Not that it’s any big surprise but, as of Sept. 6, it’s official: Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” is the song of the summer of 2012. Billboard tracked overall performances on the Hot 100 since June 9, and the infectious pop song landed at No. 1, ahead of Maroon 5’s “Payphone” and Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” And the summer-song charting doesn’t stop there. The definitive chart source also provides a top-1o summer songs list that goes back to 1985 and a top 30 songs about the season.
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But why does summer get special treatment?
Part of the reason is that summer is tied to the history of rock music, says Larry Starr, a professor of music history at the University of Washington and co-author of the book American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MTV. “It became much more of a thing with the advent of rock and roll and in the 1950s and the development of an enormous teen audience for record buying, for whom the summer was a vacation period,” he says. “With that target of the market, you get all sorts of records that are addressed to school kids.” Starr points to the 1958 Eddie Cochran classic “Summertime Blues”—which happens to be the first song, chronologically, on that Billboard top-30 of the genre—as one of the earliest examples of such a song: music about summer vacation and how you want to spend it.
But at this point it’s very possible that there’s no special something that says “summer” about a song. Starr conjectures that the category of beach-specific music—about the beach and for the beach, preferably by people on or near or named after the beach—may be responsible for the upbeat nature of the ideal summer song but notes that the sub-genre doesn’t really exist anymore. Now that summer music is something set apart, the lyrics didn’t have to mention the season by name. “Call Me Maybe” takes place on a “hot night,” but that’s as far as it goes. Starr also says that another component of the summer song’s history is access to record stores, and when in the year high-schoolers have money, time and proximity to music, which doesn’t really matter anymore either. “In the age of the Internet, that’s irrelevant,” he says. “It would have been a consideration in the days when you had to go to a record store.” (Christmas has its own thing going on too, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of eggnog.) When access to music is an all-the-time thing, any season could theoretically have its own pop anthem—and if it’s all just a matter of timing, we should be able to guess what the “song of the fall” could be.
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So, using “Call Me Maybe” as a model, what might become the song of autumn 2012? In early June, “Call Me Maybe” was already in the top 10 of the Hot 100 chart, gaining ground but not yet peaking at the top spot. The songs in a parallel early-September spot are:
- Maroon 5’s “One More Night”
- Ellie Goulding’s “Lights”
- fun.’s “Some Nights”
- Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks”
- Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake”
- Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Good Time”
- Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me,” featuring Big Sean
“Call Me Maybe” had already been on the charts for about a dozen weeks by summer’s official start, but many of the above have already clocked many months more on the chart and likely won’t make it to playlists for Halloween parties. That leaves:
- “One More Night”
- “Wide Awake”
- “Good Time”
- “As Long As You Love Me”
We’re going to nix Katy Perry from the list, as the only artist in the final four whose song is not in the top 10 for the digital-downloads chart or the on-demand chart (which tracks radio requests and subscription services); “Call Me Maybe” was at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, the week of June 9. We’re also eliminating “Good Time” from contention due to a summer-centric video and dropping-your-phone-in-the-pool lyrics.
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So who has the edge, Maroon 5 or Bieber? Both songs have end-of-relationship themes. Both are danceable, an advantage in a season that typically comes with fewer opportunities for advancement in the Jepsen-perfected car-singing genre. Both have dark videos in which outerwear is worn, and both videos feature memories of happier summer days. Bieber gets points for choreography; dancing along to “Call Me Maybe” was a big part of the song’s appeal.
But our money’s on “One More Night”: it’s a closer match with Jepsen’s June chart performance and its competitor shows signs of slippage. Plus, if you ask us, it’s a clear winner in the all-important earworm and sing-ability categories. Take a listen and see if you agree—and then wait a few months to see if we’re right.