Thursday, June 14, 2012

In Defense of the '80s - Part I

Ah, the 1980's.

It was a a time of big hair, loud clothes, snap bracelets, rubix cubes, video arcades, and cold war.
Getty Images/Andrew Spencer

It was also a time of very great music, which seems to be a fact lost on most of the general public these days.

Now, don't get me wrong. I understand what most people envision when they think, "'80s music": the ridiculous (and many times androgynous) hair metal bands, the cloyingly catchy one-hit-wonder pop groups, & the onslaught of cartoony synthesizer tracks and drum machines. But I find that this sort of gross generalization to be both hypocritical and misplaced. Hypocritical, first, because with the possible exception of the huge hair in the metal bands, most all of the aforementioned criticisms could be recited about modern day pop music, as well. (If you don't believe me, just throw on Beynoce's Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) and listen closely for the completely random and amusical Galaga sound effects firing off in the background.) I call the criticisms misplaced because despite all the rubbish released during the so-called Era of Excess, many great records, songs, and artists found their way into both the mainstream of pop culture as well as the annals of music history. Via this blog, I will seek to vindicate the great and timeless music of the '80s from amongst the mire and detritus with which it is generally (and unjustly) associated.

My passion on this subject and motivation to write about it comes not just from my love for a bunch of music that came out of that particular decade, but from a frustrated confusion over the broad generalization that seems to cover all the different genres that flourished in the '80s. People declare, "I don't like '80s music," as if the time period is a genre in and of itself - a label I can't find applied to any other decade. I can't recall ever hearing someone writing off an entire decade's worth of music based simply on the year in which it was released. This is not to say that people don't outright reject music because it sounds old or dated or whatever. Of course they do. But while people might say, "I don't like grunge," or "I don't like swing," or "I don't like funk," for some reason, people seem to have the idea that all the varied styles of music from the 1980's fit into the same small, easy-to-disregard box. This lazy generalizing is another aspect of people's attitude towards this music that I'll attempt to dispel here.

So, for the sake of brevity, I'll take a few posts to do it, but let's go ahead and begin laying out the case for the defense.

I. Classic Albums
For an era so supposedly forgettable, the '80s sure gave us a lot of unforgettable albums. Quite a handful come immediately to mind: Michael Jackson's Thriller, The Police's Synchronicity, Peter Gabriel's So, AC/DC's Back In Black, Rush's Moving Pictures, Dire Strait's Brothers In Arms, the Bob Marley & The Wailers' Legend collection, Van Halen's 1984, Paul Simon's Graceland, Billy Joel's An Innocent Man, Phil Collins' No Jacket Required, Prince's Purple Rain, Toto's Toto IV, Springsteen's Born In The USA, Beastie Boys' License To Ill, Guns 'n' Roses' Appetite For Destruction, and, of course, U2's The Joshua Tree. Most all these albums tend to make just about everyone's 'Best Albums Ever' lists, and the songs that came on these records still achieve massive rotation on radio as well as in television, movies, & video games. (Not to mention that the more niche music fans are screaming their heads off right now about my not mentioning albums from the likes of Joy Division, The Cure, The Talking Heads, Roxy Music, Sonic Youth, David Bowie, & The Smiths... but, hey, I'm just trying to scratch the surface here.) Long-story-short: no matter what your taste, some of the most classic of classic albums were released in the 1980's.

II. Timeless Songs
Songs are the building blocks of albums, so, by definition, a decade with loads of classic albums must have some classic hits. And, of course, the '80s delivered. The hits of the '80s shattered records when they were released and remain some of the most timeless of music history. The particular song featured below, Every Breath You Take by The Police, practically defines the term "timeless": in 1999, it was listed by BMI as one of the Top 100 Songs of the Century and 20 years after its release in 1983, the song was still generating upwards of $2,000 per day in publishing royalties for Sting. In October 2007, BMI awarded Sting a Million-Air certificate for 9 million plays of Every Breath You Take (an average of more than 1,200 plays per day for two decades); Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl (a song 16 years older) came in second at around 8 million air plays.

More to come in Part II....

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