Which Song Will Define Summer 2004?

School's out for summer … School's out forever … No more pencils, no more books … No more teachers' dirty looks.

Alice Cooper's "School's Out" became the defining song of the rebellious summer of 1972, thus earning a spot in the pantheon of the most enduring summer songs of all time.

Long before the Go-Go's captured the pseudo-New Wave summer of '82 with "Vacation" or Tom Cochrane's "Life Is a Highway" set the tone for the summer of '92 or Nelly's "Hot in Herre" became the song that everyone grooved to in 2002, summer songs have, for the most part, reflected the mood of the country during the dog days. They are a good barometer of our cultural psyche, but remain very personal — reminding us of joyful moments, carefree days and magical nights.

Why is it that the sounds of summer seem to live forever, remaining etched in our memory long after we've forgotten how we spent the summer?

First and foremost, what defines a summer song? The answer is as diverse as what summer's all about: hot sunny days, hanging out, warm summer nights under the stars, hazy-lazy carefree living, romance, barbecuing and cruising. In short, the summer song is the soundtrack of our lives during the 93 days between the end of spring and the beginning of the fall — especially if you're a kid.

Looking back at some of the most enduring summer songs of all time, the running themes are:

Girls: for example, "California Girls" by the Beach Boys in 1965 and David Lee Roth in 1985;

Laid-back, easy living: "Afternoon Delight" by the Starland Vocal Band in 1976, "Summertime" by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince in 1991;

Summer romance: "Summer Nights" by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in 1978; Sex: "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mixx-A-Lott in 1991 and "The Thong Song" by Sisqo in 2000;

Feeling trapped in the sweltering heat of the city: "Summer in the City" by The Lovin' Spoonful in 1966 and "Cruel Summer" by Bananarama in 1983.

It used to be that summer songs had to mention the word summer ("Boys of Summer" by Don Henley, "Summer of '69" by Bryan Adams, "Hot Fun in the Summertime" by Sly & The Family Stone) or surfing ("Surfin' U.S.A." and "Surfin' Safari" by the Beach Boys) in order to qualify as songs of summer. Obviously no one bothered to alert Kim Carnes, whose cryptic "Bette Davis Eyes" was the undisputed song of the summer of 1981, spending 9 weeks at No. 1.

The bottom line is that most, if not all, summer songs share a sing-along quality, catchy hooks and lyrics that highlight freedom, restlessness, romance and a strong sense of longing. In other words, just about every song ever recorded by the Beach Boys, Bob Marley and Jimmy Buffett.

A few weeks into the summer of 2004, it is probably easier to predict how many gold medals the United States will win at the Athens Olympics than which tune will be the song of the summer. There are several songs that contain the above-mentioned ingredients and are prime contenders for inclusion in the soundtrack of the summer of '04:

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