Four chords: B minor, D, F-sharp minor, E. That is the simple loom upon which two helmet-headed musicians calling themselves Daft Punk have woven the intricately elegant “Get Lucky,” a tune that, by the time you are sick of it in September, will have insinuated itself into popular culture as the summer song of 2013.
It is no small thing. Singers from Johnny Ace to Gotye have shown that almost anyone can have a hit record, but the summer song hit is rare and heady stuff indeed. Summer, a time of infinite fun and personal drama, practically demands its own soundtrack, and the challenge of creating music to accompany a nation’s season of celebration is insurmountable for most artists.
The first, and likely the most enduring, summer song is “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer set the bar high when they penned that ditty in 1908, hanging lyrics about summer fun and romance (it’s in there; check the complete lyrics) on a monster melodic hook that was an irresistible singalong.
Subsequent summer songs have offered variations on this formula. Certainly, the easiest way to make a summer hit is to actually use the word in your song. Thus did “Summertime” (by Billy Stewart in 1966 and DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince in 1991), “Summer” (War, 1976), “Summertime Blues” (Eddie Cochran, 1958), “In the Summertime” (Mungo Jerry, 1970) and the immortal “Summer in the City” (Lovin’ Spoonful, 1966) insinuate themselves into our recollections.
Sometimes alluding to the season’s temperature will get the job done, as was the case for “Heat Wave” (Martha and the Vandellas, 1963) and “Hot Fun in the Summertime” (Sly and the Family Stone, 1969). Chilling in “Waterfalls” (TLC, 1995) or the “Sea of Love” (Phil Phillips, 1959), or just “Grazing in the Grass” (Hugh Masekela, 1968) “Under the Bridge” (Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1992) could take the edge off with a twist of the radio dial.
Were Dick Clark still hosting the Pyramid, he might have rolled out a category labeled “Things Related to Summer” from which a songsmith might pick. That way you’d get “School’s Out” (Alice Cooper, 1972), “Rock The Boat” (The Hues Corporation, 1974), “Vacation” (The Go-Go’s, 1982) and even “Kodachrome” (Paul Simon, 1973).
Sometimes you don’t need words to make a summer song, if you’ve an instrumental the quality of “Green Onions” (Booker T. and the MG’s, 1962) or “Theme from ‘A Summer Place’” (Percy Faith, 1960). Sometimes one word’s all you need (“Wipeout.” The Surfaris, 1963).
A summer song often eludes classification, as with “Whiter Shade of Pale” (Procol Harum, 1967), “My Sharona” (The Knack, 1979), “Sledgehammer” (Peter Gabriel, 1986), “Macho Man” (The Village People, 1978) or “Yakety Yak” (The Coasters, 1958). Folks just wanted to hear ‘em, that’s all.
The subject that informs the majority of summer songs is, of course, love and its many guises. There’s “Radar Love” (Golden Earring, 1974) and “The Love You Save” (The Jackson 5, 1970). “All You Need Is Love,” averred The Beatles in 1967, but 10CC proclaimed “I’m Not In Love” in 1975. Sweet romance imbues “Kiss From A Rose” (Seal, 1995), “Call Me Maybe” (Carly Rae Jepsen, 2012) and “Close to You” (Carpenters, 1970), but lust abides in “Let’s Get It On” (Marvin Gaye, 1973), “Wild Thing” (The Troggs, 1966) and “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” (Tina Turner, 1984).
Which brings us to Daft Punk and its 2013 invocation of love, couched in musical terms that would have fit the charts comfortably 35 years ago. DP, which consists of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, has previously dwelt among electronica, using loops and samples to create its agreeably chilly dance music, popular in clubs but not exactly in the mainstream of pop culture. Though Daft Punk dropped a live CD in 2007 and created the soundtrack for the most recent Tron movie in 2010, its last studio effort, Human After All, was released in 2005.
In the ensuing eight years, the computer operators determined that adding live musicians to their mixes might be a worthwhile step to take. They started with jazz drummer Omar Hakim, notable for his work with Sting, Miles Davis and David Bowie, among others, and bassist Nathan East of the jazz supergroup Fourplay, whose pop work includes collaborations with Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Toto. Hakim and East laid down the demo track for “Get Lucky” more than a year ago. Then it was time for a little disco magic.
Fans of the peerless Chic rhythm section, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards (their summer song was 1979’s “Good Times”), the DP pair reportedly appeared unannounced at Rodgers’s Manhattan apartment to request his services last year. The three checked into Jimi Hendrix’s old studio to add the signature Rodgers guitar scratch, after which Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes was flown to Paris to add lyrics and vocals.
The result, appearing on the new album, Random Access Memories, is an old-school smash. The first chord drops clean as an Olympic high diver into a pool, Rodgers tickles the beat a bit, and then the song shrugs into perpetual motion. “Like the legend of the phoenix,” Williams croons, “all ends with beginnings.”
Just listen. “Get Lucky” sounds like the million bucks it may have cost to make, four minutes of studio perfection, all longing and lubricity, much like summer itself.
There is further news of Tomas Young and it is good. We reported in this space recently about the paraplegic Iraq War veteran who publicly announced his intention to end his life rather than endure further pain and suffering. Though his prognosis is unchanged, the 33 year-old activist has reconsidered suicide. “I want to spend as much time as possible with my wife,” he told his hometown newspaper. “And no decent son wants his obituary to read that he was survived by his mother.”