Okay, So What Was The Summer Hit Of 2006?

You take your professional reputation in your hands when you try to predict which hit will be the song of the summer–something I did shortly before Memorial Day as a way of taking radio’s temperature, and that of Top 40 in particular. Now it’s Labor Day and I’m not too embarrassed to recap.

I’d suggested in May that most of the potential summer smashes were already on the agenda by that time. And that turned out to be true, for the most part.

I’d suggested in May that most of the potential summer smashes were already on the agenda by that time. And that turned out to be true, for the most part. The big name product glut that we saw in June/July yielded a lot of songs that were respectable hits but not the summer smash: Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man” is, of course, only starting to look like a research hit now that some Top 40s have moved on; Jessica Simpson’s “A Public Affair” and Paris Hilton’s “Stars Are Blind” held listeners’ attention for a few weeks. The latter was essentially propelled by the novelty of exceeding expectations, but not indefinitely. Beyonce’s “Deja Vu,” a tribute to the early ’80s hits of Teena Marie was, like most of those songs, a bigger R&B than pop hit.
That leaves one major candidate that wasn’t out in May and one that was, but I missed. The former is Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back,” initially the most reviled of the superstar records. The latter is the Pussycat Dolls’ “Buttons,” the fourth single from the “PCD” album, which seemed pleasant enough but not like a monster on the magnitude of their first two hits.
So how did the other predictions shake out?
Rihanna’s “S.O.S.” and Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” were smashes already. Three months later, they definitely feel more like spring hits. And Rihanna’s “Unfaithful,” no matter how big it was, was still a ballad (at least until its multiple remixes) and therefore not the summer song.
Chamillionaire’s “Ridin'” was the biggest rap crossover, but by summer had been replaced by Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin’ Down” as the ubiquitous rap record. (Then again, Yung Joc never got the same critical mass at pop, at least with the first single.)
Rascal Flatts’ “Me & My Gang” faced resistance all summer at Country radio because of its edginess, and it wasn’t helped by the availability of their cover of “Life Is A Highway” from the “Cars” soundtrack. But I have little doubt that when radio stations’ fall music tests start coming back that “Gang” will start to look a lot like “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy),” another top-of-the-page record that struggled in callout.
K.T. Tunstall’s “Black Horse & the Cherry Tree,” just cracking the top 40 at Mainstream CHR in May climbed gradually through the summer, peaking last week at No. 15. More than any record in years, it showed the split between medium- and more pop-driven markets, where it was a true hit, and larger, more rhythmic markets, where it barely got played in some cases.
Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” was clearly a real hit in all markets but it never became the summer record. Edison president Larry Rosin had predicted that “Crazy” would polarize from the start. In reality, it had a promising start, then started to show “You’re Beautiful”-like levels of polarization as the summer wore on. Still nice to see it become a hit when a lot of similarly worthy records languish on the Modern and/or British charts.
If you go by USA Today’s audience-based chart, the record that dominated throughout the summer was Cassie’s “Me And U,” partially because it was one of the few across-the-board hits at Mainstream Top 40, Rhythmic Top 40, and R&B. I can’t deny its ubiquity, but “Me And U” never felt like it had the gravitas or pop-culture impact of the summer smash either.
Personal summer songs? Mine would be “London Bridge” by Fergie, which should come as no surprise to anybody who knows about my irony-free reverence of “Mickey” by Toni Basil and all other things bubblegummy. At this writing, it’s in the lower reaches of the top 10 as PDs wait to see if it will eventually call out. But it’s certainly a pop culture phenomenon regardless. Now its just a question of what the album delivers.
And the summer hit? Definitely Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous,” which had the tempo, the timing, and the staying power of a summer smash. The only surprise was that “Maneater,” the British No. 1 hit that I thought would be joining it in the top 5 already is only starting to pick up steam at Top 40. In fact, Furtado’s “Loose” album, which seemed to have the most singles potential since Gwen Stefani, didn’t inspire a single major Top 40 PD to go find another single (“Maneater” or otherwise) until relatively recently, which says a lot about the state of radio these days.
One other sign-of-the-times: In the past, these superstar first singles, summer-friendly though many of them may have been, wouldn’t have been released until September to promote albums that were going to hit in October or on retailers’ November “Black Friday.” So it’s gratifying to see that fourth quarter releases can now mean mid-September albums and mid-summer singles. If a first single doesn’t click, that becomes an even bigger problem for a superstar act, but for radio, it was nice to be able to pick and choose.

