by Sean Ross, VP of Music and Programming
The last time I weighed in on the “song of the summer” question was Labor Day ’04, after a relatively low-key season that hadn’t offered one ubiquitous monster like “Hot In Herrre” or “Crazy In Love.” That summer, the best combination of tempo and multi-format exposure belonged to Kevin Lyttle’s “Turn Me On”; if that song has faded from memory a little since then, consider that its rivals on the radio that summer included ballads like “The Reason” and “Burn” and “Move Ya Body,” “Pieces Of Me,” and “Leave (Get Out),” all ultimately similar in long-term impact.
I’d also offered up “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” as a left-field choice. Big & Rich’s then-startling (for Country radio) Rap/Country hybrid has actually gained in lasting impact over the last two years, becoming a reliable library tester at the same stations that would never play it in power rotation as a current. “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” also continues to leave its sonic hoof prints on Country today (more about that momentarily), but with limited Country airplay, it didn’t quite have the reach to be the summer song.
As we go in to summer 2006, the uptempo, dashboard-pounder is in much better supply, which is good news for several formats.
Since then, the “summer song” question has become even more of a consumer press story. Last summer, I didn’t write about it–perhaps because everybody else was. But I remember seeing Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together,” certainly the most played song of the summer, anointed somewhere. (For one thing, “Since U Been Gone” and “Hollaback Girl,” two summer-feeling songs, had peaked in the spring.) And while I was happy about Mariah’s comeback, that wasn’t quite the uptempo, feel good, dashboard-pounder I was hoping for, even if you include the remix.
As we go in to summer 2006, the uptempo, dashboard-pounder is in much better supply, which is good news for several formats. Top 40, whose fortunes often seem to track with the availability of accessible, uptempo, medium-weight product, has it in relative abundance, although many of the songs that fit that description have peaked (“Walk Away,” “Temperature,” “Unwritten”) or are peaking now.
Country has the first calculated summer-themed song of the season in Kenny Chesney’s “Summertime.” Modern Rock also has its best, poppiest crop of uptempo records in a while, although many of the songs that feel like summer hits to me (Raconteurs’ “Steady As She Goes,” Snow Patrol’s “Hands Open”, Keane’s “Is It Any Wonder,” Hard-Fi’s “Hard To Beat”) may not make their way to Top 40 right away. (On the other hand, Panic! At The Disco’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” is already there.)
It’s also shaping up as a pretty good summer for pop tempo in the UK, between the Keane record, two songs from the band Orson (“No Tomorrows’ and “Bright Ideas”) that recall, in some ways, Maroon 20, the electro-pop “From Paris to Berlin” by Infernal, and one true left-fielder, Nerina Pallot’s “Everybody’s Gone To War,” an anti-Iraq commentary well beyond what’s been on the radio here that also happens to be a great uptempo radio record.
This is by no means a definitive list of everything that will be a hit this summer: just an educated guess on what songs might emerge as iconic by summer’s end. And, for the same reason that “We Belong Together” can’t ever be the summer hit for me, there are some other ballad megahits like Fort Minor’s “Where’d You Go” that won’t be found in the list below. And while it would be exciting to see a record break out of nowhere to become the summer hit, the time needed to get a record going at Top 40 now is such that you have a reasonable shot at guessing at summer’s outset. The candidates, please:
- Rihanna, “SOS” — It’s already been dubbed the summer song in at least one article, but it peaked in May and the artist’s next single, the ballad “Unfaithful,” is already scaling the charts. Like “In Da Club” and “Yeah!” in years past, it will play on the radio well through summer, but it’s not perfect in terms of timing.
- Shakira, “Hips Don’t Lie” — Has all the ingredients: tempo, multi-format impact, (and any song with a Latin or Caribbean feel already has an advantage). It kicked in at the beginning of spring and has already become a No. 1 hit at Mainstream Top 40, but looks likely to remain a top 10 record well into July.
- Chamillionaire, “Ridin'” — For all the talk about Hip-Hop’s product shortage, this has been the first or second fastest growing Top 40 record of the past three weeks. I’m breaking my own rule on tempo a little here, but at this rate, all of the potential rap anthems (Yung Joc, Rick Ross) are downtempo. And you have to appreciate any record that manages to serve as cruisin’ anthem and a commentary on racial profiling at the same time.
- Nelly Furtado, “Promiscuous”/”Maneater” — “Promiscuous” could be the most perfectly timed candidate, roughly where “Crazy In Love” was at this time three summers ago in its chart journey. By coming back with the kind of record that she had only hinted at in the past, Furtado seems to be taking guidance from Gwen Stefani–not just last summer’s “Love.Angel.Music.Baby,” but also No Doubt’s 2002 “Rock Steady” album. Both that album and Furtado’s “Loose” saw their artists rebound from the sophomore slump of more serious albums by partying harder. “Maneater,” the current U.K. single, got its first performance on last week’s Saturday Night Live. It has some of the clapping and chanting energy of “Hollaback Girl” without merely recreating that song.
- Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy” — Has the same “shock-of-the-new” (or “retro, yet new”) that Outkast’s “Hey Ya” had 2-1/2 years ago. At this writing, it’s headed for its ninth week at No. 1 in the U.K.
- Rascal Flatts, “Me And My Gang” — Pop radio is only now getting around to the group’s ballad smash, “What Hurts The Most,” so it seems unlikely to find this one by August. But it’s the sonic boom that outdoes even “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” in redefining Country radio. Besides “Summertime,” Country is also doing pretty well on uptempo summer-feeling records of its own, with Pat Green’s “Feels Just Like It Should” and Trace Adkins’ “Swing” on the ascent.
- KT Tunstall, “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” — With a little help from two “American Idol” performances, it’s finally breaking down programmer resistance at Mainstream Top 40 now, more than a year after her first U.S. exposure, so it’s a little scary to predict that the reach of, say, “Hips Don’t Lie” for this one. But it’s the kind of song that could be gaining momentum all summer. And it certainly has the right breeziness of a summer record, ironic since it began as a cold-weather hit in the U.K. The Fray’s “Over My Head (Cable Car)” has also made the same long journey to Top 40 and has a similar breeziness.
And now, please share your prediction for the song of summer 2006–one of the aforementioned or not–in the comments below: