What we're listening to

The best songs of the summer -- including steamy offerings from Beyonce and Justin, an ode to infidelity and an unlikely antiwar anthem.

Published August 21, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

"Crazy in Love," Beyoncé (Columbia)
Forget about J.Lo, whom critics claim the bootylicious Beyoncé has been aping on the style front. Instead, the R&B girl-group queen stepped out front this summer for her Diana Ross moment. And like "I'm Coming Out," Ms. Ross' '80s dance dream, Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" dared you to stay off the dance floor. It's been futile to resist. The song's got so many different hooks flying at you, one of them was bound to connect. It's the single of the year, no doubt, and why God created pop music. For now, J.Lo can only dream about concocting a studio mix that manic.

-- Eric Boehlert

"Rock Your Body," Justin Timberlake (Jive Records)
Also known as "I hate myself for loving you." As in, yes, we can make any argument we'd like against N'Sync, McBoy McBands, Disney, prefab pop, and the fact that there probably is a discernible link between the rise of Justin Timberlake and the decline of Western civilization, but this song boogies, jams, grooves -- hard, like a summer single should. On the short list of people I've seen tapping their feet when it came on the radio? A Wall Street banker, my great-uncle Jacques, an East Oakland hoodlum, and perhaps most telling, a 20-year-old multipierced record store clerk in a Rancid T-shirt. No wonder Britney put out.

-- Sheerly Avni

"Where Is the Love," Black Eyed Peas with Justin Timberlake (A&N)
The "What's Going On" of 2003, "Where Is the Love," by the Black Eyed Peas with Justin Timberlake, is a soulful response to the world's current careening lunacy. With lyrics like "Not respectin' each other, deny thy brother/ A war is goin' on but the reason's undercover," it ought to be depressing, but it's exhilarating to hear a pop song finally channel the free-form dread bred by Bush's perpetual war -- and become a hit. Even without its socially conscious, warmly world-weary rhymes, the song's buoyant syncopated string samples and honeyed choruses would make it addictive. Yet the words take it further, making it both defiant and comforting. The planet has indeed gone mad when the crooning of a Boy Band alum is a balm.

-- Michelle Goldberg

"Stacy's Mom," Fountains of Wayne (S-Curve)
A nu-wave '80s love-fest that's part Cars, part Cheap Trick, and all dirty mind, "Stacy's Mom" was the summer gift from the last great rock band still waving the smart/catchy/pop banner, Fountains of Wayne. The song's built around irresistible Juno-6 synthesizers, a hand-clapping chorus, and primal high school lust: "I know it might be wrong/ But I'm in love with Stacy's mom." And when Rachel Hunter revisits "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" in the insanely entertaining "Stacy's Mom" video clip, well, that's just another '80s guilty pleasure rewarded.

-- Eric Boehlert

"Can't Let You Go," by Fabolous (Elektra)
You could describe "Can't Let You Go" as just another love song. Except this one has a gangsta pining for his coy mistress, the one who acts as his "pinch hitta/ When the startin lineup aint playin right," and whose "freak" is essential since (obviously) "the entree ain't as good without somethin' on the side." Ah, but the cruel and intolerant world threatens to keep them apart. Not to mention his wife, who "won't care if I'm a platinum rapper/ If she catch me with an empty Magnum wrapper." Was an infectious ode to infidelity inappropriate in a summer dominated by Kobe, Kerry Cuomo and a scorned first lady's memoir? Probably. But it's also what made "you're the one I want in my life/ already got a wife" such a perversely irresistible refrain.

-- Kerry Lauerman

"Right Thurr," Chingy (Capitol)
Every summer should be blessed with an AM/FM mating call, an irresistible musical come-on so embedded in heavy rotation that, love it or hate it, you can't shake it. It's been part of pop history all through the decades. Like the summer of '58, "You give me fever -- fever when you kiss me"; '65, "I wish they all could be California girls"; '79, "M-m-m-m-my Sharona"; '86, "I want to be your sledgehammer"; '95, "Biggie give me one more chance." This season's time capsule entry came courtesy of St. Louis rapper Chingy (as in, Cha-ching!) and his brainy booty call: "I like the way you do that right thurr."

-- Eric Boehlert

"No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems," Kenny Chesney (Bna)
Drinking, flirting and having fun. Remember when rock bands pounded that musical pavement? But scowling Linkin Park or Audioslave having fun today? R-i-i-i-g-h-t. No problem: Some Nashville boys, busy reclaiming country radio from a recent wave of leading ladies, have taken up the slack, strumming perfect, pointless three-minute happy-hour singalongs. Alan Jackson spent the season sipping boat drinks with Jimmy Buffet on "Five O'clock Somewhere," but Chesney's salute to a tropical lost weekend was the best of the bunch.

-- Eric Boehlert

"Get Busy," Sean Paul (Atlantic)
"Shake that thing Miss Kana Kana/ Shake that thing Miss Annabella/ Shake that thing Miss Donna Donna/ Jodi and Rebecca" -- that's pretty much all you can understand of Sean Paul. And the seemingly monotone "Get Busy" struck me as boring when I first listened to it while sitting in my living room. But anywhere else -- in a bar, blasting out of cars (as it seemed to be every day this summer) or from my neighbors' boom boxes during humid sidewalk parties -- I found it completely addictive. The song almost demands that you love it, or at least, that you shake that thing while waiting for the light to change. Usually, you won't even notice that you already are.

-- Suzy Hansen

By Salon's Staff

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