Reader Request Week #6: 80s Pop Music

Lis Riba asks:

So, why is the pop music from the early 1980s just so damn good?

It’s not. Or more accurately, it is neither quantitively nor qualitively better than pop music from any other particular music era one might choose to think of. However, at the moment it has the advantage of being the music that the currently emerging crop of culture tastemakers, in their late 30s to mid 40s, were listening to when they started caring what music they were listening to. So we hear a lot of it in the background of movies and TV shows, on what passes for broadcast radio these days, and see it snarkily/ironically/reverentially referenced in the media on lots of different levels. Just as, say, those of us who were teenagers in the 80s heard a whole goddamn lot of late 60s/early 70s music in those same positions back in the day. Twenty years from now, we’ll be hearing lots of millennial pop jammed into the same position, so get ready for a whole lot of N*Sync references come 2029, folks. I know, I know. I’m scared too.

That said, I certainly like early 80s pop music. And in fact, I like both major streams of it — the American melodic AOR stream, typified by bands like Journey and REO Speedwagon, and the British synthpop stream, typified by Duran Duran and all the other bands that hit it big because MTV started and these Britpop bands were the only ones that already had videos (Gen-Xers, insert your “I remember when MTV showed videos” comment here). And let’s not forget the SoCal sound, typified by IRS Records and KROQ, or the Minneapolis sound, a wholly owned subsidiary of Prince (with the Replacements tossed in for the funkless). And towering above it all, in a way not yet creepy: Michael Jackson. Really, what’s not to like about any of it?

I love it all, but then I would, because I was in my tweens and early teens when this all went down, and that’s when we really love our music, because that’s when we start to pick our music for ourselves, and we don’t know enough to realize that none of it stands in a continuum of pop music that began before we were born and will continue long after we’re dead, so it’s towering and special and perfect. Later on we learn it’s just part of a whole river of ever-receding stuff that was once popular, but of course we don’t care. You never forget your first love. I mean, I no longer believe that Journey Escape is my all-time favorite album, any more than I believe that Karin, the girl I had a crush on in the eighth grade, is totally the woman for me. It doesn’t mean I don’t still think fondly of both.

(For the record: My all-time favorite album; totally the woman for me)

The way to most accurately judge the quality of a pop music era, in my opinion, is not by the stuff universally acknowledged as the high points of era, but by all the other stuff that happened to be popular too, and whether it’s better or worse than the average pop song of any other era one might think of. Ask yourself: was Howard Jones‘ output any better (or worse) than that of Herman’s Hermits, or that of Good Charlotte? Each of them were more or less equally popular in their eras, twenty years apart (actually, of the three, Herman’s Hermits probably cast the largest cultural shadow at the time); who wants to argue that “Things Can Only Get Better” is manifestly superior or inferior to “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” or “I Just Wanna Live“? I personally find it difficult to do; they are all perfectly cromulent examples of the music of their era, the sort of music that becomes the mix-n-match filler of those “SUPER HITS OF THE XXs” compilations that get squirted out after the fact. When you look at neither the high points nor the low points of  a pop era, but rather the stuff right smack dab in the middle, you see that it’s all about equal in the end.

So, sorry, Lis. Early 80s music actually isn’t just so damn good. But at least it’s not just so damn bad.

55 Comments on “Reader Request Week #6: 80s Pop Music”

  1. I’ll chime in about Michael Jackson. Thriller is one of the greatest pop albums ever recorded and if you haven’t listened to it, or haven’t done so in years, do yourself a favor and do so now. You’ll see a master craftsman at his peak.

    He may have gotten creepy and weird after Thriller, but Thriller is a great pop album and stands the test of time.

  2. Christopher:

    “You’ll see a master craftsman at his peak.”

    Yes: Quincy Jones.

    All kidding aside, however, yes: Indisputably great album from an indisputably great singer and entertainer.

