Was It Really That Bad?

Yesterday, Monitor Mix teamed up with the NPR Music dream team (Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton and Stephen Thompson) to discuss the music of the 1980s. I wanted to fill you in on the discussion in the hopes you might have something to add.

The whole thing started when the All Songs Considered blog conducted a poll asking people to choose the best year for music. It turns out that hardly anyone chose a single year from the '80s. Sure, when compared to the musical juggernauts of 1969, 1977 or 1991, the '80s might not fare so well. But were they really that bad?

The first thing that comes to mind for me, when considering '80s music, is nostalgia. As Stephen pointed out yesterday, we were barely into the 1990s before people were ready to look back. From new-wave-themed dance nights to John Hughes retrospectives, the desire to recapture the look and sound of the '80s continues to this day. And despite a tacit agreement that the musical production values were cheesy — a veritable act of sonic sterilization — most of us can't help but want to dance when we hear Depeche Mode or Duran Duran, and Bon Jovi or Great White can be heard at any given karaoke bar seven nights a week. For those of a certain age, nostalgia for the '80s has overridden decency to such an extent that what might have started as an act of irony has shifted toward genuine affection. (For more on this, wait for Robin Hilton's contribution to next Tuesday's show.)

Yet, nostalgia aside, when asked to think back on '80s music, I found plenty to love — maybe because what I appreciate about the '80s has very little to do with my own experiences. (Which, to be honest, consisted of ass-grabbing slow dances to Expose and El DeBarge songs in junior-high, and wanting to tear the shirt off Jordan Knight at a New Kids on the Block concert.)

Though I certainly credit the '80s with advancing my love of music via MTV and large doses of Casey Kasem, I don't think they did much to advance my taste in good music. After the decade ended, however, I discovered that those years were actually full of vital and incendiary underground music scenes. From The Replacements, Husker Du and Soul Asylum in Minneapolis to the hardcore scenes of Boston, DC and LA; from Olympia, Athens and Glasgow to the sparks of brilliance emanating from New Zealand via Flying Nun Records and from the UK on Cherry Red Records, many artists and communities waged tiny battles against the grandiosity and excesses taking up the radio waves. Even if the music wasn't meant as an intentional "f—- you" to the mainstream (though some of it was), these scenes managed to produce sounds — unlike a lot of Top 40 music from the '80s — that sonically and melodically stands the test of time.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that the best music from the '80s, despite a few exceptions, was not the popular music. In a decade that predates the Internet — that wonderfully democratizing technology that conflates underground and mainstream by making both obsolete — there were plenty of unknowns, or barely knowns. If you weren't in a big city or a major media center, your access to new music came in the form of fanzines, word of mouth or, if you were lucky, a college radio station. But a lot of the aforementioned scenes remained insular, an isolation that likely helped them avoid the pitfalls and influence of that horrendously plastic '80s sound.

So when I think of the '80s now, I think of the mainstream music as a giant neon sign that's alluring, obnoxious and certainly hard to ignore; it never seems to fade out completely. And those underground or punk bands — Felt, Orange Juice, The Chills, The Clean, The Verlaines, Tall Dwarfs, The Bats, Delta 5, Bush Tetras, Beat Happening, The Church, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Black Flag, X, Social Distortion, The Misfits, JFA and countless others — were small fires set in countless cities around the globe. Maybe they weren't big enough to join forces and overtake the status quo — the way bands did in '69, '77 and '91 — but they were certainly bright enough to keep a spark alive until some other artist came along who knew how to set the place on fire.

What do you think of when it comes to '80s music? Would you include a year or moment from the '80s as one of your all time musical favorites? Or, despite the presence of U2, REM, Prince, and the Talking Heads among others, have cheesy hair-metal and over-produced pop songs ruined music's reputation from that decade?

And make sure to check back to the NPR Music site to hear our discussion on All Songs Considered. It goes online Tuesday.



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Might I please add The Fall to your list?

Sent by Terry | 7:35 PM | 8-27-2008

I think the 80's is the best decade in music. Period. It brought us great punk rock, The Cure, Thrash Metal, Rap, not to mention all the great singles that were released during that time. Everyone seemed to be having fun during the 80's and I think that resonated in the music that was being made.

Sent by Ivan | 9:02 PM | 8-27-2008

I think it's important to remember that there was a middle ground--Sire, Chrysalis, I.R.S. & Slash were all delivering interesting music to the masses under the guise of "New Wave." That's how many of us heard ska for the first time--the Specials, Madness and the English Beat--without really realizing what it was, of course. It's also how we heard arty stuff--like Laurie Anderson and the Talking Heads--and new school rockabilly like the Blasters.

As a young female guitarist, I can't tell you how important the early 80's were for me. It was the first time I ever heard a woman (Chrissie Hynde) say "fuck off" on a record and it was just shocking. Ok, I know the generation gap is showing, and I'm as surprised as anyone the Pretenders were the first band of that era that started showing up on classic rock stations and in grocery stores, but a strong, skilled, in your face female songwriter was more important to me at that time than, say, hearing the Sex Pistols.

Flipping through stacks of vinyl, here's stuff of that ilk that I liked from the early 80's:

Pretenders - Pretenders
The Ramones - End of the Century
X - Los Angeles
Talking Heads - Remain in Light

Pretenders - II
X - Wild Gift
The Ramones - Rock and Roll High School
The Go-Go's - Beauty and the Beat (not a solid album, but I'm not embarrassed to admit that I liked the hits)

X - Under the Big Black Sun
Laurie Anderson - Big Science
Romeo Void - Benefactor (Deborah Iyall totally paved the way for Beth Ditto of the Gossip)

Kudos also to my local college radio station for playing the shit out of Prince's "1999" and "Sign o the Times".

I read MRR and the pioneering local St. Louis 'zine Jet Lag, so I heard all the underground stuff as well. But all of those major label affiliated labels, they were doing something special too.

Sorry for the lengthy post, but--clearly--I thought the 80's rocked.

Sent by Vortex | 9:25 PM | 8-27-2008

You forgot the best band from the 80's KORO! There one 7" is the most mind blowing piece of vinyl ever.

