July 3, 2008

Which Summer Song Will Reign Supreme?

By Jim Harrington, Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Jul. 3--In the beginning, there was the convertible. And the wind in our hair and the sun on our face.

And it was good -- very good. But something was missing. We needed something to accompany us on our trips with friends to the beach. We desired a soundtrack that would make those backyard barbecues and picnics at the lake even more special.

Thus, the creators -- folks like Chuck Berry, Martha Reeves and Brian Wilson -- gave us the "summer song." And things became even better.

We're all familiar with the concept of the summer song. It's the jam that is played ad infinitum on radio, video music programs and (especially) car stereo systems during a particular summer season. By the time fall hits, the song has usually worn out its welcome -- but during the warm weather months, we just can't seem to get enough of the track.

Years later, we'll hear that song and our minds will immediately click, "Oh, yeah, the summer of (insert year here)." In that sense, the song serves a poignant and lasting document of a season, a musical equivalent to photographs from a family's summer vacation.

If you look back at recent summer songs -- such as Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" (2005), Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" (2006) and Rihanna's "Umbrella" (2007) -- one similarity stands outs: Each of the tunes has a hook big enough to land Moby Dick. We're talking about music that burrows into your head like some

space parasite from "Star Trek," taking over your brain with one repeated command: "Turn the darn song up!"

A proper summer song has a beat that you can't deny and a groove that makes you want to dance. Not coincidentally, most summer songs of recent years have hailed from the R&B/hip-hop/pop realm, as opposed to the rock world. (Although, to be fair, country music always seems to produce its own summer song, which crosses ovwer to the general public to some degree.)

We looked at all those factors in trying to come up with potential candidates for Summer Song '08. Any of these radio-friendly tunes might turn out to be the one that best defines the season. Here are our picks, but we'd love to know your thoughts as well. Vote for your pick for Summer Song '08 at ContraCostaTimes.com or InsideBayArea.com.

--"I Kissed a Girl," Katy Perry: Who's better qualified to score a summer single than a gal from Santa Barbara? Perry's spunky single, having already topped iTunes' download chart and broken into Billboard's Top 10, has that elusive "hip-right-now" quality. It's breezy, energetic and fresh, boasting a distinct novelty element. It should appeal to all ages.

--"All Summer Long," Kid Rock: As you know, his name is "Kiiiiiiid!" and his specialty is serving up cool songs that are fun to bump at top volume in your ride. Rock has been on a tear in recent months, having appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and scored his first No. 1 album (last year's "Rock N Roll Jesus"). A big summer smash would solidify his already impressive comeback. His fan base is immense, including country listeners and "old-school" hip-hop heads who can remember all the way back to 1997, and this catchy song should appeal to both.

--"Whatchagondo," Kasper From the K: You might not have heard of this Kentucky rapper -- yet. Chances are, however, his "Whatchagondo" will be blasting out of cars driving down your block all summer long. This beat-crazy track, with one of those undeniably sharp hooks, seems tailor-made for the type of bikini dance parties you see in rap videos. He's already a star with the online community, which hits him up on MySpace and plays his videos on YouTube. He seems poised for mainstream success.

--"If I Never See Your Face Again," Maroon 5 and Rihanna: This song has vast cross-over potential. If it connects with KFOG/Alice listeners, who dig Maroon 5, and the Wild 94.9 crew, which loves Rihanna, then it could be an unbeatable track this summer. Both acts already know a thing or two about creating irresistible pop songs (see Rihanna's "Umbrella" and Maroon's "This Love"). The biggest thing this track has going for it, however, is just how hot Rihanna is in 2008.

--"Summertime," New Kids on the Block: Is it 1988 or 2008? It's really hard to tell with all the fuss being made about the New Kids on the Block tour, which touches down at HP Pavilion in San Jose on Oct. 10. The multi-platinum boy band -- consisting of men now in their late-30s -- is definitely back, and a big summer song could cement their comeback as 2008's most impressive reunion. "Summertime" is a likable enough track, one that could appeal to moms and their daughters, but its title might be what really keeps this song in heavy rotation.

--"American Boy," Estelle and Kanye West: She's a hot, young, fresh face on the R&B scene. He's a multi-platinum rapper with more hits to his credit than a Mafia family. Sound familiar? Yep, that description would also serve for the Rihanna/Jay-Z smash "Umbrella." The strategy could work again, although "American Boy" isn't as good a track as "Umbrella."

--TBD, Lil Wayne: My panel of music experts -- which consists of the young staff that works the front desk at my health club -- likes Lil Wayne's chances in the summer song sweepstakes. They just aren't sure yet which Lil Wayne song, from his smash CD "Tha Carter III," will rise to the top of the heap.

--"Forever," Chris Brown: Brown is on a major winning streak. He's charted five straight singles (including "Forever") in the Top 10 -- all in 2008. "Forever" is one of the best songs of Brown's young career and, thanks to its club-style groove, could have legs throughout the summer.

Reach Jim Harrington at [email protected] Read his Concert Blog at www.ibabuzz.com/concerts.


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