By Dan van Voorhis –
I, as the Man About Town, will not only be writing about fashion and manners, but culture as well. While others do a fine job, if not sometimes heavy handed, writing about culture from a “Christian” perspective, I want to celebrate music for its own sake. My theological tradition allows me to see things for what they are and not draw moralistic Sunday school lessons from everything. Sometimes a simple pleasure is a simple pleasure. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
I could also hold my nose high and only write about music for the elite. I could eschew Top 40 music as either a man of refined tastes, or as a paleo-hipster. (A later column can identify the species of domesticated American hipsters.) I believe that “pop culture” is a misnomer. It is mass culture. It is different from elite culture primarily in its audience size. Some elite culture is horrid. A good pop song can beat a terrible orchestral piece.
I will try to include a wide range of music, such as to find songs that appeal to fans of different genres. I cut my teeth on the Pixies and Be-Bop Jazz and I have a strange relationship to late 80’s adult contemporary ballads. (Richard Marx has had a peculiar influence on my life.)
I have wanted to cultivate an appreciation for music qua music (music for its own sake). I do not to have to “agree” with the “worldview” of the artist. It is without question that early 90’s Dr. Dre is superior to the contemporaneous D.C. Talk.
I want good music that fits the occasion. In a late night dive I might want to hear some Coltrane, Sinatra, or Astrud Gilberto. At a wedding I prefer Bach. At the reception you should throw down a compilation from Soul Train. At church I dig a choir with some brass. At the beach I want something else. The “something else” is what this article is about.
This is the season of cookouts, parties, pool days and late nights enjoying an engaging and/or frivolous conversation amidst the din of music playing on patios and decks. Summer music has long had a hold on the American imagination from the beaches on the East coast to the West coast, and the beach culture that has infiltrated the Midwest. However, in my countdown of the best summer music from the past 5 years, I will follow a few basic premises.
First, music that is written with the explicit intent of romanticizing the end of a school year or summer is generally excluded. They are too obviously trying to make a cheap buck. See Vitamin C’s “Graduation” or the Beach Boys “Surfin’ Safari” as examples of this kind of summer nostalgic manipulation. Exceptions to this rule include OMD’s “If You Leave” and “A Summer Song” by Chad & Jeremy.
So, here we go. These are the best songs of the past 5 years to get your pool parties hopping and your long vacation drive feel like a special moment in time (like Chevy Chase in the family truckster on his way to Wally World).
*click on the tracks to hear the song on YouTube
- Warm Heart of Africa- The Very Best This song was the official theme of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Dig the staccato vocals by Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and the stutter stop percussion. This is perhaps the only time in my life I have (almost) reconsidered my opinion of steel drums.
- The Morning Benders- Excuses This San Francisco trio has managed to use both a ¾ time signature as well Phil Spector-esque production to explore young love and maturing relationships.
- Daisy- Fang Island One reviewer suggested that these Rhode Island tech school kids had perfected a sort of “math rock” with their guitar arpeggios and multilayered rounds of chord progressions. This is the sound of a revived Eddie Van Halen in the 21st century laying multiple solos, strung together to make one track under a chorus of soaring “oohs and ah’s”.
- Step- Vampire Weekend When these graduates of Brown University released their debut album in 2008, they were hailed as the new kings of white intellectual reggae pop. It took me a year to even get near to listening to them after that description. By the time their third album came out in 2012, they had matured and played with world music, but with distinctly New Wave influences and not-quite-too-clever lyrics (e.g. “She’s richer than Croesus and tougher than Leather”)
- Call Me Maybe- Carly Rae Jepsen I still think that the Ronette’s Be My Baby was the greatest pop song ever. This Canadian reality television show contestant took tweens by storm in 2012. Her version on the Jimmy Fallon Show with the Roots and kindergarten instruments only enhanced its charm. You hate this song? It’s only because it was played out. Listen to it with fresh ears and it will be like the very gates of bubble gum pop paradise have opened to you.
- Infinity Guitars- Sleigh Bells This was used for ESPN’s coverage of the X-games in 2012. I don’t watch things for which energy drinks are the primary sponsors, but this track almost sold me. I’m going to use the adjective blistering for the guitars and the adjective sneering for Alexis Krauss’ shouting chorus. Your heart will beat faster and you may drive dangerously fast. (Fans of Childish Gambino will recognize the guitar chords sampled on his “Crowns on the Ground”)
- Summertime Clothes- Animal Collective It might turn you off initially with its droning beats and distorted vocals. And then… it burrows into your brain with its samples of waves crashing and children playing in the water. The album “Merriweather Post Pavilion” is one of the most original and infectious of the past decade, and this track about something as simple as air conditioning and swim trunks is the obvious stand out track.
- Otis- Jay Z and Kanye West (featuring Otis Redding) Let the comments begin. I know you prefer the original. I know you have things to say about Kanye. However, not only does this song drop the phrase “I Phillip Drummon-ed” as a reference to adoption, it also received the praise of music connoisseur extraordinaire, Ryan Patterson. He said, “When other rappers hear this song, they will probably just quit”. It is as close to the platonic ideal of hip hop track there is.
- Swim- Surfer Blood Let’s pretend that Weezer went into hiding after releasing Pinkerton. Perhaps they were frozen in a cryogenic bronzer a la Han Solo. After being saved and regaining both their vision and song writing abilities with none of the terrible decisions around the turn of the century, they could make this song. Except, this song has bongos. Which makes it both a little lamer than vintage Weezer, but also a little more appropriate for summer time lounging.
- Style- Taylor Swift Get over yourself. This song is the greatest pop song of the past decade. There will be no debate. On this, I am unanimous.
All the Best,
The Man About Town
Article Written Listening to: The Best Summer Songs of the Past 5 Years
Please comment below with your own additions, subtractions, or quarrels.