The Worst Decade For Pop Music: The ’80s

by robin hilton

To know me is to know how much I loathe pop music from the 1980s. To be sure, there was plenty of incredible music written then. But most of what wound up on the radio was just unbearable. I got together with All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen, NPR Music producer Stephen Thompson, and former Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein to see what they thought:

11 Comments»

  Aishah Bowron wrote @

The Worst Decade Of All Time
By : Aishah Bowron

The worst musical era of all times were the Eighties. I disliked that decade. The only good bands and artists that I liked from the Eighties are Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Europe, Guns N’Roses, Michael Jackson and Prince and that’s about it.

All the best rock bands came out of the Seventies. The Seventies produced proper pop and rock bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Trapeze, Free, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, Motorhead, etc (but not Evil Glitter). The Seventies were about the music, not about marketing and that was a good thing. Bands from the Sixties and Seventies cared about and were enthusiastic about the music. The Eighties were about synthesizers and poppy little sounds. Synthesizers were boring instruments because you couldn’t jump around with it like you would do with a guitar. Even worse there were all these horrible bands like the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Depeche Mode, OMD, Kajagoogoo, Thompson Twins, Howard Jones and many similar acts in the Eighties. Then you got the Stock Aitken and Waterman nonsense, which drove me bleeding mad. They were responsible for producing cheeseball hits like Never Gonna Give You Up and I Should Be So Lucky..

The musical scene in the Eighties was a joke. You had record companies and managers who were more important than the artists. These managers acted like dictators telling you what to do like polishing your music and looking a bit. You had to live by the strict Draconian rules forever doing TV shows , playback performances and photo sessions. It was too nice and too tame. You had no control over your music because you had to play the way the manager wanted you to sound. The Eighties were backlashed against the guitar because the producer toned it down to make room for the synths. That is amongst the reason why I think the Eighties were awful.

The Eighties seem to forget that the foundation of the music business is music. The Eighties were so corporate, uncaring, insensitive and thoughtless about the origins of music. You had graduates from business colleges who happened to favour commerce than art and I don’t think it was a very good thing. The Eighties is a decade not worth remembering .

  Aishah Bowron wrote @

The Worst Decade Of All Time
By : Aishah Bowron

The worst musical era of all times were the Eighties. I disliked that decade.

All the best rock bands came out of the Seventies. The Seventies produced proper pop and rock bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Trapeze, Free, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, Motorhead, Fleetwood Mac (with Peter Green), Genesis (with Peter Gabriel), Funkadelic, Sly and The Family Stone, Slade, Pink Floyd etc (but not Evil Glitter). The Seventies were about the music, not about marketing and that was a good thing. Bands from the Sixties and Seventies cared about and were enthusiastic about the music. The Eighties were about synthesizers and poppy little sounds. Synthesizers were boring instruments because you couldn’t jump around with it like you would do with a guitar.

The musical scene in the Eighties was a joke. You had record companies and managers who were more important than the artists. These managers acted like dictators telling you what to do like polishing your music and looking a bit. You had to live by the strict Draconian rules forever doing TV shows , playback performances and photo sessions. It was too nice and too tame. You had no control over your music because you had to play the way the manager wanted you to sound. The Eighties were backlashed against the guitar because the producer toned it down to make room for the synths. That is amongst the reason why I think the Eighties were awful.

The Eighties seem to forget that the foundation of the music business is music. The Eighties were so corporate, uncaring, insensitive and thoughtless about the origins of music. You had graduates from business colleges who happened to favour commerce than art and I don’t think it was a very good thing.
The Eighties was a decade not worth remembering.

There were bad bands and singers in the Eighties like the bubblegum pop of Kylie, Jason Donovan, Debbie Gibson, New Kids On The Block, New Edition, Bucks Fizz, Bananarama, Culture Club and Wham that was aimed at teenyboppers. He (Boy George) doesn’t make records anymore and neither does Georgie Porgie Michael. They are both spent forces. Also, there were all those horrible pop groups that grew their hair and called themselves heavy metal bands. I see Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, Poison, Ratt, Stryper, Warrant and Cinderella as nothing more than just prefabricated pop bands that is marketed as ‘dangerous’ so that teenagers would buy their records. They are all wimps that have absolutely no substance in their music. There is nothing violent about songs like “Round and Round” by Ratt or “Nothing But A Good Time” by Poison. They all sound like pop songs to me. If you are a pop group, don’t call yourselves heavy metal.

But there were also some very good bands and singers. On the pop side, I admire The Smiths, Pet Shop Boys, Roxette, Simple Minds, Dire Straits, Clannad, R.E.M and Tracy Chapman in the late Eighties. On the heavy metal and hard rock side, I admire Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Europe, Guns N’ Roses, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, Judas Priest and Saxon very much. On the soul/funk side, I admire Stevie Wonder, Prince, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, and Lionel Richie, All of these artists are talented musicians and songwriters. I love bands who write and produce their own material and play their instruments very well.

