Its August in Detroit, and things are about where they usually are. The Lions are finishing up training camp, the Tigers are fighting for .500, and the three-digit heat index is a certified bear. Musically, windows are down, systems are up, and everyones jamming to ... Doug FM? WTF? Around the corner from Labor Day, and no completely inescapable, dumps-like-a-truck Summer Jam?
This shits B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
A grown-up take on the playground throwdown, Gwen Stefanis Hollaback Girl definitely wins the prize for catchphrase of the summer. But its Neptunes-supplied fife and drum corps beat is way too polarizing. It might sit high on Billboards Hot 100, but Hollaback wont bust through to the wedding reception set.
And thats just one place a true Summer Jam must go. Receptions, christenings, nursing home dayrooms sure, the track starts its reign in the club, but it rises to power with the people. Thats why classic summer songs are always pop-oriented. On the surface theyre sexified: Crazy in Love and Hot in Herre; even Will Smiths bright plastic Miami brought some sweaty exuberance to 1998. But underneath the hot and bother theyre custom-built for mass appeal. In 2003, the hard-blowing horn sample from Crazy in Love was like being ass-whipped by a giant exclamation point. It didnt matter if you were Shawn Carter or Jimmy Carter Beyoncé reduced you to a frothy mess.
But thats so two years ago. In 2005 radio is a non-factor in breaking singles. Locally, 93.1 is history, replaced by a numbing khaki robot named Doug. And despite strong ratings for Clear Channels Channel 95.5 and FM 98 WJLB, neither station is spinning anything with truly visceral, lasting appeal. And in that, Mimi might save the day.
Admit it: Mariah Careys We Belong Together is the jam of summer 2005. The second single from Emancipation of Mimi climbed steadily at Billboard, just like Mariahs singles used to do, and as of Aug. 18th it was number one on the Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop charts. You obviously agree that its a great song, but if radios a non-factor then the charts are irrelevant. We all know its the intangibles that make a summer single anyway, those untraceable currents that grab the heart and feet, and despite not being an anthem, We Belong Together is that rousing. Its straightforward, heartfelt and classy. Mariah pleads with her departed lover When you left I lost a part of me/Its still so hard to believe and the songs gentle R&B roll is perfectly understated, built from a few piano chords and a slowed-down So So Def rhythm. (It was co-written and produced by Jermaine Dupri.) It has a homebody quality, almost like an autumn song would you can imagine a split-up couple singing it quietly, separately, as the world goes on around them. Shes on a porch with tea; hes stuck in traffic when he finds Mariah on the radio. It even cleverly references that feel, with Mariah finding the Bobby Womack and Babyface songs on her radio just too tough to hear. Theres no tired I tried to 2-way you retorts, no trash-technology love affair I was at the grocery store and this guy had the same ring tone as you, and I cried. No, theres a classic sensibility to the lyrics and sound of We Belong Together that makes for perfect and perfectly universal pop/R&B songwriting. In other words, its the jam. And theres probably a happy ending, too: Mariahs triumphant octave shift finale makes the songs title an emphatic. Besides, in the video she decides against marrying old-ass Eric Roberts, and thats a huge plus. No one wouldve danced at that reception.Johnny Loftus is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org