500 Favorites, #004: The Isley Brothers, “Footsteps in the Dark, Pt. 1 & 2)”
(from Go For Your Guns, 1977)
I’m going to start things off with what looks like a tangent: if you were born after this song came out, that means listening to it gives you a more than 50% chance of immediately bringing “It Was a Good Day” to mind instead. Which is fair enough, since it’s one of the most iconic hip-hop hits of the early ’90s, while the source material is a previous generation’s record that hasn’t aged into canonization to the same extent. (Which sucks, because Go for Your Guns is all-killer-no-filler and should damn well be on every “500 Greatest Records” list imaginable, including ones put together by Decibel and Resident Advisor.) But “It Was a Good Day” is notoriously half-understood by a lot of the people who appreciate it as just a feel-good top-of-the-world anthem.
On its own, it’s a celebration of those times where everything just finally goes right, and Cube’s inspiration to make it was fueled by the feeling that after long years of work, he’d arrived to the point where he was having more of those good days than ever before. But it’s also a red herring: in the context of The Predator and its post-L.A. riots frustration, it’s positioned as an unreal, escapist fantasy scenario, one of those stories where everything feels so effortless and victorious that it has to be a lie somehow. On the album, Cube cuts off the last moments where the track would just otherwise ride out and just snaps: “Hey, wait a minute, fool, stop the shit — what the fuck am I thinking about?” And that brings us to the hidden genius that was coded deep in this sample: “Footsteps in the Dark” is the constant undercurrent of doubt that runs through the whole thing, questioning and interrogating that good feeling the entire way.