Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Confessions of an 80s music fan

I was born at the tail end of the 70s, at about the point where generation X meets generation Y. I guess you could say I belong to the XY generation, which is kind've appropriate considering my chromosome makeup.

Due to my point of entry in this world, I'll always refer to myself as an 80s kid. Most of my younger years were spent in the decade of the big hair, and I still have the acid wash jeans somewhere to prove it. This was before the days of the Internet (at least in widespread popular usage), before the putrid slop of reality shows (what we now call entertainment), and before we made people famous for the sake of being famous. I'm looking at you, Paris.

I grew up with matchbox cars, marbles, MAD magazine, Garbage pail kids and You can't do that on television. I was always afraid to say I don't know, lest a bucket of slime land on my head. One of my first memories of seeing a movie was seeing the original Back to the future with my parents when it first came out. I was so restless and annoying that I pretty much ruined the movie for them. It was only years later when I finally watched the movie and understood it. Of course, 1.21 gigawatts!

And of course, there's the music.

One of my earliest childhood memories was dancing to Van Halen's Jump in my next door neighbour's living room in the mid 80s. I also remember (in the latter half of the 80s) seeing Perfect by Fairground Attraction and The only way is up by Yazz and the Plastic Population on the music show of the day.

These were more innocent days; or, I was younger and more innocent. Before music clips consisted of scantilly clad women grinding against a pole. Sure that kind of stuff would be exciting for a teenager, but I'd like to think that 7 year olds could be shielded from that kind of stuff for a few more years.

Music from the 80s was without inhibitions. It was daggy, it was flamboyant, but in an ironic sense it was more real than most popular music released nowadays. It also made you happy. I challenge anyone not to smile when they hear the opening of The final countdown by Europe.

Yeah, I know it's the rose coloured glasses talking. We always look back fondly at our youth, forgetting the bad things, and romanticising the rest. It's human nature I guess.

It was my 2nd wedding anniversary last week, and my beautiful wife Lorin kindly bought me the following CD set (ok, I hinted that I wanted it):

I'm normally against compilations of this ilk. I almost put them in the same category as those 50 best songs to listen to while driving around with a truckie and eating a meat pie with sauce and the sauce has just fallen all over your shorts type compilations.

These decade-based compilations are not quite as bad, because at least they have some objective merit and aren't entirely based on what a record company hot shot thinks an Aussie bloke likes to hear at a BBQ. After all, there's probably a lot of Aussie blokes who dig classical music, and a lot more who never need to hear Khe sanh again.

Back to my point about objective merit - it's more difficult to argue with the choice of what songs to include on a CD called 101 80s hits. Firstly, a song should only be included if it had been released between the years 1980 and 1989. Secondly, the song should be a hit of some sort. I guess this term is a bit more subjective, which is where so many compilations fail.

When browsing these sorts of compilations in stores, there's a commonly recurring sneaky record company practice which I have noticed over the years. They put a few corkers at the start of the compilation, with slowly diminishing returns over the rest of the CD(s). The careless buyer will see the first few songs, think they are on to a winner, and buy the CD. It's only when they get home later that they realise it's an EP masquerading as a long player.

But this 5-CD set is not like that. Here's a sample of 5 great songs from each CD. Notice the tracks numbers of the selections:

1. Blondie - Call me
5. The B-52s - Rock lobster
8. Men At Work - Down under
13. J. Geils Band - Centerfold
17. Survivor - Eye of the tiger

2. A Flock of Seagulls - I ran
5. David Bowie - Modern love
13. Nena - 99 luftballoons
16. Limahl - Never ending story
20. Dead Or Alive - You spin me round (Like a record)

7. Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder - Together in electric dreams
9. Simple Minds - Don't you (Forget about me)
14. Huey Lewis & The News - The power of love
16. A-ha - Take on me
19. Starship - We built this city

2. Divinyls - Pleasure and pain
3. Mr. Mister - Broken wings
10. Cutting Crew - (I just) died in your arms
13. Europe - The final countdown
18. Rick Astley - Never gonna give you up (the Rick Roll himself)

5. Robert Palmer - Simply irrestistible
7. Fairground Attraction - Perfect
11. Fine Young Cannibals - She drives me crazy
19. Martika - Toy soldiers
20. Deborah Harry - I want that man

And that's just a sample of 25/101 songs!

