Time sure does fly by fast. While I am more than aware that we are in the early stages of the 21st century, it was recently pointed out to me that music from the 1980s now fall into the oldies genre. Oldies!? How could the music from my youth possibly receive the same label as songs produced during the swing era, the British invasion, and the short-lived debacle known as disco? Upon further retrospection, I realize that anytime I hear a new wave classic or a hair-band ditty I get a sense of nostalgia, which is a tell-tale sign that a song is an oldie (but goodie).
Much of the music from the Reagan era has been dismissed as trite fluff, but I have a hard time subscribing to this notion. Sure, the substance and integrity of the songs pale in comparison to the brilliant storytelling presented by some of today’s singer/songwriters, but back then it was all about fun, and that’s what the songs delivered. It was all about dressing up in funky clothes and be-bopping to the lasted synth band or head bangin’ along with the crunching guitars of the hottest metal gods. Cyndi Lauper and Poison said this best with their Top 10 hits “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” and “Nothin’ But a Good Time,” respectively.
Some quality acts, like U2 and REM, are unjustly lumped together with the myriad of flash-in-the-pan performers that tasted success in the ’80s. This decade may have been kind enough to open doors and expose their music to the masses, but their writing was way ahead of the times and proved to be a catalyst of their longevity in the spotlight. They shouldn’t be uttered in the same breath as Twisted Sister, Roxette and Katrina and the Waves (whose banal “Walking on Sunshine” seems to be omnipresent on every ’80s compilation to ever hit the record shelves.)
While most bands had a small window of opportunity afforded to them in the ’80s, some actually used this time as a mere stepping stone and have flourished well into today’s market and will most likely see their careers culminate with their tickets punched for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Acts like Madonna, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, and the aforementioned U2 and REM will be enshrined into the hallowed halls in Cleveland, while such one-hit wonders like Kajagoogoo (“Too Shy”), Dexy’s Midnight Runners (“Come On Eileen”) and Toni Basil (“Micky”) will never enter the building unless they pay the admission price.
Many of the acts that rose to the pinnacle of popularity during the 80s, quickly fell from grace and either completely disappeared (only to appear later on one of the VH1 has-been shows) or struggled in subsequent years in their attempts to recapture a sliver of their former success. Def Leppard, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, The Cure, Huey Lewis and the News, The Human League, and Pat Benatar are still churning out new releases, but they are barely making a dent on the charts and surly aren’t hearing the “cha-ching” of the cash register that made them wealthy in years past.
Two singing stars have recently gone to extremes to promote new albums long after their moment in the sun had passed them by. Go-Go’s frontwoman Belinda Carlisle posed in “Playboy” about the same time they released their comeback effort “God Bless the Go-Go’s.” While the album was critically adored, fickle music fans didn’t seem to care, regardless of the daring attempt to generate publicity. (I will admit that I am one of the few who bought both the CD and the magazine… and loved them both!) Former teen sensation Tiffany (“I Think We’re Alone Now”) followed the footsteps of Carlisle and was featured in a later issue of “Playboy” in an attempt to spark interest in her widely ignored “The Color of Silence” release. This ploy did not generate the desired results, so we were spared Debbie Gibson (oops, that’s Deborah Gibson now) showin’ what she’s got in the pages of some men’s magazine.
Lately, ’80s music has been used as a marketing ploy (sometimes to my chagrin). In the past five years, there have been two San Francisco-area radio stations that have changed formats, originally identifying themselves as ’80s stations. It was a dream come true for me; a location on my dial dedicated to my favorite musical genre. I could not get enough of it, as I relished in hours upon hours of these new oldies, which were once just a special treat some stations programmed on extended holiday weekends. Then, after a few weeks of reeling in nostalgic suckers like me, the playlist began to shift (chagrin alert).
First they started playing more recent tunes by artists associated with the ’80s. Songs from Madonna and U2 were intermingling with the fare I had gotten used to hearing. Then they slipped in a few hits from the late ’90s, which was a red flag signifying that a big change was just around the corner. Eventually the ’80s hits were mostly fazed out in favor of an Adult Top 40 format, which consists of your basic slow-tempo pop tunes from today with a smattering of the classics that got me listening to the station in the first place. If there are radio stations that devote themselves to other bygone eras, I don’t see why there can’t be a successful market on the airwaves for the ’80s.
Regardless of whether or not I can listen to ’80s music on the radio 24/7, I will still embrace it for the great memories they bring back to me. I will accept the fact that I am no longer a carefree teen, but it’s also nice to regress back to my youth when I hear one of my favorites from the Me Generation. Anything that can invoke the special moments of my life is worth exploring on a regular basis. Maybe that’s why I own more ’80s hits collections on CD than one person should have.