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Listed: the 10 songs of summer

September 21, 2009

sosToday is officially the last day of summer and with autumn waiting around the corner to steal our lunch money, we at The Ashcan pooled our collective brains to pick the definitive songs of the past season. These picks aren’t ranked by preference. Rather, this is what the soundtrack to our lives would be if someone played the last four months back to us while we recorded a Wonder Years voice over.



Black Eyed Peas – I Gotta Feeling

Jesse: I gotta feeling that this could be the Pea’s most unoriginal song since Fergie ruined joined the group. And yet somehow it’s incredibly simple lyrics (my favourite verse: “And do it and do it and do it, do it, do it/Let’s do it, let’s do it, let’s do it”) is incredibly sticky. I’ve been to house parties where they have literally played this song six times in the course of one pre-drinking session. So whether I like it or not, that itself is the definition of a summer song.

Anupa: My summer was spent avoiding this song at all costs. I know that makes me sound like a pretentious shit but I’ll fight the charge: yes, I think the Black Eyed Peas are dopey as hell, but I also really respect Will.I.Am as a producer. Still, I refuse to be indoctrinated by the capitalist machine with, and through the construct of, eternal teendom (especially by musicians 20+ years on). This song basically makes me realize how much I’m being played by corporations.

Jef: This would have been a blast during New Year’s 1999, back when I thought any sex was good sex. It only really works in that kind of setting with that much alcohol. It’s done its thang at the bajillion weddings I’ve been to this summer, but it passes by unremarkably and leaves no trace. What’s with the lack of any unique personality Will.I.Am usually adds to these otherwise ear-digging BEP joints?

Simon: I think this song was written to be a ringtone. Has a track ever been so insanely catchy yet so eminently forgettable at the same time? After roughly 11-billion listens I still have no idea how the verses go — but who cares? Here comes the chorus!


Lady Gaga – Pokerface

Jesse: No surprise here. Gaga has proven herself to be the writer of some of the catchiest hooks (and of course, complete songs) that guys don’t want to admit they like since, I don’t know, NKOTB (I was 10 and my sister listened to them. Give me a break). My favourite part of this song though is the covers/samples that it’s already spawned. From the somewhat offensive “Make her say” by Kid Cudi, Kanye and Common, to my favourite, a live cover by Weezer, who took one of last year’s summer songs (Kids, by MGMT) and combined it with Gaga’s powerful hook here.

Anupa: This song was before “Paparazzi” which was when I actually started to dig Lady Gaga. My roommate spent the better part of spring humming the unplugged version of this song. That sample went on to be the hook of Kid Cudi’s mixtape track “Make Her Say” that Jesse mentioned above. I’d say that since it was on not one, but two songs this summer, “Pokerface” could be a strong contender FTW!!!!!

Jef: Gaga’s arty pretensions of being transgressive never quite hit. The way the chorus just forces its way in feels threatening, in a way I don’t think she’s aiming for. I’m with Anupa, “Paparrazi” is more my joint, this just skips along and flexes and stares at me and I’m like “What?” and then it makes some weird face at me. It thinks it did something clever, but no, that’s just the face people make when they fart.

Simon: Gaga once shared that the subtext behind “Pokerface” was she had been dreaming about a woman while in bed with a man. Not your typical pop icon moment. Under the weird, she’s a talented artist whose success is actually derived from musical and marketing talent; why fight it? Wait, did I just read her pokerface? Man, meta.


Kings of Leon – Use Somebody

Jesse: I love Kings of Leon. I saw them a few years ago when they were touring for the album Aha Shake Heartbreak, and I remember this incredibly sweaty dude grabbing on to me when they played “Milk” and yelling: “These guys are fucking awesome. I have two favourite songs, and you know what? This is one of them! Whoooo, arghghghgh, yaaaah!!!!”

That would be me this year, but with this song, and probably less sweat.

