Remembering LFO's "Summer Girls", the Best/Worst Pop Anthem Ever
For the past few months I have been doing a deep dive on the life and career of disgraced boy band Svengali Lou Pearlman here at Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place. First I read The Hit Charade, the wildly entertaining tell-all about Perlman’s life and crimes. I followed it up with Brands, Bands and Billions, his memoir/business manual/epic exercise in self-aggrandizement, followed by a My World of Flops piece on Pearlman’s amazingly terrible, incriminating 2001 direct-to-video vanity project, Longshot.
Longshot confronted me with one of my many, many weird obsessions: the LFO jam “Summer Girls”, which I think may be the best worst song of all time in the same way that movies like Troll 2 and The Room compete for the title of best worst movie ever.
So good it’s bad does not begin to do justice to “Summer Girls.” It would be more accurate to say that the LFO anthem is so inconceivably terrible that it’s goddamn transcendent. “Good” and “bad” begin to lose all meaning when we talk about songs like “Summer Girls.”
I’ve been thinking a fair amount about LFO frontman Rich Cronin as of late. Before he died a proper young pop star death at 36 in 2010, Cronin gave a hilarious and revealing interview with Howard Stern about Pearlman’s overwhelming grossness and his eagerness to “align the auras” of his proteges (a process that involved fondling their abs for ostensibly spiritual purposes) and have them watch Top Gun together to get them into an appropriately frisky, playful state of mind.
Cronin went public with accusations about Pearlman’s predilection for young, muscle-bound male flesh but otherwise his legacy is essentially “Summer Girls”, a song Cronin claims to have written and recorded as a lark, never intending to release it commercially, before a demo was leaked to a radio station and immediately became a huge hit.
It is easy to believe that “Summer Girls” was recorded as a goof. It feels like Cronin left a series of borderline nonsensical, stream-of-consciousness, random lines in as placeholder lyrics until he could sober up and record something less insultingly idiotic for the real version of the song, only to have it blow up commercially before he could do so.
Rich Cronin was Lou Pearlman’s conception of a rapper, which is to say a model-handsome white guy with the world’s thickest Boston accent who mumbles nonsense that rhymes for the benefit of 12 year old girls who care less about rhyme schemes and hip hop credibility than dreaminess.
“Summer Girls” samples the laid-back groove of hair metal band Extreme’s “More Than Words.” Astonishingly, that might be the most authentically hip hop thing about about it, with the exception of references to Eric B and Rakim and Beastie Boys.
The song boasts one of the all-time stupidest choruses in, “New Kids On The Block had a bunch of hits/Chinese food makes me sick/And I think it's fly/When girls stop by/For the summer/For the summer/I like girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch/I'd take her if I had one wish/But she's been gone/Since that summer.”
The hook is an appropriately surreal representation of the song’s weirdly bifurcated structure, which combines a bittersweet account of a summer romance with hilariously irrelevant non sequiturs including all of the following:
The great Larry Bird (wore the) jersey (number) 33
Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole bunch of sonnet
Macauley Culkin was in Home Alone
Michael J. Fox was Alex P. Keaton
There was a good man named Paul Revere
“Summer Girls” is astonishingly, impressively stupid yet I deeply love it all the same. I've listened to it hundreds of times, which is more than I can about a lot of legitimately great songs. It’s the purest kind of earwig, a song so sadistically catchy and infectious that once you’re exposed to it, it’s damn near impossible to get it out of your mind.
It’s gleeful juvenile idiocy yet listening to it now is a profoundly bittersweet experience. The weird young man who created it has been dead nearly a decade. Unlike New Kids on the Block, LFO would not go on to have a bunch of hits. Cronin's grotesque star-maker died in prison, disgraced and alone yet this weird, deeply dated little trifle lives on all the same.
Is “Summer Girls” the worst song ever made? Or is “Summer Girls” an accidental avant-garde masterpiece? Why can’t it be both? We all contain multitudes, after all, at least some of whom are going to shop at Abercrombie & Fitch and get sick from eating Chinese food. Rich Cronin understood these profound truths, which is why the Illuminati silenced him but his powerful, if cryptic, messages live on.
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