Scott Creney

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

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We’ll end with rock and roll.  Billy Idol ruled the charts like no other. This song reached #1. As Tommy James songs go, it’s about as good as Tiffany’s ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ (#1 for two weeks, knocked off the charts by um … Billy Idol’s ‘Mony Mony’ … too bad for Tommy James the mafia owned all his publishing).

Big hair rock and rollers were all over MTV, but not so much on the pop charts. Most of them had to scale back the rock and bust out a ‘power ballad’ if they wanted to hit the charts. So all of them did it (scale back, not make the charts). This one is even worse than most.

White Lion hit #8.

Everyone knows Boston for ‘More Than A Feeling’, but that was the 70s. This was #1 for two weeks. It replaced Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Two Colors’ and was pushed aside by Human League’s ‘Human’, neither of which are much better than this.

Thanks to their collaboration with Run DMC, Aerosmith — their career derailed by a lost decade of endless drugs and endless shittiness — got to make a comeback album. It was a hit, and we were forced to endure another decade of their bullshit. This song reached #3.

Like Aerosmith, Cheap Trick found themselves washed up by the middle of the 80s. They were so fucked they couldn’t even write their own bad songs anymore. ‘The Flame’ was #1 for two weeks, supplanted by Richard Marx’s ‘Hold On To The Nights’.

They had a second hit with ‘Don’t Be Cruel’. Yep.

Next comes Bryan Adams. I can understand why ‘Run To You’ was a hit. Or ‘Summer of ’69’. But this song reached #8, a song that sounds brought into existence for no other reason than to be played on Miami Vice and in a beer commercial.

This song’s even worse that fucking ‘Eye Of The Tiger’. It was #2. Here’s a list of Bruce Springsteen songs that weren’t as popular: ‘Born In The USA’, ‘I’m On Fire’, ‘Glory Days’, ‘Cover Me’, ‘I’m Goin’ Down’, ‘My Hometown’, ‘Hungry Heart’, ‘Brilliant Disguise’, ‘Tunnel Of Love’, and loads more. I only keep harping on this so you’ll understand my point.

The point being that we, as a species, seem pretty much hardwired for nostalgia. We mis-remember the past all the time, and usually in a way that makes it look better than it actually is. Now as music goes, this is pretty harmless. Who wants to remember Club Nouveau anyway? But it’s revisionist history. The problem arises when people start saying that thing they love to say:

Music was so much better back in ______. I wish I could have been around back then.

Believe me, for every good song that was on the radio, there were 30 more that were fucking horrible. And that’s true of college radio as well. The music in this post is what it felt like to grow up in that decade. This is what the world sounded like. I was lucky. I lived near a city that had an alternative station, so by 1988 I got into Cure/Smiths/Depeche Mode/etc.

Everyone loves to believe that if they’d been in Minneapolis in 1984, they would have been in the front row of the Husker Du concert. Or if they’d been in Seattle in 1989, they would have gotten to see Nirvana. But the odds are you wouldn’t have been there because you wouldn’t have liked it, or you would have been too tired to leave the house. It’s easy to look back and pick out the good stuff from two decades ago. It’s a lot harder to know in the moment what’s going to last. It’s hard to analyze a culture while it’s in the process of being lived.

I could make you a compilation from 2003 that would convince you it was a great year for music. Or 2007. Or possibly even 2012. It gets trickier as you get closer to the present. But it gets easier the further backwards you go. The 1980s was a great time for music. It was also a horrible time for music. Same goes for the 90s. Same goes for today. Same goes for the future. Get out there and see it.

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

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


  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!

  15. That’s really nice post. I appreciate, Thanks for sharing.

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