Fifty years of summertime pop, rated

The sleeve of my "Honky Tonk Women" single.

Last week, I called into question the value of recent pop music. I was moved to do so by this feature on NPR, regarding “The Songs Of The Summer, 1962-2012,” which ran the gamut “from surf rock in the early 1960s through British then American rock ‘n’ roll, disco, power ballads, R&B, boy bands and hip-hop.”

I thought it particularly meaningful that it counted from what Gene Sculatti’s The Catalog of Cool described as “The Last Good Year.”

I listened to the Spotify mix that the story linked to (there’s also a version provided by NPR itself, but you don’t get to pick where you jump in — it’ more like conventional radio that way).

The list confirms me in my belief, that there hasn’t been a summer like that of 1966 since. As I said before:

Puts me in mind of the summer of ’66. I came back from the beach determined to go out and buy three singles: “Green Grass” by Gary Lewis and the Playboys, “I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel, and “Little Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs.

OK, so sue me. I was 12. At least “I Am a Rock” was cool.

But look at what else came out that summer:
WILD THING – The Troggs
PAINT IT, BLACK – The Rolling Stones (still my favorite Stones song)
SUMMER IN THE CITY – The Lovin’ Spoonful
HANKY PANKY – Tommy James & The Shondells
AIN’T TOO PROUD TO BEG – The Temptations
DIRTY WATER – The Standells
MONDAY, MONDAY – The Mamas & The Papas

Not to mention these forgettable items that I loved at the time:
SWEET PEA – Tommy Roe

That was all just one summer.

Come on — what will today’s 12-year-olds have to look back to in the future?

The answer to that question doesn’t appear to be very encouraging.

Gradually, over the past week, I listened to that mix while doing a lot of other things. Here’s how I rated what I heard, on a scale from zero stars to five:

2012: Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”

2011: Adele, “Rolling In The Deep”

2011: LMFAO, “Party Rock Anthem”

2011: Nicki Minaj, “Super Bass”

2010: Eminem featuring Rihanna, “Love the Way You Lie”

2010: Katy Perry, “California Gurls”

2010: Taio Cruz, “Dynamite”

2009: Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling”

2009: Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me”

2008: Coldplay, “Viva La Vida”

2008: Katy Perry, “I Kissed A Girl”

2008: Lil Wayne featuring Static Major, “Lollipop” – Only gets a 1 because, if you only hear a second of it, it’s catchy. After 2 seconds, you hate it

0 2007: Rihanna featuring Jay-Z, “Umbrella”

0 2007: T-Pain featuring Yung Joc, “Buy U A Drank”

2006: Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”

0 2006: Nelly Furtado featuring Timbaland, “Promiscuous”

2006: Shakira, “Hips Don’t Lie”

0 2005: Gwen Stefani, “Hollaback Girl”

0 2005: The Pussycat Dolls featuring Busta Rhymes, “Don’t Cha”

0 2004: Juvenile featuring Soulja Slim, “Slow Motion”

2004: Usher, “Confessions Part II”

2003: Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z, “Crazy In Love”

2003: Chingy, “Right Thurr”

2003: Sean Paul, “Get Busy” – This would get a 2, but for the monotony.

2002: Avril Lavigne, “Complicated” – Almost it to a three in the middle part, but not quite.

2002: Jimmy Eat World, “The Middle”

0 2002: Eminem, “Without Me”

0 2002: Nelly, “Hot In Herre”

0 2001: Destiny’s Child, “Bootylicious” – What did this in from the start was the ripped-off sample from Stevie Nicks’ highly irritating “Just Like the White-Winged Dove.” It only got worse from there.

2001: Eve featuring Gwen Stefani, “Let Me Blow Ya Mind”

1999: Christina Aguilera, “Genie In A Bottle”

1999: Jennifer Lopez, “If You Had My Love”

0 1999: Len, “Steal My Sunshine”

1999: Smash Mouth, “All Star”

0 1998: Next, “Too Close”

0 1998: Vengaboys, “We Like To Party”

1998: The Backstreet Boys, “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”

1997: Hanson, “MMMBop” – Bubblegum, but not bad bubblegum. The chorus almost raises it to 3.