Sent by nicolai | 9:40 PM | 8-27-2008

For my money, 1984 was one of the best years for music ever.

Husker Du - Zen Arcade
The Minutemen - Double Nickles On The Dime
The Replacements - Let It Be
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band -- Born In the USA
Prince & The Revolution -- Purple Rain
The Meat Puppets -- Meat Puppets II

Sent by Bietz's Friend Pete | 11:21 PM | 8-27-2008

"80's music" is synonymous with cheezy synths and production, but lots of good music came out in the 80's. Much was already mentioned, but I'll add:
Violent Femmes- Hallowed Ground
X- More Fun in the New World
Smiths- The live Peel session one
Firehose- Ragin Full On
Talking Heads- the name of this band is talking heads
Pixies- doolittle
MX-80- Out of the Tunnel

Sent by dk | 11:38 PM | 8-27-2008


Sent by esme | 11:48 PM | 8-27-2008

I could go on all day, so I'll just stick to one artist who's music is still making reverberations in my life, my self-understanding, everything. While every other legend from the '60s and '70s (Rolling Stones, the Who, Bob Dylan, [You name it]) basically sucked their way through the '80s and made the worst music of their careers, Bruce Springsteen kept developing and delivering, serving up four classics (The River, Nebraska, Born in the U.S.A. and Tunnel of Love) that seemed to effortlessly branch out lyrically and musically from the stuff he cut in the '70s.

I could talk all day about these four records, so I'll just focus on one. One of my favorite albums ever (top 10 for sure) came out in 1987, when the guy who made it had no business making an anti-anthemic, introspective, anti-commercial collection of mournful love ballads. I say "no business" because the smart, calculated thing to do would have been to deliver another "Dancing in the Dark", with more synth.

Bruce Springsteen's Tunnel of Love affects me more deeply than Blood on the Tracks, probably because Dylan's "love stinks" record has traces of self-righteousness (see "Idiot Wind") and defensive finger-pointing. Springsteen's album has finger-pointing too, but it's all aimed at the guy in the mirror. These songs are friggin' painful; "Brilliant Disguise" has self-hatred giving birth to relationship paranoia, "Tougher Than the Rest" likens romance to a strongman competition, and the title track would make for a sick joke to play at a wedding reception.

Twelve ugly love songs set in the same world-weary defeatism of Darkness on the Edge of Town: "You've got to live with what you can't rise above." This record probably doesn't resonate with women as much as it does with men, because it's all from the point-of-view of you-know-who (Except for the overcooked rocker "Spare Parts"). But damn if this isn't the most soul-searching, thoughtful, lyrically groundbreaking (remember what's on the charts at the same time) album to get to #1 in the age of Reagan.

Back to the point about the album being "a guy thing." I don't mean to sound offensive, but just as I don't think I'll ever fully understand "Dancing Barefoot" because I have a Y-chromosome, there's lyrical themes on Tunnel of Love that may not fully sink in with females -- namely, the stuff about the "other man" ("Two Faces"), the guy who can't enjoy his life to save it ("Cautious Man") and the man-to-man chat with Dad ("Walk Like a Man").

Springsteen is often dubbed "the voice of the working class" or whatever, but he doesn't get the same credit when he writes about romantic love. In my opinion, Tunnel of Love is the apex of his '80s output, and it arrived when pop/rock needed restraint and self-examination. The reason I'm spending so much time talking about it is because I can't think of another record that has ever examined romantic woes so successfully and powerfully from the perspective of a male -- the gender that typically shies away from exposing vulnerability and self-doubt. Imagine if more male artists followed this album's lead. (That's your cue, sociologists!)

Sent by Dave | 12:11 AM | 8-28-2008

Just because the cheese rose to the top, so to speak, after the advent of MTV, that doesn't mean that the 80s can be enjoyed only ironically. I vastly prefer the 80s to the 70s, and kinda prefer them to the 90s. I don't think there's been a musician as dominant with the fans and critics as Prince since he changed his name (and kept making interesting but less epochal records).

Take a look at any Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll from the decade, and go all the way down the list: it's amazing how deep each and every year is. Take a look at 1984: Double Nickels on the Dime, How Will the Wolf Survive, Let It Be(!), Purple Rain, Born in the USA, Zen Arcade, Meat Puppets II, The Smiths, George Clinton's woefully underrated You Shouldn't Nuf Bit Fish, Too Tough to Die, Lou Reed's New Sensations, Stop Making Sense, Run-DMC, Swordfishtrombones, Reckoning, not to mention the Go-Betweens' gorgeous Spring Hill Fair, which didn't get distribution in the States for another decade.

At least three of those are on my all-time list (however big that might be). And it's not a random sample - 1984 was an amaaaaazing year. But still.

Sent by Adam | 1:37 AM | 8-28-2008

No Replacements? Blasphemy!!

Alas, I love the Replacements so much, they are one of my favorite bands, but I already dedicated an entire post to them. But certainly they are one of the best bands of the '80s, if not of all time. -CB

Sent by jmj | 7:43 AM | 8-28-2008

You make a lot of valid points and I agree with much of it, but I wouldn't go so far as to say the 1980's harbored the single best year of music. Granted, today's indie scene would be vastly different - if existent at all - if it weren't for bands like the Replacements, Husker Du, etc. When it comes right down to it, though, you have to look at where those bands came from. To think that before the Beatles, before Led Zeppelin, before Sabbath and Floyd and the Stones, there was nothing - I find it amazing. And to think these bands became so popular with absolutely no precedent - it's the stuff of legends. And they are legendary, almost mythic. I would say the best year for music might be 1971. 1969 is close behind with releases like "Let It Bleed," "Abbey Road," "Nashville Skyline," and the one and only release by Blind Faith, but '71 just had more firepower, more material that resonates to this day. That's nothing against the Stones, Dylan, Winwood, or the Beatles. But '71 had "Led Zeppelin IV," "Sticky Fingers," Bowie's "Hunky Dory," and Elton John's solidification with "Madman Across the Water," just to name a few. In the end, I try to avoid talking in absolutes when it comes to matters like this. Someone always has a trump card that makes everyone rethink their position, and everyone is correct in their own way. I would have to say that the best era for music was not in the 1980's, though. The late 60's and early 70's are by far the best years for music. Listen to the style and tell me how much, if any, has changed.

