The surest way to get a grip on the music of summer at this moment would be to put together a Michael Jackson mix. Since June 25, nobody's listening to anything else anyway.
The wave of affection for the King of Pop isn't likely to ebb for quite a while, but sometime soon, you're going to stop pumping "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" out of the car stereo. And when you do, the summer mix that follows will be there for you.
In this niche-targeted world, no single tune is the song of the summer of '09. And so far, nothing is so everywhere as, say, Rihanna's "Umbrella" was in '07. But if the season belongs to anyone other than MJ, it belongs to the Black Eyed Peas.
Front man Will.I.Am and crew's The E.N.D. (The Energy Never Dies), despite its silly name, has refused to sink down the Billboard album chart, and two singles, the perfectly good "Boom Boom Pow" and the perfectly dreadful "I Gotta Feeling" have taken turns topping the Hot 100.
What follows is a playlist of the best of the big hits woven together with indie contenders. It clocks in at just under 80 minutes, CD length. Without limits, I would have included Passion Pit and Green Day and Spoon and Silversun Pickups and Those Darlins and the Clipse. All are available on iTunes and Amazon, except for the Jackson cover, which is on Twitter.
1. "Boom Boom Pow," Black Eyed Peas. Is it an allusion to a sex act or a soundtrack to a Perez Hilton beat-down? No matter. The important thing is it's a rare Black Eyed Peas single whose inane lyrics don't get in the way of the groove.
2. "Knock You Down," Keri Hilson with Kanye West and Ne-Yo. Hmm, which Kanye West collabo to choose? Could go with the Clipse's "Kind of Like a Big Deal," Mr. Hudson's "Supernova," or the Dream's "Walking on the Moon." But "Knock You Down" gets the nod for its satisfying hook, and West's accidentally timely lyric referencing the late King of Pop and his allegedly abusive father: "This is bad, real bad - Michael Jackson / Now I'm mad, real mad - Joe Jackson."
3. "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)," Jay-Z. The first single from The Blueprint 3, due in September, demonstrates Jay-Z's usual impeccable timing. The voice-altering trickery known as Auto-Tune is so overplayed - by, among many others, West, who produced this track - that the time is ripe to stand up for more organic music-making. While comparing himself to "Sinatra at the opera," Jigga raps over a screaming guitar: "I'm a multimillionaire / So how come I'm the hardest . . . out there?"
4. "Bruk Out," Major Lazer feat. Amanda Blank & Einstein. It doesn't take a genius to hear that Guns Don't Kill People . . . Lazers Do, the debut album by Major Lazer, the two-DJ-teaming of Philadelphia's Diplo and London's Switch, is the wildly unpredictable and infectiously experimental indie-dance disc of the season.
5. "Might Like You Better," Amanda Blank. Lead-off single from the often-potty-mouthed Philadelphia rapper's long-awaited debut album (due Aug. 4). Blank takes Romeo Void's 1982 hit "Never Say Never" and has her way with it.
6. "LoveGame," Lady Gaga. Taking after her fellow Italian American gay-icon dance-pop synthesist Madonna, Yonkers-born Stefani Germanotta is undoubtedly the breakout pop-pastiche star of the year. Here, she glams up the dance floor while rhyming "this beat is sick" with "I want to take a ride on your disco stick."
7. "Two Weeks," Grizzly Bear. Exquisitely yearning harmony vocals from the Brooklyn quartet whose Veckatimest equally recalls Radiohead and the Beach Boys. Plus, they've got an exploding-head video to rival David Cronenberg's Scanners.
8. "Bulletproof," La Roux. Single from the British duo of Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid, whose self-titled full-length is due in the fall. As is fashionable these days, the super-perky earworm "Bulletproof" pulls heavily from '80s electropop influences and blissfully recalls the heyday of the Pet Shop Boys.
9. "Day 'n' Nite," Kid Cudi. The Ohio rapper whose name rhymes with buddy means to give Cleveland something more to cheer about than LeBron James. The Kanye protege's spooky and spare electro-tinged production has maintained the quality quotient at the top of the charts for months.
10. "1901," Phoenix. French rockers with a classical-music education name-check rock-star composer Franz Liszt on Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but don't think Thomas Mars and crew are the slightest bit weighed down by serious aspirations. Joyously exultant riff-happy pop.
11. "French Navy," Camera Obscura. Scottish indie-pop band falls in love with Gallic sailors. "I wanted to control it," Tracyanne Campbell sings. "But I couldn't hold it." Summer love is fleeting, like sugary 3-minute 19-second girl-group-inspired pop songs.
12. "Summers," Loney Dear. Swedish multi-instrumentalist Emil Sanangen puts a gently building keyboard and harmonica to use in evoking the dreamy pleasures of a summer that will be over before you know it.
13. "Sounds Like Life to Me," Darryl Worley. Summertime isn't all fun and games. Country singer Darryl Worley made a name for himself back in '03 with "Have You Forgotten," evoking Sept. 11. These days, his mood is more somber than his party-hearty brethren on the country charts. The C&W philosopher advises a buddy to get used to the hard times, 'cause "the only thing certain is uncertainty."
14. "Please Don't Leave Me," Pink. Doylestown's own Alecia Moore has made a career of getting up in people's faces with aggro-pop hit singles like "U & Ur Hand" and "Leave Me Alone." Here, she sounds chastened, wondering, "How did I become so obnoxious?" Her pop instincts are intact, however, and the springy tune ought to give her another hit, to go along with an image-softening.
15. "Pretty Wings," Maxwell. Back after an eight-year absence with BLACKsummers'night, which comes out Tuesday, sensitive love-man Maxwell Rivera remains a class act. The natty dresser demonstrates that his seduction technique is undiminished. He'll be at the Borgata in Atlantic City on July 24.
16. "From My Heart to Yours," Laura Izibor. Aretha Franklin and Al Green are said to be fans of 22-year-old black Irish singer Laura Izibor, who was raised in Dublin and is of Nigerian descent. The reasons are apparent on this Grey's Anatomy-tested first single. Izibor is a soulful, smoky vocalist, and she carries herself with an easy swagger over a beat just modern enough to keep her out of the retro-R&B pigeonhole.
17. "Warm Heart of Africa," The Very Best. As a cred booster, Ezra Koenig, the singer for Afro-pop indie outfit Vampire Weekend, couldn't have beaten this: a collaboration with Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya and Euro-DJ Radioclit that's a sun-dappled authenticity boost that doesn't give up a smidgen of catchiness.
18. "Seya," Oumou Sangare. More traditional but no-less-enticing music from Mali, "Seya" is the title track from the vocalist's sinuous and ebullient fifth album. It's ready to stand up to Amadou & Mariam's more Western-leaning Welcome to Mali as the African album of the year.
19. "Stillness is the Move," Dirty Projectors. Inventive combo of indie, R&B, and African influences that's a gleaming, percolating highlight from the Brooklyn band's Bitte Orca and makes excellent use of singer Amber Coffman's agile soprano.
20. "I Wanna Be Where You Are," Erykah Badu with the Roots. Superbly understated cover (taken from Michael Jackson's first solo album, 1972) was recorded during Late Night with Jimmy Fallon rehearsals the day after Jackson's death. You can't buy it, but you can download it from ?uestlove's Twitter feed at twitter.com/QuestLove. The Roots play the Borgata July 24; Badu is at the House of Blues on Aug. 6 in Atlantic City.
Hear Dan DeLuca's summer mix at his blog, "In the Mix,"
at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/ inthemix
Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.