As the new year draws closer, we’ve decided to take a look the music that’s gotten us to where we are today. So in an effort to broaden our musical horizons and our understanding of contemporary artists, we’re counting down 2012 by counting up from 1952, taking a look at a handful of songs from a different year every day until January 1st. You can find the full list here. Today we’re heading back to 1969!
David Bowie - "Space Oddity"
Science-fiction was revolutionized by the very real Space Race, which helped give us iconic bits of pop culture such as David Bowie's “Space Oddity.” The BBC used this song in their coverage of the moon landing that year, which is assuredly better than whatever America used. Probably the most culturally significant use of the song until a few decades later, when it popped up in Mr. Deeds.
King Crimson - "21st Century Schizoid Man"
With the end of the decade approaching, psychedelic rock was beginning to gradually give way to progressive rock. Both were ideologically rich, but prog's jazzy sprawl and musically scholarship gave the genre the air of an improvised personal sermon. King Crimson's “21st Century Schizoid Man” embodies these features, making it a defining prog-rock cut.
The Stooges - "I Wanna Be Your Dog"
Round about now is when a little thing called punk was starting to get its legs, engage the youth, and worry parents. One of the best loved songs from Iggy Pop and his Stooges (who were punkier than MC5 but bluesier than The Ramones), it was actually produced by The Velvet Underground's John Cale, who is playing piano on this recording. And while the original is harrowing enough, this cover from Swans also does the trick.
Sly and The Family Stone - "Don't Call me Nigger, Whitey"
The greatest funk band ever was also one of the first. Sly and his ensemble took the genre to strange and wonderful places only a few years after James Brown created it, and made audacious statements like this that left some Americans nodding and most others clutching their pearls.
Jackson 5 - "I Want You Back" live on Hollywood Palace
Michael Jackson's incomparable legacy began with this song, the Jackson 5's first release for Motown. Decked out in matching outfits and ceaseless smiles, and moving with eerie precision, the 5 are champions of pre-packaged, calculated pop presentation.
Led Zeppelin - "Your Time is Gonna Come"
I chose this because it's probably the least ubiquitous song on their self-titled debut, which is pretty much a classic from start to finish. Also it's my favourite Zeppelin tune, probably because I listened to all the other great ones a bajillion times during my obligatory classic rock phase.
The Velvet Underground - "After Hours"
For all their rep as blustery heroin addicted art-waifs, The Velvet Underground knew how to write cosy, broadly relatable songs that were as pure as lilies. Sung by drummer Maureen Tucker because it was deemed too “innocent and pure” for Lou Reed, the song might trick first time VU listeners into pegging the band as pioneers of sweetly green bedroom indie pop. Which they just might have been, come to think of it.
The Beatles - "Because"
“Because” is The Beatles at their most present, a full-throated and earnest appreciation of the blessing of life. Which is kind of ironic given that the album that the song is taken from would stoke the embers of that malicious “Paul Is Dead” rumour. The enchanting choral effect is a result of overdubbing; there are nine voices in total - three dubs each from Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. It's topped with a classic sounding Moog synth that dots the Harpsichord like vibrant clouds in a sunset. For more of this great tune, here's an amazing acapella version by Elliot Smith.
BONUS BEATLES: Rooftop Concert at Apple Records
Let It Be might not be the documentary the Beatles deserved, but its iconic concluding sequence, the rooftop concert, is perhaps the finest exit from the world stage a band has ever made. They may not have liked each other very much by this point, but there's no noticeable effect on the wonderful, wonderful music.
Jimi Hendrix - "Purple Haze" live at Woodstock
I mean, how could we not, right?