Sent by Nick L. | 10:17 AM | 8-28-2008

That blog did bother me. I don't think I'm going to venture away from Monitor Mix anymore.. I just get more frustrated with their topics (Art vs. History, .. Radiohead is art??.. enough! I'll back off)

The 80's are so important. It's when music truely became iconoclastic. I hate when people write it off as "cheesy".

I can't believe when people love to gang up on something that has obviously been labeled bad by the status quo. I call this the "K-mart sucks" attitude.

At the same time I can see it being annoying when their this 80's revival amongst kids who maybe were alive for 2 years of the 80's and somehow they remember it? sure..

Sent by daniel | 11:03 AM | 8-28-2008

"You come around looking 1984
You're such a bore, 1984"

Sent by alan | 11:21 AM | 8-28-2008

No Sonic Youth or Dinosaur Jr.?

Help! I can't name every band I love from a decade in a single post. That's why there is room for comments, so other people can share. The bands I mentioned were just a few examples. -CB

Sent by Nick | 12:09 PM | 8-28-2008

John Hughes movies/rubicks cube/ geometric earrings/neon colors/WHAM!/The Go Go's/Max Headrum/Rainbow Brite/Strawberry Shortcake/charms/Pac Man/umm umm ... my whole childhood practically... why has my 80's been exploited?!...

Sent by Marissa | 12:25 PM | 8-28-2008

Holy crap!

Carrie, you're holding our hand and leading us on a guided tour through sacred ground. What an outstanding post!

The Clean?
Orange Juice?

It should be a crime that these bands weren't household names. The Clean's early stuff is rediculously perfect.

Wow. All I can say is Wow.

Sent by Chad - Hungary for Turkey | 12:33 PM | 8-28-2008

Not a fan of The Smiths, then?

Actually, I am. I think if I had to name every band I love from the 80's it would have been a book, not a blog post. Plus, I just can't remember everyone. The examples I gave were not definitive. Thanks for mentioning The Smiths though. I'm hoping the comments section will help fill in the bands I missed.

Sent by spencer | 12:42 PM | 8-28-2008

wow. this is a tough one! I guess for me when I think about the 80's - & for me this was during jr. high into high school - is when my musical tastes really took shape. These are the bands that shaped me during this time - The Cure, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Echo & the Bunnymen, Smiths, Pixies. Without these bands & the music they were making during the early to mid 80's I don't know what direction I would have gone in musically. Thank you!

Sent by edgar | 12:51 PM | 8-28-2008

whew.. wish I could edit. It's stressfull posting at work.

Daniel Johnston

Sent by daniel | 1:13 PM | 8-28-2008

I'm old. The eighties were my era and for a teenage UK kid there was a huge amount to love about the time. I think much great pop music was made during that decade, if you could bear to sift through the terrible dross of the likes of Toto and Foreigner but more importantly it was the era of true "indie", something that we've lost, and that I'm still mourning. Like you I think there's way too much to list but here a few that haven't been mentioned yet and still gently thrill me.

Japan - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiM3uw32Ifw
The Redskins - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXo6jRGHgr4
Billy Bragg - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4v8VJ0LRgA
Furniture (anyone who raves over The National should check them out) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JeEXP717T0
The Shop Assistants - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wU9fZkXHqns
The Triffids - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSMF3h7LE2Q
Public Enemy - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39DJqI8puV0
10,000 Maniacs - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ie4us5zIsx0
Michelle Shocked - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hffcyJ1GAg
MC Buzz B - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2nCkq1cVdg
Colourbox - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SLOWo3hCGk
The Fall (for me they did much of their best work in the 80s) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzivmOQWkVQ
The Wedding Present - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jf1W3JQsLP4
The Housemartins - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA9NjGG9ijA

Sent by Julia | 1:47 PM | 8-28-2008

Gosh Carrie, why do you TOTALLY HATE all these bands I like that you didn't mention? GEEZ!

BTW, Garth Brooks' debut came out in '89. Where's the love?

Sent by Dave | 2:01 PM | 8-28-2008

Some favorite stuff from the 80's. Some of these bands were in my sweet tape collection in 1988 in 7th grade, some I have just discovered in the last couple of years.

The Undertones
Mission of Burma
The Clash
B 52s
Public Image Ltd.
Scratch Acid
Young Marble Giants
Pere Ubu
Billy Bragg
Violent Femmes!!
Midnight Oil
Drivin n Cryin

So many more!! It is so fun.

Sent by dadauptown | 3:18 PM | 8-28-2008

Postpunk is probably my favorite era of music!

Early New Order (Temptation might be the best song of the 80's)
Echo and the Bunnymen
Pere Ubu
The Replacements
Gang Of Four
The Comsat Angels
Mission of Burma
Wire (even though they were late 70's)
Jesus and Mary Chain
The Raincoats
Dinosaur Jr.

And 80's punk was WAY overlooked...
Bad Brains
Dead Kennedys
The Germs
Social Distortion
Black Flag
Violent Femmes

Heck even some of the mainstream music wasn't too bad.

Depeche Mode
The Cars
Cheap Trick
Tears For Fears
The Police

And I think one of the best things about 80's music was that it was so overlooked.

Sent by Chris | 5:02 PM | 8-28-2008

"For my money, 1984 was one of the best years for music ever.

Husker Du - Zen Arcade
The Minutemen - Double Nickles On The Dime
The Replacements - Let It Be
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band -- Born In the USA
Prince & The Revolution -- Purple Rain
The Meat Puppets -- Meat Puppets II"

I second that.

Sent by Chris M | 6:15 PM | 8-28-2008

A lot of the commments, including Brownstein's post, mention mostly non-mainstream groups as examples of groups that made good music. Did the 80s not produce any good pop music?

I want to mention one musician who I think is getting short shrift here, namely Michael Jackson. The music from Off the Wall and Thriller hold up real well. I find it curious that people who love early Motown/soul/R&B don't seem to recognize Michael Jackson in the 80s.

