Handicapping The Summer Song Of 2006

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:

12 replies
  1. Joseph Gallant
    Joseph Gallant says:

    I would suggest two other songs might contend for the title of “The Summer Song Of 2006”: The original songs sung by “American Idol 5” winner Taylor Hicks (“Do I Make You Proud?”) and runner-up Katharine McPhee (“My Destiny”) during the show’s final sing-off on May 23rd.
    Given that “American Idol” is the top-rated prime-time television program, I feel program and music directors at Top-40/CHR and Adult Contemporary stations may have no choice but to program these songs. And such heavy airplay of these two songs from “new artists” who are already well-known throughout America, if not the world, is inevitable because fans will demand it.

  2. Gregg Swedberg
    Gregg Swedberg says:

    Faith Hill’s “Sunshine and Summertime” (written by John Rich) is better than Chesney’s song. It hits in early June.
    I always enjoy reading “Ross On Radio”
    Gregg Swedberg

  3. Tony
    Tony says:

    Must look at Dani California by the Chili Peppers as a contender…crossing formats…and anything California tends to be viewed as a summer song.

  4. Jerry Rubino
    Jerry Rubino says:

    Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” for sure. When I first heard it earlier in the year, I had that instant “hear it all over this summer” feeling. Z100 is spiking it at the moment, I believe. I see WPLJ “having” to play this one. I just hope the streetbuzz in this “now-lamer” NYC market will give it the push.

  5. Rich Appel
    Rich Appel says:

    For me at the very least, THE song of summer ’05 was Rihanna’s “Pon De Replay,” perhaps because it contained all the elements of THE song of summer 1962, Little Eva’s “Locomotion.” But those were the days when you wouldn’t even hear a candidate for THE summer song until temps were at least in the high-70s consistently. (Then again, “Replay,” if I recall, didn’t really break at radio until Memorial Day weekend.) For this summer, that may be the case again with Christina Aguilera’s return; Top 40’s primed for it, for sure. The summer release schedule may also be good to OutKast and “Mighty O.” Also, any of the upcoming summer singles for Jet, Beyonce or even Diddy might surprise. Among the songs out now, though, Cassie’s “Me & U” sure feels like the beach record to me.

  6. Justin Duty
    Justin Duty says:

    Pearl Jam’s “Come Back” will be huge like “Last Kiss” was. When you hear it your gonna freak out at how huge of a song it is going to be this summer!!! I know the new single is “Life Wasted” but the 3rd song to drop will be this epic crossover hit!! Watch Out for “Come Back”

  7. Jarrett Nolan
    Jarrett Nolan says:

    In my humble opinion, the Summer of ’06 will not be a cruel one but a PROMISCUOUS one! With Timbaland at the helm, this record does sound like a Missy Elliott throwaway. But Nelly is sexy enough to purr her way through this rap(!) and make it believable. Nelly’s having fun and so are we (at least I am) listening to her and Timbaland flow.
    I agree with Cassie’s “Me + U” and “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. In fact, kudos to them for making rap fun again.

  8. Janis
    Janis says:

    I think its Jessica Simpsons new song “A Public Affair”! That song is getting mad spins already and is already bordering the billboard hot 100 after just 5 days of being released. The song is just so catchy, and i learned the entire song after like the first 3 times it played, addicting and fun! GO JESS!

  9. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    I think Promiscuous is the best…
    *I really hate the song Hips Don’t Lie!*
    That song was taken (and Claudette’s voice changed to Shakira’s constipated voice) from the original song “Dance Like This” by Claudette Ortiz and Wyclef Jean from the Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights Movie.
    They changed Claudette’s parts to Shakira’s parts and kept Wyclef Jean’s parts the same. Hips Don’t Lie is a worse version of Dance Like This, which I liked. Thanks for the Whenever Wherever though, Shakira.
    I know not many people seem to like Paris Hilton, but I really like her funk? pop? song called “Stars are Blind” because it’s very summer feeling.
    Natasha B’s “Unwritten” is still a favorite.
    As for Panic! at the Disco… I Write Sins Not Tragedies… well I love that song… so I wouldn’t mind that one being called this summer’s hit. 2006 has been such a weird year. Don’t expect a normal summer tune this summer!

  10. Julie
    Julie says:

    i deffinitly think that “a public affair” is a great one, its a feel good song that just makes you feel like summer, and also “stars are blind” by paris, you either love this song or you hate it, but the feel of the song is deffintatley summer.

  11. Julie
    Julie says:

    i also forgot.. warmth of the sand by dashboard confessional – its a greeeat song.
    and these words by natasha bedingfield


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