  3. Dammit. Now I’ve got “No One Is To Blame” running on repeat in my head. This, to my mind, was his crowning achievement, rather than “Things Can Only Get Better”. At least, that’s what the me from 1985-86 argues. And I know better than to get in a music fight with 11-year-old past me.

    Plus: ye Gods, look at the hair! The hair!

  4. Scalzi: Quincy Adams, yes. I sometimes forget the huge role he played on that record.

  5. Ahhh, 80’s music.

    It’s interesting to look back on it all.

    JS mentioned Howard Jones. I was a big Ho-Jo fan back in the day, but when my wife and I donated our entire tape collection earlier this decade, I didn’t feel compelled to replace every album on CD. I bought the “Best Of” disc instead, and now the funny part is that my 5 year old daughter likes to listen to Ho-Jo more than I do.

    Tears for Fears didn’t produce enough in my opinion. But then, where else could they go after they did, “Songs from the Big Chair?” Nothing they did after that ever really measured up. Not that it wasn’t good, it just wasn’t “Big Chair” good.

    Of course, you can’t talk about 80’s Brit Pop without talking about Depeche Mode. Amazing that they’re still relentlessly producing an album roughly every three years, nearly three decades after they exploded onto the charts. Though I must say, I think they hit their peak with “Music for the Masses” and “Violator.” Some of their work since has been hit-and-miss with me. But I will always buy their albums regardless. A testament to how much I enjoy their work.

    Does anyone still remember or listen to The Art Of Noise? They always get overlooked when discussing 80’s Brit Pop, but I gotta say I think AON was perhaps the most original and innovative group of the era, and I am proud to own several albums.

    Sadly, not everything in the 80’s was golden. Several of the great artists and bands from the 70’s and 60’s turfed it in the 80’s.

    Like Chicago. Lord, Chicago. R.I.P.

    Bowie survived the 80’s and actually did some remarkable work on albums like, “Black Tie, White Noise” as well as the fascinating concept album, “Outside.” But his work in the 80’s, both under his own name and with Super Groups like Tin Machine, was not his best IMHO. And in some cases, it was his worst.

    I like that JS pointed out the fact that each generation has a somewhat warped musical view, regarding the music that was popular during that generation’s tween/teen years. I tend to think 95% of the pop and hip-hop being broadcast right now is pure dung. But I realize that for the latest tweeny-teeny crowd, this music will be The Best Music Ever and I am OK with that. As with food, who enjoys what music and when, is purely subjective. Just as long as I can still listen to *MY* Best Music Ever — hurray for the MP3 revolution and easily downloadable classix! — I am content.

    CAVEAT: one nice thing about the re-mining of 80’s music is that it’s re-introduced a lot of electronic sound into the current trends. I’ve enjoyed a lot of the trip hop, drum’n’bass, ambient, and other emerging sub-genres which owe a great deal to the 80’s.

  6. Big band era jazz was *good*. Almost nothing will ever compare to the 1938 Carnegie Hall concert with Benny Goodman.

    That’s my “objective judge of all that’s good in the world” voice.

  7. Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” LP is a totally slick pop album. He said later he was broke and did it for the money but it was awesome.

    Tears For Tears did “The Seeds of Love” and it was a solid record but it managed to steer away from the pop of Songs From The Big Chair, leaving a lot of their fans behind. Their recent album “Everybody Loves A Happy Ending” manages to strike a balance between the two and well worth the listen.

  8. When I go back to listen to 80’s music after decades, it seems to me that the difference is that there was just a lot more originality back then. The musicians weren’t particularly more talented, but at least they were generally trying something new. So much of what passes for pop music today is prepackaged and dull.

  9. I think the 80s was the last decade of record companies nurturing new talent until they blossomed, something that is lost in today’s prepackaged artist. You know something is wrong when an artist is dropped from his record label for lack of sales despite the fact their record went gold and sold 600,000 copies.

  10. My favorite Good Charlotte instance was right after their performance on an MTV awards… Chris Rock said “Good Charlotte? More like a mediocre Green Day!”

