Yesterday, Spotify released a Sound Of The Summer playlist, featuring the most streamed tracks of the past few months, including ‘We Are Young’ by Fun. feat. Janelle Monáe, Flo Rida’s ‘Whistle’ and various other forgettable hits. Will you remember those songs forever as representative of summer 2012? I’m not convinced they make the grade.
‘Song of the summer’ is a concept we’re all familiar with – the inescapable seasonal smash that blares out of builders’ radios and open car windows, plays on MTV three times an hour, rouses the biggest cheers on dancefloors and at festivals, and transports you back to an exact time and place. When someone plays Spiller’s ‘Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love) I can almost smell the paella and suncream of my first holiday aboard on the razz. If I hear, “What’s she going to look like with a chimney on her?” (the key lyric from ‘Feel’ It by The Tamperer feat. Maya) I’m sitting in an orchard with my guinea pig eating a cheese string. The intensity of this recall is often due to that one earwormy line that becomes the strongest little blighter of the year.
It’s harder, today, to pinpoint one summer hit. ‘Crazy’, the debut from Gnarls Barkley, defined 2006. 2003 was all about Beyonce’s ‘Crazy In Love’. I’d suggest Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’ for 2009. The years after are more difficult.
Why is this? An article in the New York Times suggests that the power of radio to propel a song to number one has fallen. Instead, the viral response video, it argues, is the “modern equivalent of heavy radio play”. The writer uses the example of Carly Rae Jepsen’s widely-covered ‘Call Me Maybe’ as an example of this generational shift. “Hitmakers realise that young listeners turn to YouTube in the way earlier generations turned to radio and MTV”.
Rowan Collinson, a producer at 6 Music, disagrees.
It’s utter nonsense. It was high radio rotation which gave ‘Call Me Maybe’ the staying power. The song was ‘A-listed’ at Radio 1, Capital and Kiss and has been in the airplay top five for 20 weeks, eight of those at number one.
He also points out that, far from tailing off in the digital age, radio listening figures in the UK, are higher than ever. If you want a number one hit, radio play is still the most important factor.
In fact, Maroon 5’s ‘Payphone’ is the biggest record of the summer statistically (A-list at Radio 1, 2, Capital and Heart). Collinson asks the question on everyone’s lips: “Would you describe it as a summer smash though? I’ve heard it a lot but musically it’s not anthemic in the way that those big late 90s summer dance records we grew up with (i.e ATB, Energy 52, Darude etc) were, so perhaps that’s why it doesn’t resonate as much.”
Could the atomisation of listening habits be to blame? Streaming services, music blogs and and a plethora of genres and sub-genres have split music fans into their own niche worlds. Has the sheer amount of choices we have diluted the power of that one summer anthem? Collinson wonders how true this is: “I don’t think listening habits are nearly as fragmented as people like you and me would like to think. It’s very rare that a mainstream record is broken without an A-List on Radio 1 and/or the Capital radio network, unless it’s come through the other big mainstream route, X Factor. Saturday night TV and Radio 1 – we could be living in the 1980s!”
The rise of The X Factor is another suspect. The high spots in the charts over the last couple of years have been dominated by Simon Cowell’s cabal and their mediocre offerings. This might just be a temporary dry period that will end when we get bored with TV talent competitions.
We asked readers what they consider to be the pop hit of this summer. Of course Carly Mae Jepsen’s ‘Call Me Maybe’ and Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ turned up (though Jepsen’s track was around at the end of last year and Gotye’s released last July so they don’t really count). Others mentioned Rudimental’s ‘Feel The Love’, Haim’s ‘Forever’, ‘Tessellate’ by Alt-J, ‘Teenage Icon’ by The Vaccines and David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ for the Olympics connection.
Anyway, perhaps it’s greedy of us to expect a summer banger every single year. I bet you can’t name more than five really good Christmas songs. Still, the attraction of the summer hit is potent. The magic is in its ability to unite; everyone loves it, everyone sings it, everyone plays it, everyone eventually groans at it. If all the elements are there, it snowballs through the media its promoted through, be it radio, music television, record shops, to embed itself in popular consciousness and touch millions of people. Also, it uses one of the basic functions of music as a whole: to make people smile and have a good time. For that reason, I reckon we’ve got another Mambo No.5 in us.