Not that it’s any big surprise but, as of Sept. 6, it’s official: Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” is the song of the summer of 2012. Billboard tracked overall performances on the Hot 100 since June 9, and the infectious pop song landed at No. 1, ahead of Maroon 5′s “Payphone” and Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to know.” And the summer-song charting doesn’t stop there. The definitive International Source also provides a top-1o summer songs list that goes back to 1985 and a top 30 songs about the season.
Part of the reason is that summer is tied to the history of rock music, says Larry Starr, a professor of music history at the University of Washington and co-author of the book American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MTV.
“It became much more of a thing with the advent of rock and roll and in the 1950s and the development of an enormous teen audience for record buying, for whom the summer was a vacation period,” he says. “With that target of the market, you get all sorts of records that are addressed to school kids.”
Starr points to the 1958 Eddie Cochran classic “Summertime Blues”—which happens to be the first song, chronologically, on that Billboard top-30 of the genre—as one of the earliest examples of such a song: music about summer vacation and how you want to spend it.
But at this point it’s very possible that there’s no special something that says “summer” about a song. Starr conjectures that the category of beach-specific music—about the beach and for the beach, preferably by people on or near or named after the beach—may be responsible for the upbeat nature of the ideal summer song but notes that the sub-genre doesn’t really exist anymore. Now that summer music is something set apart, the lyrics didn’t have to mention the season by name. “Call Me Maybe” takes place on a “hot night,” but that’s as far as it goes.
Starr also says that another component of the summer song’s history is access to record stores, and when in the year high-schoolers have money, time and proximity to music, which doesn’t really matter anymore either. “In the age of the Internet, that’s irrelevant,” he says. “It would have been a consideration in the days when you had to go to a record store.” (Christmas has its own thing going on too, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of eggnog.) When access to music is an all-the-time thing, any season could theoretically have its own pop anthem—and if it’s all just a matter of timing, we should be able to guess what the “song of the fall” could be.