Miscellaneous Rumbles

Just heard that St. Elmo’s Fire song and remembered how bad music i…

76

Before MTV infested our world, does anyone else remember Night Flight and New Wave Theater with Peter Ivers?

77

It's fun to bash the music of almost any decade, and particularly eras which came before or after the time we became musically aware and established our core tastes. For me the period during which music informed identity were roughly the years 1963 (when I was 9-10) through maybe 1979 (when Pink Floyd sealed the vault of the 60s-Prog-70s with the baroque, byzantine, grandiose, and exceedingly weighty The Wall).

So I started the 80s (if 1980 is the 80s) at age 25, playing in bands, recording, still listening to the radio and noticing MTV, following the artists and genres I'd liked in the past - but not identifying as hard with the music I was hearing, not making the instinctive emotional connection I had with the formative music of the previous 15 years.

I think this is natural: most of us stay connected to the music of our youth, even if we stay aware of what's going on in the larger musical culture. Some of us partially or completely wear out the music of our youth and find new favorite passions; most of us find we can take or leave (and increasingly leave) the music of succeeding decades (and generations!). We often go back through musical time to discover and delve into music which preceded our awakening, digging the roots, giving ourselves a wider musical education and incorporating those discoveries into our tastes. Relatively few of us stay current into our 50s-60s-70s, keep listening for what's new, and let our taste keep up with the culture.

In these parts, I'm most impressed by macphisto's, Crowbone's, Deed's, and Parabar's wide musical appetites. They have extraordinarily wide nets and big ears, and never seem to run out of interest in what's happening now. They seem to have as informed an understanding of roots through the 80s as any of us - and are more knowledgable (and accepting) of trends from the 90s to the present...than I am, at least. They don't seem to have prejudices or preconceptions about anyone or anything, and take them as they find them, finding the value in most everything. My hat's off to them; I haven't been able to sustain that kind of energy and passion for the myriad branching streams The Music has taken in the last several decades. They make my listening habits seem insular and parochial.

But back to the 80s. While it's fun to ridicule and denigrate the music of decades past, when I take the Wayback Machine to that decade and really think about it, I realize I found an awful lot of music to like, to explore, and maybe just to accept or tolerate.

In many ways the decade seemed a natural extension of various trends of the 70s. Prog kinda disappeared - but Nu-Wave and synth bands established a new modernist aesthetic that at least seemed (at first) like music was progressing (which had always been the point of prog to me). Hard rock became metal became hair band; guitar mastery and pyrotechnics became shredding. There was a direct line from the guitar gods of the 70s to the shredders of the 80s - and like it or not, from glam and costume bands to hair metal, from the prancing strutting front men of the 60s/70s to their caricatures in the 80s. Disco and synth-motorik styles somehow coalesced into techno and then EDM.

And the increasingly "corporate" commercial rock of the 70s kept right on going. Boston (mostly absent from the decade) begat Journey and Toto (who I usually enjoyed hearing, though not enough to buy the albums) and Foreigner (who I didn't). I don't know that this music was innovative in the way rock had been through the previous decade - but it certainly progressed in instrumental skill and production value. I'll confess to being a reliable sucker for epic, melodic anthems; I guess I don't see what's wrong with them. Those bands did'em, and I enjoyed hearing them. Even Foreigner had "I Want to Know What Love Is." I liked Mr. Mister's hits (especially "Kyrie"). Even saw them in concert, opening for Bryan Adams - who, come to think of it, was pretty good.

New commercial rock acts appeared and now seem oh-so-80s, though we couldn't know then they'd have short careers. When it came on the radio, I didn't hate Huey Lewis. Robert Palmer didn't annoy me. (Eddie Money and Meatloaf...I guess I coulda done without.) What about Rick Springfield? Doesn’t get much respect, but there was nothing wrong with his pop hits.

It was a pretty good time for women in rock - and women who unapologetically rocked. Blondie. Pat Benatar. Joan Jett. Heart. The Bangles, The Go-Gos. Bonnie Raitt.