  Xadrian wrote @

That’s a smart answer to a dfifiluct question.

  Musicmaster wrote @

The only people who you list were the biggest corporate sell outs of all. They were the ones with moguls taking them to dinners.

Except the bands you mentioned, the early 70s was made up of super dull hippie music (i.e. America, Crosby Stills and Nash, Guess Who, Seals and Crofts) and mod leftovers from the 60s. Everything else was pretty much AM stuff (this is before FM) like sappy ballads like Carpenters, and corny jingles from Carole King. Then there was

What THE HELL WAS DISCO? That is what dominated the mid to late 1970s. Next you’re going to tell us how un-corporate Saturday Night Fever was because someone back there was playing a real piano instead of a synth.

Reality check: it doesn’t matter if it’s all synth or all piano, POP is pop. You mention New Kids on the Block. You mention all these pop teeny bopper bands. Well thanks the 60s for that. In the 70s we had tuneless crap like Bay City Rollers and Leif Garrett, but you forgot those and others because you simply don’t know better.

And no one in the 70s was “dangerous”. They were all writing pop songs – whether they were Bad Company (or Free, even Rod Stewart re-made “All Right Now” because it’s POP!) or Led Zeppelin (Dyer Maker??). You are just too young to understand. Genesis with Peter Gabriel did not have the resonance and power that Phil Collins gave them. Gabriel’s solo stuff in the 80s was very good and well received. Forgot that? And sigh, do your homework. Motorhead’s and ACDC’s best known stuff was from the 1980s. It’s understood fact: Metal reigned in the 80s. Everything before that was protometal.

The 80s had the healthiest mix of styles EVER. Reggae, pop, metal, ska, funk, it all shared the Top 100 charts here and in the UK. They proved that with a synth you can produce memorable music as powerful as any guitar riff. It’s all about the note selection and there was more of it than in the 70s.

The 80s was the last decade of real good music. WHen people weren’t afraid to still use a saxophone. The current decade is the worst in my opinion, as there’s no variety and poor songwriting.

Depeche Mode, Talk Talk, and the synth movement bands all have haunting songs that are more on the dark side than the bright folksy, poppy sounds of any of the pop from the 70s. The late 80s were faltering but the 1980-88 period shined as superior to anything in the 70s.

  caracal1788 wrote @

Thank you, MusicMaster.

Aishah. Since you say “I disliked that decade” (past tense), I will presume that you were alive during the ’80s. Kudos, if you were, but it otherwise reads like a high school debate on the opposing team.

I quite like the reworked second version, where obviously someone gave you a list to expand your somewhat limited first version (although that in itself was quite enlightening – snigger).

But: “Synthesizers were boring instruments because you couldn’t jump around with it like you would do with a guitar.” Erm, no. And that would be bad because…? Oh, I forget, I’m not a 13 year old boy.

And: “He (Boy George) doesn’t make records anymore and neither does Georgie Porgie Michael. They are both spent forces.” Oh, yeah, I can’t think of a single example from the seventies, nineties or even noughties of this kind of “failure”.

All in all, a nice effort, but ensure your arguments are consistent, avoid using opinionated emotive terms and drop the use of “you” (unless, of course, your audience just happens to be a conference of ’80s musicians).

  Frozenfire wrote @

“The 80s had the healthiest mix of styles EVER. Reggae, pop, metal, ska, funk, it all shared the Top 100 charts here and in the UK. They proved that with a synth you can produce memorable music as powerful as any guitar riff. It’s all about the note selection and there was more of it than in the 70s.

The 80s was the last decade of real good music. WHen people weren’t afraid to still use a saxophone. The current decade is the worst in my opinion, as there’s no variety and poor songwriting.”

Amen, Musicmaster… i couldn’t have said it better myself. I remember growing up in the 1980s, and remember what a remarkably diverse musical environment it was. Prince, for example, was influenced by funk, the Rolling Stones, “Sgt. Pepper” era Beatles, the smoothe soul of Sly and the Family Stone, Joni Mitchell, and so many others. And he shared the charts with roots rock (Springsteen, John Mellencamp), quirky alternative music (REM), soaring idealistic rock (U2), catchy quirky pop (Cyndi Lauper), all the sythy New Wave and New Wavish groups (Eurythmics, til tuesday, Soft Cell), soft pop (Lionel Richie), hard rock (Guns N Roses)… and on and on.

And the music was also fun to listen to… a trait which often gets forgotten in evaluating music.

One disagreement I have with musicmaster, is that i find the ’80s to have been the worst musical era. The decade began hopefully, with the explosion of “alternative” music in the wake of grunge… but it soon became apparent that the “alternative” label became an excuse for people with minimal musical talent to create awful “music,” and to pass it off as “minimalism.”

