It seems possible that we are presently living in the post-summer song era, a period whose most significant characteristic is an abject lack of joy and connection to one another via the pop songs that dominate the airwaves between Memorial and Labor Day. Of course, exceptions still squeak through, like 2012’s infectious “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen or 2011’s “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele, but those across-the-board hits of yesteryear are no longer the norm. Consider the diversity and excellence of the songs of the summer of 1968, which gave us “Mrs. Robinson” (Simon and Garfunkel), “Tighten Up” (Archie Bell & the Drells), “Grazing in the Grass” (Hugh Masekela), “This Guy’s in Love With You” (Herb Alpert), “Hello, I Love You” (The Doors), “People Got to Be Free” (the Rascals), and “Hey Jude” (the Beatles)—and that’s just the songs that went to number one.
Back in the day we felt a sense of community around and passion for music that seems somehow to have been subsumed by the culture’s obsessions with gadgets and smartphones. Before the Internet (and headphones), there was a high probability that if a record went to number one a large percentage of people knew the song. We may not have all agreed on the record’s relative merits, but we all knew the words and there was something exhilarating about feeling connected to each other through the music that permeated our day-to-day lives.
Spilling out on to the streets from stores, apartment windows and, of course, car speakers, came joyful sounds that infused our summer days and defined our future memories. These collective memories were not as sharply circumscribed by specific demographics as they are today. “Boogie Oogie Oogie” (summer of 1978) wasn’t just for teenagers, black folks or gay people, it was for all of us together. Looking more closely at songs that were definitive summer hits, most people—irrespective of their ages or skin color or where they lived—knew The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (summer of 1966), The Carpenter’s “(They Long To Be) Close To You” (summer of 1970) or The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” (summer of 1983) well enough to sing along. A much more narrow sliver of the population remember (or ever knew) Cassie’s insipid “Me & U” (summer of 2006), the first of her string of hit.
Today the chances of two random people sharing a connection to any particular contemporary hit record probably only exists if they are demographic twins. We’ve lost the “popular” in “pop music” and though hit songs may technically reach the summit of hugely fragmented pop charts, they rarely have any real presence in our lives, or at least not in the soundtrack of our lives.
Here is a spiffy Stargayzing Spotify playlist of 100 Summer Songs. This is not a list of my favorite songs as much as a list that reflects what songs were popular and most representative of their time. Yes, there are fewer songs from the 1990s and aughts because to be frank, the music got worse: with only 100 slots it is hard to justify choosing a song like LFMAOs “Party Rock Anthem” (summer 2011) over The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk.” However, despite my acknowledged biases I have made a concerted effort to be inclusive and have aggregated songs from every year of the rock era, no matter how dismal the fare and, to be fair, the lyrics to LFO’s “Summer Girls” (summer 1999) are only marginally worse than Brian Hyland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini” (1960).
So what will be remembered as the summer songs of 2013? My money is on Icona Pop’s “I Love It”—you know, the one about the girls crashing their car into the bridge and “Get Lucky,” the infectious disco throwback by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell—both included herewith without apologies or qualification—they’re both great pop songs.
I hope the songs I’ve chosen remind us of not only of great times we had of but of music’s exceptional power to connect us all to something bigger than our day to lives.