We are going to figure this out, tournament style.
Hello, internet. It’s us, your friends at Noisey. We decided to determine the greatest summer jam since 1980, tournament style. After a Round One that was tabulated by our resident goofball Luke Winkie, we decided to open the tournament up to voting from a panel of elite Internet Explorers and mage-level Netscape Navigators so that we might bring a sense of professionalism and objectivity to such a precise and scientific quest.
Because what is a “summer jam,” anyways? Is it a song that dominated the summer it was released in? Is it a song that only sounds good when it’s over 85 degrees out? Verily, nay. The summer jam is an ineffable beast; a riddle wrapped inside of an enigma wrapped inside a hook so obvious and dumb that whoever wrote them invariably deserves a MacArthur Genius Grant. It’s nostalgic but somehow casts an eye towards a better future. It’s not necessarily sexual, but when deployed correctly, the summer jam makes everyone within earshot a minimum of 10% sexier.
Some housekeeping before we get to the winners: Last round, people on the internet complained that lots of these songs didn’t come out in the summer, and that the songs we picked from the 80’s were arbitrary and that we left out actual genuine summer jams from the era. To these notions, we scoff. The summer jam is about living in the now; it doesn’t matter when a summer jam was released as long as it truly and unequivocally jams in the summer. In the galaxy of the summer jam, the past only exists to mine from so that your summer of now may shine brighter. Destroy your idols. Fuck Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.” The Ataris’ version is better, anyways.
Onto the brackets:
Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” vs. Solange Knowles’ “Losing You”
Winner: “Get Lucky”
Sorry, Solange. I know you're Beyonce's sister and all—and believe me, we're not the kind of people who take pop royalty lightly—but "Losing You" stood about the same amount of chance against "Get Lucky" as a college sophomore did actually getting lucky by putting on "Get Lucky" in their dorm room—which is to say: lol. Daft Punk may have convinced us this is a good song by using a brilliant marketing scheme this past Spring that, one day, released a snippet of the catchiest part that got stuck in your head because it is the catchiest part, and then, the next week, released another snippet of the catchiest part that got stuck in your head because it is the catchiest part. But fuck it, right? Summer songs aren't supposed to be "good," they're just supposed to be something you can hum that makes you feel great while you burn yourself grilling hot dogs and drinking 17 Bud Light Lime-a-Ritas. —Eric Sundermann
Cee-Lo Green’s “Fuck You” vs. DJ Khaled, Drake, Rick Ross, and Lil Wayne’s “I’m On One”
Winner: “I’m On One”
With all due respect to Cee-Lo Green and his perfect imperfections, “Fuck You” was dead in the water against the icy hot perfection of “I’m On One.” Based around a synth line that rolls in deliberate and true like an arrow of truth launched from the bow of Ted Nugent, “I’m On One” is the sort of summer song that makes you feel like you can actually accomplish anything. Drake, Rick Ross, and Lil Wayne might be rapping about their outstanding achievements in the field of excellence, but through the transitive property of swag, their greatness becomes yours. This song is so luxurious it transforms every car it blasts out of into a yacht. – Drew Millard
Japandroids’ “The House that Heaven Built” vs. Carlie Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe”
Winner: “Call Me Maybe”
Don't blame me, blame summer. Summer's all box fans and baseball. It's every bead of condensation on the side of a soda-pop, and if you don't drink that refreshing soda-pop it gets all clammy in your hand and you forget about it and whoops it's fall. Nice warm soda-pop, dork. Ideally, summer is not the time for screaming from the top of a mountain or a castle about how the next person that loves you will love in your ex's shadow. Summer is the time for stumbling up to someone, twisting your toe into the dirt, and entering your number in their phone with a non-flirty emoji next to your name (the squid, the pear, the "COOL" sign). Summer is about The Game and sending someone a flirty text, putting your phone away, and giving a huge beaming smile to no one in particular. Save the bittersweet resolve and star-crossed lovers bit for spring. While Japandroids were doing home improvement, Jepson went out and got summer's number. - Jeremy D. Larson
Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together” vs. Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass”
Winner: “Super Bass”
So these are both like the girliest songs on this entire list. I'm almost positive that these are the only two songs here that my 12-year-old stepsister knows every word to, and hearing the sleepover-singalong versions of both songs multiple times has provided me with great insight as to why "We Are Never Getting Back Together" can never qualify as an actual "summer jam." First of all, there's the screeching. Doesn't summer usher in enough screeching without giving people more reasons to screech? Personally, I try to discourage people from making that terrible "wheee-EEEE!" sound, but this song makes it totally permissible and I refuse to participate in that. Then there's the completely miserable lyrics about being broken up with. Oh, you didn't know that's what the song was about? Yeah, I couldn't hear anything over the screeching either. But no, the lyrics are fucking dismal. Like, do you think I want to drive around in my car with the windows down shouting about how my relationship is a mess? No. I'm going to do it anyway, of course, but I don't need Taylor Swift enabling me.