Many artists from the 60s and 70s, in various subgenres, were still productive - and some hit the longest stride of their careers during the decade. After owning the middle of the road in the 70s, The Eagles were blessedly absent from the 80s (and I didn't miss them a bit). But we got Don Henley's solo albums, and I liked them. Fleetwood Mac was mostly missing - but the Stones kept right on rolling as a relevant force, with 5 gold and platinum albums from Emotional Rescue to Steel Wheels.

In the middle of the road - still a place where you could hear something you liked - Hall and Oates reached their pinnacle. Billy Joel had 5 strong albums. John Mellencamp, who - like him or not, has a formidable work ethic - reached critical mass with his 7 releases of the decade (and I call him strong, honest mainstream rock). Bob Seger was present and accounted for, with 3 albums. John Fogerty did two creditable comeback albums, yielding "Centerfield." Tina Turner burned hotter than ever. And for what it's worth, Rod Stewart went gold/platinum with 6 albums.

The Grateful Dead, who trucked through the decade with a tour that never ended - and 6 studio albums - had a surprising mainstream chart hit with "Touch of Grey" from their 1987 In the Dark album. (A fluke? Nostalgia? Consolation prize for sticking around for 20 years?) Neil Young was going strong - trying everything, challenging and comforting but never sitting still - with NINE albums for the decade, including 1982's inscrutable Trans.

And of course, there was Jefferson Starship...but that's enough about that. My affinity for epics didn't extend to "Built This City." At least Slick eventually found the good grace to retire from that stage.

Among those who stuck around - and I wish they wouldn't have - was the J Geils Band. Man did I hate their 80s crap. REO "Speedwagon" was marginally less annoying. Though not much. Styx...ehh. But they soldiered on. So did Kansas, but without much attention. Cheap Trick, after seeming the next big thing for a while, faded into the 80s before coming back with the barn-burning Lap of Luxury in 1988.

Punk (and its relatives) continued to militate against every sort of status quo, splintering and subdividing into various sub-genres (post-punk, new wave, etc) which both attracted their own audiences and affected the mainstream. I’ll leave it to others more familiar with that scene to remind us what all was going on - but from The Clash to The Cure to The Cult to X to The Ramones to Devo and Talking Heads (no, not punk really - but subversively de-constructive just the same), there was a lot to keep you busy if you ventured off radio playlists. Like all musical rebellions, punk developed its own orthodoxy and was eventually co-opted and reabsorbed by the pop machine, its energy infusing the mainstream. What was once angry subversion becomes style.

Then there was metal. Oddly, though I worked in a music store, I paid only professional attention to its convolutions during the decade. I guess there were a lot of bands. I don't think I miss many of them, though I understand metal was a big deal. I can appreciate that there were better and worse metal bands, from the serious to the superficial posers, and won’t argue with any 80s metal enthusiasts about their faves - but it just wasn’t my thing. (Don’t ask me to take Poison or Cinderella very seriously.)

And I was certainly aware - and give due respect - to the pantheon of stunt guitarists who emerged: Yngwie, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Randy Rhoads. Of those, I find Vai the most musical and consistently entertaining.

And of course, Van Halen was still going strong, with 6 albums including their highest charter, the "iconic" (what else?) "Jump." Maybe the impact of their late-70s albums had been muted, but besides making radio and stages safe for the above-mentioned metallurgists, they remained the genre's most soulful practitioners.

Was Aerosmith metal? Not quite, I don’t think - but I respected the brand of hard rock they continued to produce through the decade. Have to admit they were more vital than Deep Purple at the time, who were having a bad decade - but at least they made it through so they could come back strong in the 90s with the help of Steve Morse.

AC/DC was back (in black) in 1980, and had 4 more releases in the 80s, consolidating and extending their run of incomparable muscular and musically smart hard rock riff-riding.