  11. There’s pop music and then there’s pop music. I grew up in the 80s, but the music I heard on the radio — or saw on MTV — was nothing like the the 80s music I like today. If you take a look at the top of the Billboard 100 for, say, 1985, its all Wham! and Madonna, with some Speedwagon thrown in for good measure . No Replacements, Husker Du, Cure or Smiths in sight, although they all released great albums that year. No Talking Heads or INXS for that matter, either.

    And don’t forget the greatest album of 1985, Dead Milkmen’s Big Lizard in my Backyard.

    The same goes for now. Most of the music I like won’t go anywhere near the top of the charts.

  12. It’s not.

    Yes it is! It IS!

    bursts into tears

    Ahem. Seriously, ’80s pop was a mix of good and bad like everything else, and I like what the mashup DJs are doing with 80s music. But my friends do roll their eyes when we go to a strip bar and I grouse “What’s with all this new-fangled music these girls are dancin’ to? It’s just noise! Back in my day, all we had was Prince and we were glad to have it!”

  13. Coincidentally, I just saw “Rock of Ages” on Broadway last weekend. That we have a jukebox musical using the pop and metal hits of the ’80s definitely says something about the cultural zeitgeist. (i.e., it’s even pervaded Broadway. Theater, unfortunately, doesn’t appear to influence much these days.)

    For the record, I thought it was a lot of fun. I don’t know what anyone who wasn’t playing attention (or wasn’t born yet) when the songs were new would make of it though. It was playing, however, to a house where everyone seemed to already know the tunes so maybe it doesn’t matter. (Note to audiences: Please don’t sing along unless they ask you to. Likewise, there’s no need to discuss the show with your significant other while the show is still being performed right in front of you. Thank you.)

    It’s not Ionesco’s “Exit the King” (playing across the street, BTW). It isn’t intended to be though.

  14. I think you’re wrong. There IS something magical about pop music from the early 80’s!

    I had this theory going for a while, formed mostly after a viewing of the movie “24 Hour Party People” that the majority of modern music exists because one man gave his life to act as a catalyst for all the different things going on at the time. That man was Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division.

    Basically, Joy Division influenced music enough on their own. Then, Ian Curtis died and the remaining members founded New Order, opened up The Hacienda and helped invent the rave and fostered a lot of experimentation in electronic music. This bled over into many of the already existing musical forms and helped create many, many more.

    Then one day, Ian Curtis will return and popular music will reach an eternal golden age where he will croon into his microphone and do his weird little running-in-place shimmy for ever and ever. Amen.

  15. I cannot begin to guess what I will learn from your posts. “Cromulent doesn’t appear in the OED, but I found it at Great word!

  16. I’m a child of the early 80s music, and I’ve been known to say “There hasn’t been a decent pop or rock song written since 1985.” I don’t actually mean none, but the music from before that time (at which time I entered college) will always be near and dear to my heart.

    Of course, I’m also a big fan of 50s and 60s pop, thanks to my parents’ influence. I love 70s rock (Zep, KISS, Skynryd, etc.) I also enjoy some of the stuff my kids listen to now. I think that the blackhole in my pop musical appreciation is the early 90s, before I had kids. I can’t think of anything interesting from that time (OK, except maybe Barenaked Ladies’ GORDON album).

    As for MTV, does anyone else remember “Basement Tapes”, where small garage bands could send in their own homemade music videos for late-night airing? A friend of mine in high school had several of his get shown, and it was like he’d hit the big time.

  17. 80s. Meh. You young’uns know nothing. Hitting one’s mid-teens in London half-way through the 70s, as punk exploded and then subsided into New Wave, now that was the good stuff, particularly when we had the 60s and early bubblegum 70s as context.

    Of course, all the new stuff is just noise, but I think we’re all agreed on that… At least, I have to say that – my kids would be devastated if I admitted to liking much.

  18. Was anyone a fan of 80’s butt rock or hair metal?

    I never got into that, but it seemed like all my friends did.

