IN DEFENSE OF 80'S POP
I used to call it "rock", because it was the music my local rock station played. Just like I always called The Beatles rock, but I guess they weren't. The Rolling Stones were rock.
Likewise, purists consider Guns 'N Roses, Def Leppard, and Aerosmith legitimate eighties rock. I didn't listen to those bands. If I want to hear Steven Tyler screeching, I can click on my local classic rock station any hour of the day.
No, I listened to pop and I loved it. Yes, it was all very synthesized -- each decade has its trends -- but it had something not common since two decades before. Joy.
Music is defined by the times. As I wrote here, optimistic times beget buoyant music. Like in the early sixties, the eighties began with hope. Life wasn't exactly new, but we sensed a new beginning. For those who weren't around in the seventies, the decade was not a bed of sun-kissed tulips or the aroma of warm cookies. It was struggle, anxiety, depression; or as our president told us, "malaise". Oh, and he also told us it was all our fault.
The most popular colors were avocado and brown.
Pop culture throughout those years was mostly putrid, but we were held hostage by our limitless choice of three networks (PBS doesn't count, although I did enjoy Sesame Street as much as my kids did.) Sitcoms employed either really bad writers or really immature ones; thus we got catchphrases like "Dyn-o-MYTE!"
We all had deep shag carpets and woven tapestries, the better to bury ourselves in. Treacly singles like "You Light Up My Life" and "Havin' My Baby" bombarded our ears, the better to bury ourselves in. Disco lured people into thinking they were having a good time.
The man we elected in 1980 looked at the morning sky and saw a glorious sunrise. He kindly informed us that no, we weren't to blame for our circumstances. And better yet, he was there to help us dig our way out.
People began scouring store shelves for the hottest toys for their kids, and better still, they could actually afford to buy them. Comedians were funny again instead of morose. TV was still mostly bad (when wasn't it?), but we at least had St. Elsewhere and The Wonder Years.
Suddenly the hot colors were neons -- pinks, oranges, and yellows.
We who were struggling suddenly saw possibilities.
And then there was MTV. It was a phenomenon. Some view video as the downfall of music. Au contraire! I loved it! How else would I have "met" Huey Lewis? How else would the endlessly-hyped premiere of "Thriller" become must-see TV? Who would remember all those glorious one-hit wonders like a-Ha if they hadn't seen them right there in their living rooms in black and white pencil drawings?
Who can hear "Sledgehammer" without picturing a freight train zooming circles around Peter Gabriel's head? Who would Shania Twain copy if it wasn't for Robert Palmer's "Addicted To Love"? Why did "Jump" rattle around in our heads all the time, despite our best efforts to purge it? Hall and Oates, Genesis? When Steve Perry went solo? The first time I saw Wham, I thought they were a Christian group because George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley were wearing t-shirts that read, "Choose Life". Yea, I did.
And, of course, Prince.
It wasn't just MTV, of course. John Hughes' stellar soundtracks brought us artists like Simple Minds and Paul Young. You might think that Kenny Loggins and Peter Cetera were the only singers the movie industry employed, but Hughes was a prescient and discerning selector.
And we relied on radio just as much. Yes, Tears For Fears, Wang Chung, The Dream Academy and The Pet Shop Boys' names no longer trip off our tongues, but you'd know 'em if you heard 'em.
These guys loved making music and they relished the possibilities the decade provided.
When I simply feel like feelin' good, I punch up my personal eighties Spotify playlist and I remember how good life was, how surmountable little problems felt, how the future looked so bright I had'ta wear shades.