I'm sure this has happened to everyone. One hears a song and it takes him or her back to a certain time or place. I cannot say I am an exception to this rule. In fact, there are certain songs that when I hear them, I think of a particular decade. These songs are not necessarily the best songs of their decades. They are not necessarily the most popular sons of their decades. But they are songs that sum up those decades for me perfectly.
I was only 7 years old when the Sixties ended. It is then difficult for me to really say what the Sixties were like. When I think of the Sixties, I tend to think of various rock groups, TV shows, movies, and fashions. I am sure that an older person might think of the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, anti-war protests, and so on, things a kid would not necessarily remember. Regardless of my admittedly dim memories of the decade, there are two songs that bring to mind the Sixties for me. One is "For What It's Worth" (Stop, Hey, What's That Sound) by the Buffalo Springfield. Released in 1967 and written by Stpehen Stills, the song had some of the folk rock sound that would later characterised Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young. The song's lyrics are essentially a warning of the violence and paranoia of the times and a call to action to prevent that violence and paranoia from entirely consuming individuals. This sentiment seems particularly characteristic of a decade when protests and political unrest were the rule of the day.
The other song that makes me think of the Sixties is "Get Together" by The Youngbloods. Like "For What It's Worth" (Stop, Hey, What's That Sound), "Get Together" was orignally released in 1967. It did not perform particularly well on the charts at that time. The song may well have been forgotten had the National Conferance of Christians and Jews used as part of their promotion for "Brotherhood Week." The song then climbed to #5 on the Billboard Singles charts. The song's lyrics are essentially a call to choose love and brotherhood over fear. Again, this is another sentiment characteristic of the decade of the Sixties.
When it comes to the Seventies, I can think of only one song: "Slow Ride" by Foghat. By the time of the Seventies, the social activism of the Sixties had given way to the hedonism of the Seventies. "Slow Ride" was on the album Fool for the City released in 1975. It was the first Foghat song to hit the top forty and Fool for the City was their first album to go platinum. The song's rather simplistic (and repetitive) lyrics appear to about a rendevous with a "slow ridin' woman." As such, I suppose that "Slow Ride" is essentially a timeless song. Still, being a song essentially about seeking pleasure and the fact that it was a major hit in the middle of the decade, "Slow Ride" characterises the Me Decade for me perfectly, a song about pleasure from a decade obsessed with it. I have always liked "Slow Ride," although I tend to tire of the song easily. I did not like the Seventies and tired of them almost immediately.
Like the Sixties, the Eighties have two quintessential songs where I am concerned. One is "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell. Even though Soft Cell's version of the song is arguably the most famous, it was not the first. The original version was recorded in 1964 by soul singer Gloria Jones. At that time the song did not do well. After having moved to the UK and married T. Rex Front man Marc Bolan, she recorded a new version of the song in 1975. Although it was not a major hit, it did well on the dance club circuit. In 1981 Soft Cell released their synthesizer version. It went to number one on the UK charts and number 8 in the U.S. In the United States it stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart for a record 43 weeks. The lyrics to "Tainted Love" are essentially timeless--they are the plea of a wronged lover in an essentialy toxic relationship. Still, with the synth sound that was popular at the time, Soft Cell's version seems to me to be irrevocably tied to the Eighties.
The other song I identify with the Seventies is "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" by the Eurythmics. The song was the sixth single of the Eurythimics and their biggest hit. Written by the Eurythmics (Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart), "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" is a cynical statement on the human condition and what "sweet dreams" are made of. For me "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" is in many ways the perfect song for the "Greed is Good" mentality of the Eighties. Unfortunatley, its lyrics would seem to hold true for many of the "get rich quick" individuals so common in that decade. It was also a synth pop song like "Tainted Love." Curiously, Marilyn Manson remade both songs.
There really isn't a song I identify with the Nineties. I can't say why. I tend to think of the entire Grunge movement as characterising the decade, but there is not an individual song with which I identify it. Similarly, there are no songs I identify with the Naughts either, but then this decade is not over yet. I'm sure that given time I will think of the quintessential Nineties song and the quintessential Naughts song.