    Ratt. Scorpions. Motley Crue. Quiet Riot. And, later, Poison, Firehouse, et al. Used to make me ill, especially when my friends would make fun of the “fag music” I was into: Ho-Jo, Depeche, and of course, Pet Shop Boys.

    In my teens I relented and picked up a little metal, purchasing some White Snake, Y&T, Guns’n’Roses, & Motley Crue. But none of it ever stuck with me, and I didn’t replace any of it when we got rid of our tapes.

    NOTE: I still find it ironic that the guys in my social group who called my music “fag music” were worshipping glam metal groups that routinely put on wigs, spandex, and heavy makeup.

    ALSO NOTE: Even though they produced a lot of material during the 80’s and had some great success, I don’t count Metallica as glam or hair metal, nor do I include AC/DC. The former was definitely thrash/speed and largely cut against the pop metal trend, while the latter was Old School party metal with a decidedly 70’s feel. These are also two of the few metal bands that I have purchased in CD form, post-cassette.

  19. @ Jimbob #12

    I will now always and forever love Chris Rock.

    Being a technical child of the 80s, but not coming to “maturity” until the 90s/2000s, I will say that I still have to go back to the 80s to hear pop music that I find enticing (and I also think most of the underground music of the time was superior, too.) Other people have already covered how musicians in the 80s were doing a lot of new things, yadda-yadda, but I won’t just chock it up to nostalgia. I believe musicians from the 80s are going to have much better staying power than their counterparts from the next few decades down the road.

  20. Scalzi

    Ask yourself: was Howard Jones‘ output any better (or worse) than that of Herman’s Hermits, or that of Good Charlotte?

    But can any of them compare to pop artists like Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra?

    It seems to me there is whole step in quality there. But that may be just me.

    Personally, I intentionally avoided music from the 80s. I still think of it as the lost decade musically.

    And wonder of wonders, Josh (@7) and I find more common ground.

  21. Frank:

    “But can any of them compare to pop artists like Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra?”

    Obviously no, because, as I noted in the entry itself, I’m talking about the mid-list pop musicians of an era, not the people in the top end.

  22. I’ve been nostalgic for the early 80s since 1987, man.

    I think Neil Gaiman put it best in the Duran Duran biography he wrote back when he was a struggling journalist–the golden age of rock and roll is between the ages of twelve and fourteen.

  23. Somehow, and I’ve yet to really figure this out since – according to Wikipedia – I’m 3 years younger than Scalzi, I got stuck in the ’70s. I was growing up and listing to many of the groups listed above, in fact Duran Duran was the first concert I ever went to. My all-time favorite group? Electric Light Orchestra. In fact, I’m a sucker for anyone who slips an orchestral accompaniment in with a rock group, but that’s another discussion. The point is, the radio I tend to listen to goes back before my time, to ELO, Steve Miller, Zeppelin, Queen, The Who, The Police, possibly other groups with “The” as a predominant part of their title.

    I didn’t get it directly from my parents. Although you can blame ELO on them, as they had the albums, they didn’t listen to music or the radio much. For me, the seeds were planted by my mom’s ELO albums versus my sister’s Duran Duran albums. Somehow, ELO won out.

    So, Scalzi, a follow question to this: do you have pre-80’s favorites? And I don’t just mean the occasional Led Zeppelin tune on the radio, but full albums from the 70’s or before that you adore.

    Oh, and Queen doesn’t count, because as we all know, any cassette tape left in your car more than a fortnight turns into “Best of Queen”.

  24. There are songs that were popular in the 80s, there are great songs from the 80s…

    and then there are songs that seem to be made of pure, concentrated 80s.

    To my way of thinking, the highest density of pure 80s anywhere is in the first 11 notes of Van Halen’s Jump.

  25. What about Hall and Oates? Or weren’t they 80’s or considered pop? Definitely great stuff though.
    Anyway, I’ll echo Sub O on Depeche Mode. Violator is one of the 80’s albums that made the cut to my Ipod.

