Wednesday, April 13, 2016

My Music of the 80s - I Want My MTV!

All ThingsBefore I get started, I’d like to make a recommendation. Because I also love movies, when you mix the two, magic happens. But this is different. My recommendation is the documentary All Things Must Pass: the Rise and Fall of Tower Records. This film captures the feelings of anticipation and even rituals that music lovers used to go through in record stores. This was a wonderful experience that has now passed. I believe this is streaming on the various services. The last few years have seen the rise of some great music documentaries. I’ll let you know some of these in coming posts.

So here we go.


Crossing from the 70s into the 80s I was a college dropout playing in a local rock band in Tallahassee by night and doing whatever I could during the day to keep from having to move back with my parents. I decided I’d had enough and that I wanted to go to college for real. So I squeezed in junior college into my schedule to get my GPA out of the “laughing stock” category, and decided I wanted to go to Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida.

The late 70s bright some great music, particularly from a new genre labeled New Wave. The Jam, Talking Heads, The Police, Blondie, The Cars, Dave Edmunds, Devo, Joe Jackson, The Clash, The Tubes, The Boomtown Rats, and many others. This was especially flamed in 1981 with the launching of a little thing called MTV (back when the M stood for music, not morons). But my first introduction was to an artist who to me, was the greatest of them all: Elvis Costello.

Thanks to Skip Parvin, I was introduced with the first notes of ECs second album This Year’s Model. "I don't wanna kiss you, I don't wanna touch, I don't wanna see you 'cause I don't miss you that much” - “No Action”. This was the spring of 1978, around the time I graduated high school. I was sent out into the world, mind fully blown. I drank in the music of many of the artists I listed above, something new. At least newer.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some great regular rock to be appreciated and loved. Three of my favorite Genesis albums were during that period. And new to the scene were bands like Dire Straits, Heart, Warren Zevon, Foreigner, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, XTC, Chuck Mangione, Bad Company, and others. Still vibrant were Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, Supertramp, Yes, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, and the decade ended with Pink Floyd’s The Wall and, sadly, the death of Keith Moon.

The 1980s were welcomed with some of the best albums from artists such as:
  • Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) - David Bowie
  • Duke - Genesis
  • Black Sea - XTC
  • Boy - U2 (debut album)
  • Get Happy!! - Elvis Costello and the Attractions
  • Crocodiles - Echo and the Funnymen
  • New Clear Days - the Vapors (debut album)
  • One Step Closer - the Doobie Brothers
  • Pretenders - The Pretenders (debut album)
  • True Colours - Split Enz
  • Vienna - Ultravox
  • Shadows and Light - Joni Mitchell
  • The River - Bruce Springsteen
  • Seconds of Pleasure - Rockville
  • Gaucho - Steely Dan
  • Yesshows - Yes
Also during this time was the dawn of a young jazz guitarist from America’s midwest named Pat Metheny. Pat will go on to produce the most extensive and eclectic catalog of works of any musician in his or any other field. Not to mention winning a Grammy award for almost every album he releases. I didn’t discover him until later, but better late than never.

By the time I moved to Lakeland for college in 1983 I was finding that whereas there was still great music to be ingested, there wasn’t as much as in the 70s. Fewer new artists captured my attention and some old favorites were getting a little “long in the tooth”.

Luckily come R.E.M., Tears for Fears, The Fixx, Naked Eyes, Toad the Wet Sprocket, The Alarm, Talk Talk, Everything But the Girl, Chris Isaak, The Style Council, Sade, Crowded House, Danny Wilson, Jane Siberry, and Michael Hedges. But from 1980 to 1989, the number of albums that I liked dropped, literally 50%. That downward trend would continue into the 90s and beyond.

Not only that, but it seemed that my tastes moved from “guitar rock” to “synth pop”. Not necessarily. I found that the synth bands I liked were long past the novelty aspect and were being quite orchestral with the keyboards. The songs were melody-centric not unlike the best songs of The Beatles.

On the other side of the synth movement, the bass guitarists of this decade really stepped up their game. No longer was the bass just a simple rhythm instrumental holding down the foundation of the songs. In many cases the bass took counterpointal lines to the melody or other instrumental. Chris Squire's work with Yes is the ideal example. Now was also a rise in the use of fretless basses. More commonly used in jazz music, now we had fretless players such as Pino Palladino, Tony Franklin, Tony Levin, and Jack Bruce of Cream.

Fortunately, Lakeland was in-between Orlando and Tampa/St. Petersburg. One hour on the interstate in either direction put my in one of those great cities. Especially in Tampa I found some small, independent record stores that carried a lot of imported and self-distributed albums. It was fairly easy to get my hands on the “odd” stuff. It certainly allowed me to keep up with my favorite artists.

So out of my dorm room wafted the “strange” sounds that often drew strange looks and snarls from other students. I was blessed enough to have a great roommate or at least a patient one. Also the guy in the neighboring room was very eclectic too.

For a decade that marked the decline of rock music for me, there as some damned fine music that I still listen too and dearly love. The music brings back many great memories of people and times that I consider the highlight of my life.

What about you? What stands out about 80s music? As time goes by I’ll be talking about some of these artists and albums a little more in-depth. Keep listening.

 Next: The 90s - Novocaine for the Soul

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