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Song of the Summer: An Even Stranger Thing
- Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019
Every year the brilliant minds at the labels, industry pubs, stations and the algorithm counting rooms send out their forecasts for “biggest song of the summer.” It’s something to do, right? Will it be the new thing from Ed Sheeran? No, probably Ariana. Or Jonas Brothers—back big time after six years!
I’m pretty old school when it comes to summer songs, expecting to hear some happy thing that makes me wanna get to a beach with a bottle in hand. I don’t know…like “Jammin’” by Marley? Or maybe Madonna’s “Cherish”…”Walking On Sunshine” by Katrina And The Waves? Sunny, in the high 80’s music. Well the Jonas boys did make a good run for it with “Sucker.” Catchy, sexy…but they didn’t quite get all the way there.
Nor did Sheehan and Justin Bieber (with “I Don’t Care”), or the lovely “Senorita” by Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello, though both made the Top 10 easily.
So, the Song of the Summer of 2019? “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. Which has just wrapped up 19 WEEKS straight as Billboard’s Number One song on the Hot 100 chart, surpassing all previous records. Pretty wild. Like the Wild Wild West…but in the wild blue yonder (ie. the cloud). It’s my favorite story of an artist and a song in years—maybe because it’s so fully a farm-to-table fable. Or closet-to-airwaves-to-streams if you prefer. Here’s “Old Town Road” the movie:
How did this happen? The short story: a teenager from Lithia Springs, Georgia, Lil Nas X aka Montero Lamar Hill, who’s been sleeping on his sister’s floor and making music in the closet, scours the internet for beats and finds something he really likes by a teenage producer from the Netherlands, YoungKio. He purchases the beat for $30.00. The beat contains a mid-tempo sample taken from a Nine Inch Nails track, “34 Ghosts IV,” a hypnotic mid-tempo string thing with a country feel to it from their sixth album. Using this beat as the foundation for his song, Lil Nas X writes and records “Old Town Road.” We might say an ear worm was born. He tweets it out to the universe. Posts it up on TikTok with dozens of goofy videos attached. He promotes it as a “country” song instead of a hip-hop thing, because it’ll raise more eyebrows in that world while avoiding the traffic jams in hip-hop. Label bidding war. Columbia wins. Lil Nas X wants Billy Ray to sing on the song. Billy Ray loves it and agrees. This “Diary of a Song” piece from the NY Times is pretty entertaining if you’ve got time:
So Lyle, how deep is your love for this thing really? Kinda very deep. But mainly because of those “even stranger things.” I love the incredibly random way that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, creators of a seminal industrial rock band of the 90’s—NIN—became accidental co-writers of one of the most successful pop songs in modern history. I love that Lil Nas X blew up the song to a great extent on TikTok, an app that’s only been around for a couple years but in 2018 became the world’s most downloaded app, surpassing Facebook, Instagram etc. And I love that Billy Ray loved the song so much he jumped on that horse with Lil Nas and just kept riding.
This week, “Old Town Road” saw its run at Number 1 come to a halt as “Bad Guy” by 17 year-old Billie Eilish assumed the position. Not what I’d call a “summer song,” but hey, a few million people who are not me get to make that call!
On a barely related note, the world has just been reminded that this summer marked the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. Not coincidentally, Netflix just premiered its “anniversary” documentary of the same name (which I somehow found dull and fascinating at the same time—how is that possible?). And what was the biggest summer hit of 1969? Another strange thing: “In The Year 2525,” the weirdly depressing one hit wonder from Zager & Evans.
But jumping around the decades, I’ll take 2009’s “I Got A Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas. Or Ricky Martin’s “Livin La Vida Loca” from 1999. And 1979’s awesome summer smash, “My Sharona” by The Knack.
Wishing you a summer of peace, love and great beats on the beach…
Lyle Greenfield is the founder of BANG Music and past president of the Association of Music Producers (AMP). Greenfield has been a driving force behind the AMP Awards for Music and Sound, which debuted in New York City in 2013. He is also author of the newly released “The Soul Mate Expeditions” (Amazon).