1997: Notorious B.I.G. featuring Puff Daddy & Ma$e, “Mo Money Mo Problems”

1997: Puff Daddy featuring Faith Evans & 112, “I’ll Be Missing You” – How much credit should a sample get? Because without that, this is nothing.

1996: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, “Tha Crossroads”

1996: Los Del Rio, “Macarena” – Yes, the craze became a joke, but at least it has some musicality.

1996: Mariah Carey, “Always Be My Baby”

1995: Seal, “Kiss From A Rose”

1995: TLC, “Waterfalls”

1994: Ace of Base, “Don’t Turn Around”

1994: All-4-One, “I Swear”

1994: Lisa Loeb, “Stay” – Keeps threatening to sound good, but doesn’t get there.

1994: Warren G & Nate Dogg, “Regulate”

1993: Tag Team, “Whoomp! (There It Is)”

1993: UB40, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” – Too bad Elvis never heard this version.

1992: Boys II Men, “End of the Road”

1992: Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Under the Bridge”

1992: Sir Mix-A-Lot, “Baby Got Back” – I agree with the sentiment, at least.

1991: Bryan Adams, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” – Not his best effort.

1991: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, “Summertime”

1991: EMF, “Unbelievable”

1990: Mariah Carey, “Vision Of Love”

1990: New Kids on the Block, “Step By Step”

1989: Martika, “Toy Soldiers”

1989: Richard Marx, “Right Here Waiting” – Syrupy.

1988: Cheap Trick, “The Flame”

1988: Steve Winwood, “Roll With It” – Not as good as his work with Blind Faith, not by a long shot. But it’s catchy.

1987: Heart, “Alone”

1987: U2, “With Or Without You” – Perhaps their best song.

1987: Whitney Houston, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” – Excellent example of the genre, but I’m not a big fan of the genre.

1986: Madonna, “Papa Don’t Preach”

1986: Peter Cetera, “Glory Of Love”

1985: Huey Lewis & The News, “The Power of Love”

1985: Tears For Fears, “Shout” – One of the best of the 80s.

1984: Cyndi Lauper, “Time After Time” – Not as good as “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”

1984: Prince & The Revolution, “When Doves Cry” – Not as good as “1999”

1983: The Police, “Every Breath You Take”

1983: Irene Cara, “Flashdance…What a Feeling”

1982: Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder, “Ebony & Ivory” – Just chock full of good intentions, though.

1982: Human League, “Don’t You Want Me”

1982: Survivor, “Eye of the Tiger”

1981: Rick Springfield, “Jessie’s Girl”

1981: Kim Carnes, “Bette Davis Eyes”

1980: Lipps, Inc., “Funkytown”

1980: Billy Joel, “It’s Still Rock & Roll to Me”

1979: Donna Summer, “Bad Girls” – It would be a 1, but I don’t want Bud to hate me.

1979: Anita Ward, “Ring My Bell”

1978: Andy Gibb, “Shadow Dancing”

1978: Frankie Valli, “Grease” – Sorry, Frankie, but there were better songs in that show.

1977: Fleetwood Mac, “Dreams”

1976: Starland Vocal Band, “Afternoon Delight” – An oddball little hit.

1976: Elton John & Kiki Dee, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”

1976: Wings, “Silly Love Songs”

1975: The Captain & Tennille, “Love Will Keep Us Together” – Perhaps a better song, done by someone else.

1974: Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods, “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero”

1974: George McCrae, “Rock Your Baby”

1973: Diana Ross, “Touch Me In The Morning”

1973: Jim Croce, “Bad Bad Leroy Brown”

1972: Bill Withers, “Lean On Me” – This just gets better and better.

1972: Sammy Davis, Jr., “The Candy Man” – How did this get in there?

1971: Bee Gees, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?” – I’m throwing the Bee Gees a bone here.

1971: Carole King, “It’s Too Late”

1970: The Carpenters, “(They Long To Be) Close To You”

1970: The Jackson 5, “The Love You Save”

1970: Edwin Starr, “War” – Good song, though it overstates its case (“absolutely nothing”).

1969: The Beatles, “Get Back”

1969: The Rolling Stones, “Honky Tonk Woman” – Not only a superlative summer song, it’s a great driving song, too.

