And music this past decade has seen the return of the single, and that includes the Summer Jam, that song that's everywhere, in streets and clubs when school's out.

NPR's Music's Frannie Kelley tells us what it takes to make one.

FRANNIE KELLEY: In 2008, the battle to rule the summer was typical � a knock-down, drag-out between hip hop...

(Soundbite of song, "Put On")

YOUNG JEEZY (Hip-Hop Artist): (Singing) I put on for my city on, on for my city. I put on for my city on, on for my city. Put on...

KELLEY: Something that sounded new.

(Soundbite of song, "Paper Planes")

M.I.A. (Pop band): (Singing) I'll fly like a paper, get high like planes. Catch me at the border, I got visas in my name.

KELLEY: And soulful pop.

(Soundbite of song, "American Boy").

ESTELLE (Pop singer) (Singing) Take me on a trip, I'd like to go some day. Take me to New York, I'd love to see L.A. I really want to...

KELLEY: There are some common threads between those songs: They sound good loud, even out of a passing truck; they're sexy; they either are or use elements of hip-hop, arguably the most popular music of our time. And those singles sold better than the albums they came from.

Singles sales weren't even counted by Nielsen SoundScan in 2000, they were so negligible. Remember, they were on CDs, cassettes or vinyl back then. The launch of the iPod and iTunes the following year began to change that. In 2004, Nielsen began recording digital sales. And by 2006, digital singles outsold physical CDs.

(Soundbite of song, "Dance Like This")

WYCLEF JEAN (Musician): (Singing) I never really knew that she could dance like this. She makes a man want to speak Spanish. Como se llama, si, Bonita, si, mi casa, su casa, Shakira, Shakira...

KELLEY: Sales, commercial airplay and release dates matter, but ultimately we the people decide what becomes a summer jam. It's an agreement, really � a handshake between millions of us.

If the lady who sells you iced coffee every morning sings along with it on the radio, if you're dancing to it even if it's 110 degrees out and the breeze died hours ago, if you walk in on a group of strangers singing it a cappella and they pass you the invisible mic when they hit the second verse, then that's the summer jam.

(Soundbite of song, "Can't Get You Out Of My Head")

Ms. KYLIE MINOGUE (Singer): La la la la la. I just can't get you out of my head. Boy your loving is all I think about I...

KELLEY: This song was played by so many people so many times, an argument could be made that it was the summer jam of both 2001 and 2002.

Some years, the summer jam is obvious. In 2007, Rihanna's "Umbrella" coolly destroyed all comers and sold over 300,000 downloads.

RIHANNA (Musician): (Singing) Now that it's raining more than ever. Know that we'll still have each other. You can stand under my umbrella. You can stand under my umbrella, ella, ella, eh, eh, eh. Under my umbrella, ella, ella, eh, eh.

KELLEY: Your song of the summer can depend on where you live. If you spent time in D.C. in 2004, you heard this even more than you heard Usher.

(Soundbite of song, "Pieces of Me")

RARE ESSENCE (Go-Go Band): (Singing) Fall, with you I fell so fast. I can hardly catch my breath. I hope it last. Oh.

KELLEY: Who knows what the summer jam will be in 2010? It could already be written. It could be sung by somebody we haven't even heard yet. Whoever really wants to take the heavyweight belt, though, ought to aim for the best song they can possibly be make and just forget about an album.

(Soundbite of song, "Crazy in Love")

Ms. BEYONCE KNOWLES (Musician): (Singing) Got me looking so crazy right now, your touch, got me looking so crazy right now. Got me looking so crazy right now, your touch, got me looking so crazy right now. Got me hoping you'll page me right now, your kiss, got me hoping you'll save me right now...

STEVE INSKEEP: Frannie Kelley is an editor with NPR Music. And you can tell us which song you would pick as the summer jam of 2009 by going to

(Soundbite of song, "Crazy in Love")

Ms. KNOWLES: (Singing) Got me looking so crazy right now. Your love's got me looking so crazy right now. Got me looking so crazy right now your touch's got me looking so crazy right now. Got me hoping you page me right now your kiss, got me hoping you save me right now.


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