I wouldn't expect those from generation Y to have have the same emotional attachment to some of these songs. And if I was coming to these songs fresh, without having grown up with them, I would probably laugh in the face of their 80s production awash with drum machines and synths. But for someone born in the same era as me, this 5 CD set is a treasure chest of memories.

Those who know me well know that I don't download music, even from legal online stores like iTunes. Everything that's included in my iPod has to be legitimately purchased in physical CD format. It makes acquiring new music so much more fun - downloading is just too easy. The thrill of the chase, etc.

I used to be more of a purist, and never would have considered buying a compilation CD set like this. Which is kind've why I have been getting more into soundtracks lately - they feel less dirtier than a compilation like this, as they have more of a conceptual unity to them (they were all in the same movie!). But to get this many great songs from the 80s through the purchase of single artist compilations or soundtracks would be a massive expense in both time and money. Considering that many of the songs on this compilation are from one-hit wonders, it would be a pretty fruitless task as well.

These songs and me will be together in electric dreams for many years to come. I look forward to them coming up in the shuffle on my iPod.

MP3: Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder - Together in electric dreams [Link removed]


The most notable omission for me in this set is Come on Eileen by Dexy's Midnight Runners. I may have to buy one of their albums to get that song. As Homer Simpson once said, we haven't heard the last of them.


I also would have liked to substitute Drive by The Cars for Tonight she comes. I already have Drive on their 1984 album Heartbeat city. Tonight she comes is more difficult to get hold of, as it's only available on their Greatest hits CD (which is redundant for me now) and possibly some soundtracks as well.


Amazingly, I only had 6 of the 101 songs in this set already. Considering I always been an 80s music fan, having such a small overlap with the rest of my collection is pretty amazing.

Update: Song links removed.


  1. Perfect by Fairground Attraction - wow, that brings back some lovely memories. A lot of pop culture went right past me but that one stuck.

  2. I share your nostalgic sympathies toward the eighties. We grew up in that period and the music has meaning to us and often triggers fond memories.

    But looking at it subjectively, putting aside the nostalgia and memories, considering what music you listen to today, I hope I'm not the only one that thinks:

    The 80's was the worst decade for music.

    I mean of course there are some gems in there (you've listed many); it was a ten-year period. But it's rare that I'll put anything from the 80's for a listen. It's just dated so much and I often find myself feeling a little embarrassed at the sheer cheesiness of the music.

    Am I really the only one that feels that way? :)

    Good post Jiggy, it brought back a ton of memories! I'm just not such an eighties music fan. :)

  3. Fair enough Matt, not everyone has to love the music of the 80s. A lot of music from the 80s oozes cheese, more than one of those pizzas with the cheesy crust.

    And while over-production was rife in the 80s, there's a lot of great music from that era which has aged very well. You need to get into the Smiths - one of the greatest bands of all time!

  4. Another thing I should have said in my last response Matt...

    Maybe I didn't make it clear enough in my original post, but I was mainly comparing 80s *popular* music with the popular music of today.

    The pop music of today is so money driven, repetitive and obsessed with celebrity -- more so than it ever was, even in the 80s. Franchises like Australian/American Idol are a great metaphor for the state of the popular music industry at the moment.

    80s pop music, on the other hand (and this may be the rose coloured glasses talking again) seemed to be just about having fun. You look back on it now as cheesy, quite rightly so, but I can't help but look back on this music as fun and uninhibited rather than the dollar driven tripe that is released nowadays.

    The industry just seems to be too obsessed with marketing and image rather than the music, however cheesy that music was in the 80s.

  5. I definitely do have to listen to more Smiths...should I just dive in chronologically from the start?

    As for your points on popular music, I totally agree. Pop music of today offends me. It's waaay worse than the popular music of the 80's. Hell, I won't be surprised if we look back on it in 20 years time and think it's worse than popular music from any decade, period. As you've said it's so driven by corporate greed; the industry has become such a machine.

    Man, I sound like a hippy.

    80's pop was fun, uninhibited and yes cheesy - not my taste. But at least it was reflecting society and motivated by something more pure than money.

    Comparing 80's and 00's pop I agree that the 80's comes up favourably. But it wouldn't do so well if I was comparing my favourite music from those periods...

