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 1994!
TLC – “Waterfalls”
A luscious sound, expertly composed of wah-wah guitar, electric piano, bass runs, and swooping, stabbing horns. “Waterfalls” is a particularly strong example of the early ’90s pop radio flavor, blending funk, R&B, and hip hop sensibilities. But let’s not forget the voices, those smooth, soulful and sultry things, especially T-Boz’s. While there were many successful girl R&B groups at the time, none topped TLC.
Jeff Buckley – “Grace”
Buckley was our alt rock angel. Listen to that voice beckon, twist, and shoot in every direction. Has there been another like it? This, the title track off his only proper studio album, is the perfect union of collaborator Gary Lucas’ spacey guitar and Buckley’s soulful, soaring vocals. I hate to gush, but at this point, he’s more myth than man. Did you hear he drowned singing “Whole Lotta Love”?
Nas – “NY State of Mind”
Some call it the greatest rap song of all time. Illmatic took the attitude of late ’80s West Coast gangsta rap and chronicled gang violence and urban poverty in New York City. Here, Nas tells a street level story about hustling and gunfights — the stuff he sees and has grown up around. If his lyricism were ever in doubt, The Norton Anthology of African American Literature includes this song in its pages.
Guided by Voices – “I am a Scientist”
In another world, Robert Pollard is the biggest rock star around. I mean, the high kicks, the cooler full of beer he and the GBV boys kill at every show — it’s the stuff of legends. Instead, he taught fourth-grade until he was in his late 30′s and got together with his buddies now and then to record on their four track. To be certain, he is the MVP of beer league indie rock, but like he says here, “Everything works out right.”
Weezer – “Buddy Holly”
1994 saw Weezer emerge with the aesthetic of The Feelies or the Talking Heads — bespectacled, clean-cut, and just kinda nerdy. They said they liked Kiss and Cheap Trick — an uncool move at this late date in time — and then they were deadly serious about the power pop guitar solos and the choruses decked with ohhs and ahhs. There was nary an edge or a tooth or a barb about these guys. And they handily churned out some of the most memorable and influential music of the decade.
Prodigy – “Voodoo People”
When I was 10 or 11, I loved this song. I think mainly because it sounded unlike anything else I could hear on the radio. There were hints of acid house and hardcore techno, nods at the burgeoning rave cultures at home and across the pond. That four-on-the-floor demands you to jump around, while cheesy hair metal licks and the “Very Ape” sample imposes a rock music framework. Plus there was that extra special promise of black magic.
Nine Inch Nails – “March of the Pigs”
Here we have Trent Reznor at his lectern, raving on about death and destruction at 269BPM. Nine Inch Nails always makes me think “goth rock,” but less Bauhaus and more mid-’90s-Manson-spooky-kid. At this re-listen, I’m thinking synth punk big time, especially the small section before the piano resolves it all. Some good counting to seven, too.
Green Day – “Longview”
Yes, Green Day have grown up to become bloated, limply political puffs, but have some respect, they are the fathers of pop punk. And the genre still holds weight — especially in dollars and airtime. Plus, it’s among the few forms where one can write about jerking off and get away with it.