Greatest Pop Music of the 80s:
This month I was more inspired to write about music – only because I misread something. My buddy in New York City
recently watched the movie Control about the rise and death of Joy Division’s
lead singer/songwriter Ian Curtis. He wondered why I wasn’t excited about the movie. Well, I was never a fan of Joy
Division. In fact, I couldn’t recollect even one of their songs. My friend pressed me about it, so I sampled their songs
available on iTunes and responded thusly:
I just went over all the songs on their "Best of" CD. They sucked. Their drumming is monotonous. Their tunes are uninspiring.
Perhaps, their words speak to their generation, but I am not quite of that generation and I don't listen to music to hear
clever words. Give me an interesting beat, a rapturous or, at least, compelling melody, a magical interaction between instruments
or voices and I am happy. Joy Division gives me none of those things. The only song sample I liked to some degree was "Atmosphere".
I prefer the Psychedelic Furs to name a group with a similar "sound". U2, Clash, Police, Talking Heads and The Cure blow them
away to name the best of their contemporaries.
My friend sent back a couple of very old New York Times articles by the deceased music writer Robert Palmer. The writer
Robert Palmer (New York Times and Rolling
Stone) is not to be confused with the more famous singer / composer Robert Palmer, although, they were
both musicians, musicologists, and both died in their early 50s. One of the articles was Palmer’s top 10 LPs of 1980
– only I thought it was his list of the top 10 records of the 1980s. I thought his selections were crazy, so I worked
out my own list. First, here is Palmer’s 1980 list.
Palmer’s top 10 of 1980 (Comments are
mine, except Palmer’s in quotes.)
1. Steely Dan: Goucho – “Aja still sounds fresh and Goucho is both richer and more accessible.” I know this LP well. A roommate had it. By rich, he could mean
smooth and polished, but I didn’t find it accessible, I found it so boring and uninspired. It felt made of concrete.
However, I still love Aja. The group disbanded for several decades after this 1980
2. Talking Heads: Remain
in Light – “. . . their orchestrated electronics and provocative verbal gambits
are hardly standard funk fare. This is brave, original music from a band that isn’t afraid to keep growing.” This
was easily my favourite LP of the year and one of the best of the decade. My kids like it, too, so it didn’t suffer
serious dating from the new wave quirkiness of David Byrne’s singing.
3. Public Image Ltd. Second Edition - “. . . John Lydon’s return after the demise of the Sex Pistols and
his alter-ego Johnny Rotten . . . [major snip] . . the definitive
album of post punk rock and the year’s most compelling slice of metal machine music.” Bollocks! You call this music? So ironic is the Sex Pistols' first album title, because the B
word aptly describes their musical talent. This is a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Although, it was really just a confection of Malcum McLaren's. I do admire some of his other productions such
as Bow Wow Wow.
4. Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures – “. . . Ian Curtis, Joy Division’s lead vocalist, hanged himself.
. . Mr. Curtis confronted hard questions and refused to settle for easy answers . . . the band’s three instrumentalists
backed him to the hilt with some of the most driven, desperate rock-and-roll ever recorded.” It didn’t drive any
of my feelings. The one song I like of theirs isn't even on this record. However, those musicians eventually reformed with
an additional member as New Order and began crafting some catchy danceable tunes.
5. Arthur Blythe: Illusions – “The [polytonal] funk tunes proved that substantial yet danceable jazz isn’t
an impossible dream; the [jazz] quartet proved that energy and swing are eternal verities.” In the samples, I didn’t
hear any eternal truth. Virtuosic? yes, Pleasurable? not-so-much. This appeals to very few people. You cannot hold a conversation
with it spazzing in the background and I don't think I would find it the soul washing experience I've had from fusion
jazz groups such as Weather Report or Return to Forever – or from harder edged prog-rock groups such as Led Zeppelin
6. Elvis Costello and the Attractions:
Get Happy - “The stylistic range (from pop rock to soul to country
ballads to waltzes), emotional depth, melodic richness, and verbal invention . . . make it Mr. Costello’s most satisfying
album.” This was Costello’s fourth LP. By now, he had made such classics as "Alison", "Watching the Detectives",
"Pump it Up", and "Accidents Will Happen". However, Get Happy has no songs that
are must-haves in my iTunes collection – or even any wish-haves. I wasn't inspired to buy an Elvis Costello album until
the following year’s Trust came out with "Strict Time", "Lover's
Walk", and "Shot with His Own Gun". I agree with most of Palmer’s accolades, but for all of those different styles,
they all end up sounding too similar for any one of Costello’s LPs to be something you just want to put on and listen
to straight through.
