What Makes a “Song of the Summer”

Ariana-Grande-ProblemWhat’s wrong with me? I’ve been sitting here for awhile searching my phone and the internet for something cool to listen to but it all bores me. I’m tired of it all. Well, except for one song. My mind keeps drifting back to this horribly awesome song my daughter initially forced me to listen to a couple of months back, Ariana Grande, “Problem (Feat. Iggy Azalea).”

Yep, Ariana Grande, the super cute girl with the goofy voice from that stupid Nickelodeon kid’s show. Who knew she could sing so well? She’s like Mariah Carey Jr. Have I become an official member of the Arianator nation? No, but the song is catchy as hell and could probably be officially declared the “Song of the Summer.” You know, that one song that turns up out of nowhere, gets played over and over and ends up being the soundtrack to your activities from June to September? I know we can’t take a car ride in my family without a request for “Problem.” My daughter even raps along to the Iggy Azalea part.

Normally, I have my own song of the summer that doesn’t match what’s playing on the radio. Take last summer for instance. While everyone else was listening to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”, I couldn’t stop myself from playing “The Wire” by HAIM, such a great summer song. That’s got me thinking…what were some other notable past songs of summer? Let’s look back. Shall we?

These are the top 10 songs from summer 1985. From the looks of it, a great year for music.

1.”Shout” – Tears For Fears
2. “Everytime You Go Away” – Paul Young
3. “The Power Of Love” – Huey Lewis & The News
4. “A View To A Kill” – Duran Duran
5. “Sussudio” – Phil Collins
6. “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” – Sting
7 . “Raspberry Beret” – Prince and the Revolution
8. “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion)” – John Parr
9. “Heaven” – Bryan Adams
10. “Never Surrender” – Corey Hart

Now, which would you crown the “Song of the Summer?” What are the criteria for summer song dominance? Let’s dive in.

I think it has to be an upbeat number. No love songs or sad songs. That eliminates Paul Young, Sting, Bryan Adams and Corey Hart.

In my opinion, it shouldn’t be a song from a movie soundtrack especially if it’s heavily featured in a summer movie. That eliminates Huey Lewis (Hello…McFly!!??), Duran Duran’s song from the shittiest of James Bond movies, (Seriously, Roger Moore was like a thousand years old. Horrible!) and John Parr’s St. Elmo’s Fire suckfest. So what’s left? “Shout”, “Sussudio” and “Raspberry Beret.” All excellent songs. All bona fide contenders. So who wins? I’m going with my man Patrick Bateman and picking Phil Collins “Sussudio”, a great, great song, a personal favorite.

While that was a tough choice, other years have a clear winner. Take summer 1988.

1. “Roll With It” – Steve Winwood
2. “The Flame” – Cheap Trick
3. “Hold On To The Nights” – Richard Marx
4. “Monkey” – George Michael
5. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” – Def Leppard
6. “Hands To Heaven” – Breathe
7. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” – Guns N’ Roses
8. “Make Me Lose Control” – Eric Carmen
9. “I Don’t Wanna Go On With You Like That” – Elton John
10. “Foolish Beat” – Debbie Gibson

Instant disqualification to Steve Winwood for extreme sucking. I hated that song. The rest of the ten are a collection of sugary love songs that were staples on Loveline dedication radio shows. You know, it went something like this…“I’d like to dedicate “The Flame” to Johnny Smith from East High School. I can’t wait for homecoming. I love you Johnny, Wooooooooooo!!!!!!”

That really just leaves Gun N’ Roses and Def Leppard to choose from. While “Sweet Child” was and still is a kick-ass song, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” was by far the song of that summer. Its sticky sweet sexual innuendo filled lyrics dominated all car radios back then.

I know what you’re all thinking now. Hey Todd, are there any other criteria for song of the summer success?

I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at the top songs from the summer of 1991.