1968: Simon & Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson”

1968: The Rascals, “People Got To Be Free”

1967: Aretha Franklin, “Respect” – Give her some.

1967: The Doors, “Light My Fire” – I probably would have rated this higher at the time.

1966: Tommy James & The Shondells, “Hanky Panky”

1966: The Troggs, “Wild Thing” — Elemental, proto-punk, garage band purity.

1966: The Lovin’ Spoonful, “Summer In The City”

1965: The Byrds, “Mr. Tambourine Man” — I’d have given the Dylan original another star.

1965: The Beatles, “Help!” — I feel bad that I didn’t give the Beatles five stars on anything, but none of their best songs were listed.

1965: The Rolling Stones, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”

1965: Sonny & Cher, “I Got You Babe”

1964: Dean Martin, “Everybody Loves Somebody”

1964: The Animals, “House of the Rising Sun”

1964: The Beach Boys, “I Get Around”

1963: Lesley Gore, “It’s My Party”

1963: Jan & Dean, “Surf City”

1962: Ray Charles, “I Can’t Stop Loving You”

1962: Neil Sedaka, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”

1962: Little Eva, “The Loco-Motion” – Had trouble deciding on this one; may only be a 3.

27 thoughts on “Fifty years of summertime pop, rated

  1. Brad

    You’ll notice that they didn’t list any of my Top Three from 1966. So maybe, if I had really done my own study of recent music, I’d have picked some that would have gotten more stars than I gave these. I don’t know. Recent music is, for the most part, so forgettable.

  2. bud

    What is really surprising is how utterly unfamiliar I am with the the more recent music.

    Bad Girls is not my favorite Donna Summers, I’d only give it a 3. Love to Love you Baby is pure sensuality and her best.

    My only serious issue I have with this list is the Starland Vocal Band’s 2 star rating. Definitely a 5.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    A few quibbles aside, I would agree with that list/rating.

    “Call me Maybe” gets bonus points in my book for all of the YouTube covers that it has spawned. Check out the Harvard and/or Florida Baseball team doing this song during what must have been loooong road trips.

  4. bud

    There are some interesting exclusions. No ABBA (Waterloo was a big hit in the summer of 1974). No Lenin or Harrison. No Beach Music classics like “Up on the Roof” (maybe they came along before 1962). And only one Beach Boys.

    The theme song from Grease was definitely not the song I would have picked from that summer classic. That was the last movie I ever saw at a drive-in theater. It played at the old Twilight Theater in the summer of 1978 as a first-run feature.

  5. Matt Warthen

    Can’t believe you would rate Adele equal with Avril Lavigne. And you’re wrong about LMFAO. You think I’m joking but I’m not. That’s my jam.

  6. bud

    what will today’s 12-year-olds have to look back to in the future–Brad

    All those zero and 1 star songs will be remembered with great fondness and nostalgia about 2050 for the middle-agers of that time. Looking back on the summers so long ago my dad was aghast at the offerings of the 60s and 70s. “Why don’t they make great music like Glenn Miller anymore?” he once said.

    I’m trying really hard not to be like that. So I do try to find something positive about today’s music. Katy Perry is a bright spot. Interesting that she was charting 4 years ago. How time flies.

  7. Tavis Micklash

    “1965: The Rolling Stones, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction””

    Really? I guess since Im only 35 that it just doesnt rank that high with me. It just seems tired and redone.

    “1968: Simon & Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson””

    Well deserved 5 star.

    “1969: The Rolling Stones, “Honky Tonk Woman” – Not only a superlative summer song, it’s a great driving song, too.”

    Maybe I had to be there. Which I wasn’t for 7 more years.

    “1971: Bee Gees, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?” – I’m throwing the Bee Gees a bone here.”

    I bet they are all over your bone too.

    “1977: Fleetwood Mac, “Dreams””

    The only one on the List? Fleetwood Mac is great. Dreams is just meh.

    “1983: The Police, “Every Breath You Take””
    Best stalker song.. EVER

    “1985: Huey Lewis & The News, “The Power of Love””
    This screams summer to me. Back to the future was huge at the time.

    “1987: Heart, “Alone””
    2 stars? I must protest. Heart is so 80s. Only reason its not 4 stars is because its not summer.

