The 80s were a wild time in music. I was playing in a band then, writing songs, and listening to stuff that I still listen to today. Pop, rock, rap, and the birth of hair metal all existed in the same musical universe. MTV was still a music channel. Chicks wore lots of lace and the guys wore leather and studs. Not all of the music from that decade was good, but a lot of it was. This is my take on what the eighties offered that still rings true.
First, the eighties saw the return or rebirth of some great classic rock artists from the 70s. Aerosmith reclaimed their former glory and beyond with the stellar “Permanent Vacation,” Genesis hit massively with “Invisible Touch,” Bruce Springsteen had what was arguably one of the best albums of the eighties with “Born in the USA,”and KISS took off their trademark makeup to revive their career with “Lick It Up.” While we’re at it, let’s not forget the self-titled album “Heart” that gave that group massive 80s appeal, or even “High Infidelity,” which established REO Speedwagon as a force of nature in the 80s. These are just a few of the classic rock acts that took the reins and rode the eighties hard.
In regards to the bands I just mentioned, there’s hardly any argument that “Permanent Vacation” was a game changer for Aerosmith. They came back clean and sober and showed they weren’t near finished. As for Genesis, I get that some early fans of the band are not too fond of “Invisible Touch,” but the album opened up a whole new audience for them and produced hit after hit. It’s my favorite Genesis album, even if it does sound more like a Phil Collins solo effort. With “Born in the USA,” a lot of Bruce’s early fans felt he sold out with the album. Whatever. There’s not a bad song on it. And KISS, well, they were certainly feeling the sting of losing two founding members and some fans over a string of confusing albums, but stripping away the makeup gave them the boost they needed to put out a series of kick ass albums throughout the eighties. Heart, of course, blew up in the 80s, beginning with the self-titled album responsible for the explosion, and “High Infidelity” established REO Speedwagon as masters of radio-friendly classic rock.
The 80s also saw the debut of some great new bands with a classic rock sound. Guns ‘N’ Roses with “Appetite for Destruction” and Tesla’s album “Mechanical Resonance” are two of the best examples that come to mind. Bon Jovi and Cinderella made their debuts in the 80s as well, primarily as hair metal bands, and have since established themselves as classic rock acts with staying power. I could go on and on about other bands that made spectacular debuts in the 80s and still manage to put out, but I’ll leave it here.
Of course, I can’t talk about the 80s without talking about 80s pop. There were a lot of great flash-in-the-pan bands in the 80s — bands that had a couple of good songs or albums and then were never heard from (at least not in a meaningful way) again. The Eurythmics, Roxette, Culture Club, Simply Red, Mr. Mister, Crowded House, The Go-Gos, and Duran Duran are examples. Some of these groups worked well into other decades, and some even produce music today, but for the most part, they had their best success in the 80s.
On the flip side of the single, Steve Winwood (ex- Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, and Blind Faith) established himself as a strong solo artist with his fantastic album “Back in the High Life,” and Tina Turner re-established herself as the queen of R&B with her pop-infused album “Private Dancer.” Both of these albums are on my list of important pop albums of the 80s. I still listen to them today.
There were also some pop artists that managed to transcend the decade. These artists are not only iconic to the 80s, they have managed to maintain a career beyond. Some of the best include Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Belinda Carlisle, and Prince. I’m not sure you can think of the 80s without acknowledging their contributions. Each of them were intrinsic to the decade and remain visible and even influential today.
Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of hip hop and rap, but watching Run DMC “Walk This Way” with Aerosmith, hearing Tone Loc do the “Wild Thing” with his “Funky Cold Medina,” and listening to the Beastie Boys explain how “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” was pretty cool.
Then there’s heavy metal. Whether we’re talking about hair metal, pop metal, thrash, or classic metal bands, the 80s opened its arms and welcomed the genre. Poison, Motley Crue, Faster Pussycat, Dokken, Def Leppard, Quiet Riot, Lita Ford, Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Judas Priest — I could go on and on. The 80s were a melting pot of metal that kept headbangers happy, myself included.
This post is sort of an introduction to the next few posts I plan on doing where I’ll list my favorite albums of the 80s. It was a great decade and it’s about time I take a good look at it.