“Do you recall what was revealed the day the music died?”
— Don McLean
As soon as he said it, this dude whose musical opinion I kind of respected, the other people in the room (full disclosure: there were two of us) reacted almost identically: “Are you out of your mind!?”
Here’s what the dude said: “I think a good radio station would be one that played a lot of music from when music was good ... the 1980s.”
And, thus, the reaction.
It has long been my contention — and even with the passage of time that sometimes provides a buffer that softens such blows, still is — that music from the 1980s was abhorrent, awful, an abomination, a trick of the Devil. In other words, it pretty much sucked.
(I thought it clever, and I gave the dude points for his inventiveness, when he walked into the room at various times with Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” playing on his cellphone. Touche.)
And while folks in their 40s and early 50s will probably argue that there was plenty of good music in the ’80s, I defy them to come up with a decent Top 40. (I tried and managed 32.) I generally applaud people who remain loyal to the songs of their youth and their “coming of age,” but the music of the ’80s made the greatest era of music in the history of music — the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s ... sorry, I’ll accept no argument — sound even greater by comparison.
Ask me — heck, ask anyone — to come up with a good Top 40 from any year circa 1964 to 1974, and they’ll whip you out a list that will make your head spin.
Maybe it’s a little unfair to compare the ’80s — the decade of Milli Vanilli, Madonna, New Kids on the Block ... although we’ll give them some of Prince’s, David Bowie’s and U2’s good stuff — with the decade (two half-decades, but still) of Motown, the British Invasion and the onset of heavy metal (the real stuff, not that hair metal of, you guessed it, the ’80s). OK, it’s not a little unfair, it’s a whooooole lot unfair. Like sticking PeeWee Herman in a steel cage with The Rock in a fight-to-the-death match.
One of those time-worn cliches that has never panned out, even in today’s era of rock music that has as much impact on the mainstream as the leaked nude pictures of the nation’s first lady ... meh ... is that rock and roll is dead. You have to dig a little deeper nowadays to find it, but there is still a good bit of good rock music being made today. In the ’80s, though, rock did almost die. Rumor has it the genre was considering suicide before U2 released “Where the Streets Have No Name,” GNR put out “Appetite for Destruction,” and the plaid-wearing Seattle grunge kings — Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, et. al. — brought sweet relief.
A couple of Beatles — John, “Just Like Starting Over;” George, “Got My Mind Set on You” — were around to keep the ’80s from imploding (although Paul’s “hits” with Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson were embarrassingly smarmy); Pink Floyd did give us “The Wall” in 1980; Peter Gabriel’s “So” was an all-time classic; Stevie Winwood and George Michael did some good stuff; Tina Turner brought some funk with “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and there were random good songs by Foreigner (“I Want to Know What Love Is”), Simply Red (“Holding Back the Tears”), Tears for Fears (“Shout”), Mellencamp and Bruce Hornsby.
Heck, I’ll even give it to you that there was actually one — in sum total, one — good hair metal song in the ’80s: “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison.
But that’s pretty much it.
Of course, I did come down from my high horse just a bit when the other person in the room when that fateful declaration about ’80s music was made reminded me: “You know, disco did start in the ’70s.” OK ... I’ll hush now.