7. Jon Hassel with Brian Eno: Fourth World,
Vol. 1, Possible Musics – “. . . it sounded too much
like a chorus of ghosts howling in the bush.” I am also a fan of Brian Eno's collaborations. Heck, he had something
to do with Joshua Tree and other U2 albums. Making my list's Honourable
Mention is Eno's collaboration with Talking Head's David Byrne on My Life in the Bush
of Ghosts. From what I've sampled, this record has a similar ethereal feel, yet, with more variety. It might have
more dissonance, so I can't say whether I would love this enough to make my top 10 or play it or twice and leave it to
collect dust. If it were available, I would, indeed, like to give it more of a try.
8. Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band:
Doc at the Radar Screen – “The more experimental new wave rock
bands are just beginning to absorb the music Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet) recorded during the late 60s and early 70s.
. . he may be the only composer working in rock idiom who can legitimately accused of brilliance.” You got to be kidding
me? This is highly refined insult. Take a wino off the street and make him sing lead to unrehearsed Frank Zappa’s Mothers
of Invention, and you get an idea of what this sounds like.
9. Professor Longhair: Crawfish Fiesta –
“The chief architect of New Orleans rhythm and
blues and an important influence in rock from Dr. John to the Specials made this delightful album with his tight touring band
and then died peacefully in his bed the day it was released.”
No, he did not have long white hair and a goatee. He was a 61 year old with skin the color of dark chocolate. This
was probably included because it is such an interesting tale that, unless you are from New
Orleans, you probably have never heard of him before. What do you bet the Specials never heard of him
either? This is another example of ridiculous speculation about who influenced who. What about Louis Armstrong? In fact, this
collection of songs sounds as conventional as rock-and-roll blues can be. It could be a professional Fats Domino and Jerry
Lee Lewis cover band. The chord changes and energy levels are the same.
Influence is an abstraction that we will usually be wrong about. The emotional reach that a particular piece of music
has is something we can actually recognize and is what is worth measuring. However, if there is absolutely nothing new in
the music, it gets boring; it will turn our attention away and fail to stir our emotions. We like to feel something new or
find a new path to those feelings.
10. Rockpile: Seconds of Pleasure – “Nobody rocks with more zip.” Blah. This is purely conventional
rock. They are tight, but boring. How could anyone enjoy such blandness only a year after Led Zeppelin’s last album
and AC/DC’s U.S. breakthrough?
Other Records Palmer thought worth mentioning:
Lennon & Yoko Ono: Double Fantasy – This is a beautiful
album - overall the best post ex-Beatles album ever made. I even enjoy Yoko’s songs. Honestly, their artsy and touching
without weirding anyone out. Well, there is a quick little Eskimo ululation in their somewhere. This record is so outstanding,
it is hard to believe anyone would leave it out of their top 2 of 1980. Only Talking Head’s Remain in Light shines as brightly.
Rolling Stones: Emotional Rescue – Not bad for an 18th
studio production. Most critics wouldn’t count this as one of their better efforts, but most songs meet their usual
standards. The title track is easily the best track – and one of the few Stones hits that I would consider underrated.
Kid Creole and the Coconuts - Off the Coast of Me - "Stool
Pigeon" was great fun, but I always assumed it was a one hit wonder. This album came out before his big hit. Kudos to Palmer
for recognizing some talent, but there really aren’t any memorable songs on this competent and more-eccentric-than-most
disco album. Nonetheless, I recommend giving the mellow title track a listening.
X: Los Angeles - I was living in
Los Angeles during this group's hay day hanging out at some
of the same dance clubs and was told I looked quite a bit like their co-leader John Doe. So what? So nothing, I just
took the liberty to point that out. They were a respectable punk group in that they were a tight talented band. I even have
one of their albums Under the Big Black Sun, but it has almost never been
played. I guess you need more hatred in your life to enjoy punk music. The exception is Clash – because they are not
only talented and clever, but they have a sense of humour – and one that they express musically.
