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Music from the 80s is Better Than You Might Remember

When it comes to music, I’ve noticed that many fans of all genres seem to regard the eighties as being a time best forgotten. At any point in the eighties, I was either too young or not yet born enough to be aware of what music was out there, but here’s what I know:

Artists that were already making good music didn’t just stop at the turn of the decade. Michael Jackson’s Thriller came out in 1982, Prince released 1999 in 1982 and Purple Rain in 1984, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. hit shelves in 1984, and the decade found Rush incorporating contemporary styles into their own established sound, including on the very successful Moving Pictures album in 1981.

U2 became stars in the eighties. Even if the only album they’d ever released was 1987’s The Joshua Tree, they’d still have three singles that sit just fine in pretty much any classic rock playlist. Somewhat similarly, Guns N’ Roses’ debut album, 1987’s Appetite for Destruction, is a genre staple.

On the alternative or otherwise dark and/or weird side of things, beloved and hugely influential albums were released by Joy Division (1980’s Closer), R.E.M. (their first six albums), Sonic Youth (their indie albums), Skinny Puppy (all of their early stuff), Depeche Mode (1986’s Black Celebration and 1987’s Music for the Masses), The Cure (1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and 1989’s Disintegration), Pixies (1988’s Surfer Rosa and 1989’s Doolittle), Ministry (1988’s The Land of Rape and Honey and 1989’s The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste), and Fugazi (the 1989 compilation 13 Songs).

One artist (of many, obviously) that was heavily influenced by eighties music—including, I’d say, at least a handful of the albums I just mentioned—snuck his own debut album out just before the eighties turned into the nineties. It was called Pretty Hate Machine.

Huge things happened in metal in the eighties. To start with, there was the invention of thrash metal. The decade saw the release of all of the classic albums (the early stuff from Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Testament, Exodus’s Bonded by Blood, etc.). Thrash and some of the first wave of Black Metal overseas begat death metal, and some of the early releases of that genre, including Death’s first two albums and Morbid Angel’s debut full length, crept out before the eighties ended.

Speaking of all time genre highlights that happen to have come out in the eighties, how about classic hip hop? The list includes releases by Run–D.M.C., Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Eric B. & Rakim, and N.W.A, and while I won’t say, “They just don’t make music like this anymore,” I will say that these albums should be essential listening for anyone who’s even thinking about recording a hip hop album.

Now, regarding very poppy stuff that I’ve heard a million times, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I kind of love the odd cheesy tune like Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me,” and… yeah, you get the picture.

Please leave any comments you have about what I’ve written here, and anything you can add to support my argument that the eighties were far from a lost decade for music. Also, I know Mr. Alan Cross remembers decades long past, so it wouldn’t surprise me if I’ve received a history lesson by the time you read this.

12 thoughts on “Music from the 80s is Better Than You Might Remember

  • As someone whose major formative music years coincided with the 80’s (I turned 18 in 1980), I have a love for the music. I’m more into the darker side of the 80’s but there was lots of great stuff. You mentioned the very poppy Simple Minds. I remember them when they had more of an edge. As this track (‘Love Song’), still my favourite of theirs, testifies:

    • Cool! I think I have a new favourite Simple Minds song. Thanks!

  • I was in my early 20s in the 80s and it is still my go to music for a trip down memory lane, it is also the fun filled music I have indoctrinated my nephew and nieces with! They know music of the 80s more than most of the music of today~

  • Duran Duran, Tears For Fears, Platinum Blonde. All AWESOME in the 80’s.

  • Just making it into the mix was The Stone Roses in 1989

  • I attended high school from 1979 to 1984, and I recall that nobody paid any attention to the new music that was being released then. We all lived in a time warp, listening almost exclusively to music what was produced in the late 60s and early 70s. So I tend to remember the 1980s as a musical wasteland. I tend to blame MTV – suddenly it was more important that music look good (as opposed to being creative), which might help explain why 90% of the music in that decade sounded like Duran Duran and Human League. But I have my biases….

  • You’re awesome for including Skinny Puppy and some of their dark brethren in the mix.

    But I wonder who is really saying the 80’s should be forgotten? Between Gen X-ers wishing it never ended, and the “millennials” (hate that term) imitating absolutely everything in music and fashion from the 80’s and early 90’s (it’s like they have nothing new to draw on so they just fall back to the 80’s constantly). So who really says that?

    I was born in the early 80’s so my cultural heyday was pretty much the 90’s and early 2000’s, and there was a real movement to distance oneself from the 80’s – especially the pop and hair metal, as shown by Grunge being a major happening – but the influence from the 80’s was so strong that there was simply no way around it – you had to embrace some aspect of it. For me it was industrial and new wave, and wishing I was around for the high-water mark of those genres, or wishing that I was just a *bit* older so I could have gone to some incredible shows in the early/mid-90’s.

    Alas, I was just too young, and now have to wait for the nostalgia tours finally coming around again. Some of these bands haven’t slowed down much, but it’s just not the same.

    • Oh, I feel your pain; the list of surely killer tours that happened in the era just before my time is massive. To your first point, I’ve found that there are some bands giving credit to the ’80s influence, while sometimes others (or maybe mostly fans?) try to pretend that a certain look or sound had no roots outside of the ’90s. So many ’90s bands were influenced by ’80s artists (obviously), and someone who only got into the music in the ’90s might have thought it was invented in that decade. As for people I’ve actually heard dismiss music from the ’80s… what can I tell you? Maybe they can’t separate the music from the fashion.

      • Sounds about right; like how Chris said above, about the advent of MTV making the music seem like it was more about the look than the content. That music probably seemed (and likely was) a lot more manufactured than previously, making it hard for people to see past that. The 80’s came along, and seemed like crap in comparison to prior times – in other words, like how every generation views the next!

        • Exactly, and I think it creates confusion because everyone else is just wrong and my generation clearly was the best.

  • New Order, The Smiths, Sisters of Mercy, Devo, B52’s, The Mission, The Church, The Stranglers. Echo and The Bunnymen, Killing Joke, Bauhaus(Peter Murphy), Cabaret Voltaire plus the music already mentioned! Do we really have this variety in sounds these days? Of course there is some excellent things going on in music now, but really, do we have the same breadth of
    beauty, power and weirdness of that decade. That’s it! I’m ready, I’m finally going to push the button on that time machine I’ve been working on in the shed. Let’s go!!

    • Love it. I’m in.


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