All Songs Considered has a great podcast featuring a roundtable discussion on the merits of the 80s music. Granted none of the participants are fervent lovers of that era so the critique is a bit skewed. Nonetheless, they try to be unbiased in their exploration of where the 80s sits in the spectrum of validity and relevance. Okay, there is quite a bit of synth-music bashing, but who couldn’t lament all that fake drumming?
This was a particularly interesting conversation for me to hear because I find myself listening to and enjoying 80s music more than ever. I’d always noted how I loved every decade for their music except the 80s. I grew up with oldies in the house and in the car so those decades feel engrained in my DNA. My affinity for 90s is due to that being the time of my own musical awakening and discovering what I personally enjoyed. Grunge and Nirvana exposed the ridiculousness of 80s hair band rock. The music of Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine seemed to come from something much more genuine and earnest than the cheesy synth-pop of the decade before.
Up until recently, I’d written off the 80s as a musical void. So this podcast seems appropriate because of the current revival of 80s style in music and fashion. Lately, I’ve been surrounded by friends who are genuine fans of that music. And 80s songs just seem born for karaoke (which has been the main way I’ve learned of these songs). I’ll admit that this has allowed some 80s music into my playlists.
Still, the 80s weren’t a complete dead end for me. I grew up as a fan of Michael Jackson, although I’d abandoned his music for a decade or two, and recently rediscovered how great his early solo albums are. Madonna is someone who never really resonated with me before, probably because I’m a guy, but I now listen to her early songs with new respect and enjoyment. And it may be ridiculously strange, but I love the song “She Blinded Me with Science”. (Who can’t love a song where the word “Science” is randomly yelled out in the background?) Listening to an all-80s webcast station has reawakened my affinity for a lot of long-forgotten songs.
I see many parallels with the culture of the 80s music and what’s going on today, which makes me wonder how this decade will be viewed historically. Although with so many genres of music getting exposure these days, it’s hard to think how they can all be summed up succinctly. I can easily imagine descriptors for the previous decades, although the 90s show evidence of the fracturing of overarching themes. The first half of the 90s were pretty much dominated by Grunge/Alternative music but the second half seemed to splinter off into metal-rap, boy bands and Britney. These days seem much more difficult to categorize, probably due to the spread of viral blogging and mySpace.
Personally, I’m not sure how long my newfound pleasure of the 80s will last. The podcast commentators make some interesting observations which I think are applicable to me. While the music in during that time seemed cringe-inducing, there’s a sense of nostalgia that comes along with it as well. It’s easier for me to enjoy this music now because it can be viewed in respect to the wider scope of music. I can hear the synthesizers and the cheesiness without groaning. It’s an interesting trip, but I don’t think it’ll ever feel like home.