This is written from the perspective of a 38 year old who grew up on primarily rhythmic music. So don’t expect Elvis, Bob Seger, or Smells Like Teen Spirit. Not to deride any of those, but my filter is Would A Typical Top 40 Listener Lose Their Mind To This. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, however I think the point is made.
I’m aiming for these songs to be akin to pizza. EVERYBODY LOVES PIZZA. And if we were to try to agree on a topping, it would be, go ahead say it without me typing so I know we’re on the right path. Pepperoni. I want these five songs to be the pepperoni pizza of your next playlist gathering.
I considered doing this in a qualitative chart fashion. For instance,
5 for wedding DJ appeal
1 for cheesiness
2 for should be mixed in with my regular playlist
0 for my grandmother likes it (Grammy voice: Oh, Eric, won’t you play that Nelly song about taking my clothes off. NO.)
1.5 for it’s an Internet joke now (Santana – Smooth. Also, rock-based)
5 for YouTube views. This is actually a decent metric to include on this list.
We will skip the 1 through 5 calculus and rely mostly on anecdotal observations, as well as my two decades of being involved in top forty radio programming.
Let’s start with the best.
Takeaway non-chorus lyric – My saddles waiting, come and jump on it
YouTube views – 50.4 million
Ginuwine took all the sensual Brian McKnight and Keith Sweat lyrics of the 90s and super sexified them.
Pony was always a fantastic throwback, but it wouldn’t be atop this list if not for the rebirth it experienced in 2012 thanks to Channing Tatum and Magic Mike. That movie, and the universal irresistibility of Tatum makes this the quintessential song for this list, and for women who are 18, 38, 48 and beyond.
Takeaway non-chorus lyric – Out on bail, fresh outta jail, California dreaming
YouTube views – 204 million
The second oldest track on this list as we go back to a dystopian (before it was cool!) 1995.
Why though? Two of the three iconic titans of 90s hip hop. Dying, in 2Pac’s case, certainly elevates your legend. Also, easy to lip lyrics, but really an indelible vocoded vocal intro that establishes itself, then crescendos into Dre’s throat-punching now let me welcome everyone to the Wild Wild West…I bet you just said state that’s untouchable like Elliot Ness.
A Mad Max (thankfully sans Mel Gibson) themed video aids its cause and creates perhaps the most lasting visual of any of these five songs.
Takeaway non-chorus lyric – ALL OF THEM. I am Warren G. and Nate Dogg
YouTube views – 134 million
As Pony was powered by its sopping female appeal, this one, is powered by men. Particularly, ones like me!
If we were using the calculus from above, this one would be a sideways 8 for, it’s literally been renamed by people. For as long as I’ve been around, it’s always been sought out as Regulators. Not Regulate. Just as Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back (sorry, not on the list) somehow morphed into I Like Big Butts. Eh, whatever 2000s teens calling radio stations, Baby Got Back coming up in 20 minutes.
I got the Above The Rim soundtrack (on cassette!) and spent my summer walking to and from camp every single day, Walkman in hand, rapping right along with Warren about being handy with the steel and pulling out my strap, layin’ busters down. I turned out OK!
Call me a Buster, if you want, for getting this far into Regulate and not mentioning Hook King Nate Dogg. At the time, for the masses, it was a WHO!? But dozens of brilliantly, melodic hooks later, we can look back at this track where Nate D-O-double-G won our ears, and from then forward, knew that almost anything with him on the chorus deserved a listen.
Tangent: What’s the second best Nate Dogg hook ever? Area Codes, Shake That, Can’t Deny It, The Next Episode, 21 Questions? The list goes on.
Those three are inarguable for me.
Now things get debatable.
Takeway non-chorus lyric – Go Shawty, it’s your birthday…
YouTube views – 611 million
The beat is timeless, and authoritatively unmistakable. The video with Dre and Eminem, erecting their soon-to-be rap behemoth was a vital visual important to the mythos. As was the reality of being shot nine times, and living to rap about it. If I ask you to think about the cover art for Get Rich or Die Tryin’, immediately two things attack your mind; a hulked up 50 and a massive bullet hole of shattered glass.
It was late in 2002 and people were beginning to vibe on this song and artist that made me offer out a wait, who? REALLY? I heard the name 50 Cent and recalled a piece of vinyl with that name from back in ’99 or so. Whatever that record was, wasn’t anything close to a hit, and now 50 was about to be Fitty, or Fiddy, and unleash nearly half a decade of hip hop homeruns.
I’d normally say any song associated with birthdays rings the cheesy alarm quite loudly, and there’s 50’s well-known first pitch mishap that brought millions of laughs, but even with those present, I have a hard time keeping this song off the list.
Now, for the most difficult spot on this list.
I have three contenders, and then the last song for the list.
Biggie – Hypnotize. I cannot explain why I feel like this song hasn’t held up like the others mentioned on this list. Maybe I’m wrong, and it’s more transcendent than I’m giving it credit for. Personally, in a H2H battle, I choose this over California Love, but I’ve always been East Coast partial anyway. Having lived in and around Detroit for so long, it’s possible I have this on the just missed list only because of the amount of times I’ve heard people nail the MY DETROIT PLAYERS lyric. Detroit radio stations, and anyone in the area with that on a playlist, could literally remove that lyric from the song and no one would notice, because they’ve rapped it themselves.
Flo-Rida – Low. A solid choice, even though it’s crept into Nelly – Hot In Herre Grammy territory, but even though it’s almost ten years old now, it doesn’t feel like a throwback in the context of the parameters on this list. Try me in two years. Or if Flo dies.
Outkast, but really Andre 3000 – Hey Ya. I can’t put my personal feelings aside on this one. This is a list of rap/R & B songs. This, to me, is not a traditional rap song. Certainly not the latter. Hey Ya may have even received airplay on alternative stations back in 2004. It was THAT massive of hit record. It TOO popular for my tastes. I also preferred the the other single from Outkast’s release of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. That was the Big Boi track The Way You Move.
So, who gets the coveted final slot on this list of universally beloved throwback songs.
Sean Paul – Temperature
Takeaway non-chorus lyric – *mumbles something incoherently*
YouTube views – 153 million
Let’s begin with a make-you-feel-old moment. Sean Paul is 45 years old. Gimme The Light – his first, and IMO, most overlooked single – will turn 16 years old in May.
I had to have Sean Paul on this list. By contemporary music’s standards he’s practically Gandalf. Yet, unlike Britney Spears (no hits), Usher (never topping Yeah), Alicia Keys (did she stop making music?) and even someone with as recent success as Gaga, Sean Paul still belongs. In just over the last 18 months, he’s had totally reasonable appearances on Clean Bandit’s Rockabye and Sia’s definitive smash song to date, Cheap Thrills. It’s not like they just threw an old dog a bone, Sean Paul is as crisp as he was nearly 20 years ago. It wasn’t a hit, but you can probably say some of Dua Lipa’s breakout was in thanks to Paul, behold, No Lie. I thought gonna get lit tonight had the right DNA lyrical helix in play to make for a hit record.
Whenever I’d compile a group of several dozen songs for a “gold” category for work purposes, it was difficult to leave Temperature off the list. Totally a necessity during warm weather months, yet it didn’t feel out of place during the doldrums of the Midwest’s finest winter storms.
Because of that, Temperature really never went away, giving us a chance to miss it, and attain some novelty in its absence – which is always a good trait for a throwback. If you’re thinking Temperature has a similar it’s-not-old-enough feel as Low, I feel you. It is, after all, just about a year and half older than Flo’s jam.