    In general I agree with John’s assertion that the teenage to 20’s years color your musical tastes to a large degree but I think the internet and MP3’s are going to change that a certain amount. No music will be forgotten and rediscovery is just a mouse click away. It also keeps you from getting in a rut and only listening to the same old things

    I listen to Pandora at work and keep on finding artists new to me that i’ve added to the playlist. Groups like Flyleaf, Plumb, Kate Havenik. So the Ipod has music from every decade from the 50’s to today. I love me my internets 8D

  26. It’s not just the music from 20 years + or – that creates that sort of dissonance. Last weekend, my wife and I (in our early 30’s) had a rock band party with some friends and coworkers, all ranging in age from mid 20’s to mid 30’s. RB2 is heavy into the 80’s and 90’s era but does have some tracks from the 00’s. Our friends closer to the 20 year end of the age spectrum knew that stuff better and were far more excited about it then those of us closer to the 30 year end of the spectrum. Just 4 years + or – makes a difference.

  27. I was born in ’78, but I was into music at all until the mid-90s, and then I was more into 60s music. So I have no real nostalgia for 1980s pop, but I still much prefer it to current stuff.

    It seemed more amateurish and fun, and it seemed to me that there was more variety and more melody than the average stuff today.

    On the other hand, it might be a universal truth that the earnest expression of current teenage emotion strikes those of us who don’t share it as offensive and stupid; while the earnest expression of bygone teenage emotion strikes us as funny and endearing.

  28. PJ the Barbarian@26: To my way of thinking, the highest density of pure 80s anywhere is in the first 11 notes of Van Halen’s Jump.

    Aw yeah. Yamaha FM synthesizers FTW. Easily as distinctive as the Hammond organs and Mellotrons of an earlier era.

    Incidentally, I find it interesting that electronic music instruments dating from the 80’s, such as Roland’s TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines, and their TB-303 bass synth, virtually defined a number of “modern” dance music genres, such as house.

  29. For the record as a person right in the middle of that pack of Tastemakers, 80’s POP sucked, 70’s was a total loss, 90’s was hell, and the current decade isn’t shaping up to well either.

  30. Oy vey – I’ve got enough work defending 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70′, and 80’s science fiction and now you’re going to throw music out there!

    Old = Better than the stuff they’re churning out now

    New = not gonna like it – at least until it’s old

  31. The part about the 80s that bugs me is the false nostalgia of today. You’ve all heard it — the local radio station doing its “TOTALLY **AWESOME** 80s FLASHBACK WEEKEND!!!” crap.

    The problem is, they play songs that *weren’t popular* — but now everybody claims to love them. Pisses me off.

    Worst offense: “Melt With You” by Modern English — it’s pretty much become one of the signature “80s Flashback” Radio Hits…. and is now claimed to be OMGLURVED by people who a) used to listen to Bon Jovi, Michael Jackson, Chicago — in other words, the *actual* pop of the 80s… and b) used to beat up/call “fag” the kids who actually were listening to bands like Modern English at the time.

  32. I was a teenager in the 80s and I hated 80s pop music. It’s just awful. (except for Safety Dance; That song is too cool). The best music to come out of the 80s was Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer and Iron Maiden.

    Having said that, if I was forced to choose between 80s pop and 90s/00s pop. I would go with the 80s pop.

    The 70s have the best music (once you exclude disco, of course).

  33. May I suggest a correlary of Sturgeon’s law: the percentage of crap seems to increase as you move forward in time. The older the era you are looking at, the harder it is to even find the crap (because it’s out of print), let alone remember it. Thus the more prominent the 10% that is not crap (and which has thus risen to the top of our awareness) becomes in our memories.

    Why is classical music, um, classic? Because we have mercifully forgotten all but the best of it. Why do movies of the 40’s seem so much better and less stupid than the generic extruded movie products of today? Because the bad ones are mercifully never seen or heard of except as time fillers on TCM.

