- It was tougher than usual coming up with 20 worthwhile songs for my annual summer-singles compilation, but I managed. Here they are.
Earlier this week, I gave Emily her copy of my annual Summer CD compilation. I’ve been putting these collections together for about a half-decade now. The idea is to collect about 20 singles and create my dream top 40 station for the summer, one blind to genre or the actual popularity of the songs. But I don’t pick obscurities – all of the songs should have had some impact on the Zeitgeist in the past six months or so, whether it’s as a chart-topping smash or as a critically acclaimed indie-pop masterpiece. Basically, it’s a NOW! That’s What I Call Music! compilation with songs Emily and I might actually like.
For whatever reason, I struggled a bit more than usual putting together Summer 2003. Some reliable pop stars let me down with mediocre releases (Madonna, Liz Phair), this year’s hip-hop releases have been a little dour, and for some reason there are fewer fun one-shot smashes out there right now – a paucity of Fatboy Slims, Jimmy Eat Worlds or Gorillaz’s.
Anyway, here’s what I picked this year, and why:
- The White Stripes, “Seven Nation Army” – A no-brainer, this song has ended up a far bigger hit than I predicted it would be. In fact, it’s the number one Modern Rock track in Billboard this week, more than 20 weeks after its release. That killer bassline (actually Jack White playing super-low on his Strat) is a great way to lead off.
- Beyoncé, “Crazy in Love” – The Number One single, period, in America for the past three weeks, Ms. Knowles’s brassy solo jam is fairly irresistible, although I hear it’s the only great song on her ballad-heavy debut album. Well, that’s what a Summer compilation is for. “Crazy” is a bit repetitive, but that horn-chart hook is unstoppable.
- Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell and Uncle Charlie Wilson, “Beautiful” – Snoop plays second fiddle, and I don’t even know what Uncle Wilson does; the key credit is Pharrell Williams, of Neptunes and N*E*R*D* fame, who serves up one of his pimptastic falsettos. “Beautiful” fills the slot taken by the Neptunes-produced “Hot in Herre” last year and “Shake Ya Ass” the year before. As long as Pharrell & co. keep coming up with jammin’ odes to female pulchritude, I’ll keep popping them on my mixes.
- Caesars, “Jerk It Out” – This year’s Euro-garage contribution (picking up with the Hives left off), Sweden’s Caesars haven’t actually hit many charts yet. But “Jerk It Out” is featured prominently in a heavily aired commercial for Michelob, which is how I first heard it. The Farfisa organ makes this quite possibly the most slavish “96 Tears” impression of the neo-garage boomlet – and I’m a sucker for that sound.
- Wayne Wonder, “No Letting Go” – The beat of 2003 is clearly the diwali hand-clap rhythm that has appeared on no less than four hits this year: Sean Paul’s “Get Busy,” Panjabi MC/Jay-Z’s “Beware of the Boys,” Lumidee’s “Never Leave You (Uh-Oh!!)” and this Wayne Wonder midtempo ballad. Wonder’s “No Letting Go” is the most conventional of the four, but it’s the best all-around pop song, and I’ve been loving it since the spring.
- Coldplay, “Clocks” – Okay, I’m cheating: Coldplay’s album came out last August, and “Clocks” was pegged as the second single around Christmas. But the song built so slowly on the charts, peaking just a couple of months ago, that some stations are still playing it instead of Coldplay’s summer single, “The Scientist.” I like “Clocks” better than “Scientist,” and as far as I’m concerned it’s one of the best singles of 2003, period. Plus, I needed a tempo shift here.
- Radiohead, “There There” – The first single off Hail to the Thief, “There There” marks Radiohead’s first truly radio-friendly song in a half-decade. It’s pretty much the only such song on Thief, an album I have yet to fully penetrate despite listening to it for weeks. But I love “There There.” As with the White Stripes, the bassline is the kicker; you really don’t care what Thom Yorke’s moaning about.
- Ms. Dynamite, “It Takes More” – Interscope hasn’t succeeded in breaking this U.K. new-millennium Lauryn Hill in the States yet, but I was seduced by this song’s Italianite hook months ago. I was discussing Ms. D with Emily’s friend Jamsheed the other night, and he pegged “Dy-Na-Mi-Tee” as the great song on the album; I agreed that it was phat, but I’m still in love with “It Takes More.”
- Jack Johnson with G Love, “Rodeo Clowns” – I don’t really get this year’s Jack Johnson phenomenon – did the world need an even more laid-back Dave Matthews? – but I like this song, which appears in a solo version on Johnson’s 2003 album. But I’m cheating: this version is from G Love’s 1999 album, Philadelphonic, and pairs Johnson’s pleasant surf-strumming guitar with G’s wacked-out pseudo-rapping flava. Actually, I mostly included this because I thought Emily might enjoy G Love’s intro: “…comin’ at you live out here from California, even though I’m Philly born and bred.”
