Summer suns and some aren't

Well, here we are, all the way to back-to-school time and what do we have to show for it? An embarrassment of riches, that's what. A summer of radio fluff that moved with you and kept you going till supper. Whether you got to the beach or were stuck in the city, the freakish sounds of American pop kept on bringing the hits. Any summer that can make Limp effing Bizkit sound as good popping out of your car radio as Eminem and Lauryn Hill is a summer the likes of which we'll never see again. There was so much, you'll notice all sorts of omissions, so don't take it personally. Here are a few comments on 25 of the summer's biggest singles, with a rating from one to 10 after each. Enjoy. We did...most of the time.

Christine Aguilera, "Genie in a Bottle": An instructional tape for young Mr. Lovah-Lovahs disguised as post-Disney girl fluff. Does Dick Armey know about this? (9.0)

Tal Bachman, "She's So High": In spite of great hair and better wings, Tal manages to make her sound very, very dull. (2.1)

Backstreet Boys, "I Want It That Way": Whenever you need some close harmonies right this second, they'll be there. Wherever there's a 12-year-old girl with wall space to spare, they'll be there. Whenever there's a slot at the top of an MTV countdown, they'll be there. (7.0)

Blaque, "808" (remix): That's not remixing, it's strip-mining a pretty good R. Kelly ballad and turning it into a juggernaut ode to a nice, fat booty. Girls, no one's got the boom like you do. (9.0)

Destiny's Child, "Bills, Bills, Bills": An ode to the lightness of the male wallet when it's around a willing woman. A much smarter colleague tells me that this song was written by the same liberated G who penned "No Scrubs," which means he's trying too hard, like that guy with the floppy hair and serious expression in Intro to Contemporary Feminist Thought. Will be remembered best for introducing the diminutive "automobills" into popular usage. (4.0)

Eminem with Dr. Dre, "Guilty Conscience": Mr. Mathers is far and away the baddest white boy to grab a mike and go boom, mostly because he goes where angels (black, white, purple, whatever) fear to tread. Circa The Chronic, in no way would I have believed that I would see the day where Dre would let a white kid, or anyone, say to him: "You gonna take advice from somebody who slapped Dee Barnes??!" Or, "Mr. Dre? Mr. N.W.A.? / Mr. AK comin' straight outta Compton / Y'all better make way?" My jaw hit the floor the first time I heard that line, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. (7.5)

Lauryn Hill, "Everything Is Everything": The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was a pop event like no other in the '90s. Hill was everywhere and nowhere, on the radio, on the covers of magazines, on folks' lips, making dollars, but not on the talk shows, not doing the music channels, in magazines only occasionally, touring behind her album a good six months after it dropped. Remember that great episode of MTV's show Ultrasound about women in hip-hop last year? It featured Left Eye (who blew up as large as Sister Hill her own way this year), Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott (whose summer singles evaporated by Memorial Day), Foxy Brown, and Mary J. Blige (whose summer singles are just getting started). Lauryn's absence hung in the studio like a better-than-thou fog, and elevated a dull talking-heads thing into subliminally bitchy drama. "The Lost One" was the keeper from Miseducation, as jarring and dramatic and terrific a slice of hip-hop as hit the radio in '98; it had staggered, off-kilter beats, thunderous sorta-ragga delivery, and a message of righteousness more interesting and less preachy than "Doo Wop (That Thing)." And "X-Factor" whumped and shifted like a heart rolling slowly down a hill. But now we're on single number four, moving into Jagged Little Pill territory, and I just can't believe in the simple twists of fate in "Everything." Point added for bomb-ass video of Manhattan being scratched and spun by that bomb-ass DJ, God. (6.0)

Enrique Iglesias, "Bailamos": I was hoping for a cover of Bowie's '83 hit of the same name, but 'twas not to be. Still, Julio, you done good. (6.5)

Eve and Nokio, "What You Want": Jeez, that was quick. Conscious sister rapping her heart out with The Roots on "You Got Me" (probably the most perfect single of the year, if not the summer) turns gangsta bitch faster than you can hear those Ruff Ryders say, "shut 'em down / open up shop." You're coastin', sweetie; come correct and lose the Swiz beatz. (3.4)

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Joe Gross