Anupa: Three songs in, you’re realizing I’m nitpicky and erratic when it comes to talking about music. I loved Kings of Leon until I found out that they sold out the Air Canada Centre based on “Sex on Fire” which isn’t even close to their greatest song. So I basically ignored Only By The Night until I heard this. That should say a lot. Kings of Leon are really, really excellent. Also, if you didn’t think it could get anymore believable, check out Bat For Lashes’ gorgeous cover.

Jef: I’m out of my element here, but really, isn’t this song going to suck in five years? “Someone like youuu!” is such a cheap catharsis after such a decent build up, and I don’t think the vocals are unique enough to add poetry to it. It’s nice though, don’t get me wrong, the way he drags himself all over the fucking thing.  But god, I hate the faux voice crack of ‘use’ in “You know that I could USE! somebody…”

Simon: Like many music snobs, I was into Kings of Leon before they became unstoppable radio gods. Unlike many angry hipsters though, I’m OK with it. What’s wrong with good shit being popular? You wouldn’t keep the Polio vaccine to yourself just to look cool, right? I hope?


Keri Hilson – Knock You Down

Anupa: I liked Keri Hilson on the hook for 2007’s unofficial summer song “The Way I Are.” Here, we see Keri interacting with Kanye and Ne-Yo on a surprisingly lighty and fluffy breakup track. I don’t really have anything against it, but I don’t find it particularly interesting. It’s definitely the kind of song I would’ve adored in high school, which is probably the demographic this track was made for. Even Kanye’s rap seems kind of elementary.

Jesse: I mean, I guess this song is all about falling in love, which is cool, right? And whenever I fall in love I feel like “I used to be commander in chief of my pimp ship, flying high/’til I met this pretty little missile who shot me out the sky.” I guess it’s just a total fluke that Ne-yo feels the same way. That’s deep.

Jef: You know, it’s not bad, but I can’t separate the song from the video which I must have watched a million times, mouth agape. I like that Kanye is a painter explaining his work (“Uh, it’s Keri, in squares”) to people at a party, and I really, really love that stink-eye staredown he gets into with Ne-yo of all people. They all look pocket-sized for some reason. And I love that Keri’s dancing literalizes every line. Dessert AND disaster, Kanye.

Simon: I like this song, but I’m surprised it’s so upbeat considering how Keri Hilson has to choose between loving Kanye or Ne-Yo. That’s an experience right up there beside “keeping her off the pole” that, had I a baby daughter, I would consider my principal responsibility in life to protect her from.


Wale – Chillin

Anupa: So Gaga was basically everywhere this summer, huh? I like this song. It’s a great sample, and an interesting, well-crafted beat. The sing-song hook works well with Wale’s flow and I like that he tells us, “My name Wale.” You know, just in case. It was also a good breakthrough song for Wale who’s been getting blog buzz for quite a while now. Easily competes in a summer festooned with Drake hype.

Jesse: This is the perfect example, to me, of how great it would be if Lady Gaga just sang hooks for hip hop songs with cool samples.

Jef: I’m still not over the fact that M.I.A. isn’t the hook. Not just the sing-song, but the international claim, and Wale dropping “m.i.a.” in the second verse just begging for wordplay. Did they write for her but not get her?  Wale does his mush-mouth, stream of conscious thing, and it’s charming enough despite coming across half-assed (I think he was aiming for accessible). Fans know he can go harder than this, but that’s cool, he chillin! And his name Wale, apparently.

Simon: I once heard of a girl whose name was spelled La-a. Her teacher pronounced it “La-ah” until one day during a parent teacher meeting, La-a’s mom came in and finally revealed the truth: “Actually, it’s pronounced La-DASH-ah.” True story.


Phoenix – 1901

Anupa: I like Phoenix because they’re French, and because this is a great pop dance-rock hybrid track. It’s nice to see some non-American musicians do well in North America. My roommate who is French just informed me that Thomas Mars, the lead singer, is either dating or married to Sofia Coppola. This brings a whole new aesthetic dimension to their music that I didn’t even think of before…

Jesse: I’m always confused by how European bands can sing with perfect American accents? I mean, I get how they do it, but I always wonder why? Why not fake a British accent? That sounds great in song. Or even better yet, sing with something we don’t hear. I dare these guys to learn a Punjabi accent and sing this song. The song is great as is, but I have a feeling it would be that much better.