"Super Bass," however, is endlessly entertaining if only for the way you have to listen to it 400 times in a row because you REALLY NEED to be able to rap along with every word. "Super Bass" makes you wish you knew a boy with a booming system who might sell coke and don't even gotta try to put the mack on. Selena Gomez covered "Super Bass" on YouTube. "Super Bass" is the CLEAR winner here." – Kitty Pryde
M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” vs. Outkast’s “Hey Ya”
Winner: “Hey Ya”
The cultural Twitterati have spent enough time playing with the concept of SUMMER JAMS for a sort of consensus methodology to emerge, a way for listeners at large to rank said hot jams internally or for frisky editorial boards to put together a feature. It's pretty simple, really: dream up a bunch of quantifiable or semi-quantifiable criteria (Chart success! "Quotability!" "Summery vibes!") and toss them in a weighted matrix, toss that matrix into a bracket (hi Luke), and juke the stats so your favorite song comes out on top. Here's the thing: all of that is unnecessary, because all you need to find a given year's summer jam is the Mom Test.
Like a lot of other elegant, powerful rules, the Mom Test is simple. Imagine your mom, or perhaps the Mom: a standard middle-aged maternal figure who rocks the adult contemporary station up in the Dodge Grand Caravan and really gets down maybe once a year, closer to a folk tale character than anyone's actual mother. Now, ask yourself: what song would truly inspire the Mom to wild out? You know what I mean: fingers drumming on the steering wheel, head bobbing back and forth, nailing every word and sneaking in an, "Oh, I LOVE this song!" If a track sends the Mom to that plane of existence, it passes the test and it's a verified summer jam.
So we can evaluate "Hey Ya" and "Paper Planes" using the pseudocriteria mentioned above for shits and giggles, or to verify our final results. "Hey Ya" topped the Billboard charts for nine straight weeks in 2003-2004, while "Paper Planes" embarked on a slow climb to a peak of #4 in 2008. "Shake it like a Polaroid picture" singlehandedly revived a legacy brand, and "Paper Planes" has a bunch of gunshots and a cash register as its calling cards. But all we really need to do is think of the Mom. She might know a couple lines from the "Paper Planes" chorus, and she might recall the beat if you give her a prod like, "Remember this one?" But put on "Hey Ya" on the second half of a lengthy errands run and she'll come alive: handclaps, full gestures, hair flips, the whole nine yards. She will sing multiple parts on each run through the chorus and she'll know at least 80% of the lyrics in the verses and bridge. She might be passingly familiar with "Paper Planes," but she will BODY "Hey Ya," and that tells you everything you need to know. - Jamieson Cox
Slim Thug, Paul Wall and Mike Jones’ “Still Tippin’” vs. Electric Six’s “Danger! High Voltage!!”
Winner: Slim Thug and Mike Jones’ “Still Tippin’”
I just went and listened to "Danger! High Voltage!" because I hadn't before, and I can safely say that it would sound great in a shampoo commercial for cool moms and that's about it. "Still Tippin'" would also sound great in a shampoo commercial if the shampoo was made of codeine and you washed your hair in a 1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass (cool moms optional). When a friend bought me the Who Is Mike Jones? CD for my birthday, I spent the summer playing "Still Tippin'" on repeat in my mom's used 2005 Lexus RX 330. More often than not, she was in the car with me; in a few weeks she had memorized the hook and a few of the lines. Listening to a middle-aged Dominican lady attempt to imitate Slim Thug's deep Houston drawl when he says "blowing on that endo, GameCube Nintendo" is probably one of the most rewarding memories of my youth and an excellent example of good parenting. It's a testament to the universal brilliance of this record—the combination of Salih Williams' monolithic, lurching production with Slim Thug, Mike Jones, and Paul Wall's now-classic verses make "Still Tippin'" the obvious winner here.
Kanye West and Jamie Foxx’s “Slow Jamz” vs. Jay-Z and UGK’s “Big Pimpin’”
Winner: “Big Pimpin’”
Sometimes when "Big Pimpin'" plays you're 19. You've just finished your second year of college and you're at a frisbee team party, which is probably NYU's closest equivalent to a frat party. You're in the financial district on someone's 16th-floor patio. Who at NYU lives in the financial district? Who has a 16th-floor patio? You don't know anyone on the frisbee team, but, inexplicably, a huge group of your friends are there. Also your new girlfriend is there! There's some sort of vodka-infused rum in a cooler, for free. So you're just the right level of drunk, and the party's really getting going. You make eye contact with your friend, who looks really cool in his converted muscle tee, and who has somehow become the DJ? A stranger gives you a cigarette and matches. You light it first try and, as you inhale, you hear it. Beats that sound like a yacht honking. That whistle. "It's big pimpin', baby." And then everyone starts dancing.
