The blogs are already speculating about this year’s official song of summer. This annual race to the top is based on chart performance and general ubiquity. There are rarely any major upsets and most “winners” have actually been out and getting airplay since well before summer started. By the time the song is finally crowned we’ll all be sick of it anyway.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about another, more personal kind of summer song. I’m interested in the songs of summer we choose for ourselves, because of the memories and feelings they evoke. To explain what I mean, here is an excerpt from a blog post I wrote one year ago:
Some songs of summer are explicit in their thematic summer-ness, with talk of fiestas, beaches, and cruising with the windows down. Others just evoke a certain feeling: that stuporous heat that rises off the pavement and wraps itself around you, or better yet the evening breeze best enjoyed while stoop-sitting on a summer evening. Then there are the summer bangers, songs that could talk about or sound like anything at all, but they just happen to be the songs you blast in the car for all of June, July, and August. These too will forever be summer staples.
These are the songs you put on a playlist for your summer kickback. They mix together in a satisfying blend of radio hits, hazy underground cuts, and throwback favorites. For me that means any early Kanye, Chance the Rapper's "Windows," and Vic Mensa's "Orange Soda." It means "The Recipe," Kendrick Lamar's love song to Los Angeles. When I'm feeling homesick for Brooklyn summers I need Joey Bada$$ and forebears—like J Dilla and MF DOOM—whom Joey's Pro Era crew lovingly emulate. Recently, I'm also digging the dreamy music by Phony Ppl, another Brooklyn group that is definitely on the come up.
I wrote this post to introduce a playlist of summer songs for my college radio show. (You can listen to it here.) I think I made a good start brainstorming what gives music that “song of summer” status. But of course I was thinking exclusively about hip-hop. Do the rules change for other genres? Are there certain rhythms or timbres we associate with summer? I think so. All it takes is a little spring reverb to get that summery surf rock sound. Or, like Magic!, you can always rip off reggae—VOILA summer smash hit!
Ultimately I think it all comes down to memory and cultural association. Does your family always play Bruce Springsteen at the annual clam bake? The Boss will naturally be a summer staple for you. The summer I graduated from high school, I went to see The Morning Benders play Central Park SummerStage. Their song “Excuses” became the perfect soundtrack for my hazy responsibility-free interlude before college.
As always, I want to know what you think. I’m wondering about your personal songs of summers past. As always you can tweet us about it. Or better yet, record a voice-memo on your phone and tell us about a song that once defined your summer. We might stick it in a Pitch uncore!