I SEEM to have spent most of my life trying to redeem the 80s.
In fact, I’ve spent my entire journalistic career trying to redeem them.
For me, the ’80s aren’t just a great decade, it’s pop’s greatest decade – a time when Duran Duran fought Wham! for number one on the charts, when U2 became the greatest rock band on the planet, and when pop music became more adventurous and exciting than ever.
Endless TV shows still suggest that this whole period was just a calamitous mistake, a cultural cul-de-sac full of rotten records by shameful orange-skinned individuals in sneakers.
A decade full of rah-rah skirts and drum machines.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, I believe in the ’80s so much that I just did a four part TV series on the BBC, which starts next Saturday on BBC2.
To back up my point, I interviewed everyone from Nile Rodgers and Mark Ronson to Bananarama and super-producer Trevor Horn, the man who made Frankie Goes To Hollywood famous.
The series includes Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, UB40, Iron Maiden, Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet, and dozens of other stars whose success coincided with the ’80s.
Because they also believe it was the greatest decade of all.
The ’80s are one of the most inventive periods in pop culture, a kaleidoscopic display of musical experimentation in which genres were born and evolved with breakneck speed.
Although music continues to fascinate to this day, it will never be as varied as it was back then.
What other decade could Kate Bush deliver, Madness, REM, Cocteau Twins, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Sugarhill Gang, The Smiths, Public Enemy, S’Express and Sade etc?
What other decade could produce artists like Grace Jones, Prefab Sprout, Tears For Fears, Whitney Houston, Prince, Eurythmics, Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode? Japanese girls dressed up as Boy George.
If you think back decades ago, you might remember hearing that the ’70s were once referred to as the taste-forgotten decade.
Anytime anyone has tried to say that the ’70s were a time of great music – glam rock, disco, punk, soul, etc.
According to the cultural umpires of cool, the ’70s were out of date and there was nothing anyone could say that could change their mind.
Then, around the turn of the century, lightning fast, the ’70s seemed to have been redeemed and suddenly the’ 80s became the decade taste forgot.
Bonkers, isn’t it?
THE PRESENCE OF GREATNESS
One minute the Osmonds are the antichrist and then, without even permission, they were replaced by Stock Aitken Waterman.
Well, I can’t believe it, which is why I spent the summer making a TV series that will hopefully help us fall in love with the ’80s again.
I certainly remember it well.
I was there at the Blitz club when Boy George was working in the locker room. I was there at the launch of Wham !, Fantastic’s debut album, which they were so happy about that they spent the whole evening dancing to it.
I was there at Live Aid when Wembley Stadium became the site of the biggest charity campaign in history and Queen delivered the greatest stadium performance of all time.
And I was there in the recording studio when Jerry Dammers and The Special AKA put the finishing touches on Free Nelson Mandela – one of the most important records not only of the ’80s, but of all time.
Even then, I knew I was in the presence of greatness.
The ’80s were pop’s most diverse decade and played host to a wide variety of pop styles.
You first had electropop and New Romantics, then rap and hip-hop, before the decade ended with acid house and Madchester.
The decade also hosted the biggest stars the pop world has ever seen: George Michael, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Simon Le Bon, Boy George, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Prince.
Basically there are three reasons why this happened.
Until the 1980s, pop was completely linear, with one style of music dutifully succeeding each other – just as mods followed rockers, which were followed by hippies, then soul boys and glam rockers, and finally punk. .
But after the post-punk explosion, all bets were off as artists tried to outdo themselves by becoming more extreme, more unusual, more angry and more. . . all.
Second, technology made it easier to buy cheap computers, drum machines, and synthesizers, which meant people like New Order could walk into a recording studio resembling a bunch of miserable northern rockers and emerge. like a dynamic electronic hybrid.
Mark Ronson says: âThe sound of the ’80s was so vibrant because that was when technology was really at its peak.
Third, cable channel MTV, launched in the early 1980s, gave pop a global platform where bands could sell their music and look around the world.
MTV gave the world Duran Duran on their yacht in Rio, it gave us Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorba-chev hitting him in Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Two Tribes video, and it gave us David Bowie riding in waves with New Zealand model Geeling Ng in her ridiculously popular video China Girl. He even gave us those old ’70s boogie merchants ZZ Top, which had been reinvented for the video age.
MTV made everyone famous, even people who thought they were already famous.
I remember being backstage at Milton Keynes Bowl in 1983 just before David Bowie took the stage.
Here is a man who had spent the 70s revered as an artist who kept reinventing his profession. But in 1983, after the success of Let’s Dance, a record that had never ceased to be promoted by MTV, he was a real world superstar, a man as famous as Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson or Boy George.
And he wasn’t sure how to deal with it all.
That afternoon, as he turned to go up the catwalk that would take him to the stage, he turned to me and my friend Cynthia and said, âIt’s nice to be around. friends when you’re about to do something like this. Who would have thought the 80s would be so great ?! ”
In 1983, British pop was everywhere.
TALENT, SUCCESS AND STYLE
That year, I was in Tokyo and was taken to a nightclub on the 23rd floor of a skyscraper in the Shinjuku district.
The elevator opened directly onto the dance floor, a dance floor full of Japanese teenage girls all dressed like Boy George.
It wasn’t just the weirdest thing I had ever seen, it was a testament to how British pop was sweeping the world.
By the end of the decade, however, all of that was forgotten as the world went on.
Grunge got cool, then britpop, then the all-encompassing world of EDM (electronic dance music), leaving the 80s far behind.
They are now back, however, with some sort of vengeance.
Dua Lipa’s records sound like they could have been made in the ’80s, just like Laura Mvula’s.
One need only briefly listen to Ed Sheeran’s brilliant Bad Habits to recognize the debt he paid to Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy, a hit for the openly gay group in 1984.
Today people recognize that the 1980s was a decade of talent, success and style.
It is not at all the decade that the taste has forgotten. That’s why I wanted to make it into a TV show.
Guitar and production genius Nile Rodgers says in my program: âThe 80s were the pinnacle for many of us musicians from the 60s and 70s.
âWhen you reached this place you had this great artistic explosion in the 80s that ran through the range. “
Keren Woodward, from Bananarama, said: âYou heard something and you were like, ‘Oh, this is Bananarama, this is Culture Club, this is Duran Duran’ – and everyone was watching as they liked too. “
I interviewed dozens of stars for the TV series, but one of the most notable was Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson.
When I asked him why he thought his band became so popular in the 80s, he smiled and replied:.
âWe were proud of our music but tried to keep our feet on the ground. “
So many pop stars in the ’80s did the same – although the good ones, the ones you remember, were the ones who also took their jobs incredibly seriously.
- The 1980s – Music’s Greatest Decade? With Dylan Jones starts on BBC2 at 8:55 p.m. on Saturday, October 23.