I graduated high school in the mid-’80s. So, I’ve never been surprised that I still enjoy the music from that time. It’s been making a comeback recently, and I haven’t fought it at all. I’ll listen when an 80’s song comes on the radio rather than change the channel or turn the radio off. My wife pointed something out to me that had never occurred to me before. ’80s music was just kinder, more friendly, less angry. I think that’s why I like it so much.
Society has changed a lot since the ’80s. The music of a people has at least some influence over them, and I have to believe that the music turning so angry and mean has something to do with us being meaner as a society.
This was the era that Prince, U2, Huey Lewis, Bruce Springsteen, and countless hairbands came to life and shined. I’m not saying I don’t like music today. There is a section of music that I don’t like, but that’s because it’s given rise to a “thug culture” not because the music is bad. So the question is, does the music reflect society, or does society reflect it’s music?
The ’80s were different
If society is simply a reflection of the music of the times, then it’s pretty clear why the music was so different. Times were definitely simpler in the 80s. Music moved into video form for the first time, too, and that had profound effects on young minds. But I never spent much time watching MTV, although I knew people who did. Most music videos were barely more than watching the band play, but a few, like AHA’s “Take Me On” were really out there. We were part of a global psychology experiment.
Maybe there was no difference in society. Maybe the difference was just me. I was young and influenced by everything around me in the 80s. But the music was more fun. Even the music I enjoy today new isn’t as silly or frivolous as it was in the 80s. I’m more mature, too, mostly. And there were lots of love ballads. I have always been a sucker for a good love song. Guys like Paul Young, Richard Marx, and even Bryan Adams could keep my attention easily with their latest heartfelt ballad. So deeply do I still feel for this era that after Googling Richard Marx (I had forgotten briefly his first name) I realized that he was married to one of my first on-screen crushes, Daisy Fuentes, and went down a pictorial view of their wedding, and Daisy Fuentes. Yes, these were simpler times, at least for me, they were.
Music is a soundtrack to our life
I guess that’s what music does for us, though. It represents what was happening to us at the time. Music was a huge role in my life in the ’80s even though I would not become a musician until the mid-90s. So music changed for me, but I don’t think I’ll ever have the raw enjoyment from music that I had in the 80s. Once you become good at something, it changes your perception. 80s music is always judged as being trite, but that may be exactly why I enjoy it so much. It wasn’t trying to do much but entertain. Sure, U2 was out there trying to educate us to the horrors of life, but they wrapped it in such wonderful music, that few of us looked beyond that. And then they did a song with B.B. King, and all was lost for me. In a good way, however.
Unlike my older sister, who was a 70’s child and a true academic, I was not at the height of my academic prowess during the 80s. I failed out of college in the latter part of the decade and had really never spent time studying anything but the budding area of personal computers. I was all about fun, and while my sister’s music played through the house, and while I got quite a good education in 70s music from the front row, it was never “my music.”
Even some of the classic, great bands I came to learn about through their “comeback” albums. The first time I really got into the Rolling Stones was with Tattoo You, released in 1981. And the seminal album of my life, the one album I can go back to and play cover to cover and still listen to today, Back in Black, was released in the summer of 1980. It was the first “album” I bought with my own money. In quotes because I bought it on cassette tape format because all I had was a shitty little tape player. But even ACDC wasn’t my band, they were my sister’s band. I had heard them from her and jumped on board. But Bryan Adams and Huey Lewis were bands that I could sink my teeth into. My first concert was a Bryan Adams concert, then a Huey Lewis concert that same summer.
My friends and I would drive from the Chicago suburbs to Alpine Valley, WI, 20 minutes north of Lake Geneva for our concerts. I had a girlfriend I met at a Bryan Adams concert and who I only saw when I went to concerts in Alpine Valley. Her name was Lesley and she lived in Waukesha. I can still see her face and smell her perfume. I was probably only 16. Stevie Ray Vaughn died in a helicopter crash in Alpine Valley. Had I still been living in Illinois, I would have been at that concert.
He was another musician who ruled my life, but I came to know his music most closely after he passed away. As I became a musician, certain musicians started to stand out more for their expertise than others, and SRV was the best. You couldn’t play guitar and not be in awe of what he did.
Is the music dark, or am I?
I’m not sure if the music was better or worse than it is today, I do know it wasn’t as dark. But the times weren’t as dark, either. We didn’t have race wars like we do today, we didn’t have binary politics like we’re experiencing now, and we knew what bathrooms to use. Life was a lot simpler then, at least for me. 80’s music formed me to some extent, and even writing this text has taken me back quite a bit to remember all the times I enjoyed myself with music. Unlike now, where I will drive with no music at all, I always had music on the radio when I drove. I tried to run with an original Walkman back in the 80s. It didn’t work so well, but still, we tried.
I’ve been buying some of the music from my teenage years on Amazon and using it as a big mixtape. I think this weekend, I’m going to have to go back and make sure I have all my favorites and put on some background noise. Ah, if only I could find Lesley from Waukesha.
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