Part of the much-publicized battle for the Christmas week No. 1 in the U.K., is that record companies have long learned to gear their release schedules toward it–each holiday season ends up pitting an apparent quota of superstar releases, charity event records, TV-related novelties and the oddball left-field record championed by BBC Radio 1 or 2 against each other.
Our equivalent to the Christmas week No. 1 is the battle for the summer song. Somehow the summer song unites the adults who gave up contemporary music radio for NPR a decade ago with their kids who have allegedly never cared about it in the first place. For a few months, there is less focus on the long tail and more on the “SexyBack.” And as if to prove that the U.K. model is taking here, this summer’s crop of top contenders is, as “Hz So Good” columnist Rich Appel notes, more carefully timed than ever. So going into Memorial Day weekend, we already have Justin Timberlake’s top 5 song with “summer” in the title and Kat DeLuna’s fast-rising “Whine Up” that begins with the declaration, “It’s summertime!”
“SexyBack,” by the way, is a good illustration of why it’s always a little dangerous to predict the summer song on Memorial Day, or even to try to anoint one on Labor Day. “SexyBack” came out in mid-June–too late for this column last year–and hadn’t quite overtaken Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” by the end of the summer. But Timberlake is up to his fourth hit from “FutureSex./LoveSounds,” in which time “SexyBack” became, if not the biggest record of the summer itself, the biggest, most tenacious hit in recent memory.
But we’re not shying away from coming up with a handful of candidates. As always, we begin with the ground rule that a true summer song must be uptempo–which rules out Daughtry’s “Home,” T-Pain’s “Buy You A Drank (Shawty Snappin’), Plain White T’s’ “Hey There Delilah,” and Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry (Personal).” It also rules out Jordin Sparks’ “This Is My Now,” even if it did become the first “American Idol” coronation song to become a hit since “A Moment Like This.”
That said, “uptempo” doesn’t always have to translate to “fun and uptempo.” Pink’s reissued “Who Knew” is uptempo and breezy musically, a contrast with its “dearly departed” lyric. But it’s not automatically out of contention, as the success of Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” in the summer of 1997 proved. And in Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls,” we have a summer song candidate in which the word “suicidal” figures prominently in the hook. But we are, for the most part, in search of dashboard pounders here.
And the candidates are:
- Justin Timberlake, “Summer Love” –When “”FutureSex./LoveSounds,” came out, it was just one of many viable singles candidates. But you can’t deny him, the tempo, or the timing. It’s also interesting to see “summer love”–a songwriters’ staple of a more innocent era (or, in the case of “Summer Nights” from “Grease,” a parody of one)–resurface as a topic, particularly since Justin has long proved that he’s not a teenager anymore.
- Avril Lavigne, “Girlfriend” –With its follow-up already on the way, it really qualifies as more of a spring than summer hit, something which can also be said for Diddy’s “Last Night,” Timbaland’s “Give It To Me,” and, to some extent, Maroon 5’s “Makes Me Wonder.” But they all have the tenor and energy of a great summer record.
- Kat DeLuna, “Whine Up”; Sean Kingston, “Beautiful Girls” –It used to be that Reggae and Soca records first had to make it from the Caribbean to New York, then work their way from the streets to radio stations like WQHT (Hot 97) New York and WZMX (Hot 93.7) Hartford, Conn., and maybe to R&B and then Rhythmic Top 40. Now there’s more Caribbean-flavored pop and the timing is more precise. And with Rihanna not having gone the Caribbean route this summer, DeLuna and the quirky “Beautiful Girls” (which samples Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”) are both on their way to filling the opening.
- Rihanna, “Shut Up And Drive” — Just as “SOS” missed being the hit of last summer because of timing, “Umbrella” would be a contender this year if its timing were just a little different, although it had the perfect spring subject matter, as it happened. Rich Appel jokes that the title makes this the answer to Billy Ocean’s “Get Out Of My Dreams, Get Into My Car,” but it’s really her version of “Loverboy,” the sudden venture into rock powerchords that comes out of nowhere.
