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I’m not the first and won’t be the last to point this out, but the summer of 2015 is a failure in at least one respect: it lacks a distinctive “song of the summer” – one that stands out as the ubiquitous soundtrack of your summer vacation, the one song that many years from now when you look back with nostalgia at your old photos or videos you will hear running through your head. You realize a song has achieved iconic “summer song” status as you become aware of it blasting from the radios of the cars in the next lane over every time you are stopped at a light, or hear it playing from an overhead speaker each time you stop for an ice cream cone or pop into a taffy shop along the boardwalk during your week at the beach, or you catch the faint strains of it bleeding out of the earpods of the kid sitting next to you on the subway on your summertime commute. Before the dawn on Labor Day, that song has seeped into your subconscious, and it will never go away.
But the summer of 2015 is waning without a frontrunner for the title. Yes, there are a few candidates, but they’re all too weak, have too little staying power, to be real contenders, according to the Huffington Post, which has been tracking the “song of the summer” cultural phenomenon for the past few years. (See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-song-of-summer-is-dead_55ae63b2e4b0a9b9485288f0.)
Each year for the past five years there has been no dispute about Billboard's top summer song:
2014 Song of the Summer: Happy by Pharell - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6Sxv-sUYtM (see end note #1)
2013 Song of the Summer: Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyDUC1LUXSU
2012 Song of the Summer: Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepson - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWNaR-rxAic
2011 Song of the Summer: Tonight Tonight by Hot Chelle Rae - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzlNFcT2aOE
2010 Song of the Summer: California Gurls by Katy Perry, with Snoop Dogg - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F57P9C4SAW4
While all the songs cited above share the bouncy, infectious qualities that allow them to embed themselves in some endless loop playing somewhere in the deepest recesses of your brain, they also are in continuing competition with the greatest summer songs of all time. Rolling Stone has compiled a list of what it has deemed the 30 best songs of summer – see http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/best-summer-songs-of-all-time-20130701 -- based on their chart-topping duration – though much of what’s on that list lacks any special resonance for me. I have put together my own top ten list of the best of the best (see end note #2 for qualifiers), mainly based on how quickly I get that pleasant little jolt of memory as I catch the first few familiar notes of the song:
1963: Heat Wave by Martha and the Vandellas https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZR5IW4sINLU
1964: Under the Boardwalk by The Drifters http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=421
1965: California Girls by The Beach Boys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oRb9-mypxg
1966: Summer in the City by the Lovin’ Spoonful - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m648v4s5sFc
1970: In the Summertime by Mungo Jerry https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yG0oBPtyNb0
1972: Take It Easy by The Eagles - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhH3mRkKDX8
1982: Vacation by the Go-Gos - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fQESUBMwGg
1983: Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPUmE-tne5U
1984: Boys of Summer by Don Henley - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtxlvQqvDQs
1996: Macarena by Los Del Rio https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiOGjn1Ms4w
1. Happy was released at the end of 2013 and spent 22 weeks at or near the top of the charts. By the summer of 2014 it was no longer the number one hit but given that it remains one of the biggest hits of all time, it certainly fits the bill for the dominant sound of the summer of that year.
2. If you are wondering why my top ten list is lacking any of the following – A Summer Song, Surfin’ USA, Summer Wind, See You in September, Summer Breeze, Brandi, or Cruel Summer -- let me explain. Each of these would be a strong contender for my list but for the following points:
- A Summer Song by Chad and Jeremy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfvL2oLeBYs was released in November 1963, and so, while it is an essential song ABOUT summer, it was not a hit OF that summer. Otherwise, it would definitely make my list.
- Surfin’ USA by The Beach Boys https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0dWXyTa2Cw (released March 1963) probably deserves to be on the list based on its prominence on DJs’ playlists that summer, but earns demerits for being so derivative of Chuck Berry’s earlier hit, “Sweet Little Sixteen.” Listen to one after the other and you’ll see, they’re practically the same tune. (For more on this see http://entertainment.time.com/2012/11/08/you-didnt-write-that-a-brief-guide-to-alleged-pop-plagiarism/slide/the-beach-boys-surfin-u-s-a/)
- Summer Wind by Frank Sinatra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ug8cBIbxDaY (1966). While this is unquestionably one of the greatest summer songs of all time, it was not on the pop or rock charts but on the “adult contemporary” charts at the time, and so, sadly, must be excluded from contention as a “song of the summer” pop/rock hit.
- See You in September by The Happenings https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iu-7DXBiVsA is one of those songs that perfectly expresses a common teenage experience of summer, and for that reason quite possibly deserves a place on my top ten songs of summer list -- but it had the misfortune to have come out in the same year, 1966, as Summer in the City, which spent 3 weeks at #1, while See You in September never did better than #3 -- and only for a week. So it just misses the mark.
- Summer Breeze by Seals and Crofts https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsW8rXPcnM0 was released in August 1972 and never charted higher than #6. I was surprised to learn this, as my memory would have had it as a number one hit. But then 1972 also had “Take It Easy” by the Eagles, and “Brandi” by Looking Glass. I didn’t want to name three “song of the summer” for the same year, so two had to be cut - and this was one.
- Brandi by Looking Glass https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-tRXewCAmU was the other. Released on May 18, 1972, it did go to number one, but only for a week. Meanwhile, “Take It Easy” debuted on the rock chart on June 3, 1972 and remained there for 11 weeks –although it never went higher than #12. Still, “Take It Easy” beats “Brandi” if only because it has been embodied in permanent form by the "Take It Easy" statue and mural on the corner of Second Street and Kinsley Avenue in Winslow, Arizona. Now that’s a song with staying power!
- Cruel Summer by Bananarama https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ePIZugahFc was released at the end of September 1984 – after the summer was over.
Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and All Life Is Local on Saturdays.