1.”(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” – Bryan Adams

2. “Rush Rush” – Paula Abdul
3. “Unbelievable” – EMF
4. “I Wanna Sex You Up” – Color Me Badd
5. “Right Here, Right Now” – Jesus Jones
6. “Every Heartbeat” – Amy Grant
7. “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over” – Lenny Kravitz
8. “Summertime” – DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
9. “P.A.S.S.I.O.N.” – Rhythm Syndicate
10. “Fading Like A Flower (Every Time You Leave)” – Roxette

Notice number eight? “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. If your song actually has the word “summer” in the title, you get an automatic win. With lyrics like this how could you pick any other song?

School is out and it’s a sort of a buzz
A back then I didn’t really know what it was
But now I see what have of this
The way that people respond to summer madness

It’s generally pretty easy to choose a “Song of the Summer.” Looking through the top 10 songs from the last 30 years I was able to fairly quickly choose one in every year except one.

2004

1. “Confessions Part II” – Usher
2. “Burn” – Usher
3. “Slow Motion” – Juvenile feat. Soulja Slim
4. “The Reason” – Hoobastank
5. “If I Ain’t Got You” – Alicia Keys
6. “Lean Back” – Terror Squad
7. “Move Ya Body” – Nina Sky feat. Jabba
8. “Turn Me On” – Kevin Lyttle feat. Spragga Benz
9. “Dip It Low” – Christina Milian
10. “Sunshine” – Lil’ Flip feat. Lea

Look at this shit show. The only one of these songs I’ve actually heard was the Hoobastank song. Hoobastank…(shudder)

Now the opposite happened when I looked at 2013. Either the pop music gods shown down with all their glory or my kids influence over the radio has finally made an effect on my listening habits. There are easily 7 songs that one could make a case for “Song of the Summer.” Honestly, I still can’t decide.

2013

1. “Blurred Lines” – Robin Thicke

2. “Radioactive” – Imagine Dragons
3. “Get Lucky” – Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams
4. “We Can’t Stop” – Miley Cyrus
5. “Can’t Hold Us” – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Ray Dalton
6. “Cruise” – Florida Georgia Line feat. Nelly
7. “Mirrors” – Justin Timberlake
8. “Treasure” – Bruno Mars
9. “Cups (Pitch Perfect’s When I’m Gone)” – Anna Kendrick
10. “Come & Get It” – Selena Gomez

So which would you choose? How about this year? Feel free to post in the comments section any past or current summer songs you’ve loved.

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Best albums of 2013: No. 5-7

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2013 this week! Today we unveil our individual picks for #5-7. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 20. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20 and #8-10.

Todd

#7: Sigur Ros, Kveikur

kveikurIf I had only one word to describe the amazing Sigur Ros record Kveikur, it would be “Brennisteinn!!!!” Brennisteinn happens to be the epic opening track of the album and quite a bit of a departure from most of their other music. It’s much harder and more aggressive than the uplifting movie soundtrack fodder that they have released in the past. Cameron Crowe must have used their entire discography in that We Bought a Zoo movie.

Brennisteinn!!!!” was also the mantra of your favorite MoSS? writers during our trip to Chicago to see Jonsi and the boys live at the UIC Pavilion. Well, that was usually followed up by our lame attempt to recreate the deep bass drop that starts out the song. “DUHHNNNNNN!”

What a show that was. Probably the best concert, musically, that I witnessed all year. Other live shows this year may have been filled with more booze and interesting characters, but none could touch the sonic and visual experience of Sigur Ros. Chris wrote a great MoSS? Pit entry about it. You should check that out if you haven’t already. Then you should run directly to wherever Jonsi is playing his sideways electric guitar with a violin bow and see him perform.

#6: Haim, Days Are Gone

Haim_-_Days_Are_GoneI first heard Haim while surfing the internet late last year.  I ran across the video for their song “Don’t Save Me”, a catchy little pop tune that became a mainstay on all of my 2013 playlists. It even snagged a spot on the MoSS? January mix. They piqued my interest right away. How could you not be interested? 3 talented and attractive sisters that make great music? Yes please.