Several Guitar Saviors emerged in the 80s. Stevie Ray Vaughan was a bolt from the blue - and for all that his style could be deconstructed into its constituent influences, it was a hot and seething brew that resurrected some form of the blues. His entire career fit into the 80s; Iontkeerwhoyar, if you don't enjoy some Stevie...there's something wrong with you.

And no matter what you thought about the nu-billy glam-tastic optics - or the hopped-up retro-reprise musical setting - there was no denying Brian Setzer's incendiary playing. It was both entertaining and revelatory. (I'd think the Cats' 80s career alone would save the decade for GDP denizens.)

Then late in the decade, Eric Johnson was anointed as the Next Big Thing; Guitar Player magazine even stapled a floppy vinyl single of "Cliffs of Dover" into an issue. I'm still trying to figure out what the big deal is. Robert Cray also appeared, mostly to bore me to tears.

Guitar greats of the 60s were still active, recording (sometimes great) albums - and charting.

Eric Clapton dribbled blues-rockily into the decade with Another Ticket (1981) and Money and Cigarettes (1983), both perhaps no better than they should have been given his condition at the time - but he reinvented himself as a surprisingly competent singer and popster (with Phil Collins' help) for the mid-decade Behind the Sun and August before finishing the decade with Journeyman. Nothing earth-shaking - but it didn't suck.

After 1980's There and Back (which kinda finished up his late-70s proto-techno collaboration with Jan Hammer), Jeff Beck reinvented himself for the pop mainstream with 1985's Flash (including the hit "People Get Ready" with old pal Rod Stewart) - and then nailed ears to the wall with his 1989 pure instrumental masterpiece Guitar Shop. All were high points of the decade for me.

In the category of cartoon rock, Kiss unmasked themselves and strutted through the decade with 8 albums, every one of which went at least gold. Alice Cooper and the Nuge were both impressively busy, though I was able to ignore them. Point is, if you had a taste for that music, you could still find it.

Other giants still strode the earth. Bowie and Queen released work through the decade; though you'd have to be more of a scholar of their output than I am to evaluate its lasting worth, neither artist had much of a habit either for repeating themselves or turning out swill. The Police finished up with their last two albums (both of which spent a lot of time on my turntable), then gave way to Sting's early solo work - which I continue to prize. Tom Petty and associated Heartbreakers' 4 albums of the decade all turned gold and/or platinum, and constitute a major portion of his legacy. Springsteen did his two early Americana albums, The River and Nebraska, as well as the two monuments to juggernaut mainstream superstardom, Born in the USA and Tunnel of Love. (Love or hate any of that...it's strong work.) The Cars released four albums, extending their 70s presence - and Dire Straits' three 80s albums included their huuuge Brothers in Arms, with "Money for Nuttin'." U2, meanwhile, emerged in 1980 and became giants on the basis of their 80s work. And hey, Prince too!

I don't know...from my perspective, it doesn't seem like a terribly weak decade.

And that's before I consider some of the new artists whose greatest impact came in those years, and who most endeared themselves to me. On this side of the Atlantic, there was REM and the new era of inventive (and pleasingly retro-infused) indie rock they heralded. It didn't hit me hard at the time, but I've come to value it.

And on the other side, there was XTC - whose 8 albums of the decade evolved from their early smart kinda-punk to a kind of pop-rock intelligence, wit, and eclecticism which did remind one of the Beatles, at least in attitude (and sometimes in approach) - with respect for the smarts of their audience and a bold willingness to pack pop(ish) songs with dense instrumental, melodic, harmonic, and lyrical content. It didn't sound nostalgic, exactly - it sounded fresh and new - but it did seem an extension of the kind of thoughtful pop the late 60s had fomented. Big for me. Very very big.

And I still haven't addressed some of the music that kept me going through that decade - not only familiar artists of the past still growing and progressing, but new discoveries as well.

