Every year Entertainment Weekly tips its readers to what they consider “The Best Summer Songs” of the year. I grew up in the 1970s, the silver age of AM Top 40 radio, and understand what a summer song is: “Beach Baby” by First Class or Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night would be prime examples of songs which defined their respective summers (of 1974 and 1983). Summer songs generally aren’t by big name acts; big summer hits by known artists fall into canons. In summer songs, the season is the star.
For the past decade or so, Entertainment Weekly’s “Summer Songs” lists have frustrated me. For starters, I haven’t heard most of them. Ubiquity is a prerequisite of a summer song—they need to be anthemic, inescapable.
If that hear-it-everywhere rule no longer applies—and in this day of multi-platformed music, it’s impossible to enforce—then I think all the rules of summer songs should be redrafted. The conventional “Summer Songs” lists presume popularity and mainstream-friendlines. They ignore indie music and subgenres.
I knew what my summer song for 2012 would be the first time I heard it, back in February: “No Waves” by FIDLAR.
“No Waves” is fringey, but far from unknown. FIDLAR has been praised by all the hipster rags. SPIN magazine’s online entity offered a free download of “No Waves” when it first came out. Last week the same site premiered a video for the song. I play the song almost every day, and my daughters and I have watched the video (which has an angry young woman lip-syncing the lyrics whilst strolling down a city street) dozens of times.
Several classic ingredients are there: the band is from Southern California. It’s a beach song. It’s catchy as all hell. The band has a devil-may-care attitude. (Their name is apparently an acronym for “Fuck It Dog, Life’s a Risk”). And "No Waves" was released as a single, the age-old format for disposable summer fun songs. The flip side of the 7-incher is “No Ass.” Both are kick-ass (or kick-waves?)
A rant about reaching the end of one's usefulness, tied to a raw repetitive hard-rock riff, "No Waves" is the upstart counterpart to theBeach Boys'"In My Room." Instead of lonely self-remorse, it's a public scream for attention.
Where we really need to relax the “Summer Song” rules is to let punk tunes onto them. There’s a long and vital heritage, perhaps beginning with The Sex Pistols’ “Holidays in the Sun.” I personally have a thing for punk songs about the unlikelihood of surfing, dating back to The Ramones’ Rockaway Beach in ‘77, Boston supergroup The Gremies’ “No Surfing in Dorchester Bay” in 1980 straight through to various recent Queers tracks. There are in fact punkish songs about those who actually can maneuver a surfboard—the entire Surf Punks catalogue (from “My Beach” to “My Wave”) springs to mind—but honestly the imagery works better if the protagonists are hopeless fuck-ups.
New Haven schools let out yesterday. Today is the solstice. Happy summer. Let’s not go surfing.
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