I’d like to thank Ghosts of the Stratosphere for having me on as a guest editor. This article was super fun to create and I can’t wait to do it again! If they want me back, that is.
In many ways, I’ve been preparing my whole life to write this one single blog entry. Summer jams are my jam and have been for a long time. As a kid, I created piles of mixtapes by recording songs off the radio. For my 8th birthday, my mom gave me a handful of blank cassette tapes so I would stop recording over her coveted and numerous Meatloaf albums. This painstaking process required hours of patience listening to a single radio station just waiting for the broadcaster to announce they were going to play Sugar Ray’s “Every Morning” before smashing the record button in hopes that I didn’t miss that iconic opening guitar riff. This rite of passage from the ’90s created a special place in my heart for summer jams because those summer mixtapes had to be earned. Because the mixtape creation process is now far easier, hours can be spent on the curation of said mixtapes instead of wasting time on the creation of media. The intention of this list is to broaden your horizons as to what type of music can be a Summer Jam and if I’ve done my job right, it will have you cranking the volume to 11 and jamming along with me.
The Curation Process: Before we get the list started, there are some stipulations I put on the songs that made this list. Stipulation 1: These summer jams do not have to be about summer, but the list does require the song to possess a certain dare-I-say indefinable energy that comes along with summertime. That energy could be “music to crash your car to,” or “best songs to start a mosh pit in the grocery store fruit section,” or simply “beach tunes” written in such a way as to imply that “beach” is a substitute for the word “bitch.” Stipulation 2: For the purposes of originality, I have done my best to avoid songs that were specifically created to get radio play as the calendar days tick towards June (i.e.: “All Summer Long” by Kid Rock or “Springsteen” by Eric Church, among others). Stipulation 3: These songs have a personal significance to me. Like a musical drug dealer, I’ve been pushing these track as songs that need to be heard by more people; either on hand-recorded cassette tapes, copious amounts of mix CD’s created for friends and girlfriends, or on 15+ Spotify playlists containing the words “summer” or “jam” in various orders. You are my latest subject and I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize in advance for my unbridled enthusiasm. Lastly dear reader, because I hate myself, I will be putting these in order. Here. We. Go.
Number 10: Seventy Times 7 by Brand New
Brand New is an enigma of a band that started out making some of the best pop-punk music of the early 2000s before moving into other genres. This track off their first studio album titled Your Favorite Weapon is one I have spent hours shouting along to in my car. The song starts with a crash of guitars and cymbals and continues its breakneck pace for almost two full minutes. Former Taking Back Sunday band member Jesse Lacey’s lyrics spoke to my angry and angsty teen soul when I first heard this track in middle school. Songs about loss and betrayal are nothing new, but the violent (mostly screamed) lyrics combined with the ferocity of the music create a harmonious cacophony that is unmatched to this day. On top of that, this song has one of the best breakdowns of all time. Starting around the 1:45 mark, most of the other instruments fade out and the bassline drums on as Lacey speaks a set of lines that became my MySpace tagline for years:
So is that what you call a getaway?
Tell me what you got away with
‘Cause I’ve seen more spine in jellyfish
I’ve seen more guts in eleven-year-old kids
So have another drink and drive yourself home
I hope there’s ice on all the roads
And you can think of me when you forget your seat belt
And again when your head goes through the windshield
The pace of the song builds back up from this point and it ends with a frantic intensity that gets me to literally scream along every time I hear it.
Number 9: “Only for a Moment” by Arkells
Track 4 on Arkells 2018 album Rally Cry stands out from other songs on this list because the bounciness of the music is countered with a seriousness in the lyrics. The song resonates because it paints a very relatable situation that is tinged with sadness. The person in the song receives terrible news that has them down and out “for a couple weeks.” The situation becomes clearer in the verses of the song as the person is told by a doctor “this might run in the family, so we’ll be keeping an eye.” But the playful chorus is where the song really comes alive and it’s what makes this song a summer jam staple. The chorus is all about setting aside the situation presented in the verses for a night of dancing and karaoke with friends. The song stays grounded by not advocating completely forgetting your situation, just for a momentary reprieve if you’ve got a case of summertime blues.
Number 8: “Thrash Unreal” by Against Me!
I have absolutely no idea how I missed the release of this song from alternative-punk darlings Against Me! in 2007. This song is one of their most popular tracks and it’s catchy as hell. The song is like the gritty reboot of Bowling for Soup’s smash hit “1985” and simultaneously the antithetical summertime equivalent of “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s a mashup I didn’t even know I wanted. While the lyrics in “1985” are funny and playful, this song asks, “What if this were as fucked up as real life?” The song is about a woman who is quickly approaching middle age and is constantly “mixed up with the wrong guys, messed up on the wrong drugs,” but unlike those other tracks, she revels in her own self-destruction. By the time the actual chorus kicks in at the 1:55 mark, the story has you both invested in the outcome and want to yell along with singer Tom Gabel as he screams about redemption (or lack thereof), what it’s like being a junkie and sleeping alone. Sadness be damned! This track is a banger.
Number 7: “S.O.S. (Sawed-off Shotgun)” by The Glorious Sons
I had the privilege of seeing The Glorious Sons in 2017 as the opening act at a packed-house hole-in-the-wall bar that could only legally have about 150 people. Being a step away from singer Brett Emmons as the crowd yelled along to this song made that a night to remember. However, this track would make this list regardless of that. The rhythm of the drums and plucky guitar combined with the subject of the song being fed-up with his lot in life give this song a call-to-action feel that is unlike anything on this list. The lyrics contain a message of strife and struggle that is relatable to everyone, but it’s the catchiness that will have you singing it for days. While the song seems to condone violence as an escape for one’s situation, the band released an open letter of sorts that helps the listener to understand the track isn’t really about the act of buying a sawed-off shotgun, but rather it’s about feeling like that’s the only option you have left and how that feeling affects people on a day to day basis.