Sent by Reid | 6:36 PM | 8-28-2008

Husker Du
Elvis Costello
The Replacements
The Pixies
The Cars
Black Flag
The Meat Puppets
George Clinton
The Clash
Joe Ely
The B52s
The Dream Syndicate
The Go Go's
The Pretenders
Talking Heads
The Flaming Lips

All made great records in the 80's

Sounds like a good decade to me....

I was lucky enough to see most of them live at least once back then!

Sent by budd | 7:53 PM | 8-28-2008

Great post. From down here in Melbourne, Australia, the 80s was a time of bad synth hair-bands playing in clubs (Pseudo Echo at Bombay Rock anyone?) and the slow decline of the full-tilt Sydney pub rock scene, with bands like the Angels, Cold Chisel and even Midnight Oil softening before totally melting. But that wasn't the whole story.

By the mid-80s, some of this country's best-music-ever was happening in smaller venues and smaller cities. The great early work of Hunters and Collectors, the grandeur of the Triffids and the Church, maturing punk trailblazers like Ed Kuepper (ex of the Saints) and Nick Cave's bands, Australia's great troubadour Paul Kelly and the start of the very-Melbourne swampy sounds of Dave Graney, Beasts of Bourbon, etc. It was a tremendous time.

There'd been great Aussie bands before the 80s, of course (AC/DC, the Easybeats, the Sports, heck - even the Bee Gees!), but they either needed to move overseas to make a mark, or survive in the tiny local market. Parochialism and the 'tyranny of distance' were enemies to great local music.

In the 80s, a few commercial Aussie acts made it pretty big overseas while mostly remaining based here (Men at Work, INXS, Crowded House, etc) and this perhaps led to an increase in confidence that allowed smaller bands to produce world-class music. Oz music came of age in the 1980s.

Sent by John Ryan | 9:44 PM | 8-28-2008

It certainly is blessing in disguise that I am old enough to have lived through the 80's but young enough to not remember so much of their downsides; the truly breathtaking tacky style, hair metal and cock rock, anything having to do with Guns and Roses at the height of their popularity...

So now that I'm older, I've gone through the trouble of reaching back into a decade I thought was worthless to find out there was actually some incredible stuff going on musically. Some of my favorite bands come out of the 80's, from The Smiths to the Misfits the Sonic Youth.

Anyhow, not to step on anyone's toes and at the risk of sounding redundant, I thought I'd mention two of my favorite bands from the 80's (and granted, I was a wittle TMNT lovin' kid back then); Bauhaus and The Jesus and Mary Chain. I haven't seen them mentioned yet...can they feel a little love? ;-)

Sent by Ryan | 9:17 AM | 8-29-2008

I need not repeat the names of all of the bands that other folks have named and clearly love as much as me. Some of the best music, ever, was produced in the 80's.

My own taste for it is strong, yes, but that my 14 year old daughter goes digging through my records/CD's and pulls out the 80's stuff frequently -- it says a lot. She's a big fan of X, Black Flag, The Clash and The Replacements (BEST band out of the 80's, I humbly submit). It's great to see her passion for such kick ass music.

Sent by setya | 10:02 AM | 8-29-2008

I would like to add The Beastie Boys, Guided by Voices, and Pop Will Eat Itself for bands who at least got their start in the 80's.

I really love The Milkshakes from the early 80's.

I don't think Peter Gabriel has been mentioned yet.

And there should be an honorable mention at least for Living Colour as well. There is much more to the band then the one hit wonder they are labeled with.

Sent by mac | 3:13 PM | 8-29-2008

How about legendary Manchester band James? Great then and perhaps even better now. They're finally back to tour the U.S. in September after being gone way too long.

Sent by thisbroad | 12:06 AM | 8-30-2008

if it weren't for the '80s, we'd have no pixies. no dinosaur jr. quite frankly, that would be a travesty. i am rock fan, and these guys brought lo-fi, dirty riffs to the forefront of clean, shiny beats. that's applaudable. while everything on the radio played neon pink, they continued going black.

however, keep in mind that the '80s did see a revolution in music, regardless of taste. hip-hop/rap might just be the one and only genre of music in my generation that was "new." while i don't love everything the genre entails, i have deep admiration for the beastie boys---a band who continues stomping their musical tastes generation after generation. they would not be popular without that decade. for that, i hail the '80s.

Sent by shea carver | 10:40 AM | 8-30-2008

As someone who "came of age" in the '80s (whatever that means), this post could get rather lengthy. I will keep it short and sweet:

The Feelies got me through college. (Well, the Feelies and an obscene amount of student loans--Thanks VSAC!)

Sent by EC Terry | 1:13 PM | 8-30-2008

This is awesome Carrie!

Thing that strikes me about these bands is none of them are supply-side bands. In other words, they don't tour to make more money, they tour or reform because fans demand it(The Feelies, for example), but sometimes never. Strikingly different when you compare them with the Eagles, Boston, Grateful Dead, REO Speedwagon, Allman Brothers. Often times these bands are reuniting without a key member or the ONLY member that even mattered. And usually to cash in on nostalgia. I'll give the Who and Led Zep a pass because of the importance they've had on premium bands and trends of today. I mean has there ever been a JAM reunion, the best selling band in the history of England, um no. How about the Talking Heads or Husker Du??

Sent by Our Music | 2:09 PM | 8-31-2008

Galaxie 500 and Cocteau Twins were also amazing back in the day.

Sent by cla | 2:48 PM | 9-1-2008

I made a list of my favorite albums last week and was only a little surprised to see how many of them were from the '80s: Husker Du, the Church, Sonic Youth, the Reivers, the Feelies, Throwing Muses. It was the period when I started to be a bit more discerning about what I listened to--and, indeed, the first artists in that vein were Springsteen, U2, and Talking Heads. All of whom still sound good to me more than 20 years later.