  6. > I definitely do have to
    > listen to more Smiths...should
    > I just dive in chronologically
    > from the start?

    Yeah, this could be a good way to approach it. While their first album is fantastic, it's a little bit underproduced in parts (in the 80s! Who'd have thought?) so I'd hate for that aspect of it to put you off, despite the fantastic songs on it.

    The great thing about the Smiths is that they only released 4 studio albums in their short lifespan - and they are all great, and worth picking up. Considering you can get them all for under $10 each, there's really no reason to go for a compilation (and there are lots of different compilations).

    The only compilation worth picking up is "Louder than bombs", which picks up all of their non-album singles and most of their B-sides. Kind've their Past Masters, to use a Beatles analogy -- it complements their collection rather than overlapping with it.

    In terms of albums, I would start out with The Queen is Dead, their 3rd album. This is widely considered to be their masterpiece, and it's probably their most accessible effort. If this gives you a taste for their albums, I'd pick up The Smiths (their debut) next. Then you might as well finish the collection off with Meat is Murder and Strangeways, Here We Come.

    They are one of my favourite bands of all time - the lyrics and vocals of Morrissey gel so unbelievably well with the music and guitar work of Johnny Marr.

    They also have a reputation for being a depressing band like the Cure, but this is one of those misconceptions. Yes, they have some songs that are a bit morose, but Morrissey's lyrics are also incredibly witty and I think the humour shines through more than the morbidness of some of the lyrics.

    Truly a band for the ages.

  7. Thanks for the tip mate; I'll pick up The Queen is Dead soon.

  8. Great stuff Matt - be sure to let me know what you think!

  9. I agree with Matt and Jiggy on the foulness of noughties TV-driven pop - it's nasty.

    I too sink into enormous buckets of nostalgia upon hearing 80's popular cheese. But I would actually divide the 80's into two halves. There's the naive "we just got a synthesizer and we're gonna put it everywhere" era, and then there's the "this formula worked for Artist X, let's clone and reuse for Y and Z" stage.

    Examples of the former:
    - Culture Club
    - Spandau Ballet/Tears for Fears etc

    Transitional era:
    - Wham!

    Examples of the latter:
    - Bananarama
    - Rick Astley
    - Kylie (SAW era)
    - Yazz etc..

    I've put Wham! as a special case, as I've read a George Michael biography and it seems there it was a mixture of raw talent (from GM at least), enthusiasm and marketing "push". They also spanned the mid-eighties, bridging the gap.

    Can your 101-hit compilation confirm this pattern Jiggy?

  10. Chis - I think you have a point, although I'd admit I have never thought about it that way before.

    Now that you mention it, there is a pretty big divide in the 80s hits. I would says that the seeds of modern (noughties) popular music were sown in the late 80s.

    The early 80s were cheesy, but the songwriting ability was still there. The late 80s were when Bros, New Kids on the Block, and some of the other artists/bands you mentioned started to make it big. NKotB were one of the first "boy bands", so you could see where it all went downhill from there.

  11. The worst musical era of all times were the Eighties. I disliked that decade. The only good bands and artists that I liked from the Eighties are Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Europe, Guns N’Roses, Michael Jackson and Prince and that’s about it.

    All the best rock bands came out of the Seventies. The Seventies were better than the Eighties in my opinion, producing proper rock bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Trapeze, Free, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, Motorhead etc. The Eighties were about synthesizers and poppy little sounds. Synthesizers were boring instruments because you couldn’t jump around with it like you would do with a guitar. Even worse there were all these horrible bands like the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Depeche Mode, OMD, Kajagoogoo and many similar acts in the Eighties. Then you got the Stock Aitken and Waterman nonsense, which drove me bleeding mad. They were responsible for producing cheeseball hits like Never Gonna Give You Up and I Should Be So Lucky..

    The musical scene in the Eighties was a joke. You had record companies and managers who were more important than the artists. These managers acted like dictators telling you what to do like polishing your music and looking a bit. You had to live by the strict Draconian rules forever doing TV shows , playback performances and photo sessions. It was too nice and too tame. You had no control over your music because you had to play the way the manager wanted you to sound. The Eighties were backlashed against the guitar because the producer toned it down to make room for the synths. That is amongst the reason why I think the Eighties were awful. The Eighties is a decade not worth remembering.


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