    “1992: Boys II Men, “End of the Road”
    1994: Warren G & Nate Dogg, “Regulate”
    1996: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, “Tha Crossroads”
    1997: Notorious B.I.G. featuring Puff Daddy & Ma$e, “Mo Money Mo Problems”
    2002: Nelly, “Hot In Herre”
    2002: Eminem, “Without Me””

    Man no love from R&B over here I see. Nelly is straight summer. Eminem is a mastermind at his craft.

    I can’t believe you didn’t care for Bone, Thugz in Harmomy and Boyz 2 Men. They can sing and are every bit as good as the platters or any of the classic do whoop groups. Its basically an urban barbershop quartet. Boyz especially was HUGE at the time.

    0 2005: Gwen Stefani, “Hollaback Girl”

    For a summer song its fantastic. All of no doubt stuff is honestly. Hollaback with its cheerleader stomps and over the top popness. Its basically just a musical F*%# You to Courtney Love and that gets it points right away.

    I guess the theme is when we heard it. I was into classic rock. Thats what it was for me since I wasn’t alive in the 60s.

    Im sure my list would be tilted to the 80s and 90s.

    One addition Really should have had Andrew W.K. “party hard”

  8. Steven Davis II

    Tavis, you should have stopped and backed away from the keyboard when you wrote “1992”. Because everything after that was crap.

  9. Brad

    Tavis, you and I are destined to perceive all this through different lenses.

    For instance, “Power of Love” is a childhood memory to you. Here’s how I remember it — from “Back to the Future,” certainly. Which in the summer of ’85 was huge, but which I initially had no interest in seeing. I was very busy then. I was the new news editor at The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, and really had my work cut out for me trying to build up the copy desk, national desk and design and production function of the newsroom, all of which were my responsibilities. I was living in a one-room apartment downtown waiting for my family to move out at the end of the summer.

    I was taking a candidate for the copy desk out to dinner, and I remember we had to run to the car and my favorite blue suit got soaked. The candidate was talking up “Back to the Future” on the way to the restaurant, and I was thinking, “Yet another teen high school comedy, only with an oedipal twist (this from seeing the trailer)?” But she recommended it so highly that I went to see it, and loved it.

    The candidate was Alice Sky, who after I hired her went on to run that newspaper’s online operations years later, and is now in Kansas City (and one of my Twitter followers).

  10. Brad

    I enjoyed Huey Lewis, although I preferred some of their other songs, such as “Heart of Rock and Roll.”

    During that period, I was really into Elvis Costello. The coolest thing about Huey’s band, to me, is that the band (sans Huey) had backed Elvis on “My Aim is True.”

  11. bud

    Travis, interesting analysis. Of course this has to do with how old you are. Brad is just 3 or 4 years older than I am but his sweetspot era is just about that much different. I just think its impossible for someone who came up with the spectre of the draft hanging over their hand can realistically appreciate disco music. My brother is the same way, he just despises disco. Yet our politics are very similar.

  12. Brad

    Disco had a lot in common with the top pop music today — an artificial (or at least, artificial-sounding), driving rhythm with equally pseudo-sounding lead lines running over it. Like something a machine might have produced.

    Which doesn’t automatically disqualify you. The Postal Service does techno in a way that is very creative and appealing.

    In that vein — no one denies that Boyz 2 Men, for instance, have beautiful voices. It’s just that what they’re asked to with it lacks wit and creativity.

    And… I don’t just dismiss hip-hop out of hand. Some of it — such as the Geto Boys tracks that were used in “Office Space” — is clever and infectious (social value set aside). Get “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta” into your head, and it will take all day to get it out.

    But most of the offerings on this playlist were severely lacking in that artistic merit.

  13. Brad

    And Matt, maybe I could give LMFAO 2 stars on the basis of bouncy danceability, and I sort of like the refrain, but it has those characteristics I was complaining about re disco earlier.

    It has an appeal that reminds me of the one that the “Night at the Roxy” guys bobbed their heads to.