Jef: This is beautiful to me. All the parts work seamlessly, the chorus arm-in-arm with the verses, the vocal phrasings and hey-hey-hey chants coming naturally but purposefully at the same time. I love things with structure that also feel improvised and man, this does it, and then it just fucking ends, kisses you then hops out the car. Good job, French people.

Simon: There are few moments that define summer like driving with your sunroof open, windows down, warmth of the rays on your face as wind goes howling by. When I imagine myself in a poignant summer tableau, this is the song I hear.


Pitbull – Calle Ocho

Anupa: Pitbull gets my vote for wicked, just-shut-up-and-dance song of the summer. Just like I liked to hear Wale tell us his name on “Chillin,” I’m digging Pitbull telling me I want him and he wants me. Also, this song reminds me of being in NYC this summer surrounded by the best looking men of my life. I know this is a completely invalid reason for liking a song, but goddammit, summer songs don’t have to mean anything except sex and fun, okay?

Jesse: This song makes me so angry in so many ways. That said, I have caught myself doing the fist pump in the air during the chorus (briefly, and only when in an incredibly drunk and mocking mood). Also, anyone ever catch the RIP Biggie and Pac reference in this? Too funny/wrong.

Jef: I’d punch this song in the fucking face if I could. Then I’d buy it a drink and we’d chill at the bar and every sentence would be “Yeah bro! You GET it!”

Simon: Dance music really kicked us in the balls this summer huh?  Gaga and the Peas were heavily infused with Eurobeats while indie kids went nuts for Passion Pit and Phoenix. Pitbull reps Latin beats here with gyrating salsa mashed with Sesame Street counting lessons. I blame reality television.


Drake – Best I Ever Had

Anupa: Drake caught a lot of flack for this song because of the video, but let’s focus on the track. I’m known as a vehement Drake hater, but I will say I like the breezy vibe that this song has. If you tune out the slightly sexist bent, it’s a smart and well-executed transition track: Drake’s singing is on point and sounds smooth over the R&B production, but he still goes hard on his verses and switches up his flow for the rap stans out there.

Jesse: I’m definitely one of the Drake skeptics, and even though every person that matters is saying he’s the next best thing, without question, I’m still holding out for that CD. As for this song though, it proves he has the singing chops and the cadence to hopefully live up to the hype. Regardless, it’s a good track and the attention it can get the Toronto hip-hop scene is even better.

Jef: It’s hard to hear this one again for the first time, but it was fresh. Drake weaves easily through several hip-hop inflections, from singing to spitting and several in-between, sliding from whispering in your ear to boasting from the back of his throat. He sounds like all of his influences here, but on a song none of them could have made (even though one sorta did). Funny that the best answer to his haters could be the song they hate the most.

Simon: There’s a lot to enjoy about this track. He’s from Toronto and on first listen it was refreshing and even a little subversive. But then again … DRAKE IS THE BESTTT RAPPER EVER TO COME OUT OF TDOTT OF ALL TIME!!!!! OF ALL TIME!!!!! Really makes you pause eh? Nice little song though.


Michael Jackson – Billie Jean

Anupa: Ahh. Like the Beatnuts say, there was “no escapin’ this.” Everyone revealed their inner MJ-fan this summer after his unexpected death. That was a really sad day. We hear about generations prior mourning Elvis and John Lennon but, because of technology, I don’t think more people were impacted by any musician’s death than Michael Jackson’s. MJ was so ill, he outsold new artists this summer! That means he made better music 20 years ago than people do now!

Jesse: The night he died I was at a bar and they were pumping this. I didn’t mind it at all, even if they’re still doing it as we speak. I only wish two more things came out of it: more play for “man in the mirror,” and some commercial success for Rhymefest’s amazing, pre-death MJ dedication mix tape , which I read somewhere he was considering re-releasing

Jef: This is the song that taught me “pop” wasn’t a dirty word. The verses are so quiet and defensive, but then comes that fucking beast of a bridge leading to that chorus I doubt I’ll forget even when my brain turns to swiss cheese. I had to perform this for a drunken game of Cranium recently, and I couldn’t decide which part to hum; which goes to show how much legendary shit you can fit into one song, if you’re a genius.