    The only thing that keeps everything that survives the test of time from being declared classic is cultural change — the older it is, the less likely it is to seem relevant to us now.

    Hence there is a sweet spot, in between yesterday’s storm of 90% crap, and the dated irrelevance of what people were listening to/watching/reading when your grandparents were children, where things seem fresh and relevant, and yet where most of the bad stuff has mercifully fallen into deserved obscurity.

    I submit that the 80’s may be the current sweet spot for music.

  34. Two points:
    My wife contends, and I agree, that the music you listened to when your brain was soaked with hormones during your teenage years, will be the music you will favor for the rest of your life.

    When you talk about the music of the 60’s, you have to differentiate between pre and post British invasion music.
    Pre-Beatles music was vastly different from post-Beatles music. Same goes for 50’s music, music pre-1956 was Patti Page singing “How Much Is That Doggie In the Window?”, post-1956 was “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”.

  35. The 70s have the best music (once you exclude disco, of course).

    I like disco.

  36. Apropos of very little, I’ll take this chance to point out that today is Emmylou Harris’ birthday. (What can I say? I read the newspaper while eating lunch, and that included the fluff pages.)

    I believe that the hormone immersion theory deserves to be tested, though I remember being fonder of the pre-immersion tunes (Tears For Fears, U2, and the aforementioned Van Halen are easily remembered) to the post-immersion stuff (of which I recall nothing but one-hit wonders and G&R on a forgiving day).

    Where Eighties music stands out, I think, is that for the first time, electronic instruments were within reach of just-musicians (rather than musician-geeks).

    …And the Seventies? “Oh, we’re still doing lots of drugs and the production values of our music are waaayyy higher than they were ten years ago. Listen to us!” Oh, sod off.

    (I have a genuinely fond place in my heart for some Seventies acts, but the only ones on that list who charted before I was born are Creedence and Santana. Just sayin’.)

    When you consider other sea changes, they’re all associated with a few innovative and high-charting artists — Elvis, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin, the punk and punk-esque The-Bands, and other minor examples scattered about the past 50–60 years.

  37. Rance @36

    My wife contends, and I agree, that the music you listened to when your brain was soaked with hormones during your teenage years, will be the music you will favor for the rest of your life.

    I don’t think that is true at all. At least it isn’t for me.

    When my brain was soaked with hormone (and other less indigenous substances) it was during the late sixties early 70s. The music I thought was important then I do not have on my mp3 player now.

    I was very much rock’n’roll then and I am very much everything but rock’n’roll now.

    I couldn’t appreciate music from my parent era then, I very much appreciate it now.

    I couldn’t appreciate Jazz, Blues and Country then, while I can now.

    The only hold over is R&B. I got a taste of it during my teenage years by going to the Apollo in Harlem, and a love of R&B has never faded while rock has almost disappeared from my musical vocabulary.

    The other hold over is that I did then, still now consider Disco an abomination along with it’s bastard progeny House and Electronica whatever.

    To think it all stemmed from something as innocent and cool as Funk.

  38. It just occurred to me — as I listened to them on my Coby MP3 player — that I didn’t put an 80’s shout-out to RUSH. Frankly, Rush’s 80’s albums were their best work, and I haven’t been able to get into anything Rush has done since. I am an especially big fan of “Hold Your Fire” and “Power Windows.” Patented 80’s prog rock, through and through, with a very electronicized — for Rush — sound. For older Rush I’ve gotten the hits compilation discs, but for these two albums in particular, nothing but the albums themselves suffices for me.

    I also think Yes’s “90125” and “Big Generator” were excellent, and I also re-purchased them on CD. Yes did some interesting work before these two albums, and Yes is definitely a 60’s/70’s group by origin, but “90125” established them solidly as an 80’s band with several hits, and “Big Generator” continued the quality songmaking, even if the hits weren’t as huge.

