Noise of summer
These summer jams show how the 1990s made us dumberer
Published: August 15, 2012
The millennial generation is lucky. When they go out, the earbuds go in. They don't have to listen to the radio, and even get to laugh at a dying recording industry that can't force-feed them "hits."
But it seems like just yesterday it was different. Walking around the city each summer, there would be that one song you couldn't avoid. It'd be pounding out of cars, out of apartment windows, playing in the store, on the car radio. Usually, you'd just let it wash over you, learning to like it. You wouldn't even know it was Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three, you'd just know "the roof is on fire" and keep on walking. The summer jam kind of reached its zenith in the late 1980s, with tracks like 1988's "It Takes Two" by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock (see if you can listen and not start nodding) or 1989's "Pump Up the Jam" by Technotronic.
But by the 1990s, these songs of summer started getting so subnormal, so tweaked to appeal to below-average intellect, that they'd rightly earn their place as sports anthems or become culturally appropriated by Disney. Charting the 1990s musically, you get the sense of the national brain being gradually deprived of oxygen, going from thoughtful and experimental to 100-percent fool. By the end of the decade, you'd listen to summer hits in much the same way you'd stare at a Magic Eye image: trying to find what other people see in this jumble of nonsense. Follow the summer jam timeline.
1990: Black Box,
This international hit channeled disco in a good way, with warm synths worthy of a Rick-roll backing actual literate singing. The lyrics hark back to 1970s dance-oriented weepers about being left on your own. And the tension between the unhappy storyline ("Sad and free!") and the upbeat music makes this an interesting piece of music. The 1990s were off to a good start.
1991: C+C Music Factory,
"Gonna Make You Sweat
(Everybody Dance Now)"
By 1991, it was already clear things were going awry. Whereas at least C+C Music Factory had a lyrical message that was pure disco ("let the rhythm move you"), the music was going in a stripped-down, super-repetitive, pants-shakin' direction where there's never enough agogo bell. What's more, this track has some of the dumbest raps imaginable, courtesy of Freedom Williams, including: "It's your world and I'm just a squirrel, trying to get a nut to move your butt to the dance floor." Dude, really?
1991: Naughty by Nature,
Sure, it earns a smile by biting its melody line from the Jackson 5's "ABC," and contains a surprisingly engaging rap about guys and girls in committed relationships stepping out to get some strange, with a plain-rappin' charm similar to Young MC. That said, this song should be damned just for every arm-waving fool who not only claimed to be "Down with OPP" but bought the "Down with OPP" ball cap to prove it. Which is a shame, because it's actually not guilty of some of the later excesses of '90s summer jams — it's just that the chorus sank the national IQ about 10 points on its own.
1992: House of Pain,
A catchy tune with what must be the cleverest sample from Prince ever. Too bad it has typical tough-guy lyrics from white dude Everlast, frontin' about himself. But that was normal in '90s rap. The real flaw of the song is the jump-line chorus, which made this one of the first rap songs to go totally jock jam. Perhaps chromosome-damaged sports fans couldn't remember the lyrics to "Jump" by the Pointer Sisters or Van Halen, so House of Pain had to give them something they could remember, lyrics dialed down to a 5-year-old reading comprehension level: "Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump! Jump!"
1993: Tag Team,
"Whoomp! (There It Is)"
Oh, man. Down we go. This song is so idiotic, it makes that same year's hit from Haddaway, "What is Love? (Baby, Don't Hurt Me)," sound as classy as Sinatra. Instead of a crooning, spine-tingling plea to an estranged lover, we get extra helpings of shak-a-laka and raps about finding a honey to dip it in. And people shouting "Whoomph"? If you're so young you were still suckin' on a push pop through all this, check out some old YouTube clips of The Arsenio Hall Show and despair that woofin' and throwin' the arm was ever an acceptable gesture. It was only 1993 and yet, clearly, America had already lost its mind.
1994: Reel 2 Real,
"I Like to Move It "
These New Yorkers produced a dancehall track with lyrics about watching girls move their bodies. Hey, the Mad Stuntman isn't that bad, but again, it's the insistence of the chorus, the knock-you-over-the-head repetition of it, not to mention the silly synth line. Seven. Words. Over. And. Over. All. Summer.
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