It’s a question that has been obsessing your correspondent over the last few days – which music epitomises the 1980s?
If, in 500 years, someone demanded to hear a song that represented the decade, which piece would best encapsulate it? And is ‘1980s Music’ a genre?
A website called movingtheriver.com should be able to pin down what makes a quintessentially 1980s track, but it’s not easy. So let’s begin with a process of elimination.
A lot of 1980s music was influenced by previous genres – Motown, punk, glam, psych, prog, metal, disco, jazz/funk, singer/songwriter, folk, reggae, ’70s electronica, minimalism, funk, blues. So we need tracks that jettison those tropes.
Many bands used synths in a way that was influenced by 1970s pioneers Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Giorgio Moroder (Japan, OMD, Pet Shop Boys, The Art Of Noise etc.), so wouldn’t qualify as uniquely 1980s. We’re after artists that used sequencers and synths in a more ‘progressive’/melodic way, mainly to aid songwriting.
Huge 1980s acts like Wham!, ABC, Madonna, Simply Red and Culture Club obviously tapped into Motown, R’n’B and Chic-style disco/funk. Eurythmics were inspired by everything from the Stones to Kraftwerk. So they won’t do.
Tina Turner, MJ, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Bruce, Prince and Hall & Oates all blossomed in the 1970s, while Cyndi Lauper’s songs and style had elements of that decade too, as did many Goth acts. Production styles came and went, and of course there were common tropes like the gated snare drum and synth bass, but again they don’t particularly define the decade.
The sweet spot seems to be around 1984/1985. Musicians and songwriters were leaving behind post-punk, classic soul, blues and ‘rock’ (though of course all would return with a vengeance by the end of the decade) and forging a quintessentially 1980s sound.
I’d put forward the following as completely 1980s, born and bred in that decade, with no apparent antecedents from any well-worn styles (‘bluesy’ chord progressions, ‘folky’ singing) or particular era, with the possible exceptions of Sting and Associates (and of course one could have chosen some other tracks by these artists). In short, for better or worse, it’s pretty hard to work out their influences:
18. Bros: ‘I Owe You Nothing’
17. Rick Astley: ‘Whenever You Need Somebody’
16. Go West: ‘We Close Our Eyes’
15. The System: ‘You Are In My System’
14. Dollar: ‘Videotheque’
13. Tears For Fears: ‘Shout’
12. Propaganda: ‘Duel’
11. Frankie Goes To Hollywood: ‘Two Tribes’
10. Colonel Abrams: ‘Trapped’
9. Erasure: ‘Sometimes’
8. Alison Moyet: ‘Ordinary Girl’
7. Scritti Politti : ‘All That We Are’
6. Prefab Sprout: ‘Don’t Sing’
5. The Smiths: ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’
4. Sting: ‘Fortress Around Your Heart’
3. Associates: ‘Party Fears Two’
2. Wang Chung: ‘Dance Hall Days’
1. Nik Kershaw: ‘The Riddle’