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.