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 1987!
Prince – “Sign o’ the Times”
Prince walks around with an “END IS NIGH” sign and surveys the scene — AIDS, gang violence, drug abuse, poverty, and a televised space shuttle disaster the year prior (The Challenger). Welcome to 1987. Sparse synth parts are punctuated by a bluesy guitar, while some electronic drums hold things down before sojourning into a nice trashy drum solo to carry this one out. The 1987 Pazz & Jop single of the year.
Dinosaur Jr. – “Little Fury Things”
It’s a rabid, vicious thing that gets stuck with a tranquilizer and cools down to a nice hum before freaking out all over again. Some credit J Mascis with stealing guitar rock away from the hair bands. Who’s to say? But this song makes a great case for a whole different kind of guitar god. Besides, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had being sandblasted right in the ear.
Eric B. & Rakim – “I Know You Got Soul”
Pioneering hip-hop from the duo’s debut release Paid in Full. Eric B. scratches through Bobby Byrd’s 1971 song “I Know You Got Soul,” while Rakim settles deep into that laid-back flow that became his trademark. You don’t have to listen too closely to hear the seeds of 36 Chambers and Illmatic.
The Replacements – “Alex Chilton”
The ‘Mats tribute to the frontman of Big Star and The Box Tops. In a small way, it’s a fan letter, but in a bigger way, it’s a document that says Alex Chilton is a name that belongs in the rock and roll history books. I’d wager it’s become something of a touchstone that sends many a young music fan off to the Big Star catalogue.
Rick Astley – “Never Gonna Give You Up”
The year that the Rickroll was made possible. “Never Gonna Give You Up” is a testament to just how slick synthpop production had become by the late ’80s. Hear those toms? Those horns? Those strings? Producers Stock, Aitken, and Waterman had developed a sound and a formula that let them shoot out charting singles in a fashion similar to the Motown of the ’60s — only more plasticky and vapid, but fun all the same.