    I could almost see my way clear to 3 stars (I’m relistening to it as I type this), but not if I keep “It’s My Party” at 3. Of course, I almost gave that 4 as it was; maybe I should have…

  14. Silence

    @Brad – “Roxbury” and the band is “Haddaway” and the song is “What is Love”
    Here’s a helpful link:

  15. Silence

    Hip hop peaked in 1993 and started to suck in 1994 and hasn’t recovered yet.
    1993 – Doggystyle
    1992 – The Chronic
    1992 – Totally Krossed Out
    1991 – To The Extreme
    1990 – Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em.
    1989 – Loc’ed After Dark
    1989 – Girl You Know It’s True
    1988 – He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper
    1986 – License to Ill
    1979 – Rapper’s Delight

  16. bud

    I know Brad is just having a bit of fun with this. Obviously we are going to disagree on what is great music and what isn’t. But I think there is a big lesson that can be learned from this. There are people that absolutely just cannot understand why someone would find disco, hip-hop or rap music pleasurable. They will argue and spin and postulate all the reasons no logical thinking person could ever like that crap. It is just a cognitive divide that cannot be breached.

    So what you ask. We can all listen to the music of our choice and if someone continues to be wrong about the virtues of others choice in music so what. We live in a free country where everyone is free to be wrong. If this stopped at music I’d agree. If folks can’t see why Donna Summer was a breathtaking talent of the highest order then it’s nobody’s loss but that persons. But this opinionated worldview doesn’t stop at music. It extends to local laws and even national security policy matters. And it can be very dangerous.

    Take gambling for instance. For someone who simply cannot understand the pleasures of gambling they only see that as a frivolous waste of money and time. Therefore it is best to restrict this activity. The restriction will do immeasurable good. And so we have Sheriff Lott on his personal campaign to snuff out gambling operations in Richland County. People lose their livelihood and others their entertainment choice. And no one really benefits.

    Then we have international policy. The neocons simply cannot understand why folks in the middle east cannot value the virtues of American life. How can anyone not see how great and wonderful America is? Why can’t these people just embrace this wonderfulness and virtue? The result is we end up in places like Iraq and Afghanistan trying to foist our values on people who don’t want it. And the neocons scratch their head trying hard to understand why our efforts fail.

    So whether it is music or foreign policy there will always be those who are completely clueless as to why their opinion is not shared by ALL others. This cluelessness can lead to a bit of fun when it comes to music (although there have been book and record burnings in the past). Or it can lead to disasterous foreign policy catastrophes. The moral to the story is we must respect the opinion of others and never, ever assume our opinion is sacrosanct.

  17. Mark Stewart

    I still haven’t recovered from the Roliing Stones’ summer 1982 version of “Going to a Go-Go”. It’s seared into my brain, in a most unpleasant way.

    It’s almost as bad as the “official” pick for that summer, “Ebony & Ivory” (thanks Paul!), but then maybe someone wanted to protect the Stones from themselves by not listing the song.

  18. Tavis Micklash

    “Hip hop peaked in 1993 and started to suck in 1994 and hasn’t recovered yet.”

    I think the genre has lessened certainly. I don’t think its all junk though.

    You can add anything from Grandmaster Flash and Long Live the Kane 1988 to your list too.

  19. Brad

    A confession:

    Now that I’ve played the playlist over quite a few times, in the background, I must promote some of the songs I previously gave low scores to.

    For instance, among the first three:
    — Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe” — was one star, now two
    — Adele, “Rolling In The Deep” — was two stars, now three
    LMFAO, “Party Rock Anthem” — was one star, now three

    This underscores the fact that the summertime songs I love from decades past were things I heard over and over and over again before I fully loved them.

    But how does that happen today? Back in the 60s, you heard the Top 40 songs everywhere — on the radio, at least. And occasionally the old people would give us a break from Andy Williams and let us hear our stuff on the TV. And the top songs were on jukeboxes wherever we gathered.

    Now, where do we hear this stuff? Nowhere. Kids are listening to it on their iPods and sharing it via Facebook with their friends, and it’s just not blaring out into the public space and becoming part of the ambiance of everyday life the way it once did.

    Is this making any sense?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Now, MUCH later…

      I’m elevating “Call Me Maybe” to three stars, “Rolling in the Deep” to four and “Party Rock” to four. (Although I think that objectively, the Adele song is better music, I just get such a kick out of LMFAO’s video. Hatin’ is bad…)

      It took time for them to grow on me, an advantage that “Honky Tonk Women” enjoyed in abundance…

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