Number 6: “What Baby Wants Ft. Kesha” by Alice Cooper
It is a God-damned travesty this song has less than 400k plays on Spotify and the highest played YouTube video of this song was somehow just released in March of 2020 and has less than 1,500 views at the time of this writing. Seriously. I absolutely adore Alice Cooper and it’s because of his 2011 album Welcome 2 My Nightmare (meant to be a sequel to 1977’s Welcome to My Nightmare). The theatricality in this borderline concept album is second to none and this track is just one of the standouts. The duet features Cooper and Kesha trading trash talk during its second verse and has them both in a chorus that is as haunting as it is likable. According to Cooper, Kesha’s lyrics had to be toned down for the album because she “wrote the most disgusting lyrics in the song.” I know what you’re thinking, “Ryan, get the fuck out of here. Cooper and Kesha? That’s gotta be a train wreck,” but I say unto you reader: Listen and prepare to be amazed because it’s a fucking masterpiece.
Number 5: “Still Fly” by Big Tymers
In 2002 when Big Tymer’s best album Hood Rich came out, I was in 6th grade. I am from a small town in Michigan. My school had exactly 4 black kids, 3 of which were from the same family. I had a belt buckle that said “redneck” and would occasionally wear a straw cowboy hat to school dances or football games. My dad taught me to drive a tractor before I could drive a car. You get the idea. This upbringing is what helped “Still Fly” become a summertime jam for me because it’s about so many things that my boring life wasn’t. I had no idea what a “Gucci suit” looked like or why these gentlemen “having everything in [their] mama name” was notable enough to be made a song lyric. But those things did not stop me from loving every single second of this track or from later installing subwoofers in my ’99 Pontiac Grand Am to really enjoy it to the fullest. My friends and I would sing this in the shower of gym class, taking turns to see who could remember the most lyrics. The bassline and stretched chorus are brilliant and unique. In fact… I might go buy some gator boots right now…
Number 4: “Everywhere I Go” by Hollywood Undead
As a band, Hollywood Undead takes the rap-rock formula created by Limp Bizkit and builds on it by adding a layer of obscenity on the same level as Insane Clown Posse. This track from their 2007 album Swan Songs is horrid, disgusting, offensive, and is ultimately one of the best party songs ever created. Band member Charlie Scene takes the boisterous lead on this track that weaves a tale of a life spent being a drunken asshole with a propensity for making women’s panties drop. Hollywood Undead has never been a band that takes themselves too seriously and this sarcastic masterpiece of a song has a danceable drumbeat that gives any song on this list a run for its money. It’s not a deep, thought-provoking track and it’s not meant to be. It’s a track for PARTYING in every sense of the word.
Number 3: “Sasha Don’t Sleep” by The Dance Party
This track is from a brilliant and little known 2010 album called Touch by Maryland-based band The Dance Party. Any summer jams mixtape would be remiss if it did not include at least one dance-rock track from the late 2000s/early 2010s, but this track stands head and shoulders above more popular entries in the genre from that timeframe. It’s absolutely electric. The song and music video follows Sasha through various events in her life and, as you might imagine, Sasha just wants to DANCE. Squealing lead guitar, groovy bassline, and a synthesizer culminate in an urgency to the music. Combined with Mick Coogan’s dynamic vocals, this track falls somewhere in between Cobra Starship and Queen. I recommend this entire album to anyone that likes this track, but even standing alone, this is a summer jam if I’ve ever heard one.
Number 2: “You Get What You Give” by New Radicals
You might not recognize the band name, but you will almost certainly recognize this song if you were born before 1994. The lead single from New Radical’s 1998 album Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too, this track was all over the radio upon its release. Remember those blank cassette tapes I mentioned? This is one of the tracks spent hours listening for on the radio. In 1999, you were likely to find me walking down a tractor trail next to a cornfield with my Sony Walkman in hand rocking as hard as any 9-year-old possibly could. The melody in this song is second to none and the way the piano and guitar parts build towards the chorus is superb. It’s sweet without being saccharine, upbeat without being bullish, and hopeful without being smothering. I laud frontman Gregg Alexander’s ability to convey all of this is a pop song. As cliched as it sounds, this song is the song that made me love music. It, uh, put the music in me, as it were.
Number 1: “Hanginaround” by Counting Crows
It was incredibly difficult to get to this point. I debated for almost an hour which track should be number one and even as I write this and I playback this list, I still waffle on what should be first. But I am confident the lead track Counting Crows 1999 album This Desert Life belongs at the forefront of this list. From the beginning seconds of the opening drum line to the simulated audience claps (complete with a man in the crowd yelling “I LOVE IT!”) and then onto one of the grooviest guitar riffs of any song on this list, there’s a lot to love about this track. According to lead singer Adam Duritz, the song is for anyone that has ever been stuck in a loop in their life. The man in the song knows he’s “gotta get out,” but he stuck. While this message could easily lead to much more somber track, the conclusion of the song is to enjoy what you’re doing when you’re doing it and don’t worry about what you will think about yourself later. While this is not 100% inspirational, it does lead to the best song that might not yet be on your summer favorites list. Also, how is this not everyone’s favorite Counting Crows song? How do people from all walks of life, all ages not just listen to this song everywhere on repeat on the first day of summer? I don’t get people. I probably never will.
If you like the way I order in which I string words together, you can hear me speak these words and many others on the Crazy Train of Thought podcast. It all about video games, movies, and rants. Available at www.crazytrainofthought.com and anywhere you get your podcasts.
Want to hear the other songs that almost made this list? Follow this Spotify playlist: