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