(I wrote this before seeing this Metafilter thread on an 80s-music Youtube archive.)
I posted about this a few years ago. I had some idea about a song from every decade, based on the idea that a cross-section of music would be better than a raw list that would risk running in and out of genre and slopping over any barriers of sense and sentiment I might have erected. I'm pretty sure I settled on something from Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" was a mortal lock for 1971. I think Bobby Womack's "If You Think You're Lonely Now (Wait Until Tonight)" was a lock. Massive Attack's "Unfinished Sympathy" was probably 1991. If I had to guess right now, I'd say PJ Harvey and Thom Yorke's "The Mess We're In" could stand for 2001.
(Involuntary aside: Jonathan Lethem's James Brown profile in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, the one with Eddie Vedder on the cover. I'm chuckling at the whole thing, but I'm nodding my head at the comparison of the Godfather of Soul with Billy Pilgrim. Picture a visionary unstuck in time, a creative force who's lived so long that years become nothing more than arbitary delineations of sonic innovation.)
This question of the day could be a lifetime's work, a good long essay for some or a motherfucking novel. A inquiry time-stretched like a jump-up breakbeat, like one of those days at the heart of "Inherit the Wind."