The pop of the '80s remains a guilty (and occasionally not guilty: "Little Red Corvette" is flat-out brilliant as well as sweet-toothy) pleasure, at least a chunk of it. But the "college rock" of the period, as tough and unrewarding and unjust as it was for a lot of the artists themselves, comprises the lasting musical legacy of the decade. I find it interesting that so many of the great groups of that time have gotten back together more than 20 years on--Burma, Camper van Beethoven, Pixies. In at least some of the cases, the reason why seems to be that with the technological advances and the shifting paradigms within the industry, they have a hell of a lot more control now than they did at the time. And with the exception of the Pixies, the regroupings didn't seem to be primarily about money--as seen by the fact that Husker Du and the 'Mats evidently refuse big sums every year.

I'm sure nearly everyone in this thread knows about it, but just in case not, Michael Azzerad's "Our Band Could Be Your Life" is a fantastic read about this period.

Sent by meandmikewatt | 1:47 AM | 9-2-2008

As a child of the 80's I can say that there was GREAT music - it just wasn't on top 40 radio. Personally, I believe The Cure, R.E.M., U2, The Replacements, The Police, The Pixies, Depeche Mode, The Smiths and yes, even Duran Duran are some of the greatest bands in the history of "Rock and Roll" and continue to influence great new music being made today.

Great White, Warrant, Paula Abdul, El DeBarge and their ilk were the disco of the 80's and simply overshadowed truly great music being made.

Sent by Chris | 10:17 AM | 9-2-2008

Thanks for mentioning The Church, but you forgot the Go Betweens!! Two super underrated but incredible bands.

Sent by Omar C | 11:10 AM | 9-2-2008

A quick tour through awesome albums of the 1980s (one album per band):

The Cramps - Songs the Lord Taught Us
The Damned - The Black Album
The Specials
Dexys Midnight Runners - Searching for the Young Soul Rebels

Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires
Talking Heads - Remain in Light
Devo - New Traditionalists
Black Flag - Damaged

The Clash - Combat Rock
The Misfits - Walk Among Us
The Birthday Party - Junk Yard
Madness - The Rise and Fall

Bad Brains - Rock for Light
Minor Threat - Out of Step

Laurie Anderson - Mister Heartbreak
R.E.M. - Reckoning
The Pogues - Red Roses for Me
Dead Kennedys - Frankenchrist

Husker Du - New Day Rising
Dead Milkmen - Big Lizard in My Backyard
The Cure - The Head on the Door

Run-D.M.C. - Raising Hell
Slayer - Reign in Blood

The Art of Noise - In No Sense? Nonsense!
Rollins Band - Life Time

Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
The Sugarcubes - Life's Too Good

Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique
John Zorn - Naked City
Pixies - Doolittle

Sent by John B | 7:07 PM | 9-2-2008

I loved the 80's

gary numan, ultravox, the psychedelic furs, yes - The Police, The Thompson Twins, Elvis Costello, The Stranglers, Squeeze, Graham Parker, Joe Jackson, The The, The Cure, PIL, Kate Bush, Flash and the Pan, Visage, Blancmange, Patti Smith, Missing Persons, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, OMD, Split Enz, talk talk, hunters and collectors, INXS, Blue Peter, Bauhaus, The Cramps, New Order, the Church, Simple Minds, Gen X, The Jam, Thomas Dolby - oh my god I could go on forever (then again I'm an old fart)

so many shows - good shows - good memories

I don't know why they call it the culturally void era - it wasn't all about black, purple and shoulder pads - I think it was a bit of a turning point actually - it was the 180% that led to the blend of all styles that we appreciate today

(love my 80's)

Sent by sharon | 10:12 PM | 9-2-2008

I think the biggest genre of music I love that kind of started to bite the dust in the 80's is Soul Music. The best R&B/Soul Music is easily from the 60's and 70's. But that's not to say that there wasn't good music in the 1980's. The music from that decade that truly stood the test of time is the "underground" music of that period. Bands like R.E.M. (probably the most obvious choice) or The Replacements, Pixies, and I could go on, but a lot of those bands have already been mentioned. But I do struggle to find a comparison for great Soul Music from the 1980's. I think the 1980's is where true "Soul" music morphed into "Pop" music. Because of that move, it lost a lot of its; forgive the pun; soul. But that "soul" or "spirit" was kept alive by all of the underground or independent bands, because the music was coming from something more real.

Sent by Jack | 12:41 AM | 9-3-2008

Sharon: I think I am in love with you right now.

I would add The Cult, The Three O'Clock, The Rave-Ups, Mary's Danish, Voice of the Beehive, The Darling Buds, Dramarama, Throwing Muses, Pixies, Sonic Youth, Concrete Blonde, X, The Minute Men, the Jesus and Mary Chain and I too could go on!

Sent by jen | 1:40 AM | 9-3-2008

I love this topic, and could go back and forth for days on it. One thing we all need to remember, in all decades, is the people making this music. My father was in a Lancaster, PA band called the Sharks. It was his life, music that is, and got into this band in the late 70's, and wanted to be in a band that did things differently. But they also had to make a living at it, playing clubs and bars 27 or 28 nights a week, filling two plus hours every night with their own sounds but also playing covers of The Talking Heads, and way early U2, INXS, etc... this was all Early 80's, by the mid 80's they took up the Video age by entering MTV Basement tapes, and won, but by then it was all over, because the Industry took over, record companies telling artists what to do, who to manage them, how much to charge bigger venues for them to play, and then spending the whole advertising budget on the area they came up, who already were gonna buy the album, but now couldn't afford to see them anymore because they were all the sudden a "Next level" band...... All these guys were now a decade older, but came up used to being a part of the Musician Establishment set forth in the 70's, with Unions, and Managers, etc....... good little soldiers..... I guess if they had been born a decade later with the DIY Spirit they wouldn't have succumbed like so many to the Corporate Mindset, but then they would have been just another Bar Band.
He still plays, at Church and for himself, and they still play a few times a year as the Sharks around Lancaster and Harrisburg, as well as some other gigs as the Luv Gods. Heck, he's close to Sixty years old now....... so remember, behind the music you remember so fondly, or not, while it was moving you, they had to live it, and still do, always coping with their definition of success........ and the same with the kids down the block playing their first gigs, except now they can get it all out there "On they're Own" as it were... and be a part of the next "New Wave".



