Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's the synthesizers, stupid: the 80s make a comeback

Good thing I saved my skinny leather tie from my high school grad in 1985.

The latest edition of Q Magazine has not one but two articles in its latest issue announcing the return of the 80s; the issue is also notable for featuring a handful of articles about Michael Jackson that were written before he died in preparation of his British "comeback." Sample quote that takes on greater meaning after Jackson's death:
"Jackson can only prove he still has his old greatness by delivering in every moment of every one of his 50 shows. But on the evidence of the last four years...you really wouldn't want to bet on it."
I'll say! Q Magazine apologizes for any offence, real or imagined, here.

In his great book, Rip it Up and Start Again, Simon Reynolds says that Michael Jackson was a precursor to the new-wave British invasion of the 80s:
"The backstory to New Pop was actually a black story. African American innovations in rhythm, production, and arrangement (the Michael Jackson/Quincy Jones sound) had been assimilated by the perennially quicker-off-the-mark Brits and then sold back to white America."
Just like the Rolling Stones sold back a commercialized version of "Chicago blues" to American kids in the 60s.

Jackson's death, ironically, reminded a lot of people how much they loved his - and everybody else's - hits in the early 80s, so this may be the time for musical artists to hark back to a simpler time, a time of hair gel, raised shirt collars, video game arcades, skinny leather ties, hopping up and down as a dance craze, and synth-pop about impending nuclear war (for my money, the best excuse to make out from any decade).

In the current issue, Q Magazine makes the case that 1989 (Beastie Boys, De La Soul, Stone Roses) was a better year for music than 1969 (Woodstock!), and notes that the most exciting music being made today owes something to such 80s mainstays as Kim Wilde, Patti Smith, Duran Duran, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and the decade's biggest new-wave star, David Bowie.

It makes sense. The artists in their 20s today were born in the 80s, so their first musical heroes were Bowie, Prince, Jackson, Madonna, Born in the U.S.A.-era Springsteen, and 1984-era Van Halen.

We all know that the best Springsteen is the same as the best Van Halen: the stuff their "true fans" pretends doesn't exist; it's the synthesizers, stupid! I'll take "Dancing in the Dark" and "Jump" over "Rosalita" and "Runnin' With the Devil" any day.

And in these tough, economic times in which the Cambridge police act "stupidly" (thank you, Barack Obama), couldn't we use some more silliness in our music? Some more novelty records? Some more catchy choruses? Some more guilty pleasures? Some more synth anthems?

C'mon Springsteen, we know you have it in you...and while you're at it, consider thundering drums, a string section, angelic background vocals, and trumpet fanfares. And, no, I don't care if your next project is a Pete Seeger tribute.

The great American punk-rock band, the Minutemen, once asked the musical question, "Do you want new wave, or do you want the truth?" I can't handle the truth, so I'll take new wave, please.

Key songs from the 80s, and their modern-day equivalents:
  • 80s Hit: The Buggles, "Video Killed the Radio Star"
  • 00s Equivalent: Epoxies, "Stop Looking at Me"


  • 80s Hit: Blondie, "Call Me"
  • 00s Equivalent: The Sounds, "No One Sleeps When I’m Awake"


  • 80s Hit: Depeche Mode, "Just Can't Get Enough"
  • 00s Equivalent: Neon Neon, "I Told Her On Alderaan"


  • 80s Hit: Frankie Goes to Hollywood, "Welcome to the Pleasuredome"
  • 00s Equivalent: Empire of the Sun, "Standing on the Shore"


  • 80s Hit: Pat Benatar, "We Belong"
  • 00s Equivalent: Ladyhawke, "Dusk Til Dawn"


  • 80s Hit: Eurythmics, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"
  • 00s Equivalent: La Roux, "Bulletproof"


  • 80s Hit: Madonna, "Express Yourself"
  • 00s Equivalent: Lady Gaga, "Poker Face (extended dance version!)"


  • 80s Hit: Cyndi Lauper, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"
  • 00s Equivalent: Robyn, "You Can’t Handle Me"


  • 80s Hit: Soft Cell, "Tainted Love."
  • 00s Equivalent: Patrick Wolf, "The Magic Position"


  • 80s Hit: Prince, "When You Were Mine"
  • 00s Equivalent: Of Montreal, "Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse"

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