Comes King Crimson, whose trilogy of 80s albums - Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair (1981-1894) comPLETEly reinvented the band and introduced an equally new, previously unheard musical aesthetic. This band had certainly never sounded anything like this - nor had any other I'd heard. And, to his credit, when he felt the band had run that seam, Fripp folded the band - then brought it back again in the 90s with yet another direction. For me the soul of "prog" is music that progresses - that doesn't slavishly mine even the techniques and textures it developed along the way, but reaches out for something new. King Crimson did that in the late 60s, again in the mid 70s, now in the 80s - and would do it again later. I value the long-term relationship I've had with Fripp-and-Co's musical intelligence; in all its formal permutations, that music has been a lifelong companion.

And what of my other prog avatar, Yes? After spinning out embarrassingly through the late 70s, the band was back in 1983 with, of all things, a monster pop hit (from the 90125 album - and followed it up with 1987's Big Generator, an album I still love despite its critical panning. While Yes has not always shied away from semi-nostalgically plundering its own bag of tricks, 80s Yes - with Trevor Rabin on guitar, and musically co-hosting the show with Anderson - was a very different beast than 70s Yes. It didn't sound like "prog," exactly - it had imported some shiny new textures from the current era - but it didn't sound like anything else either. And guitars! Those albums are an orgy of great guitar work. The new band wasn't well accepted by many old fans - and many new fans couldn't find a connection with classic Yes, even if they went looking - but I welcomed it with open arms. It sounded to me like Yes...progressing.

Genesis had evolved into the 80s, shedding members as it embraced elements of techno and synth-pop, and as Phil Collins with the uncanny pop instincts that served him well for three decades ascended to the lead vocal position. Some 80s Genesis appealed to me, at least superficially, with its careful-but-clever arrangement and texturing, and its undeniable sheen. But it wore thin quickly.

Peter Gabriel, however, reached a formidable artistic maturity in the 80s, and - while I'm quick to admit his voice is an acquired taste (that sometimes isn't all that flavorful even after you've developed the taste) - in my judgment went from strength to strength through the decade. Each album seemed better than the one before it - and by 1986's So, he and his crew made magic of an ineffable sort - mysteriously tuneful, spacious and gorgeously textured, rich in evocation and emotional content somehow encoded between the notes and the words. (And, FWIW, the videos for "Shock the Monkey" and "Sledgehammer" fulfilled the promise MTV had always held out, and almost redeemed it for a few minutes.)

And I'll be forever grateful to Peter Gabriel for introducing me to Kate Bush, who I reprehensibly hadn't heard till her solo voice came in like a blessing of grace on the chorus of So's "Don't Give Up." That sent me back on a retrospective trawl through the five albums she'd released prior to that - and made me a fan for life. To my ear and taste, there's no bad Kate - and her last several albums are nearly sacramental for me - but the four albums she released in the 80s remain the gravitational center of her career. There's a reason she sold out 22 nights of her 2014 Before the Dawn residency at London's Hammersmith Apollo theatre - her first live gig since 1979 - in 15 minutes.

While I'm considering at-least-vaguely-proggy emanations of the 80s, I have to credit Rush. Alas, Geddy Lee's voice makes the band all but unlistenable for me, but I've always respected their skill and integrity. Decade after decade, they stuck to what they do, progressing in their own way, and maintaining a loyal legion of fans. In the 80s, that meant 8 albums - including my personal favorite Rush albums (and the only ones I own), all of which went reliably silver/gold/platinum in multiple markets.

And, to put a bow on the 80s prog package, there was Pink Floyd's 1987 Momentary Lapse of Reason, which miraculously dug the band and their expansive musical vision out from under the weighty wreckage of Roger Waters' The Wall (and 1983's ashes-onto-coals The Final Cut). Lapse is not universally acclaimed by critics - but it was great to have the band back under David Gilmour's leadership, and I like the album every time I hear it.