- Paula DeAnda & Bow Wow, “Easy” –Sometimes summer records kick around for months before becoming hits. In 1976, Starbuck’s “Moonlight Feels Right” took six months breaking slowly throughout the south, finally becoming a warm weather hit. It happened in reverse, too. The next year, the Paul Davis downer “I Go Crazy” came out in summer, but didn’t get played in many markets until late fall or winter ’78. “Easy” sounded like an obvious hit from its first scattered airplay this winter, but reportedly couldn’t be cleared as a single because of rapper Lil’ Wayne. Now it’s being worked with Bow Wow as the rapper and has summer on its side.
- Amy Winehouse, “Rehab” –For anybody who follows the British charts, this one has also been sitting in the cupboard for months, as well. But the delay has worked to its advantage, as well as the albums that Winehouse has been able to sell already without radio. And it’s not hard to imagine “they tried to make me go to rehab/but I said no, no, no” as a late-night sing-along at a lot of parties this summer.
- Fall Out Boy, “Tnks Fr The Mmrs” –The pop/punk standout in a surprisingly light field of Rock contenders as summer begins. (The new Smashing Pumpkins single, “Tarantula,” may be the big Rock radio record of the next few months, and it certainly has the requisite tempo and energy, but it will take a few listens before I can imagine it as a multi-format hit.)
- Shop Boyz, “Party Like A Rockstar” –At this moment, it’s the most obvious Hip-Hop candidate. Has the advantage of sounding simultaneously mass-appeal (because of the subject matter) and street. In the wings behind it: Hurricane Chris’ “Ay Bay Bay.” It’s also nice to see some uptempo R&B in the pipeline, including Lloyd’s “Get It Shawty,” Chris Brown’s “Wall To Wall,” and Keyshia Cole’s “Let It Go.”
- Jason Aldean, “Johnny Cash” –In Country, it’s been building throughout the spring, but as with Rascal Flatts’ “Me And My Gang” last year, I always feel compelled to put in a plug for the edgiest of the current Country hits, although the upcoming Big & Rich version of “You Shook Me All Night Long” certainly has a chance to take that mantle. Kenny Chesney, who helpfully gave us a record called “Summertime” in summers past has not weighed in with anything that obvious yet, although a few stations are playing “Flip Flop Summer,” a CD bonus cut that became the title of this summer’s tour.
There are also some songs worth mentioning all have some sort of track record somewhere but aren’t exactly heading into Memorial Day with the kind of momentum that would carry them for the next three months. They’re not safe predictions as “the summer song,” but they’re still great summer records and deserve a mention.
- Lil’ Mama, “Lip Gloss” –Even before Lil’ Mama showed up on a recent remix of “Girlfriend,” this record was already Hip-Hop’s answer to Avril Lavigne’s hit–cheerleader rap with a universal subject matter (at least for women). So how is this song still under Top 40’s radar? If it can sustain its Rhythmic and R&B base for a few more weeks, maybe its June 5 release as an iTunes Music Store download will finally put it there.
- Lily Allen, “Smile” –It’s uptempo. It’s breezy. And on British radio last year, it sounded like the obvious mainstream hit it was. In America, despite Allen’s initial album sales, this record somehow got typecast as something much more eclectic than it really was. And now there will be program directors that somehow see this and “Rehab” taking up the same slot. But “Smile” has hung in at radio for this long, and perhaps its summery feel will finally force it into contention.
- Bob Sinclair, “World Hold On” –Another proven hit from the U.K. and worldwide. Another reggae-inflected dance record. And another song which seems a little less left-field with an airplay story behind it–in this case at WPOW (Power 96) and WHYI (Y100) Miami, both of which had been out of the dance music business for a while.
- Cupid, “The Cupid Shuffle” –The dance that started in Lafayette, La., last year has been working its way across the south in a market or two at a time. And with Radio Disney now on board, it seems to have reached “Cha-Cha Slide” status where you will undoubtedly encounter it at a wedding or Bar Mitzvah next year, regardless of whether it ever becomes an across-the-board radio hit.
- Peter, Bjorn & John, “Young Folks” –At any given time, there is at least one fun, uptempo indie Pop/Rock record that feels like it belongs on Top 40 but won’t go anywhere near there. So including this one is probably just wishful thinking, but then again, you wouldn’t have expected a Swedish indie rock entry to get as far as this has in the Alternative world either.
And now, please weigh in with your nomination for summer song by leaving a comment.