[feature] New Year’s Count-Up: 1990 in five songs

The nineties are here, which means plenty of terrible pop and incredible rap.

- Dec 12, 2012

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 1990!


Public Enemy - "Brothers Gonna Work It Out"

Public Enemy / Music Video Work it Out ( Lets get it on)

The video for this cut from Public Enemy's 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet (the video says 1995 incorrectly) recalls the 1989 Greekfest riots in Virginia Beach, when the annual Labor Day beach party for predominantly black university students spiraled into mass vandalism and looting, which was met with brutal retaliation by the predominantly white police force. Needless to say, racial tensions have been high since. Though the music video plays on those tensions, the lyrics preach a more optimistic vision black unity.

Lou Reed and John Cale- "A Dream"

John Cale and Lou Reed A Dream

Andy Warhol's sudden death in 1987 left a significant impact on Velvet Underground's Lou Reed and John Cale, who agreed to set aside their strong dislike for each other to create a tribute to their late friend. The result was Songs For Drella, released in 1990, and comprised of mostly first-person narratives from Warhol's perspective. "A Dream" is one of those - a spoken-word monologue detailing a dream in which he sees and calls to several friends, but they don't hear him. Both Cale and Reed get mentioned, both in negative light ("You know I hate Lou, I really do"), making for a dark and regretful meta-narrative. After releasing the album, Cale and Reed went back to hating each others' guts.

A Tribe Called Quest - "I Left My Wallet In El Segundo"

A Tribe Called Quest - I Left My Wallet In El Segundo

The only thing more delightful than a story-song is a music video that illustrates the plot verbatim. This classic Tribe track from their excellent debut album is a perfect example of their uncanny ability to be all at once playful, innovative, and cool as fuck. The intro sample is from The Young Rascals' "Sueño"; the rest of the instrumental is sampled from "Funky" by Chamber Brothers.

C+C Music Factory - "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)"

Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)

Over the past two decades this number one hit rotted into an ironic caricature of early '90s house rap, but was at least somewhat redeemed by this scene from The Simpsons.

New Kids on the Block - "Step By Step"

Ushering in an era of manufactured boy bands was New Kids On The Block, whose formula of cute teens + non-threatening pop music + insane amount of merchandising = $$$$$$$ remains a template for pretty much every youth-oriented pop group since. They even had their own cartoon! America's tween girl contingent ate this shit up like it was edible Lipsmacker (which in all fairness would probably be delicious), but at least the late Bill Hicks made his disgust known.

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