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Top Summer Singles

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Top Summer Singles

How is the summer shaping up on pop radio? As a pretty schizoid place. Where else can you stumble upon a nearly a cappella ballad, a couple of street-warfare rap serenades, and a danceable AIDS requiem? A few pitstops along the Top 40 of Billboard’s July 23 Hot 100 Singles chart:

*No. 1 ”I Swear” All-4-One. This hip-hop doo-wop remake of John Michael Montgomery’s country hit completely recasts a Nashville sobber in much the same way Whitney Houston did with her cover of the better-written ”I Will Always Love You.” Add in harmonies that ooze with starry-eyed heartache, and small wonder ”I Swear” has commandeered the top spot for 10 weeks. But ultimately, hasn’t this very average record only served to make the other new harmony groups, like Shai and Silk, seem all the more interchangeable? B

No. 2 ”Stay (I Missed You)” Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories. Just like one of those old Carly Simon songs from the ’70s, this record is cloying, folksy — and so listen-up direct you can’t help but pay attention to the words. Credit goes to Juan Patino’s crafty production, which frames Loeb’s voice with the crisp pluck of an acoustic guitar. And to Loeb, of course, who shows she’s shrewdly in tune with one of pop’s eternal appeals: lyrics that articulate emotions that listeners often can’t express themselves. B-

No. 3 ”Regulate” Warren G and Nate Dogg. All-4-One isn’t the only act giving a new context to an old single. These two rappers have grabbed the electric-piano riff from Michael McDonald’s 1982 hit ”I Keep Forgettin’,” added a gently pulsing drumbeat, and spun a hypnotic tale over it about cruising the streets for retribution for a mugging. At first the record’s plushness seems a little insidious, as if it’s turning violence into easy listening. But what its mellow sound subtly implies is that we may be getting too comfortable with assault, battery, and gunplay in the streets. A

No. 6 ”Fantastic Voyage” Coolio. The chart’s second-hottest rap single plies a common ’90s formula — rapped verses merged with an R&B chorus, all to a fatback bass line. But even though the result sounds gangsta, the message is pro-life in the best sense of the word. Coolio raps about a voyage to a place away from the drug dealers who hang out around his kids, a world where ”it really don’t matter if you’re white or black.” The lyrics may be generic, but that doesn’t make them any less welcome. B+

No. 7 ”Can You Feel the Love Tonight” Elton John. Elton’s croon and piano skills are aging quite well, thank you, but he’s been cranking out emote-by-numbers ballads like this one, from The Lion King, for far too long. C

No. 9 ”Funkdafied” Da Brat. A sharp-tongued female rapper (”I’m on a roll in control like Janet, dammit”), an easy-rolling piano (courtesy of an old Isley Brothers record), and a buoyant chorus: Rough downtown meets suave uptown, and in the same song. B

No. 18 ”Baby, I Love Your Way” Big Mountain. How ironic — Peter Frampton’s big comeback album stiffs instantly, while this winter-pale white-reggae version of his ’70s standard, taken from the Reality Bites soundtrack, is a smash. Reality really does bite, eh,Peter? D

No. 21 ”Always” Erasure. Sometimes songs that get lost on overstuffed CDs take on new lives as singles. That’s the case with this lament from the British techno-pop duo’s I Say I Say I Say, an AIDS-related concept album that would have worked better if its music didn’t merely recycle their standard synthesizer bleeps. Orphaned from the album, though, ”Always” becomes a moving declaration of undying love. The song never actually mentions AIDS, but when singer Andy Bell’s pained, naked wisp of a voice dips upward in the chorus (”I want to be with you”), it doesn’t have to. A-

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