Sent by Jeffrey S. Wettig | 8:51 AM | 9-3-2008

What about hip-hop? As a white boy who grew up in suburban Indiana, I was greatly influenced by albums by Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and The Beastie Boys. Granted, it took me until the early 90s to 'catch on'. I still listen to albums such as 'It Takes a Nation of Millions...' today and they sound as powerful and vital as they did 20 odd years ago. I am fairly certain that if a white teen from Indiana was inspired by these albums, then so were countless others. I think that the late 80s and early 90s hip-hop revolution would make a great topic (w/ guest hosts) for an All Song Considered podcast. This is a genre that is often overlooked on the program. And although the current commercialization of hip-hop has given the genre a black eye, there are still many relevant, great hip-hop artists carrying on the tradition that started in the 80s. I can take or leave some of the other music from the time, but the hip-hop was fresh, raw, and revolutionary.

Sent by Paul | 9:56 AM | 9-3-2008

Wow- I am totally surprised by the lack of mention for rap on the show.

As someone who loved 120 Minutes, etc. during the 1980s I am also surprised that the music journalists on the show looked down so much on the 1980s. When I was 12 I could not stand popular music on the radio- but that is why I started to listen to the Smiths, the Church, Sonic Youth, etc.

There was some great music in the 1980s- but you had to find it- it was not fed to you by popular radio.

I feel like my post on the 1980s explains that I found much to love about music from that decade. I agree that rap music was overlooked. -CB

Sent by Carrie | 11:34 AM | 9-3-2008

The nostalgia effect of my love for '80's music is very high. I turned 13 in 1980 and graduated college in 1989. Even discounting any nostalgia however, I do think there was much good music. I had access to a great college radio station - WICB from Ithaca College - and it influenced me greatly. It influenced a lot of my friends, and being in a college town I got to know people from other areas who introduced me to new music like Black Flag, The Dead Kennedy's, and Tom Petty. The Police were my very first rock concert, followed by the Cars...(sigh)

I went to college with cassette tapes of REM, UB40, the Hooters, and The English Beat. I impressed a couple frat guys by knowing the words to some Violet Femmes songs. I went to my sophomore year in college with Dire Straits, U2, Coctau Twins, Ultravox, Kate Bush, Elvis Costello, and Peter Gabriel - the last two being highlights of my time abroad in Paris -- seeing Costello in a tiny theater in the 5th, and Gabriel with friends near the end of the year, plus getting in free to a Psychedelic Furs concert. In high school I dreamed of being a college DJ and I got my wish junior and senior years on WLVR. Echo and the Bunnymen, INXS, XTC, Tracy Chapman, Jane's Addiction, PIL, Robin Hitchcock, The Indigo Girls, Drivin'n'Cryin', Depech Mode, The Smiths, Morrisey, Husker Du, The Church, The Jam, Beat Happening, The Darling Buds, 10,000 Maniacs, Michelle Shocked, Midnight Oil, the Jesus and Mary Chain, The Fall, the Housemartins, and the Go Betweens were all bands I spun (among many others). It was a great time!

Sent by Julie | 1:09 PM | 9-3-2008

That was a great show! My boss and I were laughing our asses off when Bob kept playing Starship "We built this city..".

I saw it here in the comments, Prince and the Revolution - Purple Rain! Prince was one guy that made Great music in the 80's after have made albums in the 70's.

Bob is such a curmudgeon! Tears for fears had great songs. I guess I love New Wave Pop... The Police, Squeeze, Joe Jackson, Missing Persons, Split Enz (NZ CARRIE - became Crowded House!)

Oh yeah and the birth of Hip Hop.. Traveling home to NYC from bording school in the back of the bus..."AJ Scratch" by KURTIS BLOW absolute best Old school hip hop jam makes me so nostalgic of graffiti riddled subways, UTFO, RUN-DMC, MC Lyte, LL COOL J....

Sent by Morgonzo | 3:07 PM | 9-3-2008

What about Stevie Ray Vaughn... I won tickets to see him college and was blown away.

Sent by julie | 3:26 PM | 9-3-2008

In the past I would have agreed that the 80's did suck horribly. It did, however, give way for music that was awesome in the 90's and beyond. I think in retrospect, the 80's WAS one of the best eras of music! Especially when you remove all the synth from the songs and reveal the actual great melodies that were written then. Nouvelle Vague (http://www.nouvellesvagues.com/english/accueil.html) is a testament to that!

Sent by Regina | 4:23 PM | 9-3-2008

Throwing Muses self-titled debut was released in 1986. And while I didn't listen much to the band in the 80s, I do rediscover this record periodically (most recently this summer), and am more and more impressed by it, as well as by Kristin Hersh, Tanya Donelly, and the cohesiveness of the band. The record is notable for haunting melodies, evocative lyrics, and a wide range of genuinely felt emotion--musically and lyrically. For raw punk intensity, you can't beat the opener, Call Me. But my favorite song is probably Green, Tanya Donelly's contribution, unusual in that it is (I think) sung by Hersh.

Sent by Pamela Goldsteen | 4:31 PM | 9-3-2008

I have to say, although they might be written off as commercial crap by the snootier of music lovers, Duran Duran's Rio is one of the best albums of the decade. As one who loved (and hung out with people who loved) The Smiths, The Cure, The Housemartins, REM, etc., I had to kind of hide my love of DD when I was in high school (1984-88), but I always loved the melodies and lushness of their sound - especially on Rio. They were all actually very good musicians and, while thier lyrics were always somwhat undecipherable, their mytseriousness added to their appeal (for me at least).

On a nolstalgic impulse, I recently saw Duran Duran when they played in Seattle and they have lost none of their touch - what a great show!!

Sent by Liam | 5:58 PM | 9-3-2008

I laughed so hard listening to this podcast, I teared up and fell off my treadmill. Did you know it takes 8 weeks for a leg bone to knit? It was well worth it, though.

Sent by Tim | 7:26 PM | 9-3-2008

The further I get from the 80s the more I am amazed at the influence of Reggae and Ska. I can hear the influence now but never did back then. OR perhaps I am just hearing how the Clash and the Police secondarily influenced so many bands of the eighties.

Sent by griff | 1:56 AM | 9-4-2008

The reviewers eschewing the 1980s as the worst decade for popular music is shortsighted. The 80s certainly had some of the worst, and I mean the worst music ever. Hair metal bands that now bleed together like greatwhitelionsnakewarrant. Electropop was also pretty terrible, all I should have to say is Wham.

At the same time there were awesome bands that were lashing out against this sort of insipid vapid type of music. U2 which is now only thought of as a larger than life bombastic supergroup was throughout the 80s a cutting edge, post-punk powerhouse. Their image at the time of earnest messiahs of rock and roll was in direct contrast to the imagery and message of hair metal, and synth pop, which propelled them into uber stardom.

There was also a huge underground movement of bands like the Pixies, Fugazi, Elvis Costello, REM, Joy Division and ultimately new order, the cocteau twins, dead can dance, (pretty much the whole 4ad catalog) the dead milkmen, tom waits, the cure, Sonic Youth, and lest we ever forget The Smiths. These bands are all quintessentially 80s. These bands have influenced so many bands that are on your all songs considered you could do an entire show just on these musicians.

I know the show covered some of the good music from the 80s. I felt compelled to comment on the story, only in that I remember the 80s as a great time for music, because of the bands that I listed. Which were either emerging or very vital during the 80s. Sure there were some terrible bands, but I guarantee if you played, Fall On Me by REM, In Between Days by the Cure, or Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2, to anyone who really sought out good music they will remember the 80s fondly.

I agree. I'm assuming you also read this blog post and saw the accompanying videos, both of which exalted the underground music of the 80s. I wrote this post in advance of the show to illustrate my affection toward the music from that decade. As evidence of the comments section, I think there is ageneral fondness and awareness of the less popular music from the 80s among MM blog readers. -CB

Sent by keith wikle | 1:30 PM | 9-4-2008

Was lucky enough to grow up near Detroit and at the age of 16 was sneaking into Bookies to hear the MC5, Iggy and the Stooges. Then there was a place called "Clutch Cargoes" where I heard: Nina Hagen, the Bush Tetras, James Chance, New Order on their first american tour, X, the Cramps, Medium/Medium and even Simple Minds to a crowd of 100 - where others had a terrible time in high school, I was rocking out.

Sent by J. Dunn | 4:00 PM | 9-4-2008

I'll second the great bands listed by earlier commenters, and give a +1 to Liam for giving props to Duran Duran. They may have been pretty boys, but they also had good songcraft and were one of the first to push the boundaries of the nascent medium of music video beyond mere "band in concert" clips. For me, they were also a gateway drug, a band that made me pay attention to music beyond whatever hits were playing on the radio, and seek out more information where-ever I could find it -- and thank God for "Star Hits" magazine (the U.S. repackaging of the great U.K. pop zine "Smash Hits"), the only music press to be found in small-town Arizona in 1984. Reading through it, I found the Cure and Depeche Mode and many other bands I'd never heard of before.

I'll also point out that synthesizers in the '80s were more than just the cheesy sound effects and bad electric piano found on a lot of mainstream tracks. They also allowed musicians to manipulate sounds and use samples in a way they never had before. One of my favorite bands of all time, Depeche Mode, married pop songcraft with found sounds, endless different synth noises and a techno sensibility (just listen again to "Master and Servant" and "People Are People").

And that leads me to another great '80s genre I haven't seen mentioned yet: the heavy dance sounds of techno and industrial, from bands like Nitzer Ebb, Einst??rzende Neubauten and Ministry.

Then again, I have a weakness for synths. How can you not love Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me 'Round (Like a Record)"? It's just all kinds of awesomeness. I dare you to hear it and not dance ...

Sent by Heidi Strom Moon | 9:33 PM | 9-4-2008

I don't understand everyone's aversion to drum machines and synths. There are lots of great songs that are electronic, and there are lots of bad songs that were played on the guitar: so what? The 1980's was the best decade for music.

My list includes:

The Normal
Loose Joints
New Order
Tom Tom Club
Derrick May
Frankie Knuckles
Stone Roses

Sent by ij | 11:53 PM | 9-4-2008

I'll second Bietz' Friend Pete and single out 1984. Besides:

H??sker D?? -- Zen Arcade
The Minutemen - Double Nickles on the Dime
The Replacements - Let It Be
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band -- Born in the USA
Prince & the Revolution -- Purple Rain
The Meat Puppets -- Meat Puppets II


Metallica -- Ride the Lightning
The Smiths -- [self-titled]
Fela Kuti -- Original Suffer Head
REM -- Reckoning
Run-DMC -- [self-titled]
The Blue Nile -- A Walk Across the Rooftops
Lou Reed -- New Sensations
Cocteau Twins -- Treasure
U2 -- The Unforgettable Fire
The Fall -- The Wonderful and Frightening World Of the Fall

And, of course, 1984 is the year that _Spinal Tap_ came out.
That's a pretty nice record collection right there.

Sent by M. Azerrad | 11:50 AM | 9-5-2008

I'll agree that most musicians seemed to have lost their creative minds in the 1980s but if we require an exception to prove the rule I'd like to offer Tom Waits. Heartattack And Vine, Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs & Frank's Wild Years were all excellent albums and all of them were released in the 80s (granted Heartattack was recorded a scant 7 months into the year but it still counts).

Sent by runfromfire | 11:57 PM | 9-5-2008

Tom Waits--Rain Dogs 1985
One of the points brought up in the ASC show was the apparent decrease of quality in the output of artists who progressed into the 80s. A challenge was made to name artists who made their greatest musical contributions during that decade. How about Tom Waits? I've seen one passing mention to Swordfishtrombones so far. Rain Dogs is definitely worth recognition. Tom's appearances on Letterman (on youtube) are priceless. Of course with the great music he made in the 90s and 00s, it is hard to argue that the 80s were his greatest decade, but they were genius for their time, and remain brilliant today.