Simon: Jackson’s passing was such a watershed moment because he embodied that bridge linking pop-culture from every nation like few humans ever did or will. How? With songs like this, featuring the greatest bass line in the history of the entire fucking world. And it’s not even close.


Jay-Z – Run This Town

Anupa: Everyone delivers an expected performance on the first single from Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3. Rihanna wails the end of the world, Kanye commendably (but predictably) goes extra-hard to show up his “Big Brother,” and Jay-Z sails through smiling blankly and waving to his adoring fans. That’s to say this track is what it is, nothing special, another manufactured hit that lacks its professed rebel spirit.

Jesse: True, it’s expected, but that means a solid first single in my eyes. I’m liking Kanye’s whole “What you think I rap for/to drive a fuckin Rav 4?” verse because I drive what could actually be considered worse than a Rav 4. I also had to wonder though if Beyonce is totally jealous because there is no way this song would have worked with her instead of Rihanna?

Jef: So this is what passes for a Roc posse cut nowadays? As much as this is milquetoast rap, I still kind of like it, and I think I like what everyone else seems to hate: Rihanna’s triumphant barnyard yodel. She bleats like no one else, and she’s the only one awake here. Kanye fucks the shit out of his verse, but still, he sounds rightfully bored with the whole thing. That bee-sting, beasting, Riesling shit is fun, but random as hell.

Simon: Jay-Z may not be as edgy as he used to be, but I guess he really bucked the trend by releasing possibly the worst song on his album as a single. More importantly, is there no escaping Kanye West? He’s like the anti-Polkaroo.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. blissbait permalink
    September 21, 2009 1:13 pm

    i feel so unhip!
    my summer echoed years past…
    thanks for the update

    May All Beings Be Happy!

  2. h_tothe_t permalink
    September 21, 2009 4:36 pm

    I’m glad you reminded me to revisit my summer with youtube videos for my entire afternoon – aah the good old days of sunshine and music.

    Saw Kings of Leon this summer as well – and that cover version has definitely made my day.

  3. that bitch shauna permalink
    September 21, 2009 7:39 pm

    You all had your fingers on the very pulse of corporate mind control this summer! Except for the sacred Kings of Leon and, I guess, Phoenix…they will never be used to infect the masses!!! Or will they….??

    Sorry, I’ve been hyper-paranoid these days…Anupa it was worth reading this post just because I got to imagine you and a bunch of hispanic Harlem men dancing to calle oche! Lucky girl! Did they use sonar on that beat?

    And, yes, Simon I would keep the polio vaccine to myself just so I could see all you fools rocking those lame shoes while I cornered the market on Loubous. Bam!

  4. September 22, 2009 12:13 pm

    I bet “Sex on Fire” is a subliminal ad for condoms. Or a warming lube.

  5. September 23, 2009 6:59 pm

    The best thing about this post has got to be the random polio reference/metaphor. Just thinking about the shoe lifts makes me weak.

    Joking aside though … as a so-called hipster (a title that I fight everyday when I put on my favourite pair of vintage loafers), 1901 is kinda it. I’ve been on Phoenix for a year now and they hafta be my favourite current indie rock band, my Sofia Coppola obsession aside. I blast that, and Use Somebody, almost everyday, they’re great summer morning and summer night songs.

    BEP = Don’t … Get Me Started. Bring back “Joints and Jams” and “Weekend” BEP, please.

    Altho Calle Ocho is a great dancing song – in fact, the only song worth dancing to on that list if I’m not mistaken – it sounds very Time Supperclub/Entertainment District to me. I see jet black, flat-ironed, razored hair, Dior 2008-knockoff gladiator heels from Aldo, and a lot of sateen. And a Fergie poster on a bedroom wall.

  6. Anupa permalink*
    September 24, 2009 1:11 pm

    I have a Fergie poster on my wall. I used to dig Wild Orchid back in the day.

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