We look at six songs that stand out as important moments in modern music, changing the playing field and inspiring legions of other musicians…
JEFF BUCKLEY – GRACE (1994)
With alternative music (as it was known at the time) in the grip of grunge and hard rock it took a sensitive young man with an angelic voice, good looks and a mesmerizing guitar style to usher in a new era of appreciation for the tortured heart and lost lovers. Buckley spent a long time crafting and refining the batch of songs that would make up his debut album and the epic title track and first single Grace ignited a whole swathe of music listeners who were sick of the posturing and angry angst on the radio. Buckley’s sweet falsetto and powerful voice seduced and influenced everyone from Thom Yorke to Chris Martin and Rufus Wainwright and marked his as one of those special artists even before his tragic death.
THE CURE – A FOREST (1980)
This was the first single that charted for the band in the UK and it marked the real arrival of their sound from which they would base all their future work. It was dark, melancholic and mysterious enough to keep the tortured teens of the time guessing as to what it meant. Sonically there are similarities to early New Order with primitive beats and a prominent bass line that binds and propels the song. By not punctuating the song with big choruses it feels linear and unconventional marking it as something different to the standard chart fodder like Blondie and ABBA. A Forest was an exercise in reductionist pop composition that took them from post punk mopes to leaders of the indie scene at the dawn of the 80s.
PUBLIC ENEMY – BRING THE NOISE (1987)
Public Enemy were the first truly militant hip hop act to garner widespread success in a genre that too often was viewed as cartoonish and not ‘real’ music by the mainstream. PE changed all that by politicising their lyrics and delivering them rapid fire over brutal and drilling beats courtesy of DJ Terminator X. From the opening Malcolm X sample of “Too black, too strong” this was serious music with Chuck D and Flavor Flav playing the roles of orator and jester between the searing scratching and a wide spectrum of beats. Importantly it wasn’t all bluster and noise, Chuck D’s vocal work superbly navigates different meters and phrasing like a poet re-enacting a Miles Davis trumpet solo. Hip Hop would never sound as visceral as this again.
DAVID BOWIE – ZIGGY STARDUST (1972)
Perhaps the best known of Bowie’s many incarnations, Ziggy Stardust was a song that told the tale of the character, created the myth and liberated a generation of music fans and other musicians. In the early 1970s art rock was a underground scene that only reached the masses with the arrival of Marc Bolan on Top of the Pops in 1971. Fellow maverick Bowie was on the same path and with the creation of Ziggy Stardust the two of them led the way for a plethora of like minded extroverts such as Gary Glitter, Slade, Queen, Roxy Music and the New York Dolls. It is easy to underestimate the conceptual influence of Bowie’s theatrical side which has permeated most forms of music ever since. The song Ziggy Stardust (surprisingly not released as a single) was the vehicle for a call to arms for creative freedom and expression and Mick Ronson’s opening chords still sounds magnificent nearly 40 years on.
THE STONE ROSES – FOOLS GOLD (1989)
The final track on the band’s defining album provided the band with their first top ten hit in the UK and their appearance on Top of the Pops is seen by many as the defining moment when the band gained national and subsequently international fame. Fools Gold is the definitive Stone Roses song with Reni’s trademark funk-fueled breakbeat drumming, Mani’s rolling bass, John Squire’s rip and tear wah guitar and Ian Brown‘s lackadaisical vocal delivery. It felt intoxicating, loose limbed and completely of its time on the eve of Britpop and in the twilight of the so called Summer Of Love – two British music movements that The Stone Roses straddled. Few bands have married guitars and dance beats so successfully since.
THE BEACH BOYS – GOOD VIBRATIONS (1966)
Brian Wilson’s masterpiece of composition and production was reaction of sorts to what he was hearing from The Beatles on the other side of the Atlantic in the mid 1960s. Described by the band’s publicist Derek Taylor as a ‘pocket symphony’ he wasn’t far off the mark. Incorporating instruments like the electro-theremin and cello it sounds like a disorientating wave of melodies, harmonies and musical treats all wrapped up in 3.5 minutes of pop perfection. Psychedelic music was already around but this song elevated it into the mainstream, reaching the top of the US single charts and widening the minds of millions.