It’s that hot and sticky time of year when everybody absolutely must know what the song of the summer is.
It could be “Happy,” the Pharrell Williams mega-hit that actually came out on the “Despicable Me 2” soundtrack in June of last year but just spent 10 straight weeks atop the Hot 100.
More likely, it’s “Problem,” the hard-to-get-out of your head hip-pop collaboration between former teen star Ariana Grande and Australian rapper Iggy Azalea. Or maybe it’s “Fancy,” another track with Azalea’s name on it that currently tops the Billboard chart.
But we come not to crown one defining song, but to serve up a multigenre playlist of bright and sunny (and occasionally dark and gloomy) summer songs in which the musical moods of the season are encapsulated.
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The list begins with Michael Jackson and ends with the War on Drugs, and never fear, you’ll find Sam Smith, Miranda Lambert, Lana Del Rey, 5 Seconds of Summer and 5th Ward Webbie in between.
1 “Love Never Felt So Good,” Michael Jackson. The King of Pop is dead, but has new music on the radio. “Xscape,” his “contemporized” posthumous album, is mostly an exercise in pointless necrophilia, but this duet with Justin Timberlake (co-written by Paul Anka) is a dreamy summer jam.
2 “Come Get It Bae,” Pharrell Williams. “Happy” didn’t need to be on this list. You can walk the boardwalk and hear “Happy” three times an hour. This similarly elastic slice of pop-funk gives Pharrell yet another hit.
3 “Water Fountain,” Tune-Yards. Delightfully polyrhythmic pogo-pop from indie heroine Merrill Garbus.
4 “Do It Again,” Royskopp & Robyn. Smart Scandinavian dance-music team of a pair of Norwegian beatmakers and a Swedish singer, out now with a five-song EP.
5 “I Will Never Let You Down,” Rita Ora. Written by then-boyfriend Calvin Harris, this is the great pop song that should turn British singer Ora into a star in the United States. It promises too-good-to-be-true happy times ahead.
6 “Summer,” Calvin Harris. The Scottish EDM star gets the last word in, of course, on this driving dance track that turns out to be a bummer with a rubbery beat. In his telling, naturally, it was her fault, not his.
7 “Seasons (Waiting On You),” Future Islands. Nobody works up a sweat like Future Islands singer Samuel T. Herring, but this Baltimore synth-pop band, enjoying a break-out year, always keeps the music shiny and cool.
8 “Everything Nice,” Popcaan. Decidedly dubby, laid-back track from this Jamaican dance-hall artist, born Andre Sutherland, suitable for hammock lounging.
9 “West Coast,” Lana Del Rey. Cinematic noir vibes from chart-topping “Summertime Sadness” singer and Kimye wedding serenader. Sinister.
10 “Your Love Will Blow Me Away When My Heart Aches,” Son Little. Haunting soul cry from Philly’s Aaron Livingston, collaborator with the Roots and RJD2.
11 “Let Me Find Out,” 5th Ward Webbie. Infectiously energetic quintessential New Orleans bounce track from the amusing and profane Webbie. Whatever you’re doing, don’t let Webbie find out!
12 “Problem,” Ariana Grande, featuring Iggy Azalea. Nickelodeon star makes a most effective grown-up pop move by teaming with divisive Australian female rapper. Might be the most undeniable summer hit of the season … unless it’s …
13 “Fancy,” Iggy Azalea, featuring Charli XCX. The time-honored cultural appropriation debate in 2014 is embodied by Azalea, who hails from Down Under and raps in irony-free exaggerated patois as if she grew up in South Central Los Angeles. She has only one weapon with which to defend herself from charges of minstrelsy: Hits.
14 “Don’t Stop,” 5 Seconds of Summer. “She Looks So Perfect” is the current smash, but that song’s line about “American Apparel underwear” is too creepy (in the wake of the Dov Charney sexual-predator news) to land in this mix. This ditty from these Aussie pop punk lads will have to do.
15 “I Don’t Know You Anymore,” Bob Mould. Post-punk legend and former Husker Du leader Mould is at the top of his game on this Wall of Sound rager from the fab new CD “Beauty & Ruin.”
16 “Goshen 97,” Strand of Oaks. Philadelphia songwriter Timothy Showalter lays his heart on the line on this recollection of making teenage rock ’n’ roll in the basement, with an assist from J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr.
17 “Black and White,” Parquet Courts. Dark thoughts accompanied by driving, uplifting punkish rock. “Is the solitude I seek a trap where I’ve been blindly led?” Andrew Savage wonders. From the (relatively) summery “Sunbathing Animal.”
18 “Dust, Juice, Bones and Hair,” Martha. Springy DIY indie rock from the suburbs of northern England, with all four male and female members, none named Martha, trading vocals. From the charming debut CD “Courting Strong.”
19 “Kong,” the Notwist. German glitch-pop experts return with their first album since 2008, and are more pleasingly poppy on this track than ever before.
20 “North Sea Girls,” Wussy. Gorgeous seaside rumination by Lisa Walker of underdog Ohio band Wussy, from the new CD “Attica.” Guitars shimmer while swimmers take off their coats and boldly dive in, “like it’s summertime.”
21 “Safe With Me,” Sam Smith. Elegant longing from the 22-year-old Brit who is the breakout voice of the season.
22 “Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone,” Lykke Li. Heartbreaker worthy of its “Love Hurts” lineage from this Swedish songstress’ fine new CD “I Never Learn.”
23 “Smokin’ and Drinkin’,” Miranda Lambert, featuring Little Big Town. Summertime reverie too tough-minded for easy nostalgia, as is typical of Lambert’s terrifically varied CD “Platinum,” which stands head and shoulders above bro-country practitioners currently riding high in their pickup trucks.
24 “Hard to Be an Outlaw,” Willie Nelson. Speaking of bros, Shotgun Willie takes a shot at faux hillbillies on this track penned by Billy Joe Shaver, whose forthcoming album will also include the song: “The record people nowadays keep spinning round and round / They sing about the backroads they never have been down.” From the 81-year-old Nelson’s impressive “Band of Brothers.”
25 “U Get Me High,” Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Petty is back in a swoony groove on this encouraging track from “Hypnotic Eye,” due this month.
26 “An Ocean in Between the Waves,” the War On Drugs. Before you jump in the water, you have to get to the beach. There’s no better driving music to be heard in 2014 than “Lost in the Dream,” the transfixing fourth album by Philly’s own the War on Drugs. So let’s ride it out on the wave of these superb seven minutes, shall we?