One more famous punk group connection: school pal Clint Conley was in the most popular punk band in Boston: Mission of Burma. I couldn't force myself to enjoy their music
My wife has an even closer connection to 80s Canadian diva Luba. Growing up in the same Montreal community, her drummer husband dumped one of my wife’s closest friends for
Luba. Well, my wife’s friend never became rich and famous, but she has been a wonderful friend to us. Luba wasn’t punk enough to be popular south of the border but she very popular up here and won 4 consecutive
Junos Awards (the Canadian Grammies).
various artists: Rockers (original soundtrack) - I have no idea
what was on this. Rock songs, I suppose.
various artists: Wanna Buy a Bridge - a collection of punk rock.
Most people’s favourite music is what they heard when they were in their late teens and 20s. That is when they
are generally exposed to the most music and have musical memories as back drops to the most exciting events in their lives.
That would make the 70s my decade. Indeed, 1971-1973 are the years I think the record album as an art form reached its peak.
It seemed as though rock bands just couldn’t top the best albums of that era. Although a few gave a valiant effort and
some came close to that level. Well, you probably have your own interpretation of musical history, but I believe the record
as an art form began with a bang in 1967. Before then, rock bands didn’t exist. They were vocal groups or in a few cases
rock and roll ensembles. Thanks in part to my older sister, I was around to enjoy The Doors, The Jimi Hendrix Experience,
and Cream conquering our souls and changing what we can hope for from music forever. Suddenly, we all had to have stereos
and FM stations. The Beatles’ historically progressive Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts
Club Band was released that year along with Moody Blue’s Days of Future Passed.
A personal favourite of mine from 1967: The Chambers Brothers’ Time Has Come
Today. However, that is another essay. Inspired by my misunderstanding of Palmer’s top 10 list, I made my own top
10 for the 1980s.
John Carter’s favourite albums of the entire 1980s:
1. Roxy Music: Avalon -
You know, after he refined the silly artiness out of his singing, Bryan Ferry became the sexiest male voice to most
women I know of my generation. This was Roxy Music's last album and, in my opinion, their only masterpiece. Every song is
dreamy without boring or irritating. It was the perfect party, dinner, or make-love record. What more can you ask
from a piece of vinyl?
2. Talking Heads: Remain in Light – See my comments above where I noted that the Talking Heads didn’t suffer when David Byrne refined the silliness out of his voice. The band
really cooked here and the addition of Adrian Belew’s guitar was nicely placed. You wouldn’t want to play this
for dinner, but it is quite danceable, if you are brave and arty.
3. U2: The Joshua Tree -
U2 is clearly the greatest rock band to emerge from the 80s and this was their best effort. Great songs, brilliantly played,
strong singing, well produced. It even has good lyrics and it was innovative - two things I value less than most music reviewers. I
think this qualifies as a concept album masterpiece. The only reason I couldn’t rate it higher than Remain in Light or Avalon is because I just didn’t play it nearly
as often. That is no fault of U2’s. It’s just that since this album’s release, we hear so many of these
songs on the radio month after month year after year.
4. Tears for Fears: Songs from the Big Chair
- Perhaps, because I had a happy disposition in the 80s, I can relate to the real joy in these songs. This is one of the catchiest
collection of songs ever made – if you like soaring melodies.
5. The Gypsy Kings: Gypsy Kings
– These pop flamenco artists from France
pour their hearts out on each song - and each one is a thrill. Sure, there are plenty of other third world favourites with
this sort of flavour. Julio Inglesias was a huge star making similar music. Somehow, though, my friends and I were turned
off by Inglesias' ego-centric balladeering, but our hearts were won over by these poor mountaineers madly strumming and harmonizing
their songs for us. This was the go-to party tape/CD of the late 80s. Perhaps, it was the anti-dote to the stripped down and
quirky new wave sound that dominated most of the decade – which in turn was an anti-dote to the highly polished grandiose
6. The Trio (Ronstadt, Parton, & Harris): The
Trio - This down-to-earth country tinged three part harmonized set of terrific songs could have been an anti-dote
to the rest of the 80s, except it just didn’t hit me until a decade later when I heard this group’s version of
Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush". While Young’s original is basement dweller’s dream, these ladies take us to
the stars. All around, however, this is a far stronger album than their later recording. Why it didn’t catch on more
than it did may have something to due with main stream prejudice against country style – and, perhaps, country prejudice
against being tainted with pop stars. Trio is pop rock diva Linda Ronstandt, country diva Dolly Parton, and everyone's favourite
session singer Emmylou Harris. Ronstadt's strong clear voice mixed with Parton's sweet as honey sound and Harris's
roughened sad strains make this harmony for the gods.