I feel for their father though. Have you seen the hair on those girls? It’s long and there’s lots of it. It must have been a full time job for him to de-clog the drains around his house. I have a wife and one daughter and have enough problems in that department. Can you imagine the havoc created with their plumbing when their monthly cycles sync up? The horror.

Throughout the rest of the year the ladies released several more singles and got massive airplay on indie radio channels.  Every song seemed to be better than the next. If I had to pick a “Song of the Summer” this year, their single “The Wire” would have to be it. By August it seemed obvious that Haim would be at the top of my best of the year list. The only problem was that they hadn’t actually released an album yet. The girls must have known they were running out of time because in late September they released Days Are Gone to help cement their place on my list.

#5: Arcade Fire, Reflektor

reflektorI was pretty worried about this one before it came out. The last Arcade Fire album, The Suburbs, had the great honor bestowed upon it as my pick for #1 Album of 2010. It eventually won the slightly less prestigious Grammy for Album of the Year. Could the new record live up to the hype? When the first single “Reflektor” was revealed I thought it was good, but was again worried. If this was to be the best song on the album, Win Butler and company were in trouble.

A few weeks before the album was released Arcade Fire was the musical guest on SNL. They played the previously mentioned “Reflektor” and a new song to me at the time “Afterlife.” Both fine but again I was not exactly blown away. My wife and I stayed up a bit later that night because after SNL there was to be a half hour special featuring more live performances of new songs by Arcade Fire. By minute 2 of the first song on the special “Here Comes the Night Time” all my fears were brushed aside. My wife and I were smiling and couch dancing throughout the entire 30 minute show. Here is link to the whole show if you want to recreate our experience…

As you can probably extrapolate from my ramblings, I loved the album after its eventual release. I was lucky enough to score pretty good pre-sale tickets to the Arcade Fire show in Kansas City next spring. The ticket says formal attire or costume required. My wife has been working overtime with her “Bedazzler” to create the perfect jewel encrusted suit coat for me to wear. If you are at the show, look for the bald guy in the white suit with a sparkling red phoenix bursting out of a blue tuna can.

Chris

#7: Burial, Rival Dealer

rival dealer coverI’ve always found it peculiar that music fans bought the idea that Four Tet and Burial were the same person. I mean, Four Tet is pretty good and all—I put Beautiful Rewind in my top 20, after all—but Burial is playing on a totally different level. If you told me Four Tet was Burial’s younger brother, that could gain some traction with me…

Burial continues to show he is the master, especially since he abandoned the LP format and has run with the EP concept (his last four releases, starting with the absolutely brilliant Street Halo). These roughly half-hour chunks of Burial’s universe (scratchy texture, muted female voices, off-kilter percussion, ominous synths) sound otherworldly.

And on Rival Dealer, Burial deals with some extremes, in my view. The title track might be the single-most propulsive song he’s ever created; the bass lunges forward when in the past it might be fine to just sit back and set the chill vibe. The Burialesque “hollow” percussion (think woodblock) is absent, relying on quick work on the high hat. And even the vocal sample screams at you: “I want to love you more than anyone!”

The “short” song, “Hiders,” strips away the beat completely, leaving the listener with a rather clean vocal track and a nice keyboard line that soars right alongside the voice. And “Come Down to Us” is possibly the best long-form collage he’s tried on these EPs, better than “Ashtray Wasp,” better than “Rough Sleeper.”

I don’t know if I can handle a complete LP of Burial awesome, and if he delivers an EP or two each year, well, that works for me.

#6: Sigur Ros, Kveikur

kveikur coverLast year, I ranked the latest offering from Sigur Rós (Valtari) in this very spot, #6. I was so happy to see the band return from hiatus; nothing else can explain why I ranked that album as high as I did. I mean, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything special either. I wanted to believe that it was something in the same vein as ( ), but really it was more the sound of a band that had just overdosed on Quaaludes. (I would probably substitute Andy Stott’s Luxury Problems if I were to revise my 2012 list.)

