Suddenly, This Summer: A Playlist

Today’s the first day of summer! Here are some tunes that’ll be perfect for that unforgettable summer car trip – you know, where you go to Home Depot to buy an air conditioner, so you can close all of your windows and watch reruns until the leaves start to turn.

1. Nicki Minaj – “Super Bass”
It’s no contest. This is the song of Summer 2011 – masterfully syncopated verses from one of the most creative rappers around; soaring, shiny synth hooks, and an infectious onomatopoeia (“boom-ba doop boop, boom-ba doom boop, yeah!”).

2. Prince – “Play in the Sunshine”
Worried that the world’s going to shit and you’re never gonna find true happiness? Take a page from the Prince playbook, and dance your way to enlightenment to this exuberant blast of synth pop  – “Some way, somehow, I’m gonna have fun.”

3. Gordon Lightfoot – “Carefree Highway”
This makes me want to drive drunk.

4. Kylie Minogue – “Get Outta My Way”
A beautiful summer day can make you feel invincible. Add an irresistible dance song with defiantly independent lyrics, and you might try to walk on water.

5. Lil Wayne – “Best Rapper Alive”
Speaking of bouts of egomania, this straight-faced claim of greatness from a pre-superstardom Weezy is guaranteed to get the adrenaline flowing while you mow your parents’ lawn.

6. The Velvet Underground – “Who Loves the Sun”
What would the summer be without that crippling moment when you realize that all the good weather in the world won’t keep you warm at night?

7. Led Zeppelin – “The Ocean”
“Singing in the sunshine/Laughing in the rain.” Not the most bad-ass lyrics in Zeppelin’s oeuvre, but when you throw in Page’s gnarly riff and Bonham’s massive beat, you’ve got something earth-shattering.

8. The Beach Boys – “Busy Doin’ Nothin'”
Forget “California Girls.” This beautifully arranged cut (woodwinds!) about forgetting somebody’s number, then remembering it, then calling them and getting no answer, then writing them a letter, perfectly captures the vibe of a lazy summer day.

9. Outkast – “Skew it On the Bar-B”
Whether you’re an old school player or new school fool, this cut showcases Andre 3000, Big Boi and Raekwon at the top of their game – it’s guaranteed to make your barbecue sizzle.

10. The Zombies – “Time of the Season”
A sexy hit single from a British Invasion band previously known for expressions of towering wussery, this song’s percussive “ahhs” and “Who’s your daddy” pick-up lines could be seen as a relic of the late-’60s. But when the warm weather hits, that groove sounds like it was meant for today.

What’s in my Discman, June 2011

Bill Callahan – Apocalypse (2011)

I’m a sucker for a singer with a deep voice. And with his third solo effort, Apocalypse, former Smog leader Bill Callahan’s pipes are so entrancing, he’s got a better chance of laying me down by the fire than Barry White ever did. This seven-song arc of sparse, haunted folk connects the dots between the stately isolation of cattle drivers and touring musicians, compares lost loves to wildflowers, and gives guilt-ridden Americans a mantra to soothe their bruised patriotism – “Everyone’s allowed a past they don’t care to mention.”

R. Kelly  – Love Letter (2010)

I’m sure R. Kelly’s reasoning for the concept of his 10th album – a squeaky-clean collection of retro-minded love songs – wasn’t purely artistic. But although you can feel the fingerprints of his publicist all over Love Letter, from the “I’ll be loyal and true” message of every track to the Kelly-as-Ray Charles homage on the album cover, the music here is exceptional. Freed from the silly posturing and cringeworthy innuendo of his earlier work, Kelly just focuses on singing here – and his voice isn’t just supremely silky, it’s versatile, aping MJ’s pop outbursts on “Not Feelin’ the Love,” carrying the ’70s Motown balladry of “Just Can’t Get Enough,” and cutting loose at just the right moment on the staggering “When A Woman Loves.”

The Everly Brothers – The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits (1963)

You could make the argument that this isn’t an essential Everly Brothers album. It was a bit of a contract fulfiller, recorded during a time when the duo couldn’t get access to material from Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, their songwriting muses who were responsible for most of their timeless hits. But separate these sessions from the history, and you get one of pop music’s all-time great interpreters of country & western, tackling a dozen gems of the genre. Phil and Don’s harmonies are as transcendent as ever over the light rockabilly of “Just One Time,” the bar band balladry of “Please Help Me I’m Falling,” and the soaring “Sweet Dreams” –  a tune they were meant to sing if there ever was one.

The Greatest Scene in the History of Motion Pictures

I watched Legion today, a hastily plotted Book of Revelations sci-fi shoot-em-up with an important, if confusing, twist – the bad guy is God, who has lost faith in the human race for some reason. In the middle of trying to figure out how any human being could have a chance against a vengeful, all-powerful being (with or without the help of a rebel angel with a British accent), this happened.

Sure, I might be overstating things with that headline. But I’d like to hear counter arguments. What’s better, “Rosebud”? That dude couldn’t even hold on to a snow globe – no way he’s gonna crawl on any ceiling.