7. Windham Hill artists: Windham Hill Sampler '82 - I found this in a discount bin, yet, to my wife’s
and my ears, it is one of the greatest "mellow" LPs ever - right up there with Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. The outstanding artists are William Ackerman
(acoustic guitar), George Winston (piano), and Shadowfax (piano and guitar with a synthesizer lead).
8. Clash: Combat Rock –
As I was saying, most music critics over-emphasize the importance that an artist’s influence has on future music makers.
It is significant, perhaps, if they actually knew who influenced who and how much, but how do they really know? Let's take
that out of the equation and rate music on how much we ourselves get out of it. It is the culmination of influences - the
end results that matter most to me. So, allow me to dismiss the Sex Pistols again and point out that, perhaps, it was the
Clash who most inspired the punk groups who came after who were worth listening to. Yes, historically, the Clash admired what
the Sex Pistols were doing and started off as Sex Pistols, Jr. - even opening for them. However, the Clash developed into
fine musicians who took many influences and put them together with their own extremely vibrant style. You could annotate their
’79 London Calling LP as the greatest punk album for breaking through with
the respectability of being refined enough to hold up to repeat playing years later. However, Combat Rock is the LP you would prefer to play today if both albums were taken completely out of the context of
their times. Most critics and fans who were punk fans from the start prefer the earlier Clash recordings. Yet, it is this
LP's "Rock the Kasbah" and "Should I Stay or Should I Go" that you still hear frequently today (along with title track from
London Calling). Clash’s first two LPs are too punk for me. There are some
great songs on both their 3rd and 4th albums (both double) London
Calling and Sandinista, but each of those mix too many
duds that are just annoying when played one after the other. (“Charley Don’t Surf” is a great track from
Sandanista.) Combat Rock holds
up song after song.
9. XTC: English Settlement
– Before rock n’ roll, if not before The Beatles, popular singers tried to sound as smooth as they could be. Throughout
the 60s more and more singers sounded tough or tortured, sassy, or screaming with delight. Only in the new wave era was it
cool to sound goofy or nerdy. What a great decade for nerds. By the end of it, they were allegedly the most sought after males
for their ability to make money and make things we all wanted. XTC’s Andy Partridge has a goofy sounding voice –
especially in XTC’s earlier hit “Making Plans for Nigel”. However, English
Settlement demonstrates a huge wealth of emotions and musical styles – many of which sound completely original –
and very catchy in both rhythm and melody. There are no weak songs on this record, at least, not on the U.S. version of the LP. The U.K. version was a double album.
Everything But the Girl: Everything
But the Girl – This group has a close rival in Sade. Both were introduced to me the same evening. Both
groups were reminiscent of early 60s samba such as "Girl from Ipanima". Sade distinguished herself as a singular siren with
a great back-up band, while EBtG was initially sparser with the instrumentals, but doubled up wonderfully on the vocal tracks.
Later. EBtG went techno such as with their monster hit "Missing" a decade later. Sade, meanwhile, stayed the course. In fact,
I don’t know any artist who stayed the course so consistently without getting stale. Each of Sade’s first three
albums is a treasure. However, that seemed enough. But, then I bought a CD player and eventually bought the fourth Sade record
along with it. She spun her magic for me once again. However, none of the Sade discs reaches quite as deeply into my bones
than this U.S. premier from Everything
But the Girl. Although, Tracy Thorn and Ben Watt went on to produce far more records than Sade and go through far more stylistic
changes, nothing I’ve heard from them comes anywhere nearly this close to my soul – except, perhaps, Thorn’s
collaborations with Massive Attack.
Ten is a nice number, but ask me on another day and I would likely have a different top 10. Only the top three would
be pretty safe. No matter where I stop, I feel some other records deserve to be mentioned as much as the ones I did. So, I
want to comment on a few more records and groups that made my life in the 80s so much richer.
For example, as I say, any of the first four Sade albums was almost as
good as Everything But the Girl, so in a way she deserves to be mentioned even
more. If I had to pick one to represent her, would it be Diamond Life, which was her commercial breakthrough and contained her biggest hit (the title track) - and
catchiest tune? Or, would it be her second album Promise with the haunting “Fear”, Stronger Than Pride has one terrific song after another. But, then Love Deluxe is not only a musical delight, so is the cover!
