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The 1980s Was Way Shittier Than You Think It Was – A Retrospective

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80s music

(Or Scraping the Bottom of the Top of the Barrel)

By Scott Creney

As Billy Joel sang in his 1984 top 20 hit ‘Keeping The Faith’, “The good old days weren’t always good/Tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems”. It seems like you hear more and more people these days going on about how much they enjoy 80s music. Well of course they do, they only have to listen to the good stuff. Even the 80s show on the local soft rock station avoids the truly awful stuff from that decade.

What people fail to realize is the stuff they’re listening to today accounted for a very, very small part of what you heard back then on a day-to-day basis. As someone who grew up in the 80s and listened to Top 40 radio up until 1987-88, I’m here to tell people just how bad it actually was.

All chart listings and memories are from the USA because that’s where I grew up. If someone wants to do a UK version, they’re more than welcome to it. Australia’s a whole other subject.

Now people will never agree on what’s bad, but I’ve tried to choose songs that are as close to unimpeachably bad as possible — songs with no redeeming value whatsoever. I mean, we can enjoy Phil Collins on some level, but I tried to find songs that would qualify as outright fucking torture. I can’t even laugh at these. I wanted songs that nobody could possibly defend, except on the level of “well, I liked it back then”.

It’s nice to imagine a decade where New Order/Depeche Mode/The Smiths/R.E.M./The Cure ruled the world. But that shit made up less than 0.2% of what you heard on Top 40 radio (and remember that those bands were the acceptable face of the underground — a band like the Pixies didn’t stand a fucking chance). And even the pop music you think of when you think of the 80s (Prince/Madonna/Bruce/etc.) made up less than 5% of what you heard on the radio.

All of these songs were ubiquitous. They were in the Top 10 of the US charts. They permeated the culture and colored everyone’s life.

There will be a nice conclusion at the end, but let’s get right to the parade of shit. And oh yeah, I started looking at the charts from 1986 and stopped around the beginning of 1988 — a little over two years — because I already had way more of this stuff than I needed.

(continues overleaf)

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14 Responses to The 1980s Was Way Shittier Than You Think It Was – A Retrospective

  1. Joseph Kyle May 17, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    WAIT WAIT SCOTT YOU FORGOT ONE!

  2. Scott Creney May 17, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    That wasn’t in the Top Ten, Joseph. The guidelines are clearly stated in the article.

  3. Mark Donaldson May 18, 2012 at 12:57 am

    I had no idea Respect Yourself was sung by Bruce Willis. My memories of that song are from a drink safe campaign in early 90s Australia. All the older kids at school had ‘Respect Yourself’ stickers plastered over their files.

    Was only about six or seven at the time, but I recall being shocked at a lifeless ‘Spike from Degrassi High’ lookalike puking in the toilets at the end of the commercial. Public service announcements frightened the bajeesus out of me when I was a kid. Even ones with a Bruce Willis backing track it turns out.

  4. Erika May 18, 2012 at 1:00 am

    It’s funny you should mention Minneapolis and perceptions about what music scenes are and were really like. Before Seattle (and is it any wonder the whole world FINALLY turned against this crap 80s music in 1990), Minneapolis was the hot music town. I moved there in the late 80s, and when people asked me why I was going there, since I was directionless and didn’t really have a reason, I’d say, “Well, it’s a music town.” I didn’t need to go there to see Hüsker Dü – they toured, and even played an rip-roaring all ages show in my small west coast town of 12,000 – no, it was PRINCE you thought about, when you thought about Minneapolis. But by that point of course, Prince rarely played shows there anymore – sometimes a secret show at First Avenue – but not often – and in reality, like you said, I never went out. The hot band was The Suburbs – a new wave party kind of band who had just signed to a major label, a move which would quickly destroy them. Meanwhile my scenster friend “Jane” kept going on about her friends Lori and Michelle and Kat in all-girl band called Babes In Toyland – I think she had a cassette – I listened to it once – I didn’t much like it (at the time). I stayed with Jane in her warehouse studio five blocks from First Avenue and Seventh Street Entry in 1987, 88, 89. I barely went out, and when I did, it was usually to hear biker bar blues bands at Seven Corners. How many amazing shows do you think I missed?

    There is always great music to be heard, and made, in every town. It’s a matter of finding it (hint: the mainstream misses it every time), and recognizing it.

  5. Gordon May 18, 2012 at 1:21 am

    Glenn Medeiros.

  6. Scott Creney May 18, 2012 at 8:31 am

    ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You’ (a suggestion from the brilliant & mighty Tamsin Chapman by the way) only reached #12 in the US. I made sure to adhere to a strict Top Ten policy, so as much as that song is an awful, turgid piece of shit, it was ineligible for the round-up.

  7. Everett True May 18, 2012 at 8:32 am

    The Vaselines summed it up rather succinctly.

  8. Scott Creney May 18, 2012 at 8:34 am

    That recent Vaselines album isn’t much better.

  9. Jason Seiple May 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    As a kid of the 80’s, I remember loving some of these songs. I look back now, and say to myself “how in the fuck did I dig this?” I also remember the time that I almost bought a copy of Huey Lewis and the News’ “Fore” album, because I liked “Hip to be Square.” I’m glad that I bought Madonna tapes instead. A lot less embarrassing.

    But you are so correct. The 1980’s had some great artists, and some great songs, but the 1980’s had so much pure crap as well. Tiffany? Vanilla Ice (oh wait, that was 1990… close enough)? Hair metal? The Monkees’ “Pool It” album (not to mention other 1960’s and 1970’s artists making comebacks that we’d love to forget about)? The list can go on and on, and just as it is today, there were some amazing albums, but there were also a lot of albums that we will all forget about in twenty year’s time.

  10. D'oh May 19, 2012 at 12:10 am

    Thank you captain obvious,your 20/20 hindsight is exceptional. Can i have my 5 minutes back ?

  11. Scott Creney May 19, 2012 at 6:19 am

    Jason, I couldn’t find a decent quality video for The Monkees’ ‘That Was Then, This Is Now.’ But yes, that song is fucking horrible.

  12. Carlos Nino Fernandez June 5, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    I dunno if any of these dances make the decade any… well, you know. But I think they make it more fun, even if the fun of that time can be described as crappy.

  13. Karleton June 21, 2015 at 3:40 am

    Late reply I know, but I just stumbled across this pile of shite. It’s really easy and LAZY to take shots at stationary targets. The title could be substituted for any decade ever. Good job, maroon.

  14. John Willsteed June 29, 2015 at 7:58 am

    even later from me. that Robbie Nevil is the worst thing i have seen in my life. well done!

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