Sent by Dan Ray | 12:52 AM | 9-6-2008

So much of the stuff that's been mentioned here is some of my all-time favorite music, but here's the thing: I was only born in 1985. I find very little to get excited about in most music coming out these days, but I continue to be blown away by the stuff I keep on discovering from the 80's. Sometimes I feel like I was born about 20 years too late, and I regret the fact that I can't really connect with most people my own age when it comes to music. I can attest to that fact that the vast majority of people my age or younger do have a strong aversion to any music that reeks of the 80's. Most are unaware of all the great independent and alternative stuff that you've all been mentioning, and think of the 80's only as a synth-driven, neon-drenched, big-haired cliche. I've given up for the most part trying to turn my peers on to all this stuff, but I'm living proof that the music of the 80's can live on in those who weren't even around to experience it when it was happening.

I was particularly excited to see all the Kiwi stuff mentioned in the original post (The Chills, The Clean, The Tall Dwarfs, and the Verlaines in particular are just incredible), and I'd like to add some more bands to the wonderful list accumulating here, both Kiwi and non-Kiwi:

Bailter Space
The Great Unwashed
Straitjacket Fits
Look Blue Go Purple
Plagal Grind
Game Theory
Rain Parade
Green on Red
Thin White Rope
The Embarrasment
The Connelles
The Gun Club
Gauadalcanal Diary
Let's Active
Swimming Pool Q's
Love Tractor
Miracle Legion
Mecca Normal
The Fastbacks
Naked Raygun
Aztec Camera
Talulah Gosh
The Field Mice
The Wedding Present
The House of Love
Josef K
The Mekons
The Pastels
The Vaselines
Jonathan Richman / Modern Lovers (Their 80's stuff was great!)

I could go on forever.

Sent by Austin | 3:03 PM | 9-6-2008

runfromfire---we must have been typing those nearly identical posts at almost exactly the same time. Wild! Go Tom. Glitter and Doom is one of the best concert Podcasts on ASC.

Sent by Dan Ray | 1:22 AM | 9-7-2008

The '80s are so maddeningly perplexing because it defines some of the worst and best. Going from Steve Miller's manipulative "Abracadabra" in 1982 to, say, REM's "Reckoning" just two years later, was bound to cause whiplash. A lot to loathe and love.

Sent by Jeff | 11:42 AM | 9-7-2008

Just listened to the podcast (and discovered your blot!). So much to agree with from the discussion and posted here. It really was a great decade for music despite the reputation. One fantastic album that I was surprised to not see mentioned was Paul Simon's Graceland.

Sent by Enrico | 1:29 AM | 9-8-2008

1989 "energy" by operation ivy,
already posthumous. although that definitive album came out in 89, they were very definitely an 80s band.

I am pretty sure this is also the year that New Kids on the Block "hangin tough" was #1. It's amazing what all happens at the same time.

Sent by jon felton | 11:55 AM | 9-8-2008

What about: Kate Bush's heydey? New Order? Cyndi Lauper's amazing first two albums? The Sugarcubes? Prince's "Controvery," "1999" and "Sign 'O' The Times"? Sinead O'Connor's first record? Early New Jack Swing? Suzanne Vega and Edie Brickell? The Raincoats and Gang of Four? "Heartbeat City" by the Cars? The golden age of female pop-rap: JJ Fad, Salt-N-Pepa and early Queen Latifah? De La Soul's debut? The amazing early Pet Shop Boys albums? Soft Cell? And let's not forget the entire genres of Detroit techno, Chicago acid house, New York garage, electro, Latin freestyle..... I could go on. And on. And on.

I'm a fan of the column, of Carrie and of Sleater-Kinney, but this kind of reductionist, rockist bullshit ties my stomach in knots. The 1980s produced way more brilliant music than the "totally 80s" nostalgia trip would suggest. But it's so fucking silly to look at music that was considered credible/important/indie/alternative/underground in the 90s and then trace it backwards and decide its precursors were all that mattered. I can't support the notion of reducing a decade's musical output to its headlines. Nor can I support the kind of clubby, self-congratulatory elitism that says any guitar-driven music that white people like is automatically more valid than any other kind of music.

Sent by armchairdj | 2:39 PM | 9-12-2008

Not much CanCon made it onto these lists. Martha and the Muffins and Blue Peter are two (of many) great bands from 1980's Toronto.

Sent by sio | 1:04 PM | 9-13-2008

Seeing Icicle Works at the 9:30 club in D.C. was my first club show. (I was 15 and lived in Gaithersburg, and going to see a band at night in D.C. without my parents was kind of a big milestone.)
This may be nostalgia speaking, but I think their first album (the one with "Birds Fly") holds up pretty well.

An album from 1980 that I haven't seen mentioned yet is The (English) Beat's "I Just Can't Stop It." Irresistibly awesome!

Sent by thailand kegs | 7:06 PM | 9-16-2008

Two more stand-out '80s albums that I have to mention:

XTC - English Settlement ('82). I bought Skylarking fist, and then went back and discovered this gem. I sill put this on from time to time if I have to straighten up the house and I need an energy boost.

Split Enz - Time and Tide ('82). The world's tallest woman, Sandy Allen, died recently. Does anyone know if NPR played "Hello Sandy Allen" (track 3) to mark her passing? I hope so. Her final years were not so happy, but this song is just such a thrilling tribute. Love it!

Sent by thailand kegs | 8:03 PM | 9-16-2008

Hello all! Thanks for the write up Carrie...it seems we will perpetually have to defend this decade...hair bands and bubblegum pop aside! So, it appears you've struck a chord (Bwaaang!) and gotten some great feedback on other soul-stirring artists. I'd like to give "props", "shout out"--whatever to the outlets us "small towners" had to fill the gaps. Thank the gods for MTVs 120 min., The Cutting Edge, for Friday Night Videos, for pubs like Details (before it was a Men's mag), Interview, Star Hits (Yes! I said Star Hits), Option (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Option_(music_magazine)) and so many others. Helped a kid out when the airwaves were jammed with Whitney, Ratt, and Huey Lewis and the Snooze. Bless them all!

Sent by Ruth Loiacano | 3:04 PM | 9-23-2008