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Had Steve Jobs commissioned a song, it would have felt like Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” Modern but ageless. Sleek, streamlined, memorable and futuristic.
“We’re up all night to get some, we’re up all night for good fun,” Pharrell optimistically declares, imagining joy on the horizon. Released in April, the single went on to soundtrack the year’s wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs, drives along the Pacific Coast Highway and hairbrush-as-microphone bedroom singalongs, no small feat for two helmeted Frenchmen.
It was “Star Wars,” roller-skating and disco rolled into one, with a relentless groove and so many shimmering mirror-ball moments that one YouTube remixer was prompted to loop the track’s synth solo into an epic three-hour meditation. Soul tendencies courtesy of Pharrell’s groovy falsetto and a minimal, clean strum from producer-guitarist Nile Rodgers of Chic connected the present and the past. And synthesized android voices jammed through the tune’s midsong break offering a nod to the future.
“Like the legend of the phoenix/ All ends with beginnings,” Pharrell offered to start, in a single line announcing a rebirth, as if not just a lyric but also an ideal had risen from the embers to reclaim its place in contemporary music.
That clean, stylistic phoenix weaved through some of the year’s most magnetic tracks, suggesting that distorted rock riffs had nothing on the pure catchiness of unfiltered guitar lines. The sound has as its genesis Jimmy Nolen’s “chicken scratch” style as a member of James Brown’s late-1960s band, further developed through the sound of Chic’s hits “Good Times” and “Le Freak,” and guitarist Paul Jackson Jr. on Michael Jackson’s classic work. Rodgers’ strum propelled the “Get Lucky” beat, made it melodic.
Recorded at Electric Lady Studios in New York, where Chic’s early work was recorded, “Get Lucky” rolls at an even 116 beats per minute, which splits the difference between hip-hop and house music. Unhurried but insistent, two androids neutral of nationality or dialect build a song using humans as their instruments: most notably Rodgers and session drummer and former Weather Report member Omar Hakim.
A similar guitar tone galloped through Los Angeles sibling trio Haim’s breakout album, “Days Are Gone,” as exemplified in the undistorted, jumpy sound of “The Wire.” That they managed to suggest both Michael Jackson and Fleetwood Mac is a testament to their taste and skills. A similar note bounced through Toro y Moi’s streamlined indie soul as delivered on his “Anything in Return.” Too, it was steeped in British producer Dev Hynes’ work as Blood Orange on his excellent “Cupid Deluxe.”
“Get Lucky” is also a product of an impatient and oft-unpredictable pop moment, when tastes and digital viruses combine to foster quick random stylistic turns. If some of the biggest hits of 2012 leaned toward high-speed anthemic thrills — Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” “Stronger” from Kelly Clarkson, “We Found Love” by Rihanna — many of this year’s breakouts decelerated into a less frenetic groove. It’s as though 2 a.m. on the dance floor had given way to 3:30 a.m. eternal, that time when DJs pull back and the floor turns liquid.
There was “Get Lucky,” yes, but also the simmering — and virtually guitar free — “Blurred Lines” from Robin Thicke, the minimal reality of Lorde’s “Royals” and Justin Timberlake’s ballad “Mirrors,” each of which offered a level of patience.
A defiantly analog expression amid a world obsessed with exploring unheard synthetic tones — see Daft Punk’s harsh productions on Kanye West’s “Yeezus” to better appreciate the duo’s range — the track offers real-life hand claps, an honest and uncomplicated chord progression, repetition and, its crowning achievement, that freaky synth solo that wends its way through the rhythm.
Most notable, perhaps, is the recording’s defiant dip into another era. One consequence of the so-called evolution of pop music is that, like technology, perfectly good ideas often land in the compost before they’ve had a chance to fully ripen. “Get Lucky” revisited without seeming “retro” about it.
Also surprising, during a time when chart-toppers are electronic dance music bangers from Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry, Daft Punk retreated from the 130 bpm thump to go smooth and to explore the sound of the music in the pre beat-box ‘70s.
That it struck a chord wasn’t assured when Daft Punk dropped it in spring. But as the year progressed, it became clear that “Get Lucky” had won the gamble, its retro-funky moves offering new opportunities and no doubt propelling many bouts of good fortune.