  39. Okay, I admit, I listened to Hair Metal. But that’s because I liked good melodic music (usually “metal”; that is, what is now called “hard rock”) that couldn’t be played by (80s) synthesizers. I like energy in my music, whether the controlled elegance that is The Well-Tempered Clavier, the organized chaos of Webern, the Red Army Chorus’ National Anthem, Sing, Sing, Sing, or straight ahead, no-frills rock (Ramones, anyone?)

    And 80’s pop – what was being played, at least – was formulaic crap backed up by moronic drum machine programming and cranial-sinus-inspired lyrics.

    At least Metal had real players playing real instruments; and frequently (since the whole genre was off-formula, or at least writing the formula at the time) you’d hear two songs from two bands that weren’t cookie-cutter of each other. Yeah, there was crap, but Tesla opened for Def Leppard, and G&R opened for Maiden (and nobody that could play opened for Triumph, but that didn’t really matter). I wish Poison had been a one-hit wonder, but never mind.

    So I listened to Hair Metal – when it was good. Mostly, I listened to what I learned much later was Tom of Finland Metal – what a colossal, world-enscribing, decades-long practical joke Rob Halford played on the world! What pisses me off was that Bruce Dickinson had to draw the picture for me (in his “history of Rock” miniseries on BBC Radio). I can’t believe I was that blind For That Long.

    Part of the love of 80s pop is that “classic rock” has always been “parent’s music” – when I was a teenager, the “classic” station was the “oldies” station, playing the best of Rock ‘n’ Roll (pretty much ending with the Beatles). Remember the two people with money for ads are parents and teenagers. So now I get “classic rock” playing the stuff the “new music” station played when I was growing up, but with 10 years of playlist boiled down to 1 (oh, and some of the outliers that “became mainstream” when the bands influenced on them (or the bands themselves, after rebranding, yes, I’m looking at you Bon Jovi) became big things in the 90s; AC/DC is the one that comes to mind, you’d never hear that on “top 40” back in the day). Which is the other part of the love:

    Sturgeon’s Law has applied. We don’t hear from the sludge of the 80s any more. Thanks for that.

    As for pop since the 80s – well, there’s a reason all the styles of music people name and remember seem to be revolutions against A&R programming (at least in the beginning, before the Collective co-opts the revolution). Even Hip-hop and (c)Rap (which can be good, but isn’t music. Ducking now).

  40. Gareth@33 — I am SO with you on that! It’s a bit ironic that the Ramones seem to get more airplay NOW than they did when they still existed, for example.

  41. Heh, how can I not miss my countrymen, Sub-Odeon? Though for me the “must-have-all” are “Exit Stage Left” (which I guess, as a live album, is ‘greatest hits’) and “Moving Pictures” (although the triplet of Cygnus X-1, A Farewell to Kings, Xanadu back-to-back is required, and therefore, so is “A Farewell to Kings”).

    Geddy Lee tells the story, of course, that he’s better known in the U.S. for Take Off than anything he does with Rush. Probably now, Take Off and being kidnapped by the Trailer Park Boys

  42. John,

    I only read two blogs of people I don’t know: Yours and one from a gentleman named Slacktivist. You’re known for Bacon Cat, still groovin to Journey all these years, and oh by the way, several great sci-fi books. Slack is known for deconstructing the book Left Behind and offering a glimpse into the fundamentalist world view (he escaped a few years back).

    Today, my worlds collided. You wrote this and Slack wrote:

    I’d sing “it’s a small world” but that would likely get me in even more trouble.


  43. Mycroft, what’s “Take Off?”

    “Exit Stage Left” and “Moving Pictures” are two of the other non-Hits albums by Rush that I own.

    I am debating whether or not I want to re-buy “Presto,” as that’s right on the verge.

    “Roll the Bones” disappointed me so badly, and I just haven’t really enjoyed much Rush since.

  44. Technology. As has been said, all the affordable synths and drum machines from that era enabled a whole generation of artists who would never even pick a guitar up to create something new. Lots of experiments and nievety made for music that was sonically like nothing that had gone before. Not neccessarily better than 50s/60s/70s stuff but certainly distinctive.