The recording artist who had the most records oh-so-close to this top 10 is Peter
Gabriel. After breaking away from Genesis when they were great in the mid 70s, Gabriel put out four straight albums each
named Peter Gabriel, as I recall, each
one was initially was with a different record company, and each one a little better than the one before. The first is best
known for “Solsbury Hill”, the second for “D.I.Y”, the third (and first in the 80s) for “Games
Without Frontiers” and the fourth renamed Security
for “Shock the Monkey”. Although, “Shock the Monkey” unfortunately led to the more sluggish and more
aired “Big Time” and “Sledgehammer” from later albums, it is the dreamer, experimental, and world
music infused throughout most of Security that I loved the most. The most dramatic
of these tracks is “Lay Your Hands on Me”. Birdy and Last Temptation of
Christ soundtracks beautifully incorporated Gabriel’s dreamier music.
So was a far more conventional record
album. The strength of the production and song writing alone puts it well above Gabriel’s first three records. “Red
Rain”, “Don’t Give Up”, and “In Your Eyes” are the obvious examples. However, it all around
wasn’t interesting enough to be an improvement on Security. So, after So, I felt I had enough Gabriel albums. Security
deserves to be in the top 10, however, about as much as any of the records in the bottom half of the list.
Gabriel’s regular bass player Tony Levin joined King Crimson’s
Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford – the drummer who rose to fame with Yes, and singer – guitarist Adrian Belew who
added his guitar feedback and tricks to Talking Heads’s Remain in Light to
for a new band originally called Discipline. Instead, they kept the King Crimson moniker and titled their first album Discipline. This quartet
went on to produce three more stunningly brilliant fusion jazz albums with a slight new wave edge (as in Belew could sing
with nerdiness). The more accessible mellow and really quite sublime tracts of their first record were “Matte Kudasai”
and “The Sheltering Sky”. The follow up Beat contained the Grammy nominated “Requiem”.
When Robert Fripp collaborated with Peter Gabriel, however, it produced
the most poignant track of the 80s: “Here Comes the Flood”. Do not confuse this with the weakly produced track
of the same name on Peter Gabriel’s first solo album. The great version came from a Gabriel-Fripp EP or the Fripp solo
LP Exposure released actually in 1979.
The record producer of the decade (and the 90s, perhaps, too) may be Daniel
Lanois who just in the 80s had his hands on U2’s rise to superstardom, Bob Dylan’s triumphant comeback, PeterGabriel’s
Birdy, and a magnificent self-titled album from the leader of The Band: Robbie Robertson.
And if Lanois wasn’t the record producer of the decade, it was Brian
Eno, who collaborated with Lanois on U2’s peak-of-their-career albums:
Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree, and Achtung Baby.
(The latter counts as a 90s recording.) Eno’s stamp is all over what was best about 1980s music – or what led
to it. Eno was a former member of Roxy Music. He produced David Bowie’s rousingly successful LPs of late 70s. And, he
produced The Talking Heads to their three album peak: More Songs About Buildings and
Food (includes “Take Me to the River”), Fear of Music (includes
“Life During Wartime”), and finally 1980’s Remain in Light. The
following year, in a performing / songwriting collaboration with Talking Head’s David
Byrne, they produced another record nearly making my top 10 favorites of the year: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.
Palmer’s 1980 list had no female artists listed –
other than Tina Weymouth as the bass player for Talking Heads. There were a bunch of women who had great fun music in the
new wave of the early 80s: Eurythmics, Romeo Void, Missing Persons, The Waitresses, Bow
Wow Wow, Siouxie and the Banshees, The
Bangles, Bananarama, The Go-Go Girls.
The one who made the most sophisticated go-to beautiful album was just taking the next step from her impressive late 70s debut: Rickie Lee Jones. Her masterpiece was Pirates.
Swap it with Everything But the Girl – I’d have to do a track by track comparison to say for sure which I liked
better, but I lost my Pirates lp.
Jane Siberry may have been my favourite female musical artist of the 80s. Her vocal arrangements and originality are precious.
However, too much of each of her albums were unattainable to say she had an album as excellent as the ones mentioned here.
(Based on this and the gals mentioned in the paragraph above, can you tell I moved from California to Ontario in 1983?)
