Song of the Summer

by Jon Frazier

I’m a listener. OK, I’m not saying that I listen to music in a way other people don’t. But some people are about the beat, and dancing and singing along. Some people are about the lyrics. I’m a lyrics man. I make a concerted effort to pay attention to the story of the song. However, it did take me a couple of tries, and a Google search, to piece together the lyrics to Foster the People’s debut single, “Pumped Up Kicks.”  It’s about a kid who finds his dad’s gun, and dares all the rich kids with the cool sneakers to try and “run faster than my bullet.” Go listen to it. And don’t worry, it’s not a bleeding ears, guitar smashing, screamer. No, this particular dark suburban tragedy is bathed in a wave of alt rock electronic coolness, and could just be the song of the summer of 2011. 

The whole lyrics thing is a cool debate, and I’m not talking morals. I’m asking whether music is about the music, or the story that goes with it. I’m all about the story. And just to clarify, I think “Pumped Up Kicks” has a great lyric — not the best lyric, as opposed to The Kinks, The Stones, or of course, Josh Ritter, but it’s pretty good. But on the other side of the argument, we’ve got Brandon Flowers, front man for The Killers, a great band, a band that I love, a band that has belted out inane refrains such as “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier.” Flowers says he just picks words that fit the beat. Which is a fine approach, however, when comparing The Killers’ “All These Thing That I’ve Done” — to a song that has a great lyric and beat, such as, say Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” which begs the listener “Please don’t put your life in the hand of a rock and roll band,”  I think there’s no contest as to which is a more complete work. (FYI, I picked Oasis because The Killers say they have modeled themselves after that band.) For me, a good lyric is about attention to detail, and creating a coherent story or message. I think a band should be putting just as much effort into crafting good lyrics as well as good melody line, and when you get both, you’re gold.

So back to this song of the summer thing. I guess since “Song of the Summer” is actually the title of the article, I should stop preaching about good lyrics and talk about summer songs for a minute. Because, believe it or not, summer is coming here in New England. (It may only last a day, but it’s coming.)

I say Pumped Up Kicks “could” be the song of the summer because song of the summer is hard to pick until summer is actually over. I’m still wrestling with 2010’s song of the summer, which for me was “Home” (a song I slowly learned to love) by Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros; but “Home,” which appeared in May or June, was usurped by late comer “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine, and I still haven’t decided which one takes top spot. I’ll definitely be listening to “Pumped Up Kicks” all summer, and checking out Foster the People’s album Torches, when it comes out on May 23. I’m going to wait awhile before handing any one song the summer crown.

Comment below on lyrics, summer songs, summer (or lack thereof) in New England, the fact that I just put Josh Ritter in the same list as The Rolling Stones, or whatever else you’d want to chat about.