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 1988!
Sonic Youth – “Teen Age Riot”
Deep into the Reagan years, Thurston Moore imagines a world where J Mascis is president. Nitsuh Abebe rightly points to the above video for a richer reading into this emblematic track, featuring images of Ian Mackaye, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and The Beach Boys and making for a prescient compilation of what you now might call the canon of indie rock.
N.W.A. – “Straight Outta Compton”
“Straight Outta Compton” told the world what exactly was happening in America’s most neglected neighbourhoods. The production is minimal: a big, fat breakbeat over some low horn — maybe a baritone sax — blasting over and over again on one grimy note. But the centrepiece here is the lyricism, especially in Eazy-E’s verse. It wouldn’t be crazy to call this the birth of gangsta rap.
The Pixies – “Gigantic”
So this one’s supposedly about a girl watching a black guy have sex with another woman. Everything about this song is indeed gigantic, especially the drum sounds, guitar tone, and of course, the solo.
The Sugarcubes – “Birthday”
Unless you were into Icelandic punk in the ’80s, this is probably the first time Björk’s trademark shreik crossed the Atlantic. Here, she’s spritely and cute, but don’t be fooled, those massive, growling vocals are already well honed.
Traveling Wilburys – “Handle with Care”
The Wilburys have all the trappings of a corporate rock band — a group of old guns entering the final chapters of their mutual careers. But the story goes that George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, and Bob Dylan were just buddies who planned to jam out a song that would become a B-side on a George Harrison single. On the day they were rehearsing, Harrison forgot his guitar at Tom Petty’s house, and when he went to go pick it up, Petty returned with him. This is the song they made. I’m not big on that gravelly Dylan-Petty part, but the Orbison pre-chorus is instantly classic.