Sound boring? By the end of the decade, I had become a dad. My exposure to music was getting increasingly limited
– especially to non-Canadian music as the stations here have to keep the non-Canadian content to less than 70%. Talk
about protectionism, but don’t get me started. At least, I had a TV and became a devotee of ”Twin
Peaks”. That show’s music gave it a great hip but eerie atmosphere. I bought a tape of the show’s
band and loved to play it anytime. The group went by the singer’s name Julie
Cruise and their debut was called very aptly Floating Into the Night. Influence? Not that
I am one to note such things, but I sense a link to Portishead.
While Robert Palmer gave John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s: Double Fantasy an honerable mention for 1980, I praise
it much more strongly. Lennon is in strong form. He took these songs seriously giving his most nuanced singing, his most sophisticated
song writing, strong backing musicianship, and an all around more humbled approach. Ono provides an eclectic contrast. Well,
I’ve already talked about this.
Always competing with the Beatles, the
Rolling Stones followed Double Fantasy with one of their best LPs ever: Tatoo You. The Stones were famous for adapting
to the popular trends of the day. Some were more successful than others. While Their Satanic Majesties Request is unanimously considered
a dud of a bow to the psychedelic era, Sticky Fingers held up in the progressive era, and Some Girls was a masterful foray into
the disco era. Tatoo
You came out during the punk/new wave era, but it doesn’t try to emulate the Cars
or the Clash. Instead, it embraced their maturity. It was probably the jazziest Stones album ever.
Another superstar Bruce Springsteen in ’87 a dozen years after his world wide
breakthrough produced what I think is his most useful album: Tunnel of Love. This was the only record made during Springsteen's
brief first marriage. It is a beautiful love letter. While one side is rousing, the other is thoroughly mellow. That makes
an eminently playable LP depending on your mood. However, this was around the end of the LP era. The rousing side isn't so
blasting that the CD doesn't make a nice item to throw in your CD player for a mix. In the era of iTunes, you can sort these
songs however you wish. Springsteen’s breakthrough Born to Run with
its similar, but less pronounced split of rousing vs. mellow is his only record that I would consider as strong as this one.
Another established 70s group Dire Straights produced their greatest LP Brothers In Arms in the mid 80s. I have
seen it reported as the top selling album in the U.K.
of the 80s, if not of all-time! It is a masterpiece, but I don't think it compares well to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973) as a mellow sided concept LP. I'm not even sure this is a concept LP, except
it does flow like one.
You can’t talk about music in the 80s without mentioning Michael Jackson’s
Thriller. Yes, the hits from this LP
were excellent, but I never found occasions to play this record. Radio and discos played these songs so frequently, there
was no thrill to play them on my own. So, I’ll concede this probably deserves to be in everyone’s top 10, I can’t
honestly say I love it that much.
Michael Jackson wasn’t the only superstar of the decade. 1990’s The
Billboard Book of Top 40 Albums lists Prince as the top artist of the decade
and his Purple Rain as the second album
of those years only below Thriller. Prince
is obviously very talented, yet sensitive. Yet, I picked up Purple Rain, and it
just doesn’t do much for me. Compared to who I consider great, Prince lacks a variety of emotions and I seem to have
trouble relating to the ones he has.
Speaking of talent, Whitney Houston established herself in the 80s as
one of the greatest singers of all time. I like some of her songs very much, but most of them are cliché produced and cheesy.
I couldn’t take a whole album of hers – especially after all the headlines she made regarding her violent drug
addled relationship with rapper Bobby Brown. After all, most of her songs are about how much she adores someone and what great
love making they have. Whitney is gorgeous, but how can I keep from picturing the two of them together? Yuck.
Another un-unmentionable, of course, is Madonna. Some of her songs are
OK, but frankly I had more enjoyment from the Spice Girls. Madonna has managed her image and career brilliantly. I tip my
hat to her, but I ain’t goin’ to buy any of her songs.
Does Duran Duran count as a must-mention? They do epitomize the 80s, don’t
they? More so than Flock of Seagulls who are referenced in a common joke about
the 80s. Both groups produced some catchy music, you must admit – and some annoying music, too. Duran Duran deserves
special mention for the first group to strongly exploit MTV’s need for music videos. After all their big sellers in
the early 80s, they came back in 1993 with what in my opinion were their two best songs: “Ordinary World” and
Depeche Mode is another 80s band, I cannot skip in an article about 80s music. Personally, I always thought they sounded good,
but nothing stuck. Their morose electronics got boring very quickly for me, but, perhaps, I never gave them enough of a chance
– or didn’t digest the appropriate drugs.