- The Roots featuring Cody Chestnutt, “The Seed (2.0)” – Speaking of Philly, here’s the center of the Philadelphonic universe, the irrepressible Roots. A surprise MTV hit this spring, this hip-hop-meets-Sly-rock ditty is a nice showcase for Chestnutt, who has been much-buzzed about since the non-release of his debut album last fall. (He self-released it but is reportedly signing to a major label.) Cody’s strummy guitar has the sun-drenched flava of a Stevie Wonder classic, so this really belongs in a summer mix.
[Pause, as if the “tape” were flipping over.]
- Fountains of Wayne, “Stacy’s Mom” – Jumping the gun a bit, I’m including this even though it’s just beginning to get the big push from FoW’s label. Plus, Emily and I both love it. The forthcoming video reportedly features ex-model (and ex-Mrs. Rod Stewart) Rachel Hunter, who, at 40something, is really the perfect person to play the MILF in Adam Schlesinger’s fantasy. Not since “Hot for Teacher” has lusting for someone twice (thrice?) your age been so well depicted.
- New Pornographers, “The Laws Have Changed” – In the parallel universe of indie-pop lovers, rock critics and urban hipsters, this is the single of the year, from the most acclaimed indie album. A couple of weeks ago, thanks to Matador’s website, I finally caught the video, an homage/parody of ’60s nouvelle vague cinema, featuring a close-cropped Neko Case doing the twist in a mini-dress. Yum.
- Christina Aguilera, “Beautiful” – I knew months ago that this was the only song worth a damn on Xtina’s latest ho-fest, but after she turned the stomachs of me and half of America with “Dirrty,” I basically ignored her. Then Emily and I saw Ben Lee cover this at the Fountains of Wayne concert last week, and I finally appreciated it for the genius piece of writing it is. Of course, Aguilera’s version features her trademark oversinging, but you can’t keep a great, Beatles-quality melody down. Mad props.
- Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Dosed” – The fourth single from the album the Peppers released last summer, the languid, dreamy “Dosed” is my favorite since the first one, “By the Way” – which, by the way, made my Summer 2002 comp. The Peppers come full circle. I basically love any single of theirs that prominently features John Frusciante’s soaring harmony vocals. What were they thinking, letting him leave the band in the mid-’90s?
- Foo Fighters, “Times Like These” (acoustic) – The most brain-sticking song from Mr. Grohl’s latest, “Times Like These” works nicely as an unplugged ditty. I discovered this alternate version watching MTV2 one night and managed to download it. Good thing I found it via Gnutella, ‘cuz it hasn’t been released anywhere. (Insert anti-RIAA treatise here.)
- Queens of the Stone Age, “No One Knows” – More Grohl! Indeed, his best drumming performance, like, virtually ever is on this single. There’s actually a second single from QotSA climbing the Modern Rock charts right now, but “No One Knows” just won’t quit as far as I’m concerned. Or as far as the country is concerned – it took all winter and spring to top the rock charts.
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Maps” – Another hipster “hit,” this is that rockish ballad I was praising in my review of the YYYs’ stellar album last month. Am pleased to discover the song stands up on its own, in the midst of all this radio-pop. Now if only the radio would actually play it.
- AFI, “Girl’s Not Grey” – The only new emo-metal band I’ve enjoyed lately, AFI (A Fire Inside) have an interesting Cure-goth-meets-Oz-shred sound, and I wish their latest album, Sing the Sorrow were just a little better. It’s kinda turgid, but a couple of songs, especially this fist-thrusting anthem, just burst out.
- Nas, “I Can” – So simple and reptitive it could either be annoying or irresistible – and it’s both, actually. I thought Emily might get a kick out of the prevalent “Fur Elise” sample that grounds this one, and Nas’s messages (stay in school, don’t grow up too fast, music class is good for you) are as positive as rap gets these days. Plus, this is the best use of children in a hip-hop song since Soul II Soul’s “Get a Life” in 1990.
- Liam Lynch, “My United States of Whatever” – I always close the Summer compilation with a joke song. Last year’s was Tenacious D’s “Fuck Her Gently.” This year’s selection was even easier to pick. Emily, my sister and I have been randomly inserting “Whutevah!” into our dialogue for months now, and somehow, this song never stops being funny. Plus, the video is a scream – the bit where Lynch is “on the corner, wearin’ [his] leatha” and rocking out on headphones when “some dude” bugs him to call him a punk; Lynch lifts one ‘phone, barks “Yeah, whatevah…,” then goes back to popping and locking. So cool.