FEATURE: 'The 1980s Revival': Why Revisiting the Decade Is a Good Thing for Music



'The 1980s Revival'



Why Revisiting the Decade Is a Good Thing for Music


WHEN I last highlighted the 1980s…



earlier in the year; I lept to its defence. There is this perceived – and incorrect – notion the decade was a melee of over-layered hair and tragic clothing. I have said before how dangerous it is defining a decade in such simple terms. Yes, there was a poverty of style during the time but many assume the music industry reflected that poor taste – all synthetic, sickly and mass-produced. I get tired seeing the ‘best of the 1980s’ collections and the songs that appear on them. I have nothing against Mel and Kim, Kim Wilde and Spandau Ballet but, when one sees their ilk prolifically feature on these compilations, it provides a false impression of the '80s. Those sort of artists – and the bad fashions – were only a small part of the decade. If one wants a better impression of the 1980s; type into Google ‘the best albums of the 1980s’. The list you will get big provides a much clear insight into the stunning sounds and ground-breaking  artists of the time...


IN THIS PHOTO: Talking Heads/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty/Press

From Talking Heads – they started in the 1970s but released stunning work in the '80s – and Michael Jackson; Madonna and Pixies; The Smiths and Tears for Fears – some of the world’s best records were created during this time. Maybe the Pop charts and commercial core had more than its fair amount of cheese but can we really say things are better now?! What makes the music of the 1980s superior is the quality of the Pop music; the sense of fun and timelessness we encountered. What I am finding is so many new artists, un-ironically, is that revisit of the big Pop sounds that defined that period. A lot of the inspiration is coming from artists like Madonna, Bananarama and Cyndi Lauper – the former is especially influential. Madonna is someone I have featured before, too, and her legacy cannot be overlooked – how she progressed from the innocent and ingénue Pop teenager to the innovative and boundary-pushing legend has compelled many.


IN THIS PHOTO: Bananarama/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty/Press

You can quibble about the quality of some of the 1980s’ popular artists but stars like Madonna are in a league of their own. She showed what quality and depth was possible; how you didn’t need to conform to the worst traits of the time – compromise originality for fitting into the rigid and plastic Pop charts. A lot of modern artists are creating the sort of Disco-Pop mashes Madonna was penning on her first few albums. Prince is another artists who enjoyed great success in the decade: the two artists, between them, have changed the face of music. Even some of the lesser-celebrated artists of the 1980s – ABC; The Human League and Tears for Fears – are making an impact on modern music. That romance and ability to uplift and motivate; the production sound and the simplicity – it seems to go against a music scene where advancement and evolution are taking the joy out of things. There are a few artists who know how to pen a rousing and spirited number: that is far fewer/rarer than once was. There is a seriousness and mentality that means it is difficult discovering music that makes you smile and gets the body moving.



I have mentioned an artist like Madonna because her music, especially albums such as Like a Virgin and Like a Prayer, contained songs that have survived the test of time. Not only is there the aspect of the songs themselves – brilliantly written and performed – but everything tied to Madonna. There is the theatre and controversy; the celebrity and look – a complete artist with her unique sense of purpose. There are few big fashion movements and clearly identifiable musicians in the modern scene – few that catch the eye and compel you to dig deeper. For all the missteps and terrible attire of the 1980s: there was so much sensational music coming out we are talking about today. If we associate the decade with naffness and over-produced Pop syrup then, of course, there will be stigma and reticence. We need to get out of the prejudicial and cliché mindset that suggests the 1980s was a minor thing.



I have alluded to the great Pop that arrived but, having mentioned acts like Pixies and Talking Heads, there was a rise of incredible Alternative sounds. I have lost count (of the number of bands) who sprinkle aspects of these two acts into their own music. Talking Heads, especially, are proving popular for many contemporary artists. Even though the U.S. band formed in 1975; their 1980s output like Remain in Light (1980) hold incredible potency for new musicians. Whether overtly referencing the songs – or integrating the complexities and colours into their interpretation – it is fascinating to see. The Smiths, too, have always provided new artists guidance and I am discovering so many new artists employ various strands of their back catalogue. I guess there is something potent and timeless when we think of The Smiths. The same can be said for the head-rush, mind-alternating music of Talking Heads. If we discount a lot of the sweeter, sickly Pop of the decade; we cannot undermine some of the female/female-led artists of the time. I have mentioned Bananarama but The Bangles are another source of fluidity.


IN THIS PHOTO: The Bangles/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty/Press

Some may quibble whether songs like Walk Like an Egyptian and Eternal Flame represent their more credible side. Their 1984 album, All Over the Place, featured a fantastic version of Going Down to Liverpool – originally recorded by Katrina and the Waves in 1983. 1986’s Different Light provided Manic Monday (written by Prince) and was a more commercial effort. Subsequent albums failed to match the consistency of All Over the Place – ironic, given the title! - but it is clear, in a short space of time, the U.S. band made a huge impact on the music industry. Their incredible harmonies and timeless songs were not only a product of the 1980s: many modern artists, in their own way, are taking the mantle from The Bangles and bringing their sounds into their music.



If anything; I feel the 1980s revival is not going far enough. I have mentioned a few artists but listen to albums by Sade (Diamond Life) and Soul II Soul (Club Classics Vol. One) and there are lessons and inspirations to be found. The modern Soul/Dance scene has seen stronger days: I feel artists like Sade and Soul II Soul, if mixed affectionately, can provide a kick and spirit to the genres. It is debatable whether we have seen any artists as explosive as Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. Both, between them, have made a startling impact on music. Maybe the tight copyright laws mean sampling is not as easy as Beastie Boys made it look – many off-put by legalities and permissions needed to use other artists’ music. Members of Public Enemy are still operational - but the days of the U.S. Hip-Hop band have already ended.



I realise quite a few decades are coming back in – and never really went away – but the 1980s is one that raises eyebrows! That misconception regarding quality and fashion often distorts waters and creates a false impression. You only need listen to the wave of Pop/Electro/Dance acts coming through and keep your ears open – you can hear the influence of the 1980s coming through. I am noticing more and more artists combining the early career of Madonna with the best Pop of the decade. There are bands taking shades of Pixies, Talking Heads and The Smiths and providing their own take. I hope more artists realise how strong and inspiring the 1980s is – and getting over the viewpoint it is a weak and tragic time. It was a fantastic time for music and one that still resonates with musicians. In a music scene where predictability and commercialism are putting many off; the 1980s’ preservers are making sure music still has a…


IN THIS PHOTO: Beastie Boys/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty/Press

REAL dose of colour and spirit!