What becomes a song of summer most?
It better be catchy, it ought to be breezy, it helps if it’s snappy. And it needs to stick in your head, and not aggravate you again and again and again. (Sorry, Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend”: I was sweet on you at first, but you became grating, and our affair was brief.)
In other words, it should have all the attributes an excellent pop song possesses any time of year, only more so. And along with the sunniness, it helps if it’s a little bit sad, because though it may be hot and sticky and the living might be easy now, summertime doesn’t last forever.
This year’s clear winner, Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” lacks the genius of summer smashes of recent vintage like Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love,” but it scores points on all the necessary fronts. And it pulls off the neat trick of seeming completely innocuous, and a little risque.
Summer, of course, is also the time for deeply annoying songs played ad nauseam in public spaces. This season’s chief culprits include Fergie (“Big Girls Don’t Cry”), Shop Boyz (“Party Like a Rock Star”), and Hurricane Chris (“A Bay Bay”). Thank Apple for iPods: For all they’ve done to encourage antisocial behavior, the portable players allow people to keep their bad music to themselves.
So here’s my recommended playlist of the songs of summer 2007, mixing the admirable unavoidables with the less ubiquitous but equally satisfying, some of which, hopefully, we’ll still be listening to after summer’s over.
1. “Umbrella,” Rihanna. I prefer “Shut Up and Drive,” the Barbadian babe’s newer single, but respect has to be paid to “Umbrella” as the hands-down song of the summer. It spent seven weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100, it anchors “Good Girl Gone Bad,” Rihanna’s impressively consistent, full-length pop/R&B platter, and it slyly plays against type by celebrating a rainy day. There’s no telling if one presidential candidate will be able to unite us in 2008—but in the summer of 2007, we Americans all stand together under Rihanna’s “Umbrella.”
2. “Lip Gloss,” Lil’ Mama. “Wha chu know `bout me?” Lil’ Mama asks over a less-is-more, handclaps-and-finger-snaps beat. Well, we know your lip gloss is cool, your lip gloss be poppin’, and when you’re standin’ at your locker, all the boys keep stoppin’. It works for you, and it works for us.
3. “Icky Thump,” The White Stripes. A screechy, blues-powered stomp that seems to find Jack White taking an anti-anti-immigration stance while playing guitar just as loud as he wants to. Hard-rock smash of the summer.
4. “You Know I’m No Good,” Amy Winehouse. Sorry, Lindsay Lohan: “Rehab” is so spring of `07. This delectably dark piece of retro-soul self-criticism (“I cheated myself, like I knew I would”) is the song by the breakout Brit with the beehive `do you can’t get away from. And why would you want to, anyway?
5. “We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives,” Los Campesinos! Love the song title and the sunny back-and-forth between male and female members of this septet from Cardiff, Wales. You’ll dig `em if you like the similarly punctuated “Go! Team.”
6. “Drivin’ Me Wild,” Common with Lily Allen. A winning Kanye West-produced collabo between Chicago rapper Common and sassy Brit starlet Allen, whose own summer single “LDN” depicts that most unlikely of summer happenings—a sunny day in London.
7. “Stop Me,” Mark Ronson featuring Daniel Merriweather. Excellent, if unlikely, dance-club remake of the Smiths’ “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This Before” and the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” mashed up by Amy Winehouse’s producer—who has also turned Bob Dylan into a retro-soul man remix of “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine).”
8. “Beautiful Girls,” Sean Kingston. He’s just 17, but already the Jamaica-bred singer Sean Kingston takes a dim view of human relations. He samples Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” but figures his love interest never will: “You’re way too beautiful, girl / That’s why it’ll never work / You’ll have me suicidal, suicidal.” Cheer up, big guy, at least you got a hit out of it.
9. “Hey There Delilah,” Plain White T’s. Less cynical—and atop the Billboard chart—are these pop-punk suburban Chicagoans who bare sensitive souls on this gentle plea. Singer Tom Higgenson believes his song will make everything OK in the end: “We’ll have it good, we’ll have the life we knew we would.” Who doesn’t want to believe that?
10. “Ticks,” Brad Paisley. An ingeniously witty ditty that’s the most imaginative way of saying “let’s get naked” ever to hit the country charts: “I’d like to kiss you in a field of wildflowers / And I’d like to check you for ticks.”
11. “My Moon, My Man.” Bouncy paean to the changeable moods of Canadian chanteuse Leslie Feist, complete with chirping crickets.
12. “You Are My Face,” Wilco. Haven’t heard it on the radio, but thanks to those Volkswagen television ads, this shimmery standout from the pleasantly pretty “Sky Blue Sky” is as ubiquitous a presence as any of the big hits on this mix.
13. “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” Spoon. Like most great summery songs, this horny romp from major indie players Spoon is about busted romance: “We lost it long ago, you and me.” But singer Britt Daniel isn’t all down in the mouth about it: “Life can be so fair, let it go on and on.”
14. “Kiss, Kiss,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Raucous trio fronted by avant fashion plate Karen O get on their game on the encouragingly raw “Is Is” EP, from which this buzzing cut is drawn.
15. “Makes Me Wonder,” Maroon 5. These sleek Adam Levine-led blue-eyed soul-popsters wish they were Hall & Oates, and feel free to flaunt falsettos as they borrow bass lines from the Gap Band. Made for the radio, in the best way.
16. “Summer Love,” Justin Timberlake. It’s a shameless tradition: Put “summer” in the title, and they’re bound to play it. Timberlake borrows a production page out of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ playbook and swears he’s interested in more than just summer nookie. Whatever you say, JT.
17. “Big S- Poppin’ (Do It),” T.I. Big-ballin’ Atlanta rapper compares himself favorably to Denzel Washington, and producer Mannie Fresh brings enough bass-heavy beats to get the job done.
18. “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’),” T-Pain featuring Yung Joc. Electro-funk hip-hop singer cries “Oh behave!” Austin Powers-style, and provides soundtrack to countless liquor-fueled would-be seductions.
19. “Stronger,” Kanye West. The, er, stronger of the two singles from West’s “Graduation,” due Sept. 11. He gets off a few good rhymes, claiming “I’ve been on ya / Since Prince was on Apollonia,” but the main attraction is a sample of electro duo Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” which itself samples Edwin Birdsong’s “Cola Bottle Baby,” if you’re keeping score.
20. “Sound of Summer,” Art Brut. Just to make it meta, I had to end with this by Brit rockers Art Brut. It’s a song about making a mix that’s meant to capture the sounds of summer. “All the best songs are girl-meets-boy,” Eddie Argos sings. “And there wasn’t one song that I didn’t enjoy.” Hope you feel the same.