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Summer dreamin' of summer songs

Was Carly Rae Jepsen's 'Call Me Maybe' the summer song of 2012? Or should we consider Frank Ocean's 'Thinkin Bout You'? Or Usher's 'Climax'?

September 02, 2012|By Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
  • Carly Rae Jepsen performs on NBC's "Today" show.
Carly Rae Jepsen performs on NBC's "Today" show. (Charles Sykes / Invision…)

The season of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" is winding down, her so-called "wish in a well" has long been thrown. The addictive ode to obsessive ambivalence, propelled into the heads of millions after a Justin Bieber tweet in the spring, can safely be called the proverbial "song of the summer."

At slumber parties and pool parties, during barbecues, while jogging or making out, in front of YouTube on repeat, remixed and covered thousands of times by amateurs, "Call Me Maybe" has been everywhere. And as such, it joins past season conquests such as Nelly's uproarious "Hot in Herre" from 2002, Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" ('03) and Rihanna's breakout hit, "Umbrella" ('07). But summer hasn't been all roses: Recent years have seen the oppressive dumbness of the Black Eyed Peas, Katy Perry's mindless poses and LMFAO's punch-in-the-head party anthems. And gazing back further, two decades ago summer was all about Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back."

Will Jepsen join Sir Mix-a-Lot and Hoobastank ("The Reason," '04) in history's dustbin? Maybe. "Call Me" was certainly alive with pleasure, but far from a classic, especially considering what else happened this summer in pop music: Frank Ocean, Frank Ocean and Frank Ocean.

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Which is to say, Jepsen's light pop track will likely be more of the "Baby Got Back" variety song fondly recalled but more as an asterisk. Few remember 1992 as the summer of Sir Mix-a-Lot. That was the summer Nirvana's "Nevermind" reigned supreme, and much of non-rocker Los Angeles — and America — was singularly obsessed with Dr. Dre's "The Chronic," which didn't contain a song of the summer so much as a vibe of the summer.

Jepsen's light pop gem is better than "Baby Got Back," but isn't as good as "Hot in Herre," the Neptunes-produced banger about a heat so burning that the singer and his date gotta take their clothes off. Nor does "Call Me Maybe" touch the sheer power of "Crazy in Love." For my money, Nelly Furtado's brilliant Timbaland-produced summer track "Promiscuous," from '06, is so much more dynamic — and empowering — than "Call Me Maybe."

But it certainly does its job: Jepsen has ruled my internal jukebox since I first heard it, and its "Hey, I just met you ..." chorus is rolling around in my head — against my will — as I write this. Like many others around the world, it's been competing for space in there (again, not that I'm happy about it) with Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know."

In the realm of non-Aussie sunroof jams perfect for driving, much cruising was soundtracked by SchoolboyQ and ASAP Rocky's "Hands on the Wheel," which rumbled with more urgency than the season's commercial hip-hop success story, the middling rapper 2 Chainz. My favorite single of summer 2012, the one that I'd place qualitatively higher than any other track, was Usher's searing "Climax," his face-the-facts breakup breakdown. Not a happy song, what's a summer without a little private bummer?

For me, a few different musical moments will remain imprinted in my memory when anyone mentions the summer of '12. The first occurred on July 17 at Ocean's sold out gig at the Wiltern. He'd released "Channel Orange" the day before, and as he came out onstage to big applause, he broke into "Thinkin Bout You," its first single. The song isn't your typical summer anthem. It's hard to sing along to at full volume, the lyrics are jam-packed with syllables and internal rhymes — and there are so many of them.

But as Ocean crooned, nearly the entire theater sang along, illustrating how the thousands had internalized not only the words but every rise and fall of Ocean's singsong phrasing. While tweens and their moms were bouncing to Carly Rae's easily memorized ditty, a generation ahead of them was obsessed with the vast lyrical programming within "Channel Orange," which announced a major new talent with courage to speak the truth.

The other moment happened far removed from the crowds and featured as its soundtrack the Emerson brothers' slow jam "Baby." A 40-year-old song resurrected by both a reissue and a well-timed cover version by L.A. singer Ariel Pink (who released it as the first single on his new record), "Baby" became my singular obsession in June. I thought it was mine alone.

But one gorgeous night as my fiancée and I were walking through my apartment building's courtyard, the Emerson song was on repeat in my head. As that was happening, Donnie Emerson's innocent falsetto drifted out of a neighbor's window, as though we'd conjured it into being. Its presence startled me. This, I had thought, was our song. But leaning against the window was a couple kissing as though the moment were staged. Presented for our enjoyment, "Baby" come to life in West Hollywood.

randall.roberts@latimes.com

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