:

    To these ears, it’s a split decision, and one not unlike the summer song contest of 2002, had you handicapped it then. That too was a battle between two hits with two distinct audiences: Nelly’s “Hot in Herre” in this corner, Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun” in that.
    Fun as always, Sean. So when can we start the betting on summer 2009? Will it be the long-awaited Green Day track, the by-then long-awaited Rihanna song, or another dark horse like Katy? Or will Kid smash together 2 more ’70s songs? Sure beats waiting for “24” to come back.

  7. Alan
    Alan says:

    Yes, at first I too thought someone had remade Jill Sobule’s 1995 track(When I first saw the song title)…Guess I am showing my age a little there. Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” was just the right song this Summer to rock out to. “All Summer Long” is a close second, although I tired of “All Summer Long” a month ago. Chris Brown’s “Forever”, in my mind, should’ve finished ahead of “All Summer Long” even if it is a new commercial jingle for Doublemint gum(I wondered about that the first time I heard the “Double your pleasure, double your fun” line).

  8. Joey Reynolds
    Joey Reynolds says:

    I agree, Ahmet Ertighun would have been proud of Kid Rock (his discovery) as he would have been about Herbie Hancock winning the Grammy on behalf of his brother. I did my show from Turkey last month and they are also glowing [about their] contributions to the music/radio industries.
    His followup, “Summer did not last long enough this year,” and whatever happened to Al Gore during this convention?

  9. Jordan Pettit
    Jordan Pettit says:

    My 72-year-old grandmother just informed me she likes Kid Rock, bought the album, and especially likes “All Summer Long”! Going out on a limb, but I doubt she would have even lended an ear to “I Kissed A Girl” . . . Ha!

  10. Marcus
    Marcus says:

    Well, everyone is jumping on Kid Rock because they recognize the riffs he sampled and put into his song. Katy Perry’s was much slyer but more underhanded. She took a great drum beat that not many would recognize and and based her entire song on it. It was pointed out in the article but everyone still missed it. Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2″ is the song, Katy Perry adding some funny lyrics and looking sexily at a gauzed over camera doesn’t change that.


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