Call me a cheeseball, but I’ve always been excited at the prospect of new summer music. One of the best things you can say about a song is that it sounds perfect blasting out of a car window, air conditioning be damned.
I remember exactly how it felt to discover my first song of the summer, in May 1992, when one of Buffalo’s 17 classic rock stations debuted the new Black Crowes single “Remedy” just as my mom was pulling into the driveway. I ran inside to catch the rest of it. To this day, when those incredible backup singers come in on the chorus to bolster Rich Robinson’s shaggy blues riff, I get chills. I will forever associate that moment with feelings of warmth and possibility.
25 years later, figuring out the “Song of the Summer” has become its own cottage industry. We make our predictions in May and declare the winner in September. And for the most part, the criteria is the opposite of most pop culture analysis – mainstream acceptance is a must. In 2013, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” won the season not just because of its pristine, inescapable disco hook, but because the Internet was obsessed with it as well. It’s easy to be cynical about arbitrary “awards” like this – it is the the essence of music blog clickbait, after all – but it’s important to talk about music we can generally agree on as a culture once in a while. The more I hear that our country is hopelessly divided, the more I want to prove that wrong. Searching for, and honoring, these shared musical moments every year is one tiny way to do it.
Plus, I really really like to make lists of songs. So here are the ones I’ll be running into the house to tape off the radio this summer.
Jeremih – “I Think of You”
Jeremih flirts with MJ status, yearning for a mistletoe moment in July over an utterly joyful, marimba-inflected beat.
Thundercat – “Tokyo”
An electro-jazz-yacht-rock bass virtuoso sings about how a great vacation can bring out the kid in us: “Gonna eat so much fish I think I’m gonna be sick / Gonna blow all my cash on anime!”
Haim – “Want You Back”
This California trio finds a sweet spot between Fleetwood Mac and Wilson Phillips. Hope they luxuriate in it for a while.
Bebe Rexha – “I Got You”
A pop song about building trust, with a chorus that feels like falling into somebody’s arms.
Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”
The best rapper alive, tearing a monster Mike Will Made It beat to shreds. Bring on the Summer of the Low-Register Piano.
Power Trip – “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)”
The headbanger of the summer, with a riff that chugs like a locomotive from hell, and a chorus that demands to be shouted at top volume, like a bloodthirsty Queen of Hearts.
Bob Dylan – “Braggin'”
The more Dylan digs into the Great American Songbook, the happier I get. This sprightly shuffle off his excellent Triplicate album is a pure pleasure, full of folksy, spot-on commentary on what passes for leadership these days: “When you should be busy plowin’ and a-plantin’ / You stand there a-rantin’ / Get no harvest tootin’ your horn.”
Calvin Harris (ft. Frank Ocean & Migos) – “Slide”
A smooth-as-ever Frank sings about moments when “whatever comes, comes through clear” over a breezy disco groove from Calvin Harris. Positive vibes abound.
Beachheads – “Your Highness”
Shimmering, harmony-laden power-pop that sweeps you up like a hang glider.
CupcakKe – “Barcodes”
This sex work empowerment anthem is a blast of exuberance from a Chicago rapper on the rise. “Pay the damn price or go home to your wife,” CupcakKe demands, backed by the funkiest horns you’ll hear all summer.
Drake – “Passionfruit”
Over a swirling dream of a dancehall groove, a narrator mourns a fading long-distance relationship. Emotional and entrancing, it has all the makings of signature Drake summer smash.
Feist – “I’m Not Running Away”
Sparse, introspective blues songs don’t usually make me want to bat a beach ball around. But I can’t shake this tune. Its mix of slinky guitars and bold declarations are as thoroughly bad-ass as the Power Trip song on this list. I’d suggest throwing it on while a bonfire is burning.