We pop music critics are wired in such a way that articulating a love for Aja and Scott Walker is significantly less difficult than articulating the love for the person we share a toothbrush with. We're a revolting phylum, I know. However, one notable exception is Rolling Stone editor Rob Sheffield. Ignore Rob's waxy, vampiric vibe and the fear that he may bait you with Big Star mix tapes and then sink his pearly whites into your soft neck, and one discovers the fluttering heart of a true romantic. Love Is a Mix Tape, Sheffield's wonderful paean to his late wife, is full of sticky, gooey passages detailing their lives together and the music they cherished. At one point , Sheffield puts away his hipster hornrims and offers this admission: "I realize it's frowned on to choose a mate based on something superficial like the music they love."
The summer I began dating my wife, she rented a teeny beach cottage with a close friend. With an unchecked, collective enthusiasm probably only possible during teenagerdom (in this case, 18 years old), the pair made Tom Cochrane's "Life Is a Highway" the soundtrack to their seven days spent on the ocean. They spun the cassette single until the magnetic tape became transparent and sang shouty, two-part harmonies when the chorus played. One visitor to the cottage, his breaking point clearly reached after hearing the song for the 15th time that afternoon, clawed out his own temporal lobes.
As for me, I was torn. Indulging in an artist who was copping the fine-tuned ruggedness of fellow Canadian rocker Bryan Adams -- right down to the worn leather jacket and Fender guitar -- would have been anathema to me. (Though I wouldn't have used the word "anathema." I probably would have just said, "Really fucking lame." I was fine-tuning my deep snobbery.) But at the same time, I wasn't shallow enough to believe I should let musical taste be a dealbreaker. (Especially when I could focus on more superficial categories like personal wealth potential, favorite baseball team, and breast size.)
Anyway, what I soon learned was that the Cochrane worship wasn't confined to our tiny, sandy corner of the world. During the summer of '92, "Life Is a Highway" became one of the season's inescapable anthems, cracking Billboard's Top 10 in August. Shit, even our pal Rob was smitten. In Love Is a Mix Tape, one of Sheffield's homemade compilations from 1992 featured the tune. (Though he skillfully saved face by dubbing Cochrane a "moron-rock choo-choo hack.")
I whisked you on this banal, bumpy trip back to 1992 because like various other aspects of popular culture, the Internet has diluted and democratized the concept of the annual summer anthem. Polls for 2011's top summer tune sprout like neighborhood lemonade stands. On Idolator, readers selected Lady Gaga's "The Edge of Glory." Stereogum visitors picked Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks." On Spotify, there's a playlist designed for every summertime activity imaginable, including cleaning the beach sand from between your toes. They're heavy on new stuff from Washed Out, Crystal Antlers, and Yacht, as well as Katy Perry's "Last Friday Night (TGIF)," Jason DeRulo's "Don't Wanna Go Home," LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem," Rihanna's "Man Down," and Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." When it comes to the summer anthem, we're approaching a singularity that's absolute, while simultaneously mapping our own unique trajectories. Everyone cruising the strip is enchanted with that slick, upbeat ditty -- or maybe you're the only one.