  Frozenfire wrote @

Ackk… I meant ” i find the ’90s to have been the worst musical era. “

  Dougrad wrote @

I also think the 90s was the worst musical era for pop music, even though it was a great decade for rock music. Sure, there was crappy pop in the 80s too, but it seemed like pop stations back then played a wider variety of different musical sub-genres. In the 90s, all you would hear on pop stations was disposable dance-pop, lovey-dovey pop ballads, and mellow pop-rock, with a catchy alternative rock song thrown in every once in awhile. And then, of course, there were those terrible third-wave ska bands, pop-rappers, boybands, pop princesses, and Latin popstars that flooded pop stations in the late 90s. The 80s also had a lot of catchier, timeless pop songs that still sound good today and get played at virtually any dance or club you go to. I can’t really think of any 90s pop songs that you could consider to stand the test of time, or that get played at any dance or club you could go to.

  Philb wrote @

Pardon my French, but f*** the Yamaha DX-7. F*** it straight to hell. I told my keyboardist that if he ever gets one, I’ll put a mercy bullet right through his head.

Great to hear Tears for Fears mentioned as something good to have come from the ’80s. I loved Songs From the Big Chair the first time I heard it (circa ’87) and think it’s held up as one of the few bright spots to appear from that dark, awful, awful period of 1984-87 (I’m lookin’ straight at you, DX-7). Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required is a perfect example of everything wrong with that era.

But there’s a glaring omission to this discussion: what about dance music? It’s the only style from that period I can listen to without cringing at, mainly because those production values never really went away (still the standard today), but, more importantly, they sound great (hello, 808). All that early electro and techno/house borne in the wake of Kraftwerk, Moroder, et. al. still sounds vital to my ears, unlike a lot of rock or jazz from that same period.

  Paul wrote @

I don’t think its fair to lump Depeche Mode in with the rest of that 80s tripe as they did go on to become a huge stadium filling phenomenon along the same lines as U2 and REM in the 90s. The 90s was also the decade that they released their two most influential albums while the likes of Culture Club and Duran Duran had faded into oblivion. As of 2011, Depeche Mode are still a going concern.

  wvmmrh wrote @

every person i know that was raised in the 70’s hates the 80’s..period.how do i know? i’m 57 years old and hate the 70’s.former 70’s hippies,love art garfunkel,eric clapton,cream,hendrix and so on…please,.,give me a break..take that shrine you built to the 70’s out of your head and pop it’s bubble//the 80’s had a much happier,colorful sound regarding music and the trends were great/

as a person that was literally raised in the 70’s being 16(1970) to 29(1983),the 70’s sucked!! the rock music was all message music.it had to have a political or societal message.thusly simon and garfunkel and crosby stills and nash..who cares about euphemisms.some people believe a song isn’t a song unless it’s full of them.i’ve even heard people claim thet they’re the king of euphemisms,as though writing a good song is dependent on them//the 80’s brought danceable rock to the ears.synthesizers added all kinds of interesting sounds/.70’s goobers will tell you that synthesizers are easy to play and not considered as favorable in music..the 70’s had king crimson and emerson lake and palmer(greg lake in fact being a former member of king crimson).i know all about music of the 70’s and 80’s..why? i’ve beena collector since i was 5 years old.i have every single song that the classic 70’s stations play~~as well as the 80’s stations.i was in a few very good bands and only discontinued because of drugs being a necessary,unavoidable part of being in a rock band in the 70’s /if you didn’t smoke dope at least..you weren’t even going to be interviewed,regardless of how well you sang or played guitar.trust me..the 80’s music is more diverse and more colorful and a more entertaining music all the way around when compared to 70’s music the only good bands to come out of the 70’s,remained through the 80’s..yes,rush,blondie,billy joel,elton john,lene lovich(google her for god sake don’t ask questions),gary numan,the cars,etc…70’s people believe that tunes that sound rehearsed or practiced are main stream and sucks..for example..most 70’s people like the jam sound..a band gets up there and plays tunes that for all you knw they might have just then been making up as they play it..that’s whata jam band sounds like..not reharsed..but as if they’re making it up as they go along..it’s also called “progressive”..the description was my own ,typed in laymans terms..not a professional manner cause i want people to understand without any confusion..to 70’s people,bands like bon jovi,def leppard,sound as though they rehearsed their stuff..that’s not a bad thing but 70’s people seem to not like it at all//the practiced or rehearsed sound to me is something i like-and i enjoy it when the band plays a song live, the same way sounded on their record //the 70’s had some great bands that segued in to the 80’s but other than that,the 70’s brought us SNL(a good thing?)./if you noticed,the 80’s lives on as bands are doing tours and many still record new stuff all the time//.i don’t get a long with my old friends that are my age cause they’re all 70’s possessed./when it comes tomovies like pretty in pink and bands like tears for fears or simple minds actors like molly ringwald and judd nelson they wanna barf//let them barf..as joan jett said..i love rock and roll..and the 80’s is it imo

and i luuuv bands that sound as though they rehearsed their stuff,chord for chord,btw(simple minds,A-ha,human league,the sound goes on..(human leagues'”(keep feeling)fascination” and” ” human” are excellent–youtube the videos!!


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