But in 2013, they lost a band member and gained some serious edge. What an about face…and what a welcome change. I echo everything Todd says above about “Brennisteinn,” and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The title track and “Isjaki” are incredibly upbeat numbers; “Stormur” has the sort of ethereal vibe one looks for in Sigur Rós but maintains the energy of the album; it sort of reminds me of “Staralfur” from the wonderful Agaetis Byrjun. The clanging and brass of “Hrafntinna” provide a nice comedown from the opening blast of “Brennisteinn” and “Rafstraumur” is one of those songs that builds on a simple vocal and turns into something loud, almost in the same styling as an Explosions in the Sky tune.

And don’t let the funky song titles or Jonsi’s Icelandic lyrics scare you away: even those of us whose fluency is limited to English and “Spanglish” have no problem singing along to these tunes.

So yeah, I won’t regret putting this at #6 this time next year. In fact, that this album only made it to #6 on my 2013 ranking shows just how great this year has been in my opinion. (And yes, read our “From the MoSS? Pit” entry from Sigur Rós’ Chicago show.)

#5: Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe

chvrchesI should repeat one of my closing lines from the Sigur Rós entry: that this album is only #5 on my list shows just how great 2013 was.

Often times I find myself really liking “the deep cuts” from albums. Sometimes that’s just because the singles are oversaturated, whether that be courtesy of SiriusXMU or licensing to commercials or what have you. Sometimes I just find the interesting experiments of non-singles to be more intriguing than the catchy hooks.

The thing about this album, for the most part, is that you could throw a dart at the album’s track listing and whichever song you hit, you have a potential single. The songs are all that well crafted, yet diverse enough that the album doesn’t sound like you accidentally hit the “repeat one” button on your music playing device. The songs that are billed as the singles (“The Mother We Share,” “Gun,” “Lies,” “Recover”) are outstanding in terms of upbeat vibe and great vocals/lyrics; other songs such as “We Sink” and “Tether” and “Under the Tide” show no dropoff.

What separates this album from other great-but-not-GRRRRREEEAAAAAT offerings (not to pick on them, but let’s say Cut Copy) is the emotion that comes through. That’s not just limited to the vocals, although that’s where the primary difference lies. Lauren Mayberry’s voice really speaks to one’s heart, whereas Cut Copy lyrics seem to just keep the party going. (Again, I like Cut Copy, but I don’t know that I ever feel much connection to the words.)

I’m afraid these guys have become too big for something like Mission Creek. I’d love for the festival organizers to prove me wrong…

Best albums of 2013: No. 11-20 (with playlist!)

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2013 this week! Today we start with our individual picks for #11-20, with playlists sampling each group of 10. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 20.

Todd’s #11-20

20. Ejecta, Dominae

19. Lily and Madeleine, The Weight of the Globe

18. Savages, Silence Yourself

17. Thee Oh Sees, Floating Coffin

16. Free Time, Free Time

15. Ducktails, The Flower Lane

14. Swearin’, Surfin’ Strange

13. Deap Vally, Sistronix

12. Small Black, Limits of Desire

11. Bleached, Ride Your Heart

Chris’ #11-20

20. Best Coast, Fade Away

19. Ashley Monroe, Like a Rose

18. The Field, Cupid’s Head

17. Four Tet, Beautiful Rewind

16. Thee Oh Sees, Floating Coffin

15. Cut Copy, Free Your Mind

14. Haim, Days Are Gone

13. Veronica Falls, Waiting for Something to Happen

12. Mikal Cronin, MCII

11. Weekend, Jinx

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: August 2013

107

Side A : Chris’ Picks

Side B : Todd’s Picks

MoSS? Monthly Mixtape: January 2013

101

Side A : Todd’s Picks

1. Solange, “Losing You”

2. Haim, “Don’t Save Me”

3. Wampire, “The Hearse”

4. Youth Lagoon, “Dropla”

5. Lily and Madeleine, “These Great Things”

Side B : Chris’ Picks

1. Colleen Green, “Time in the World”

2. Iceage, “Coalition”

3. Bird Call, “Phantom Limbs”

4. Glass Theory, “Take Your Time”

5. Burial, “Truant”