As we unofficially kick off summer with Memorial Day Weekend, it’s time to think about what the unofficial song of the summer will be.
As my colleague Louis Virtel lamented a few weeks ago, the possibilities for 2014 were slow to emerge, but as we highlighted in our Summer Music Preview, it now looks like Ariana Grande’s “Problem” featuring Iggy Azalea, and Michael Jackson’s “Love Never Felt So Good,” featuring Justin Timberlake, will probably vie for this summer’s honors.
So what makes a great summer song? Here are a few ingredients:
1) The song makes you want to move. Almost all of our contenders for this summer’s song and on our All Time Best list are upbeat, even if the lyrics are sad, like Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” or are a little confusing, like Porter Robinson’s “Sad Machine.” Sure, you can’t necessarily dance to Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” but you will tap your toes.
2) The song references summer/beach/summer wear: While Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” will always be associated with Summer 2012 and it doesn’t mention summer or sand, as time passes, it usually helps to have certain summer milestones in the song. Even when I hear 1st Class’s “Beach Baby” or Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” in the dead of winter, I’m instantly transported to a warmer time and can almost hear the sound of the waves. Perhaps no song does that better than Lovin’ Spooful’s “Summer In The City,” especially if you’ve ever been in New York City on a humid, summer’s day. Best use of the word “gritty” ever.
3) They are timeless: Even if you weren’t born when Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” came out, it became an instant part of your private jukebox the first time you got out of school for summer vacation. Even if you’re landlocked, “Good Vibrations” makes you want to grab a surfboard and head for water. Even if they don’t conjure up a specific memory, a great summer song brings up a universal image of the season.
4) They bring a sense of nostalgia: All our favorite songs do that: instantly take us back to a time and a place. But summer songs have an added caveat in that they tend to take us back to not only a happy time, but a carefree time, usually from our youth and often recalling a summer love. When I think about the summer songs that mean the most to me, they are from when I was between 10 and 21. When you get out into the working world and no longer have summers off, summer songs still exist, but not in the exuberant way they did pre-graduation, which is a true summer bummer.
5) They have a memorable hook or chorus. When I perused our list of All Time Best Summer Songs, I could hum or recite a line from every one of them, no matter how old they were and no matter whether I would have picked them for inclusion in our list. Songs of summer come with built-in earworms: they stay in our brains and reactivate our spirits when we hear them, even as years go by.
What's your favorite summer song?