8 replies
  1. Josh Hosler
    Josh Hosler says:

    Does it say something about my age (33) that I really hate “Promiscuous”? Am I being a prude when I say I don’t like the message it sends to teenagers?
    I guess the charm is in the back-and-forth male-female dialogue, but it doesn’t carry nearly the one-upmanship of, say, “I Got a Man” by Positive K. Can we please bring that record back?

  2. Adam Jacobson
    Adam Jacobson says:

    Hey Sean,
    Interesting analysis of the “summer” song of 2006. It’s also a sad analysis of where top 40 music is today. Paris Hilton, for god’s sake?!
    If CHR programmers really had “cojones”, the Summer song of 2006 would have been “Love Generation” by Bob Sinclar, a global smash. Does dance music really test that poorly with women, especially in the summer months?
    Given the rise of these “Movin'” formats, which are about as ethnically appealing as a bologna and cheese sandwich with mayo on Wonder bread, why not go beyond Cascada and play some crossover-appealing dance product? Sure, it’s flash-in-the-pan, 10-week ear candy, but it will make stations in coastal markets or in places where lots of teens go to hang while out of school take on the “summer party” image.
    Lost in the shuffle were “From Paris To Berlin” by Infernal, “What A Feeling” by Global Deejays and even some of the Madonna stuff.
    Is eastern Long Island the only place this material works in the U.S., or are programmers too lazy to go beyond Chamillionaire, Cassie and whatever hip-hop flavor-of-the-moment acts are currently sending Rhythmic stations to new lows in the Arbitrons?

  3. Vince Degiorgio
    Vince Degiorgio says:

    Truth be known, most radio programmers won’t even touch a non-urban rhythmic record. In many cases, the best international global pop record like Bob Sinclar has absolutely no chance of getting on mainstream radio because stations are so over-programmed that their listeners are rendered helpless by statistical robots. Is Paris Hilton is the best pop rhythmic record available ? No.
    Is it the only one of its ilk from a non Latina that’s good enough ? No. Let’s face it, only J Lo, Paulina Rubio and Thalia are allowed to have a female sung dance record that ISN’T released on Robbins. The state of crossing over a pop dance record in the U.S. won’t happen until another boom happens, which will coincide with the over-signing of a lot of mediocre bands, leaving labels to look for an ‘opportunity’, because they, like radio, can’t make or break an artist in the genre. They only play a song.

  4. Al Skop
    Al Skop says:

    I think of the whole concept of trying to pick the monster hit of the summer and sigh…longing for the days when our collective attention was focused enough to HAVE one big song we ALL rallied around. For better or worse, satellite radio, iPods and the internet have split us all up pretty good.

  5. Sean Ross
    Sean Ross says:

    I almost never weigh in again on the comments–I figure I’ve had my chance and now it’s everybody else’s turn. But I don’t think the summer song question is quaint at all. If anything, it seems to have picked up steam in the last few years–unless, of course, the consumer press (whose personal tastes probably run more toward satellite radio, iPods, and the Internet) are completely misjudging audience interest. Curiosity about the No. 1 song of the week may have been diluted over the years. But summer is still too much a part of everybody’s lives and, at its best, a time enjoyed with others. It’s still a shared experience and, as such, a place where the shared experience in music still matters.

  6. Hollandia
    Hollandia says:

    From Holland: please be honest! ‘The’ summer song of 2006 worldwide was definitely Crazy, and not anything by Nelly Furtado. Besides getting massive airplay in my country and other European countries, the song is already (!) covered by so many European artists, like The Kooks and Lily Allen. Yes, these last two names are among the great discoveries of 2006 themselves. There’s also an excellent one from Ray Lamontagne’s. But the original remains best. Not in the least because of Gnarls Barkley’s fun appearence.
    And as for the UK (see Wikipedia): “Crazy” is the first ever single to top the UK singles chart purely on download sales as it was released online a week before it was released as a CD single. It is also the first single to top the UK singles chart for nine weeks consecutively since 1994.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *