Friday, October 11, 2013

A brief history of popular music #4 (1980s and 90s)

The futuristic 1980s and 90s


A decade of flashy colors, yuppies, bad hairstyle and gated snare drums. The 1980s is also the era of the catchiest of pop tunes. And of course - it is the decade of the music video. The Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star is from 1979, but no song says "welcome to the futuristic 1980s" better. The singer Trevor Horn is also one of the star producers of the decade, being the hand between super hits like Frankie Goes to Hollywoods Relax (1983), Yes' Owner of a Lonley Heart (1984) and Grace Jones' Slave to the Rhythm (1985).



During the first years of the decade, synth pop dominated charts with their melodic danceable futuristic electronic pathos filled beat based music. One among many possible examples: Depche Mode - Shake the Disease from 1985. 


The 1980s is also the decade where the band gradually disappears from the charts, and was replaced by machines. We see it in the Depeche Mode video (3 guys with synthesizers, one finger each, one of the might not be playing anything at all). The uttermost consequence is the total disappearance of the artist. Then there is only music left. In 1982 the Haciencda opened in Manchester. It started out as a concert venue, but gradually became the cradle of rave and DJ culture. This 2 hour "concert" from 1989 doesn't contain a single performer - only DJs playing and mixing records, and people dancing non stop for hours.



Hip hop comes out big apporximately at the same time. Here is an Ice T classic from 1988.



In Detroit the dance floor rocks to techno from 1985 on.



But bands didn't die. One of the unlikely mega stars of the 1980s were the down to earth (though with a big drum kit), folky and country-inspired Dire Straits. They thrived on new media. Money for Nothing enjoyed heavy rotation on MTV, and the album Brothers in Arms from 1985 was one of the first big selling CDs.


Heavy Metal got cartoonish in the 1980s. Here are the cartoon masters - Iron Maiden with Can I Play With Madness from 1988. I grew up listening to this.





In 1990 rap turned pop and white with Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby



In 1991 Nirvana killed hair metal and launch grunge. They even made the cover of Metal Hammer.


In 1992 the girl group sees its rebirth with En Vogue's rockish Free Your Mind (one year before Spice Girls). This time the boobs are almost falling out.



There are off course more things to talk about from the 80s and 90s, but I'm running out of time, and we are so close anyway to the present day, that there are no need to play examples in order to discuss the deeper issues.

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Update: No popular music history course is complete without a discussion of Milli Vanilli.



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