Hard to come up with a better post title than the one of Rolling Stone contributing editor Rob Sheffield’s new book of the same name. A brief, easy to read year by year memoir of 80s music, Sheffield’s book will elicit vivid memories of the time for anyone who was invested in the pop music of the era. Reviews and features about the book are beginning to appear, and here are a couple of the better recent ones. (Serendipitously, The Reflex is now playing on internet radio.)
First, from the Austin American-Statesman, a review by Jody Seaborn: “The ’80s endure; many of us never thought they would. “It’s always weird to see how the Hair Decade lives on,” Sheffield writes. “At the time, we all figured we were stuck in an Epoch of Bogus. … But something has kept this all alive. And in retrospect, the Epoch of Bogus evolved into the Apex of Awesome. Who made this decision? “Girls, obviously.” “
Sheffield’s employer has an interview with him, offering his additional perspective on the decade along with his choices of 5 essential 80s songs.
“I’m kind of a whore when it comes to music, especially that period. In the Eighties everybody was listening to everything, especially in the wake of Thriller. Everybody who liked rock also liked pop and everybody who liked pop also liked rock and there was this weird moment when what was playing on the rock station and what was playing on the disco station would overlap. Prince was trying to sound like Van Halen with all those guitar solos on Purple Rain in 1984. Then you listen to Van Halen’s record from 1984 and they’re just trying to imitate Prince. They’ve got “Jump,” which is blatantly like, Prince’s “Dirty Mind” slowed down a little. They both end up in the Top 10 of the pop charts.”
To play along with Sheffield, here are a quick essential 5 songs from the 80s off the top of my head:
1) Bruce Springsteen (of course) – Dancing in the Dark – Bruce had made better songs, for sure, but never one that captured the pop zeitgeist the way this did. The song and accompanying video from the Born in the USA album took him from being a popular artist and brought him to pop superstar status.
2) Don Henley – The Boys of Summer – “Out on the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac.” Henley manages to get the entire feeling of The Big Chill into one line of a song.
3) Bruce Hornsby and The Range – The Way it Is -At a time when the keyboard sound in music was dominated by synthesizers, Hornsby cut across the grain with a piano sound that was reminiscent of an album like Madman Across the Water.
4) Tears for Fears – Everybody Wants to Rule the World – And speaking of synthesizers, no band made the instruments sound as organic and melodic as Tears for Fears do on this song, managing to sound both celebratory and melancholy at once as well.
5) Luther Vandross – Never Too Much – Old school, romantic soul found its last great representative on this song’s album of the same name, while fusing it with a dance-pop sound that was contemporary. Timeless.
(No matter how nostalgic I get for the 80s, Whitesnake is always going to sound like crap.)