Yeah, I know. Thatcher’s shadow looms large whenever the Day-Glo topic of the 80s rears its ugly head. The decade of greedily rampant capitalism, the rise of the ego, the time that style forgot – the 1980s have been a byword for tasteless extravagance and self-centred consumerism for well over 20 years now. But isn’t it time we reassessed? Not in a kitsch, “oh it was so bad its amaazzzing darling” way. This isn’t Vice magazine and I’m too bloody old for Dalston.
Recently it’s come to my attention that I fucking love the 80s. Love (now) not loved (then) mind you. The 80s marked my formative years. A spotty, goofy-toothed, lanky streak of piss who wouldn’t get picked for the team never mind get a kiss from a girl. This is no gender-redefined ‘She’s the One’ blog. I’m not going to re-write history and create halcyon memories. White dog shit was still white dog shit and I don’t have the time-altering apparatus to polish that turd.
The 80s created genuine magic, magic that the CGI-ed, auto-tuned, digital downloadable 21st century just hasn’t remotely competed with thus far. Yeah, I’m obsessed with my smart-phone, facebook has become my playground (where there’s always someone to push my digital swing) and instant photos don’t take 5 minutes of frantic wrist waggling to appear. But, none of it (not even the bits that make me feel like I’m living in Blade Runner) has had the impact of stuff from the 80s.
Ryan Gosling got me thinking. Not in a “let’s readdress my sexuality” kind of way (although, damn, that man is handsome), no it was whilst watching the neon-lit, Michael Mann aping ‘Drive’ with its seductively 80s-esque soundtrack, backstory-less anti-hero and pulpy concept. Man, those tunes though! Modern takes on sleek 80s pop that thrust you into city streets of an America only glimpsed at in movies. But these, crucially, were modern songs. Modern songs with an 80s twist, yes, but modern songs nonetheless….
….and then I re-watched ‘Beverly Hills Cop’. Released smack bang in the middle of the 80s it’s a quintessential slice of that decade. Flash cars, fake tits’n’tans, stone-washed jeans, Eddie Murphy’s grin and Patti LaBelle, The Pointer Sisters and Shalamar on the soundtrack….oh and ‘Nasty Girl’ by Vanity 6….a song played in the background of a strip club scene so damn catchy even the god fearing Beyoncé has ignored its inherent filthiness and taken to covering it. It’s written by Prince (of course) a songwriter who (along with Michael Jackson and Madonna) defined the decade and it’s impossible to shake from your skull once you’ve heard it.
Eddie Murphy’s wise-cracking fish-out-of-water copper is just the tip of this Baby Cham drenched iceberg. When I go to re-watch a film it’s those movies from the 80s that still leave me with a dumbass grin spread across my face like Nicholson’s Joker (80s film, Prince soundtrack, flash car). Name a recent kids movie that follows a narrative thread quite as bonkers as ‘The Goonies’? A franchise as original as ‘Back To The Future’? A sequel as monumentally life-changing as ‘The Empire Strikes Back’?
‘Spy Kids’? ‘The Lord Of The Rings’? ‘Toy Story 2’? Give me a break….
Then there’s ‘The Terminator’. My all-time favourite 80s movie. A relentless, dark as hell lesson in intensity and the only movie Arnie ever made where he didn’t come across like a talking plank. The Carpenter-esque minimalism of the soundtrack, the mindfuck of a revelation that John Conner has sent his own father back in time to die and the simple premise of a machine that “absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead” – an undoubted masterpiece. Even the attempts to ruin the franchise (and that includes you – ‘Terminator 2’ – and your weak arsed thumbs aloft ending) haven’t dulled its impact.
