By Sarah Grant
When it came to mining songs of the past, 2013 took – as Breaking Bad‘s Mike Ehrmantraut might have said – no half-measures.
These five songs came firing back into our lives through some strange pathways: a fictional chemist, an overzealous Celtics fan, blurry courtroom controversies and a Toyota commercial.
If this list proves anything, it’s that you never know when a song is due for its cultural comeuppance and summoned forward in time. Clearly, we had no idea what these songs were capable of the first time around so as we look ahead to 2014, we’ll tread lightly.
Released: March 6, 1972
Ten million people watched the finale episode of Breaking Bad, and presumably, the next thing many of those viewers did was turn to Spotify. “Baby Blue,” the tender ‘70s ballad by Badfinger, neatly summed up the series with the hazy line: “Guess I got what I deserved/My baby blue.” (Protagonist Walt, of course, is most famous for the blue-colored meth he produces.) According to the music streaming service, global streams of the song went up 9,000 percent in less than 12 hours after the final scene.
According to Billboard, “Blue” never sold more than 1,000 downloads in a single week. The night of the finale, “Blue” was downloaded 5,000 times in a single night. One week later, the song’s sales increased nearly 3,000 percent and “Blue” re-entered the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart at No. 14. The success catapulted the U.K. rock band back into the cultural lexicon, 40 years after they fell apart.
Badfinger began with plenty of promise. They were the first band the Beatles signed to Apple Records. Paul McCartney wrote their first hit. But even those favorable circumstances couldn’t save the band from financial turmoil and the subsequent suicides of its singer and guitarist. Thanks to Breaking Bad, Badfinger – and its last Twitter-savvy band member – are finally getting what they deserve.
Released: March 15, 1977
The self-defining question of 2013: Did “Blurred Lines” rip off Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up”?
“Blurred Lines” will forever be the feather in Robin Thicke’s fedora. It was the best-selling song of 2013 and the longest-running No. 1 single of the decade, identifiable by its goofy “hey, hey, hey’s” to its preening models in various states of undress.
After the song exploded over the summer, Thicke, producer Pharrell Williams and T.I. filed a preemptive lawsuit against Marvin Gaye’s family requesting a ruling that “Blurred Lines” does not infringe upon Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” which — the public retroactively learned — happens to be one of Thicke’s favorite songs.
While the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles sided with the “Blurred Lines” gentlemen, there are plenty of purists indignant over how Gaye’s joyous vibes were flagrantly copped. Be that as it may, “Blurred Lines” revived Gaye’s funky classics to new ears and new hips in 2013. Sometimes the end justifies the means – or in other words – sometimes you got to give it up.
Released: October 31, 1986
The lesson here may be that “Livin’ On A Prayer” will just never go away. Tommy? Gina? Forever holding on to what they’ve got: in our cars, our computers and later, in our microchip brain inserts.
Back in November, Bon Jovi’s jock jam of 1987 reentered the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 25, thanks to a video of basketball fan Jeremy Fry rocking out to “Prayer” in the aisle of a Boston Celtics game. The video was originally posted in 2009, but it went viral again.
According to Billboard, the twice-viral video received 11 million worldwide views and was shared on Facebook more than 1.6 million times, thereby spurring a global streaming frenzy of “Livin’ On A Prayer.” In a single week, Nielsen SoundScan estimates the rock anthem was played 5.1 million times in the United States, making that week both the happiest and least productive week of the entire year.
Released: May 6, 1987
A start-up toy company called GoldieBlox created a video “parody” of the Beastie Boys song “Girls” to encourage young girls to pursue careers in science. The ad-masked-as-viral-video was viewed more than seven million times on YouTube. It features three girls that engineer a Rube Goldberg-type contraption and sing about eschewing things like “pink toys” and “princesses” in a parody of the misogynistic Beastie Boys song.
GoldieBlox’s version replaces lyrics like: “Girls – to do the dishes/ Girls – to clean up my room/ Girls – to do the laundry” with “Girls – to build the spaceship/ Girls – to code the new app/Girls to grow up knowing/ That they can engineer that.”
Perhaps GoldieBlox would’ve been wiser to have at least one of the girls pursue law. After the surviving Beastie Boys threatened legal action over copyright infringement if GoldieBlox did not remove their song, the company preemptively sued the band, sparking even more debate about fair use and feminism across the web. Beasties wrote an open letter explaining their stance on their music being used for commercial purposes (while simultaneously complimenting GoldieBlox), at which point the start-up realized their legal battle was a fool’s errand.
Released: July 10, 1978
Car commercials! They were pretty ordinary this year! Who didn’t have an ordinary year? Nile Rodgers. The Chic guitarist responsible for the groove of “Le Freak” made Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories even funkier, proving to be the second biggest creative partnership of Rodgers’ career — and possibly the more lucrative one. The album’s lead single “Get Lucky” sold over 7.3 million copies worldwide, just above the 7 million copies sold of “Le Freak.”
In April, Rodgers shimmied next to the robots as the cool earth dude wearing a backwards beret in the “Lucky” video. In July, he wrote on his Twitter that he was clear of his prostate cancer, and in October, Chic was nominated to join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. No one actually remembers that “Le Freak” was featured in this year’s Toyota Corolla commercial, but chances are, Toyota is feeling pretty lucky to have cashed in on Rodgers’ big year.