It’s a battle as sweaty and heated as the season itself: the fight for the title of “Song of the Summer.” Each year, one inescapable victor is crowned the earworm track that everyone is singing, every radio station is playing, and every bar, drugstore, and Applebee’s is cycling on loop. Over the years, quality tracks like “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley (1956), “When Doves Cry” by Prince (1984), “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé (2003), and “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen accomplished Song of the Summer ubiquity.
But occasionally tracks have taken the crown that are so embarrassing we’d rather file them away in the drawer of memories we choose to forget, alongside those neon hammer pants and photos of our summer with the mullet haircut. While three surprisingly solid tracks from Daft Punk (“Get Lucky”), Beyoncé (“Grown Woman”), and Icona Pop (“I Love It”) begin duking it out to be this year’s Song of the Summer, let’s take a tour through summer music’s Hall of Shame.
LMFAO—“Party Rock Anthem” (2011)
The top of the charts during the summer of 2011 illustrated the hilariously disparate levels of taste that were simultaneously surging in pop music. The two biggest songs of the year were Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” a soulful and exciting merging of superb songwriting and jaw-dropping vocal talent, and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” a mostly spoken song by two grown men in mismatched zebra and cheetah pants doing the running man for four minutes.
The Pussycat Dolls Featuring Busta Rhymes—“Don’t Cha” (2005)
Nicole Scherzinger and her backup dancers, the Pussycat Dolls, burst onto the scene in 2005 with admirable confidence, asking, “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me,” while gyrating in lingerie masking as street clothes. But cheering for the message of self-empowerment quickly shifted to cringing. “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was a freak like me,” sang Scherzinger, the Dolls, and countless 9-year-old girls warbling along with the radio.
LFO—“Summer Girls” (1999)
The song’s free-association chorus reads more like a silly Mad Libs puzzle than song lyrics: “New Kids on the Block had a bunch of hits / Chinese food makes me sick / And I think it’s fly when girls stop by for the summer, for the summer / I like girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch / I’d take her if I had one wish …”
Los Del Rio—“Macarena” (1996)
Good luck getting this out of your head again. Lo siento.
Color Me Badd—“I Wanna Sex You Up” (1991)
There’s a special, campy place in the hearts of anyone who grew up in the ’90s for the embarrassingly cheesy Color Me Badd track, “I Wanna Sex You Up.” To those people, we ask: Do you remember what Color Me Badd looked like? Watch this video, and giggle nervously as the quartet of men seemingly styled for an episode of How to Catch a Predator sing about “makin’ love until we drown, dig.”
Peter Cetera—“Glory of Love” (1986)
This gem was the theme to The Karate Kid, Part II. The music video is 1986 in one four-and-a-half-minute clip.
Lipps, Inc.—“Funkytown” (1980)
Otherwise known as that song Aunt Edith can’t stop herself from dancing to after two white-wine spritzers at family weddings, “Funkytown” spent four weeks at No. 1 in the summer of 1980—despite featuring orchestrations with less musical sophistication than the soundtrack to an Atari video game.
KC & the Sunshine Band—“Shake Your Booty” (1976)
Things you have been commanded through song to shake over the years: your groove thing, your tail feather, your body down to the ground, your rump, your moneymaker. Credit KC & the Sunshine Band, at least, with being blunt and to the point about it—“Shake Your Booty” includes just three other lyrics besides the titular directive in the entire song.
Brian Hyland—“Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” (1960)
Legend has it that each member of the Pussycat Dolls heard this song when she was a young girl and immediately realized her life’s destiny.
Sheb Wooley—“Purple People Eater” (1958)
It’s funny to laugh at this silly, nonsensical song about a “one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater.” It’s funnier to laugh at the fact that it spent a full six weeks at
No. 1 in the summer of 1958.
Tex Williams—“Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (The Cigarette)” (1947)
Tex Williams’s mile-a-minute lyrics to “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (The Cigarette)” don’t sing tobacco’s praises or warn against its health risks. They bemoan the fact that poker games are too often delayed because people get up to take smoke breaks. He’s actually kind of nasty about it, too: “Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette / Puff, puff, puff and if you smoke yourself to death / Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate / That you hate to make him wait / But you just gotta have another cigarette.” Apparently, it was a popular gripe in 1947—the song spent six weeks on top of the charts.