My other reliable listening habits in the 80s tended to miscellany perhaps falling under the fusion banner - including The (Dixie) Dregs, under the leadership and phenomenal guitar technique of Steve Morse, whose three albums in the early 80s extended the country-rock-jazz-funk-classical all-everything fusion gumbo they'd explored in the 70s. There's nothing like the Dregs catalog, and it remains part of my Permanent Musical Library.

And there was whatever Allan Holdsworth was doing at any time - always a stunning, slippery, intelligent player - and the more "conventional" fusion of Spyro Gyra and Weather Report. Both were active through the decade, and both always entertained.

Which just leaves a couplefew lifetime favorites from the 80s which don't fit anywhere else (nor with each other): Ry Cooder's Get Rhythm album from 1987 (which if you haven't, trust me, you should) and Wendy Carlos' weird, haunting, otherworldly and reliably compelling The Beauty in the Beast from 1986. Guaranteed there's nothing else like it. One for the ages. Finally, Peter Gabriel’s 1989 soundtrack album Passion, for the forgettable Last Temptations of Christ is singular in its own haunted, brooding mood, gorgeous layered mix of exotic acoustic and synth voices, and propulsive yet meditative grooves - and its unique place in Gabriel’s body of work.


And see? ALL of that with nary a mention of Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, Tears for Fears, A Flock of Seagulls, Boy George, Culture Club, Men at Work, Men Without Hats, Duran Duran, Simply Red, Taco, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Wham!, Aha, The Buggles, Thomas Dolby, Traveling Willburys, or a host of others whose careers blossomed in the 80s - or St Elmo's Fire.

I'm not saying yea or nay to any of that material...it just didn't make much of an impact on me. But I enjoy hearing many of those songs now, and have gradually recognized the quality of many of the artists. If I remember the songs that just floated randomly across my transom, they must at least have been memorable. They served to encode in my memory, as music does, something of my life through that decade.

So maybe it wasn't the best of times. But it wasn't the worst!

– Proteus

I think this is the longest Proteus post ever....

The 80's seems to have made quite the impact on our current age group distribution.

I blame MTV!

So, now, beyond the current recommendations, what was you favorite 80's, full and complete, entire Album, on Vinyl?

"So", by Peter Gabriel

"Back in the High Life", by Steve Winwood

"Traveling Wilburys Volume 1", by The Traveling Wilburys

"Acapella", by Todd Rundgren

...to name a few...

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Before MTV infested our world, does anyone else remember Night Flight and New Wave Theater with Peter Ivers?

– Steeple923

Dude was dropping that New Wave acid!

79

I think this is the longest Proteus post ever....

Alas, not even close.

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I still listen to the Pretenders' first album. It's outstanding. The second one is great too. But I'm afraid I'm a fan of the first incarnation of the band - less so of later versions.

And of course I left out one of the GREAT 80s bands - Pixies. So influential, so wonderful, so perfect. I listen to Surfa Rosa, Doolittle and Bossanova and there is not one dud song there. Not one less than brilliant gem.

And I will be seeing them again soon.

82

The sound of the 80s for me definitely included the ZZTop Eliminator stuff. Those bra-less models in the videos left the 16 year old me coming back for more, and I didn't mind the music either.

A bit like Robert Palmer with his Addicted to Love.

We had a lot of dross to wade through in the UK. Fortunately most of it was pretty forgettable.

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The sound of the 80s for me definitely included the ZZTop Eliminator stuff. Those bra-less models in the videos left the 16 year old me coming back for more, and I didn't mind the music either.

A bit like Robert Palmer with his Addicted to Love.

We had a lot of dross to wade through in the UK. Fortunately most of it was pretty forgettable.

– Uncle Daddy

Oh my goodness, how did I leave out ZZ Top? They did a helluva job reinventing themselves in the 80’s. The first 5 times I heard Gimme All Your Lovin’ on the radio, I wondered who it was. And the videos! Smokin’ hot babes with the slut socks...yessir.

