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Music in the 1980s – Introduction

Casio keyboards, hairdresser bands, New WaveNew Romantics and New OrderBand AidLive AidFarm Aid and hearing aid : In the eighties, when Thatcher was busy selling England by the pound and caring more about some sheep in the southern Atlantic than ‘her’ people, the youthful reaction was Blitz, Boy George and Marilyn.

The march of electronic and digital technology hit the music world and punk died with its boots on.

The Top 40 was full of it: Adam & The Ants (a pantomime Glitter Band), Soft CellDuran DuranUltravox,Orchestral Manoeuvres In The DarkVisageBauhaus – the Casio fops and the art students seemed to be taking over the asylum. Even Top Of The Pops had a new electro theme tune.

By the 1980s, pop music was part of the fabric of life. It was everywhere. On countless new radio stations, on movie soundtracks, in restaurants, in supermarkets and even in lifts . . .

The explosion of music found its way into the tabloid press as newspapers started covering the antics of pop stories as major news stories, and into an overwhelming number of new music and style magazines. And most importantly of all, it found its way on to television.

When MTV, the music video channel, was launched in the US in the summer of 1981 it changed our view of music overnight. Suddenly it was important what music looked like, as well as how it sounded.

Even though the introduction of the compact disc had improved the quality of recordings enormously, it was how artists presented and packaged themselves that really mattered. And the 80s megastars – Madonna, Michael JacksonPrinceWham! et al – not only had the videos, they had The Look (and a host of advisers, stylists and trainers to help them achieve it).

As for the music, the Eighties witnessed an astounding variety of different styles and genres, from new psychedelia to acid housedisco to death metal, goth rock to hip hop, folk to technopop – with reactions and revivals following on from each other (and often colliding with each other) at an alarming rate.

Things were changing very fast: The very first number one record of the decade for example, was by a little known group called Pink Floyd, and a year later it was the turn of Joe Dolce with Shaddap You Face – a new star for a new decade who came from nowhere, scored a number one hit and then, mercifully, returned to nowhere . . .

The most important innovation of the 80s was the wealth of new bands who made their impact on the scene. And the earliest flowerings of an 80s style was the group of strutting young peacocks who called themselves the New Romantics.

The birth of the New Romantics took place in basement clubs in London where groups like UltravoxSpandau Ballet and Blue Rondo a la Turk first gathered to dance to their own brand of music, dress up in outrageous clothes , show off their latest makeup and spend hours deciding whether to use the ladies or gents toilets.

The most important club of the time was Blitz run by Steve Strange. The essence of the New Romantics was style. The clothes, the make-up, the image were all important.

So anyone could become a star in the early 80s as long as they had long, flowing hair, wore layers of mascara and dressed in glamorous party frocks. Anyone that is, except women!

Faced with this problem, many female singers started dressing like men.

Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics took cross-dressing so far that in one video she played a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman. Or possibly a man pretending to be a woman pretending to be a man.

Amidst all this gender-bending some people gave up their sexual identity altogether and simply settled for looking like Michael Jackson. Not an easy task since Michael Jackson spent millions of dollars on plastic surgery trying to look like anyone but Michael Jackson.

The sheer power of pop music made itself heard in 1984 when The Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof, and Midge Ure of Ultravox organised help for starving people in Ethiopia. Britain’s top music stars joined together to form Band Aid, producing a single, Do They Know It’s Christmas?

The following year, Geldof organised Live Aid – two huge concerts held simultaneously at London’s Wembley Stadium and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Watched by 1.5 billion people on television, over £50 million was raised to help famine relief in Africa.

The pop cast included Status QuoStingQueenDavid BowiePaul McCartneyMadonnaJoan BaezEric ClaptonMick JaggerLed ZeppelinDuran Duran and Bob DylanPhil Collins even crossed the Atlantic by Concorde to perform at both shows.

For the most part, white America was persisting with the arena rock of REO SpeedwagonStyx and Journey, the country rock crossover of Eddie Rabbit and Dolly Parton and the pretty-boy pop (pap?) of Hall & Oates and Rick Springfield.

While the Seventies had spawned a phenomena known as the “one-hit wonder“, almost every artists in the 80s was a one-hit wonder. Let’s take Toni Basil as an example: In 1982 she turned up with an infectious and innocuous cheerleading song called Mickey.

Little did MTV know that this peppy cheerleader was pushing 40! She had been a Go-Go dancer with Terri Garr around 1964 and even made a brief appearance in Easy Rider (1969) as a New Orleans prostitute.

But anybody could release a song in the 1980s . . .