The sheer fact that Hollywood keeps going back to ‘The Terminator’ proves just how enduring that original movie has become but it’s not the only plundering of the shoulder pad decade. Toy range ‘Transformers’ has become a block-annihilating franchise (none of which hold a (sixteen) candle(s) to the Orson Welles voiced 80s animated movie), ‘Karate Kid’ and ‘Die Hard’ have made comebacks and there are rumours of 21st century instalments for ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Top Gun’, ‘Mad Max’, ‘Gremlins’ and the aforementioned ‘Beverly Hills Cop’. Christ, they even remade vapid chick-flick ‘Footloose’ and are about to embark on a live action version of the pretty much un-filmable ‘Akira’.
Is it just nostalgia or were the concepts of the 80s just that much better? Probably a bit of both but there’s no denying that a new ‘Bill & Ted’ movie is way more enticing than another ‘Twilight’. But please, leave ‘Big’, ‘Caddyshack’ and ‘Ferris Bueller’ the fuck alone….
Films done, let’s return to where we came in and talk about the music. I’m writing this with 4Music playing in the background (keeping up with da kidz) and despite a valiant effort from old Bouncy Knowles I’ve become quite confused as to when it was ok to re-create 90s Euro Trance on EVERY SINGLE BLOODY SONG. Where’s the variation? Where’s the innovation? Where’s the stone-cold classic tunes? It comes to something when the Fresh Music Top 20 contains nothing that could remotely be described as “alternative” – shit, I’d even stretch to include the likes of The Arctic Monkeys and Beady Eye in that category but even they don’t get a look in.
So were the 80s any better? A simple Google search reveals that the Top selling albums of the 80s include Michael Jackson, ACDC, Bruce Springsteen, Guns’N’Roses, Prince, Dire Straits, U2, Phil Collins, ZZ Top, Beastie Boys, Journey, REO Speedwagon, The Police, Bon Jovi, New Kids On The Block, Metallica, INXS, Aerosmith and Madonna. Now apart from the fact that a lot of this is shit and there’s not many women included – that’s a pretty eclectic list of artists. Biggest selling acts of 2011 so far? Adele, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Chris Brown (how anyone still buys this nasty piece of works music is beyond me), Nick Minaj, Katy Perry….oh and in at Number 17….Foo Fighters. As much as I’m a fan of Gaga and Rihanna it’s pretty depressing, isn’t it?
But this really doesn’t convey my point about the 80s. I’ve just listed what the general public buy and listen to and we all know they can’t be trusted. I’ve already expressed my love for Prince and the stark atmospherics of 80s synth pop but what else did the 80s have for us. For starters: Sonic Youth, Pixies and REM. Three bands without whom modern alternative rock just…would…not…exist. Simple as. No Nirvana, No Future Of The Left, No Pulled Apart By Horses, No At The Drive-In, No Biffy Clyro (although that also might mean no Matt Cardle. Argument nearly falls down here).
Then there’s Minor Threat and latterly Fugazi – the godfathers of DIY and the reason most people I know formed a band. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Husker Du, Duran Duran (spot the odd one out), The Fall, Meat Puppets, Kate Bush, Talk Talk, Talking Heads, Eric B And Rakim, Big Black, Mission Of Burma, Run DMC, Dinosaur Jr, The Stones Roses, NWA, My Bloody Valentine, De La Soul, Joy Division, Public Enemy. I feel a crisp tingle down my spine just typing the names. Music that still thrills me, haunts me, inspires me – every single day. Pete Doherty, Amy Winehouse and Mumford & Sons will just never compare.
(The eagle eyed amongst you may notice the omission of The Smiths and New Order. Simply put, they’re shit. That is all.)
It’s not to say there isn’t amazing art out there today. Bands like Les Savy Fav, The Bronx, Wolves In The Throne Room, Delicate Steve, Caribou and Four Tet simply blow me away. ‘Drive’ stunned me this year as did ‘Tyrannosaur’, ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’, ‘Stakeland’ and ‘Kill List’. Time will tell if they have the impact of Pixies and ‘The Terminator’. This isn’t supposed to be a “which is better” blog just a re-assessment of a time that many have written off without acknowledging the debt we still owe a crucial cultural and stylistic era.
Still the clothes were pretty dreadful weren’t they….?