In my experience, that never happens during "Slow Jamz.” – Hanson O’Haver
MGMT’s “Kids” vs. R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)”
Winner: “Ignition (Remix)”
I can admit that "Kids" is an objectively ideal indie pop song, the perfect soundtrack to eating a picnic from the Whole Foods salad bar in a park with your boo, sharing some laughs, perhaps a kiss on the cheek. But here we must separate the boys from the men, so to speak. Insects and families of trees are pretty cool, but hey, you know what's really cool? Getting super drunk off rum and cokes all night, going to a hotel, and getting your smash on. Also, vehicular sex metaphors. It's the freakin weekend, nerd, go crawl in the grass some other time. Kells forever. – Meaghan Garvey
Sublime’s “What I Got” vs. Tupac and Dr. Dre’s “California Love”
Winner: “California Love”
I will not pretend to be happy about this. “What I Got” was my favorite from the beginning. I do not believe a single soul in my high school didn't own a Sublime shirt. “Love is, what I got” might be the most easily repeatable thing in practically every situation or scenario known to mankind. If Taco Bell was a guitar, it’d probably sound a lot like “What I Got.”
But the “California Love” video has dune buggies in it.
That’s pretty awesome, dune buggies are pretty awesome, and no matter the highs that “What I Got” might hit, it doesn’t eclipse riding a dune buggy and listening to “California Love.” Sublime exiting this competition proves that even gods can fall to greater gods. – Luke Winkie
DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat” vs. Warren G and Nate Dogg’s “Regulate”
Summer is the season for bangin'. I know this because my brother took AP Biology and sometimes he would tell me about it. While "Let Me Clear My Throat" is the quintessential jam for toeing the line between satirical B-Boying and pseudo-ironic racism, "Regulate" has that undeniable groove that makes you slither your pelvis on another person and hope that your special bits match up with their special bits in whatever way pleases you. Plus, the ladies get all hot and bothered when they hear the bass line because the way the fingers hit the strings remind them of the way fingers hit a clitoris. At least that's what my brother said. – Taystee
Blink 182’s “All the Small Things” vs. Ginuwine’s “Pony”
Technically, Ginuwine's "Pony" is a better summer song than Blink 182's "All The Small Things" because it was actually released in the summer (August); "All The Small Things" was released rightthefuck in the dead and dark of winter (January). Aesthetically (or aurally, I guess), it's better because: it's sexier, it's sleeker, and it's sung by a man that kind of sounds like a woman vs. sung by men that sound like boys (women, largely, are more attracted to other women than they are 9-year-olds). Additionally, "Pony" is a sex soundtrack, and the whole point of summer is to try and get someone to have sex with you. Thus: "Pony" rules, "All The Small Things" drool. – Shea Serrano
Third Eye Blind’s “Semi Charmed Life” vs. Len’s “Steal My Sunshine”
Winner: "Steal My Sunshine"
I've stood in a field filled with thousands of lunkish, schwasted college students screaming along to "Semi Charmed Life," so I understand the song's laddish charms. With its euphemisms about blowjobs and crystal meth, it was a Breaking Bad song a decade early—"Science, bitch!" yells Jesse Pinkman right as that massive riff kicks in, cuing 1-3 minutes of montage cooking. But for the purposes of this tournament, it's not really fair because "Steal My Sunshine" sounds like the summer. Close your eyes and it's all there. Sharon Costanzo's breathy, buoyant voice is a magic hour unto itself, hinting at the season's flirtatious possibilities as the bouncing, skipping-along-the-sidewalk percussion leads us onward. Third Eye Blind is great for drunk singalongs, but Len makes you feel like you're already drunk. – Jeremy Gordon
PLAYBOY/MATERIAL GIRL DIVISION
Guns N Roses’ “Paradise City” vs. Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough”
Winner: Paradise City
Ah, "Just Can't Get Enough," we hardly knew your earworn of a synth bloop line. But when it comes to topping the juggernaut that is Guns N Roses, you're going to need a bigger synth. "Paradise City" comes alive with one of the most memorable and recognizable openings in rock history, that lazy guitar riff and those drums blasting their way into the chorus (you know the one). Yet what truly elevates the song to legendary summer jam status is that it just keeps going and going higher until you think you're exhausted...then it goes up some more. This is the "turn it to 11!" of actual songs: we've got Slash going HAM on what feels like 17 solos, Axl yelping about green grass and pretty girls before he looked like this, and Steven Adler smashing his poor drumset for SEVEN FUCKING MINUTES. This is the song you roll the windows down for as you drive to your own paradise. Yeah, Depeche Mode, you had no chance. – Luis Paez-Pumar
Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” vs. Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”
Winner: “Blister in the Sun”
"Blister in the Sun" isn't a better song than "Wanna Be Starting Something." Let's settle that right away. One is a cult smash, the other kicks off Thriller, but grading a summer jam is about more than objective quality. The crux of these records is the life they bring to a specific moment. Michael Jackson's music has, no doubt, been a crucial addition to many parties and social gatherings, but sometimes he's just too perfect and obvious of a playlist choice. It's like throwing on Ben Hur anytime someone's chilling at your house and wants to watch a movie. Playing Michael Jackson can be a little daunting. On the contrary, the opening notes of "Blister in the Sun" almost alleviate a crowd's anxiety. There's a comfortable silliness in that riff and lyrics like, "When I'm walking, I strut off my stuff" that brings people together. Put on "Blister" and half the people in your vicinity start drunkenly slapping tables to recreate the beat, while singing along. There's not the pressure of a flawless dance or singalong to a Great Song like "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." "Blister in the Sun" is about letting yourself go. That's what a summer jam is all about. – Ernest Baker
Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen” vs. Wang Chung’s “Everybody Have Fun Tonight”
Winner: “Come On Eileen”
The fact that a dude as ornery as Kevin Rowland wrote a song as jolly as “Come On Eileen”—and paired it with some motherfucking dungarees—proves that not only is the English band’s hit a true summer jam but also a true summer gem. Because most of the time, these guys were just truly pissed off. K. Rowl sang songs shading every famous literary figure from the U.K. (Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, George Bernard Shaw, etc.) as well as his hometown musical heroes (Sex Pistols, Deep Purple) and by the end of Dexys’ career, refused to talk to the press or put out singles. Even his love songs were mad—he once sang about his lover by literally contrasting her against the English upper class (whom he describes as “thick and ignorant”). But by some form of miracle, out of that irate Englishman birthed “Come On Eileen”—the happiest song you ever did hear—which still inspires a chummy chant-along of “Too-rye-ay!” at pubs, even today. It also inspires slamming down one too many beers, which only makes this song all the more summer jammy. – Kristen Yoonsoo Kim
Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams” vs. Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Right Round”
Winner: “You Make My Dreams”
The thing that no ‘80s-themed campus party ever gets right is that the ‘80s were not a glamorous time to be alive. The ‘80s were corny as fuck. Ronald Reagan was the corniest dude to ever poop in the Oval Office. Michael Jackson had a pet chimp that he brought on press junkets and everyone thought that was a stable thing for a human to be doing. Alf was one of the biggest shows on TV. It was basically 1986’s Breaking Bad.
Judging by the way we see the ‘80s now—as a lipstick-glossed cocaine party built on neon leg warmers—you’d think the obvious summer jam choice here is “You Spin Me Right Round.” You’d be wrong. “You Make My Dreams” is the winner here, by a mile, and largely because the way Daryl Hall combed his hair in 1981 is more “‘80s” than a pile of Thriller cassettes. Summer jams from 30 years ago should be judged solely on their ability to soundtrack period romantic comedies, and there is no doubt that “You Make My Dreams” will still be in movies about love and the 1980s in 2154, when we’re all terrorist half-robots like Matt Damon in Elysium. – Andrew Winistorfer
Thanks to the Illustrious Summer Jam voting panel. Click their names, and you will be taken to their Twitter pages, where you should follow them:
Andrew Winistorfer - @thestorfer
Kristen Yoonsoo Kim - @kristenyoonsoo
Ernest Baker - @ernestbaker_
The Kid Mero - @THEKIDMERO
Maria Sherman - @mariasherm
Eric Sundermann - @ericsundy
Luke Winkie - @luke_winkie
Luis Paez-Pumar - @paezpumarL
Jeremy Gordon - @jeremypgordon
Jeremy Larson - @jeremydlarson
Shea Serrano - @sheaserrano
Sasha Hecht - @sashahecht
Kitty Pryde - @kittaveli
Meaghan Garvey - @moneyworth
Hanson O'Haver - @hansonohaver
Gabriel Herrera - @gabrielherrera
Jamieson Cox - @jamiesoncox
Drew Millard - @drewmillard