LIKE A BEACH BLANKET, TOP 40 CAN STILL BE A GOOD PLACE TO REST YOUR BRAIN ON A LAZY, HAZY SUMMER DAY
It’s 9:30 a.m., and I am in search of the cheap thrill, the quick fix, the prefabricated hook that hath no name. During the summer, there is no better place to find one than on Top 40. For whatever reason, beach-season pop is junkier, trashier, and more superficially fun than pop at any other time of the year-something I’ve known since discovering ”Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruitgum Co. in the summer of ’68, to which I played air keyboards at the age of 8. Twenty-five years later, as I click on a leading station in the New York area, I am still assured of that same rush. Some notes from tuning in on a late-June day: *9:50 a.m. Looking Through Patient Eyes Coming after endless commercials and jabberings by morning-zoo disc jockeys, this sounds like a blessing. Hard-core hip-hop fans dismiss P.M. Dawn as rap lite, but what’s wrong with creating such an irresistibly melodic and warm record? It’s like bringing a comfy La-Z- Boy to the beach. A *10:10 a.m. Have I Told You Lately The Big Ballad of the summer, taken from Rod Stewart’s shrewdly timed Unplugged and Seated album. Two questions, though: (1) What’s so unplugged about all those strings and backup singers and that sizable band? and (2) Despite the earnest charm of Stewart’s rasp, why is this single so sluggish? Maybe because he has reduced Van Morrison’s intense plea for spiritual love to just another candidate for all those ”nothing but love songs” stations. C+ *10:30 a.m. Come Undone That ersatz hip-hop beat, those watercolor synthesizer chords-it could only be Duran Duran. In the case of both this and ”Ordinary World,” Simon LeBon and the boys exhibit what makes them more than another ’80s antiquity on the comeback trail: the perfected knack for producing a killer two-word hook that pulls you in every time. No wonder they’re back. B+ *10:45 a.m. More and More Turbo-charged summer pop doesn’t get any better than this number from Captain Hollywood Project, the creation of New Jersey DJ/ producer Tony Harrison. The exhilarating sound of house music gone pop, only equaled by the Jiffy Pop feel of Robin S’ ”Show Me Love.” A- *11:43 a.m. The decline of back-announcing-telling listeners what song they’ve just heard-is truly annoying. I’m on my second or third hearing of a pretty infectious British-sounding single with a refrain of ”chains of love.” And no one has told me what it is yet. (Turns out it’s by Erasure, and it’s called- surprise-Chains of Love.) *1:05 p.m. That’s the Way Love Goes Every summer also has its theme song, and Janet Jackson’s single-No. 1 for eight weeks-is it for 1993. That doesn’t make it any less of a trifle, but its breezy arrangement and stuttering drums are perfect for the warm weather. And Jackson’s sweet purr is pure sunblock for the brain. B+ *2:35 p.m. Weak The female trio SWV sounds like a decaffeinated En Vogue, but they’ve scored three consecutive top 10 hits. Seductively sung as ”Weak” is, it breezes in and is just as quickly gone. It is also a sign that, along with the recent parade of hits by Shai, Silk, and H-Town, the most influential single of the decade may be Color Me Badd’s 1991 ”I Wanna Sex You Up.” B- *2:40 p.m. Can’t Help Falling in Love Though easygoing and inoffensive, isn’t it sad that UB40, a band once known for politically charged ska-pop, has made its name in the U.S. with banal, reggae-dotted remakes? In six months we’ll remember this as well as Sliver, the movie from whence it came. C- *3:31 p.m. Girl, I’ve Been Hurt How does the Canadian rapper Snow sound without the trendy dancehall inflections? Like a contestant in Star Search’s balladeer category, judging from his second hit. Even worse, the song doesn’t have a hook nearly as relentless as ”I licky boom-boom dowwwn” from his breakthrough hit, ”Informer.” D *3:35 p.m. ”Come Undone” for the fourth or fifth time, followed by most of the songs above. Could that be why Top 40 stations are nearing extinction? *5:40 p.m. Regret Ever notice how some singles sound better when removed from their respective albums? That was the case with Ice Cube’s amazing spring hit, ”It Was a Good Day,” and it has happened again with this New Order single. Sounding like a fuzzy dream with a beat, ”Regret” is perfect both at the beach and in a dark, air-conditioned room when you get home. B *5:45 p.m. I’m Gonna Get You It hasn’t gone nationwide yet, but keep an ear out for this Concorde jet of a record from Bizarre Inc, which amounts to a chorus (no verses to speak of) and some furious techno chords. But what a chorus, what chords, and what a vocal by newcomer Angie Brown. A- *7:14 p.m. Several epiphanies as the day winds down. First, I haven’t heard several big hits-namely, rap parties like Onyx’s ”Slam” (what Kris Kross’ ”Jump” would have sounded like if they had raced skateboards in Compton) and the Tag Team’s ”Whoomp! (There It Is).” So, radio can still be regional despite the computerized playlists. Second, nothing so far has slain me the way previous summer smashes like Jon Secada’s ”Just Another Day” (1992) or Seal’s ”Crazy” (1991) have. Then again, we still have two months to go. *8:05 p.m. ”Come Undone” yet again. Arrgghhh! No matter: In the three-minute highs of summertime radio, there’s always another unexpected high right around the corner, waiting to drag your mind away to a land where the beat and the hook make everything seem all right.