Which Song Will Define Summer 2004?

July 22, 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:

Usher: "Yeah" and "Burn" — "Yeah" and "Burn" have collectively spent 19 weeks at No. 1 in the charts, making Usher the reigning king of R&B and the best-selling artist of the first half of 2004. "Yeah" features the wildly popular "crunk" rap electro beats and will undoubtedly continue to blare out of every car's booming stereo system for a long time to come. At first listen, "Burn" could be a song about a summer tradition — the sunburn — but it is a lush, glossy over-the-top R&B ballad that will be embraced by summer lovers everywhere.

Lenny Kravitz: "Where Are We Runnin'?"

— Straight-ahead rock 'n' roll featuring guitar-heavy retro sounds from one of the most accomplished musicians of our time. Great musicianship complements lyrics like "Where are we runnin'?/We need some time to clear our heads." And it's an appropriate anthem for one of summer's most revered rituals — the road trip. Twenty years ago Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" was all over the radio airwaves throughout the summer of '84. Lenny Kravitz' "Where Are We Runnin'?" borrows some musical tips from Prince without losing Lenny's signature sound. Crank up "Where Are We Runnin'?" and hit the road!

Beyoncé: "Naughty Girl"

— Last summer belonged to Beyoncé, thanks to her massive hit "Crazy in Love," which was universally regarded as the song of the summer. "Naughty Girl," the follow-up, is positioned to become a definite bump 'n' grind party jam throughout the country. Sexy, seductive vocals are intertwined with subtle sampling of Donna Summer's "Love to Love You" and layered with Middle Eastern rhythms. With lyrics like "Tonight I'll be your naughty girl/ I'm callin' all my girls/ We're gonna turn this party out," this song's hook will stay in your brain long after summer's gone.

Beastie Boys: "Ch-Check It Out"

— The Beasties are responsible for the classic party anthem, "Fight For Your Right (To Party)," and their long-awaited return does not disappoint. At first listen, the raps and heavy bass beats are reminiscent of their 1992 track "So Wat'cha Want." But after a few spins, "Ch-Check It Out" is the perfect summer anthem for the city dwellers who will be catching rays at a nearby tar beach. The CD's title, To the 5 Boroughs, is an ode to the Boys' NYC roots and will probably be a huge underground hit — literally — as a favorite on the iPOD playlists of the city's subway riders who'll be spending the summer commuting to and from work. Los Lonely Boys: "Heaven"

— A slick, twangy guitar intro kicks off this flawless jam that's just right for the neighborhood bar while you're having a cold brew. Soulful three-part harmonies envelop this song while the lyrics flow as easy as a summer breeze. In just a few months, this San Angelo, Texas-based trio has amassed a huge following that includes fellow Texan Willie Nelson and Carlos Santana. The Garza brothers will be hitting the road spreading their "Texican rock 'n' roll" jams this summer as opening act of the Allman Brothers.

Kevin Lyttle: "Turn Me On" — "Soca," a musical concoction of soul and calypso native to the Caribbean, was last heard in the early '80s party hit "Hot, Hot, Hot." Last summer, Sean Paul re-introduced the sounds of dancehall reggae to the mainstream, and it looks like they've paved the way for a soca comeback. A melangé of soca rhythms with a dancehall reggae vibe, "Turn Me On" is the ultimate "boy-meets-girl at the party" song that is fast becoming a staple at the clubs everywhere. Smooth vocals by Kevyn Lyttle sprinkled with heavy R&B and sexy dancehall beats make this the perfect summer hook-up track of '04. The Corrs: "Summer Sunshine"

— Impeccable, upbeat and drenched with smooth light vocals about the obvious by the Irish family quartet, who count Bono as a fan. This could be the song that finally establishes the best-selling Irish band in the United States. "Summer Sunshine" is already receiving the all-important Top 40 radio airplay and the band's upcoming U.S. tour is selling out fast. Expect "Summer Sunshine" to be picked up by at least one television network and/or advertiser for a no-brainer summer campaign. Just keep in mind that the song's shelf life expires on Sept. 22 — the first day of autumn.