What makes a summer jam? Is it the sunniest chorus, the hottest beat, the most weeks on the charts? Do the lyrics have to be about beaches and barbecues, or is it a question of vibe? What if it’s a song on your summer playlist and no one else’s?
We believe the answer is “all of the above.” This summer, Rolling Stone’s writers will celebrate the songs that are ruling each of their worlds – from huge hits to weirder, more personal choices. Check back soon for more summer songs, and hear all our picks in the Spotify playlist at the bottom of this post.
There aren’t many metal songs that would make you want to dance a jig – there’s Thin Lizzy’s “Róisín Dubh,” anything by Finntroll or Alestorm and, of course, Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge.” So “Lives,” by System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian’s side gig Scars on Broadway, is already extraordinary just by joining that short list. It’s got the sort of skittery, syncopated disco beat that would fit only in a song by a band like System of a Down (or maybe Gogol Bordello) because of its sheer heft and ability to draw smiles. And it’s got the kind of lyrics that make you just want to party, even in uncertain times: “Everyone get high, there’s no need to justify/We will occupy and we all know the reasons why.” It’s a celebration with a purpose.
Malakian wrote the tune to hearten fellow Armenian-Americans who have struggled with the legacy of the genocide their ancestors faced more than a century ago. “I wanted to write a song that would be a morale booster, something uplifting, and let people know that while there were a lot of people that died and we should respect that, there was also a lot of people who survived,” he told Rolling Stone in April. “It’s a tribute to that and how far we’ve come.” Beyond that context, the song’s bridge – “We are the people who were kicked out of history/We are the people who exist in victory” – speaks to what’s going on in the world at a time when “resistance” should be more than a hashtag.
The reason “Lives” is one of the best songs this summer, though, is that it’s exciting. You can’t help but tap your toes to it. Interestingly, Malakian recorded the tune six years ago, performing all the instruments and singing all the parts himself, and he’s just been sitting on it while his bandmates in System of a Down have hemmed and hawed about making a new LP. Now that they’ve concluded that that’s not happening anytime soon, he’s putting it out on Dictator, out July 20th, and it really fills the void that his main band has left by not releasing anything in the past 13 years. It’s one of those moments when you don’t know how much you’ve been missing something until you finally get it. So, to quote “Lives”: “Everybody dance, when you dance, when you wanna dance/When you start to dance, you will get in a trance.” Resistance can be just as fun as it is ferocious.