Nostalgia for a decade of no style over even worse content

There’s a wave of nostalgia for the 1980s, particularly the music, that really puzzles me. I can only presume it’s driven by people who weren’t actually there.

Because I was and with a few exceptions, which I’ll be happy to mention later, it was utter tosh and every bit as rubbish 40 years ago as it is now.

The cars were horrible, the clothes were dreadful, the world was an even darker place than it is today and the music, well, the music…

The 80s are what happened when accountants discovered cocaine and started taking the reins at record companies as the musical trailblazers of the previous decade either succumbed or sank into their excesses and addictions.

Meanwhile, artists that had been nurtured throughout the late 60s and 70s, maintaining a steady, but fiercely loyal cult following, were suddenly either faced with hideous artistic compromise or dropped completely as silly haircuts and sillier trousers became more important than the sounds being made.

Of course, there had always been that ultra commercial side of the business, but now everyone was being expected to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

Cheap synthesisers played with one solitary untrained finger and drum machines that even 10 years earlier had been embarrassing bolt-ons to home electric organs suddenly became all that was needed to make a hit record. The advent of digital technology, and high end versions of those toy synths and drum boxes along with the dreadful Symonds SDSV electric drum kit, meant that a couple of record producers were now really in the driving seat.

More than any other decade before or since there is a distinct 80s production style – soaked in reverb and wiped of anything resembling genuine art as warm analogue recordings were replaced by digital signals of ones and zeros.

Of course, some things stand out – three produced by Trevor Horn: the Propaganda album A Secret Wish, the song Two Tribes by Frankie Goes To Hollywood and the 12 inch version of Grace Jones’ Slave To The Rhythm, which is basically a Trevor Horn record that she just happens to be singing on – Donald Fagan’s The Nightfly, Nightwalker by Gino Vannelli, Ghost Town by The Specials (social commentary at its very best), Back in Black (I suppose), Ace of Spades, half of Bowie’s Scary Monsters, Hyperactive by Thomas Dolby, Frank Zappa’s Broadway Te Hard Way, Intruder and No Self Control from the third Peter Gabriel album, Shock The Monkey from the fourth, Ship of Fools from the first World Party album, two Pixies albums (Surfer Rosa and Doolittle), two Kate Bush albums (Hounds of Love and Sensual World), three albums by The The (Soul Mining, Infected and Mind Bomb) and the first Stone Roses album.

Most of the above (with the exception of the Trevor Horn stuff and the drums on the Peter Gabriel songs) sound like they have at least one foot in the decade before or after.

Apart from that very little has stood the test of time because very little was any good in the first place.

It was made to sell, not be be any good. Look at the difference in quality between the decades. Even for the artists that had survived the cull, there’s no comparison between their work in the 70s and the 80s, Joni Mitchell, Status Quo, Elton John and David Bowie being prime examples.

I doubt any of them would have been signed as new acts in the 1980s.

It was all fake and shallow and it looked it – The Thompson Twins, Soft Cell (Hard Sell more like), A Flock Of Seagulls (A crock of sh**e), Karma Karma Karma Karma Karma Chameleon… the list goes on and on.

By the middle of the decade even metal had turned to plastic.

Marketing had been telling listeners what they should and should not like for decades, but in the eighties alongside the political climate of Thatcherism and Reaganomics it set about in earnest to create huge herds of sheep who were fooled into believing this was their time.

If it was, you were sold criminally short.

The 1980s was a decade of style over content – and even the style was an embarrassment.

In 1971 the great Pete Townshend wrote Won’t Get Fooled Again.

Well you were.

Stupid TV quiz answer of the week:

Q: Which 80s police drama series starred Michael Brandon and Glynis Barber as the title characters?

A: The Bill

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Edward Case

Columnist