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Only the '80s would produce a band with a name like Martha and the Muffins! Actually they formed in the late '70s but the name was very '80s and this song from I think 1979 has so much that early to mid '80s "new wave" sound, chorus and all with clean amps. Even the song name is very '80s. They beat the '80s by a year with this song. Love it -

85

I never in life wouldn't wanna miss The Cure, The Housemartins, Crowded House, Aztec Camera, Depeche Mode...

– sascha

I’m confused by the double negative there...you would like to miss these bands?

86

The 80's also gave us some amazing Bass players. Two influences that come to mind for me are John Taylor of Duran Duran w his pop Syncopation (Rio is killer, listen to the bass during the sax solo)

and Flea of the RHCP with his Brothers Johnson & P-Funk style of Funk attack(frusciante peaked my interest in gretsch to boot) - The bands best work occurred under the influence of drugs. I am grateful that Anthony Kedis is recovered and Frusciante is working hard on maintaining his sobriety as well..but damn the budda zen crap they put out now is aggravating.

here's (bad analog vid) subway to venus live w David Sanborn sitting in, Flea is LOCKED and on Fire w Chad on kit and Frusciante is tower of power focused.

– TheNocturneBrain

Tavo pointed out John Taylor and his talent and excellent playing. Agreed. Love DD. Bought their first 3 albums when they came out, I was quite young and had good taste. John Taylor as you can hear was very heavily influenced by Bernard Edwards of Chic. Chic another talented band from the '70s. But also DD was heavily influenced by Japan. To me Japan had that sound first although they started off Glam but when they went New Romantic they developed a sound that DD copied and I think hardly ever referenced. John Taylor took a lot of his sound and playing from Mick Karn of Japan, the late but great. The first DD album is heavily influenced by these guys but I doubt they really give them much credit -

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The '80s had some very good movie theme songs such as this one by YMO founder, Ryuichi Sakamoto. Also David Sylvian from Japan sang on "Forbidden Colours" which is the version with vocals -

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I’m confused by the double negative there...you would like to miss these bands?

– tabletop

Not my first language and maybe a little clumsy written. I love those acts.

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Not my first language and maybe a little clumsy written. I love those acts.

– sascha

Got it!

Just thought it was a clever way of saying you didn't like them.

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And for those that were asleep in the 80’s there was this hit. While the band didn’t have much commercial success beyond this song they were a big deal in the live music scene for a couple of years. Funny, in the 80’s a lot of people were into underground music. When your favorite band made it big you were somewhat disappointed.

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Bow wow wow! Awwwrooooo! Hubba hubba.

My first teenage band-chick crush.

And I never did get that riff right!

K

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And..... the 80’s brought us the greatest all female band to ever crank out the hits!

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I could think of worse decades for pop music than the 80's. Hell, I don't think Top-40's were ever more diverse in styles and genres than in that era.

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I don't think Top-40's were ever more diverse in styles and genres than in that era.

Except in the 60s, when Frank Sinatra, Roger Miller, Tiny Tim, The Royal Guardsmen, SSgt Barry Sadler, and Jeannie C. Riley shared the hit parade with doo-wop, pop, Brit Invasion, garage rock, soul, and psychedelia.

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Best album cover from the '80's: The Dickies' Stukas Over Disneyland. Soundtrack to I Was A Teenage Zombie introduced a lot of new artists not found on the Top Farty. Soundtrack to Repo Man was where we first heard Agent Orange among others. Didn't take Springsteen seriously until Nebraska came out. Chris Isaak (especially with Wilsey) was doing cool stuff too. And I knew people would start hearing Gretsches again.

96

The Go-gos were ok but for me it will always be the Bangles with the ever-gorgeous and incredibly talented Susanna Hoffs. No I'm not shallow at all.

97

I saw the Bangles--live they were only okay--but Susanna... Yeah. I was nuts for her too.

K

98

Now here is a great song from my youth.

K

99

Another one--and Billy Duffy is still king...

K

100

Love the Cult! Sanctuary, is one of my favorite cover songs my band does. People go nuts over it...


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