Summer Songs: Since You Can't Escape Them, Hope To Enjoy Them

It's the time of the season when love for pop music runs high. Summer is officially here, and an unofficial competition is underway to crown 2013's "Song of the Summer." We're talking about those unavoidable pop anthems that are played over and over again on the radio, at the beach and out the window of passing cars. You can't escape them — you can only hope to enjoy them. NPR Music curated a list featuring more than 100 of the hits from the last 50 years.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's the time of the season when love for pop music runs high. Summer is officially here, and an unofficial competition is under way to crown 2013's song of the summer. Now, we're talking about those unavoidable pop anthems that are played over and over again on the radio, at the beach and out the window of passing cars.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT A FEELING")

BLACK EYED PEAS: (Singing) I got a feeling...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RESPECT")

ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) What you want, baby, I got. Ooh. What you need...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNKY TOWN")

LIPPS, INC: (Singing) Won't you take me to funky town? Won't you take me to funky town?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

CORNISH: You can't escape them. You can only hope to enjoy them. NPR Music's Otis Hart has curated a list featuring more than 100 of these hits from the last 50-plus years, and he joins me now to talk about them. Hey there, Otis.

OTIS HART, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So what exactly makes a song of the summer? I mean, what's in the DNA of a song like that?

HART: Well, I think it's got to have that melody that you can't get out of your head, whether you like it or not. And the song of the summer is something that just rises to the top and becomes ubiquitous. And we try to actually go back, look at the singles' chart from 1962 on, look at what was popular, what peaked during June through August of each year. So this wasn't really us saying, hey, this is our favorite song of the summer. It was these were the songs that actually dominated every summer from 1962 through now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LOCOMOTION")

CORNISH: All right. Give us some examples because I see 1962. It's "The "Locomotion."

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: So I've got to know from then on, where do we go? What's a good song that fits the bill?

HART: Well, you know, I always equate the summer to high temperatures, you know, and bikinis and beachwear. And one song that really pops when you sort of take that into consideration is Nelly's "Hot in Here" from 2002. I personally (unintelligible)...

CORNISH: A classic in some circles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT IN HERE")

NELLY: (Singing) I said it's getting hot in here, so hot, so take off all your clothes...

CORNISH: It's the kind of song that you can't help but sort of nod your head a little, like, at first, you're just nodding your head, then your shoulders and then maybe you're dancing appropriately.

HART: Maybe your derriere.

CORNISH: Yeah. Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOT IN HERE")

NELLY: (Singing) Uh, uh, uh, let it hang all out. Why you at the bar if you ain't popping the bottles?

CORNISH: Now, are all the songs on the list light and pop-py? I mean, are there any summer songs that were political?

HART: I wish that there were more, but there is one that stands out. It's Edwin Starr's 1970 hit "War," which goes to show you just how much the Vietnam War was dominating the American experience at that time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAR")

EDWIN STARR: (Singing) War, huh, yeah. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Uh-huh. War, huh, yeah. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again, you all. War, huh...

CORNISH: And it's somehow catchy a song even though it's fairly intense, right? Like, you can't get that that punchy war out of your mind once that song starts playing. All right. So we got to get to the songs of this summer. And I'm probably getting a sense from the charts that it's possibly Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" or Daft Punk's "Get Lucky." Or maybe there's something we haven't heard yet. I mean, it's only the beginning of July.

HART: Yeah. And especially with the way the Internet works these days, pop stars love to drop stuff without any, you know, warning whatsoever. But at this point, I think Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" seems like the front-runner.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLURRED LINES")

ROBIN THICKE, BYLINE: (Singing) ...blurred lines. I know you want it. I know you want it. I know you want it. But you're a good girl. The way you grab me...

CORNISH: You know, Otis, I feel like I have a love-hate relationship with, like, 90 percent of the songs on your list. And some of these songs are really dated. I mean, do people still want to listen to them?

HART: I wouldn't blame them if they don't want to. There's some really, really bad songs on this list. But as a music nerd myself, I love to hear how popular music has shifted over the last 50 years. You know, there were some really some cheesy hits in the '80s, including Peter Cetera's "Glory of Love."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GLORY OF LOVE")

PETER CETERA: (Singing) Tonight, it's very clear as we're both lying here. There's so many things I want to say.

HART: It's actually the theme song to "Karate Kid" part two. It is the product of the Hollywood machine. You know, there are some other songs on here - actually, two Brian Adams - "Everything I Do, I Do It for You." That was a hit because of the "Robin Hood" film with Kevin Costner. And it just goes to show you how much a great movie can brainwash us into loving a terrible song.

CORNISH: And that makes a lot of sense too, like "Eye of the Tiger" is on here.

HART: Exactly.

CORNISH: Don't talk smack about "Eye of the Tiger," though.

HART: Well, I was going to say don't talk smack about "Flash Dance."

CORNISH: Oh. You have raised me a "Flash Dance."

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLASH DANCE")

IRENE CARA: (Singing) Now, I hear the music, close my eyes, I am rhythm. In a flash, it takes hold of my heart. What a feeling.

CORNISH: Otis Hart at NPR Music, thanks so much for talking with us.

HART: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: And if you want to listen to the entire stream of NPR's songs of the summer, go to nprmusic.org.

HART: Stay cool.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EYE OF THE TIGER")

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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