One of the main reasons for picking some of these older papers as back-to-basics reading is that the first researchers on a topic had to develop the fundamental models and principles from scratch. As such there is much to learn from the descriptions of those first algorithms and models. One area that is tremendously important in todays distributed systems and has a long history is load balancing and load management. In this 1986 paper on load sharing Eager, Lazowska and Zahorjan layout the basics. Even though these early system lack todays scale and complexity the fundamentals are there.
Adaptive load sharing in homogeneous distributed systems, D Eager, ED Lazowska and J Zahorjan - IEEE transactions on software engineering, 1986