Another 80s band with a huge cult following – and deservedly so - is The
Cure. If Fripp-Gabriel’s “Here Comes the Flood” is a 70s EP, than “Let’s Go to Bed”
was easily my favourite 80s EP. They produced many fine songs over the decade, but as far as what I have heard, never made
a great album until 1996’s Wild Mood
Two lesser known party albums for the 80s which do merit honourable mention:
Paulo Conti: I Primi Tempi – At the end of the 80s, before I broke down and bought a CD player in the mid 90s, the dominant music format in my
life was cassette tapes. A friend copied a tape of Paulo Conti songs for us and we loved them. They were fun, catchy, jazzy,
and made a perfect up tempo background for any party. Since the words were mostly Italian - all the better - nobody was distracted
by trying to listen to them. This hits collection comes closest to having all the songs that were on that tape.
In 1979, Brit
Joe Jackson made a fine splash on the punk/new wave scene with: Look Sharp! Think of a more simplified version of Green Day. In 1982
he hit it big with a cooler jazzier standard pop flavoured Night and Day. However,
my favourite Jackson record is the rousing swing band LP aptly
named Jumpin’ Jive.
I also have to acknowledge these important albums of the 80s, which in my opinion certainly had strong merit, just
not enough for my musical receptors:
Each Pretenders LP had some great songs, especially their first: The Pretenders.
Of the “chick” groups mentioned above, romeo void came closest to having an excellent LP.
The English Beats’ Special Beat Service was always fun to put on as was.
I consider One Step Beyond
by Madness an even greater delight, but it is a ’79 officially.
Any one of the R.E.M. albums – more likeable “hits”
than anyone in the 80s, except U2?
Any Elvis Costello had some terrific songs, but too many just don’t
do anything for me.
My favourite Police LP Regatta
de Blanc came out in ’79, but Synchronicity
(’83) wasn’t bad.
Paul Simon: Graceland - some great bass playing.
Some people’s favourite LP. Not mine.
Phil Collins/Genesis – some excellent songs, some not so inspiring. The best
LP with Phil Collins on lead vocals Wind and Wuthering might be good enough for
this list’s Top 10, except it came out in the mid 70s – his first. Obviously my tastes
do not match everyone else’s as his popularity increased with every album. Yes, I preferred the dramatic melodic time
shifting Genesis of the 70s to the popish catchy rhythm Collins/Genesis of the 80s.
Any Rush album – thoroughly great musicianship, just not enough
Journey: Escape - some great songs, much better
singing than Rush, still it falls short.
INXS: Kick Inside – ditto.
Any Van Halen album with David
Lee Roth – probably never topped their ’78 debut, though.
Guns ‘N Roses: Appetite for Destruction
seedy emulators of Led Zeppelin.
– Back in Black was their monster
seller. While their musicianship continued to improve, the band had lost my love due to the death of lead singer Bon Scott
at the start of the decade. Brian Johnson has all of Scott’s menace, but none of his humour. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap has my favourite AC/DC songs. It came out
in Australia in the 70s, but I didn’t
hear any of it until 1980.
Here is the medal count: In my top 10, five are British, three are American, one is Irish, and one from France. Among the honourable mention: 20 are fully British
including one led by a singer born in Nigeria, but not including a British band led by an American singer. Thirteen are fully
American. In those totals are the 9 “chick groups” (4 Brits and 5 Yanks), which barely merit the mention. I also
mention four Canadian acts. Two Australian bands get a mention in the final paragraph above. Yoko is from Japan originally, and Paulo Conti is from Italy.
If that doesn’t add up, let me know in Scoresheet-talk, and I’ll add them again. The amazing thing is, I considered the 70s as the decade most dominated by the Brits with
Led Zeppelin, Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Queen, and Supertramp each producing multiple excellent albums. However, for my tastes,
at least, the dominance continued. Heck, who is better than Radiohead, Coldplay, or Keane today?
Give me a pass, please, on the important punk and rap albums of the decade. It’s just my taste, but if it doesn’t
have a melody, it isn’t quite music to my ears. However, I do like some music that falls in those categories, just not
a whole album of it this decade. Of course, I’ve skipped over some great jazz and classical recordings here. I hope
to discover them.