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Chamillionaire’s “Ridin'” was the biggest rap crossover, but by summer had been replaced by Yung Joc’s “It’s Goin’ Down” as the ubiquitous rap record.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.