    Rush: pah, ‘Moving Pictures’ was their zenith but the muse had left by the end of the 80s. Please don’t talk about Presto… :( Though she dropped in for the ‘Snakes and Arrows’ sessions apparently, well worth checking out.

  45. daniel– The gentleman who writes Slacktivist is named Fred Clark. (Referring to him as Slacktivist seems a bit like calling Mr. Scalzi “Whatever.”) I’m likewise a big fan of that blog–his thorough dismantling of Left Behind is brilliantly done.

  46. There are two factors: 80s “New Wave Pop” was
    /different/ from what came before it, for technological
    and social reason that are interesting but too large for
    this margin I’m writing in.

    Also, as #41 alludes to, time is a great filter; we only
    bother to listen to the good stuff now. Thirty years from
    now, there will be.. “oughties?” music that is good, it
    will just take us that long to figure out what it is.

  47. Sub-Odean @40: I’m glad to see that someone else remembers Yes’s 80s work as fondly as I do. “Holy Lamb” can still take my right back to my dorm room.

    Something that impresses me about 80s music (in retrospect, of course, because back then it was just how it was) was how inclusive much of the radio play was. You could hear Duran Duran, Def Lepard, Ramones, Tina Turner, REM, U2, Run DMC, Blondie, Prince, Men Without Hats, etc etc etc all on one station – maybe two. Now I have to skip around between five of my six pre-program buttons (the sixth is Oldies, which now includes 80s music!) to hear anything like a good selection of music on the radio.

    The other thing that has stayed with me is that, at the time, pop music appeared to believe that it could Make A Difference. Peter Gabriel’s music still has social relevence all of these decades later, ditto U2 et al. And Live Aid – what an undertaking! There have been many other benefit megashows since then, but none that seemed to have the aspirations and hope that that one did.

  48. Sheila @ 47.

    Thanks. For whatever reason, as common of a name as it is, “Fred Clark” doesn’t stick in my head as well as “slacktivist.” I realize that this form of Internet Synecdoche may be an error, however I believe it to be a venal sin COMPARED TO OTHERS. :-)

    And yes, dismantling… almost to particle atoms :-)

    I likewise pointed Mr. Clark (I can be taught!) toward our Mr. Scalzi’s trip to the Creationism Museum.

  49. Very cool post — I checked out your video links, and wound up putting a name to one of the voices of my childhood (Howard Jones) and discovering another band to collect (Herman’s Hermits)! And my local library sale is still going on, so I might be able to pick some up there….

    jp #4: Wow.

    JS: I do agree with your generational hypothesis, but also concur with Jeff S @#27 that the Internet will change that a bit. Already in the 80s there were kids like me and several prior commenters, who were more influenced by their parent’s generation. (It’s probably relevant that records much older than that were fragile!)

    Glaurung_quenaon #35: You’re probably right about the selection factor! That would fit in with generally known (and occasionally researched) patterns of human memory over time.

  50. I was born in 1969 so grew up in the 1970s but whist I like some 70s music plus I am a huge and Massive fan of the group Blondie, I largley think most of the decade was tripe and the 1980s were better. The first 1980s groups which I liked were Adam and the Ants and the Human League and even today I am still very proud of myself for liking Adam and the Ants and have still got his CDS like ‘Kings of the Wild Frontiere’, ‘Prince Charming’ plus one of his earlier ones ‘Dirk Wears White Socks’ but no Human League for some reason which I dont know why I havent. I remember also buying Billie Jean by Micheal Jackson when it was released in January 1983 and still think of it as a great fabulous song but I never felt the need to buy the Thriller album but I felt the need to definitley buy the Let’s Dance album by David Bowie which I have still got on CD and really love the title track. I like all the usual suspects like Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran

  51. *reads with one eye open so as not to get earwormed*
    *reads Safety Dance comment*
    Damn it!

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