Friday, June 15, 2012

In Defense of the '80s - Part II

III. Great Musicianship
Great, stupendous, jaw-dropping, amazing musicianship, really. The Herculean feats of rock musicality that had started in the '60s and continued through the '70s hit all kinds of new highs in the '80s: Eddie Van Halen single-handedly crafted an entire movement of pyrotechnic guitar playing on the back of his own virtuosity & the idea of the guitar hero was born anew. EVH paved the way for the likes of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, John Petrucci, and legions of other rock guitar gods. And what Eddie did for rock Stevie Ray Vaughn was accomplishing for the blues. But guitars weren't the only instruments whose boundaries were getting expanded - drummers followed the leads of players like Neil Peart, Vinnie Colaiuta, Stewart Copeland, Manu Katche & Terry Bozzio to take the concept of what rock 'n' roll drums could be to all new places. The ├╝ber-musicality of progressive rock saw itself revitalized in the continuing (and sometimes never-before-achieved) success of bands like Rush, Genesis, King Crimson, and eventually Dream Theater. The session scene was also in full-bloom, showcasing the monster talents of players like Steve Lukather, John Robinson, Mike Landau, Steve Gadd, Nathan East, and Dann Huff. And, perhaps most-notably when talking about the music of the '80s, cats could sing. In a time before digital editing and pitch correction, the lead vocalists that dominated the airwaves in the 1980's demonstrated vocal prowess on a scale that has since to be matched, by-and-large. The simple fact of the matter was that to make it back then, you had to have your crap together. And, while I don't mind conceding the fact that the over-the-top musicianship did eventually get way out of hand and become a bit ridiculous in and of itself, the level of dedication to music that was evident back then is something the music world today sorely lacks.

 IV. Dudes In Love
The power ballad is certainly one of the most enduring musical staples to emerge during the decade. And just like everything else in pop culture, the good thing got beat to death in the chase for the almighty dollar - by the time the last three years of the decade rolled around, everyone knew the second single from a rock band's new album would be a big, huge love song. But that shouldn't dismiss the fact that finally, (finally!), guys in rock bands had found ways to write heartfelt songs to their ladies that didn't come off... how should I say this?.... effeminate. The thing with the power ballad was that it was powerful; it was a song that told the girl how you felt while still maintaining your seriousness both about music and manliness. Every band did it, but a handful of bands did it really well, and many of those songs still endure to this day as truly great pieces of music.

V. Chicks In Love
The power ballad was not an arena beholden only to men, however. Many a great female artist told their guy how they felt about them with just as much passion and musicality. It shouldn't take long for the modern music fan to realize that the best days of gals singing love songs to guys might be behind us - now it all seems to be about some warped concept of girl power that can't express itself in any way other than either challenging or rejecting men. Female artists these days don't seem interested in singing about anything romantic other than how some guy let them down or how some guy's crazy for even thinking he can get with this. All legit subject matter, don't get me wrong, but beginning to feel very droll given the notable lack of the flip side of the coin. Not so in the '80s, my friends. The ladies weren't afraid to belt out an epic, "I love you!" back then.

VI. Groove
While it's true that the '80s definitely saw the expansion of computerized drum grooves and beats, there was still a lasting residue from the groove-driven '70s that made it's presence known in a huge way. Michael Jackson used live players to create infectious, organic feels for his legendary Thriller album, and artists such as Earth, Wind, & Fire, George Clinton, Chicago, Toto, and yes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, kept the groove at the forefront of the music they released. Some of the greatest drum grooves in music history came out of the '80s: from Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes, to Paul Simon's Late In The Evening, and Toto's Rosanna, live players continued to demonstrate their superior talent for getting people to feel the music and get up & dance.

Even more to come in Part III...

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