Music of the 80s

Last night I was listening to Genesis’s 80’s stuff and Phil Collins, which I basically lump into the same category, similar to Steely Dan and Donald Fagen. Just looking over the number of songs that made it to top 40 radio or more rock oriented radio (e.g., 98 Rock), I think you could make a case for band/musician of the 80s. It’s not just the number of songs, but also that the songs are fairly representative of the 80s–i.e., they have an 80’s sound.

I liked a lot of what I heard, particularly with the horns. I like the bass parts as well, although I must mention a caveat–namely, that I listened to this on good headphones. When that happens, a lot of music sounds way, way better. I think this is partly because it allows me to hear all the instruments. So maybe I wouldn’t think as highly of the music on listening to them via another device.

We should do a top 10 list of the best Genesis/Phil Collins songs from the 80s? For me, “No Reply at All” and “I Missed Again” would be on there. I really like those songs.

Other questions:

Who would you chose as the band or musician of the decade?

What are the best songs of the decade, particularly in terms of making a case that the 80s were better than the 70s?

25 thoughts on “Music of the 80s

  1. Your last question is the most easily answered, as we’ve had this conversation before. My position has not changed: it is absolutely Madonna with nobody else even coming close. When we discussed it many years ago, you thought it might be one of the European new wave bands, but while you named Depeche Mode as an example, you couldn’t pick one because you don’t care for the music.

    I don’t care for Madonna (much), but I do have a top five list of Madonna songs, and given the distance of time, I’m only more convinced it’s Madonna.

    This is not to say there’s no discussion to be had. Of course there is. Argument should be made for Michael Jackson, Van Halen, and others. But after the names, criteria, deal-breakers, and collateral considerations are thrown about, the last musician standing is Madonna.

    The Genesis / Phil Collins list is tougher probably because I am a big fan. I own Abacab and Duke in their entirety, plus select tracks from their other albums.

    1. Abacab
    2. Behind the LInes
    3. Turn it on Again
    4. Land of Confusion
    5. Duchess
    1. In the Air Tonight
    2. You Can’t Hurry Love
    3. Don’t Lose My Number
    4. Sussudio
    5. Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)

    I was going to combine the lists to make a general Genesis / Phil top five, but none of the Phil solo songs would go higher than Duchess, so my first list is my Genesis / Phil top five.

  2. I don’t remember your reasons for choosing Madonna–what were some of them? I think she’s legitimate candidate.

    There’s several criteria we could use. I put a lot of weight on the music capturing the sound of the 80s, preferably something original. So, for example, I wouldn’t choose retro groups. I think this is the reason I mentioned Depeche Mode or a group in that vein. I think the Cars are a pretty good choice, but they didn’t seem to be be big enough, which I guess is another category. I’m exactly sure what I mean by this, but Madonna, Michael Jackson, Van Halen, Journey, and Prince would qualify as big enough. I think Phil Collins/Genesis would be big enough, as would Hall and Oates and Billy Joel. Of those groups, who would best capture or represent the 80s? Madonna is a looking like a strong candidate. I’ll have to think about this more.

  3. I’m not familiar with “Behind the Lines” and “Turn It On Again.” I’ll check them out and get back with a list of my own.

    I must say that I really like Collins’s voice. At some point in the late 80s, early 90s, I think I got tired of him. I suspect he became too ubiquitous. I felt similar about Michael Jackson. From the mid-90s for the next ten years or so, I had little desire to listen to both of them.

    But listening to Collins again, I find myself appreciating his voice. He has a good rock voice–one that isn’t really hard, but powerful, with the right among of gruffness. It’s kind of perfect for a rock-pop or rock n’ roll. Huey Lewis is similar, but I think Collins is more rocking, if that makes sense.

  4. Oh when you were listening to the 80s Genesis stuff, were you just spinning the songs you knew? I thought you were exploring. Behind the Lines, Turn it On Again, and Duchess are all from Duke. My favorite Genesis album. It puts me in a minority for sure, I think. I also think the songs on that album sound best in context and in order, but that might just be me. It is something of a concept album, ‘though “Turn it on Again” gets a lot of rock radio airplay. This is also the album with “Misunderstanding,” another rock radio staple.

  5. I was doing a little of both. For example, I eventually listened to most of Abacab and Duke (I didn’t recognize the titles.) I liked some individual songs, so I thought maybe I’d like others. For the most part, this wasn’t the case, unfortunately. I think “Misunderstanding” might be the only song I like on that Duke.

    1. You should try listening to it from beginning to end while taking a long walk at two in the morning in a quiet neighborhood. It’s an experience. 🙂

    2. I can’t tell tell if you’re mostly being facetious or serious. In my most recent listen, I was mostly focusing on the music. How are the lyrics?

      1. Totally serious, but not really expecting that you’ll do it. So maybe facetious? I mean I’m being sincere but with no expectation you’ll experience it the way I like to experience it.

        The parts of the album that were mean to be a suite (the band decided against it, splitting it up through the album) are about a lonely man. The lyrics for those parts are great. The rest of the lyrics are good but I don’t remember them well.

  6. RE: good headphones

    A looooong time ago I mentioned that I was hanging out in Rainbows (the record store, not the plate lunch joint) and they had Around the World in Day playing loudly on the store stereo and an album I always thought was just okay was kind of great. The first thing you asked was if it was the “good stereo” effect. There’s definitely merit to the question (and theory, if it’s a theory), because listening to it again later I thought it was better than okay but not as great as that day in the store.

    On one of the metal blogs I read, the reviewer always indicates the format of the recording he or she reviewed, and if it’s an MP3, the reviewer includes the bitrate of the file. It’s an admirable practice, because I can think of two examples in (what passes in my old age for) recent years where I bought a CD whose production made the album unlistenable. A lot of how you appreciate an album depends on how it sounds coming into your ears, so if I have an issue with an album’s sound, I’ll try to hear it in different formats and on different devices, including in my car.

    If it sounds good wherever I’m hearing it, I don’t bother. It gets the benefit of the doubt that it’s good if what’s in my ears is good.

    What do you have for headphones?

    1. Grados-SR225

      The difference between listening to music on these head phones and any other listening device I have is enormous. And by the way, my sense is that problem could lie with the other devices rather than the albums. That is, perhaps many of the albums are really good, but most of the sound systems don’t really allow you to hear them properly. It’s almost as if you had a device that could take a bland hamburger and transform quality of the patty, condiments, and bread up several notches. On a related note, I was listening to Thriller on these headphones really late at night once, when the entire house was really quiet. I could actually hear the producer(?) talking in the beginning of some of the songs.

      1. Yes, most of the time it’s the listening hardware, I’m certain. But when an MP3 or CD is bad, the best listening hardware can’t do a thing for it, I’m pretty sure. I can only count a couple of times when the CD itself was so bad I couldn’t listen to it.

      2. Yes, most of the time it’s the listening hardware, I’m certain.

        This kind of sucks. The other listening devices I have are not bad–or at least I didn’t think so. So to really hear an album properly, we need really expensive equipment. Ugh.

  7. What do you think about the Police or Sting, in retrospect? How does their music hold up? I don’t find myself listening to their music. I liked Sting, but my interest in his music has cooled just a bit–or maybe I have been in the mood (although, that’s been true for a long time). I think I might listen to one of their albums this morning.

    …Nothing Like the Sun has actually been an album I really liked. I also liked version where Sting sings in Spanish and Portuguese. I might re-listen to this album this morning.

    1. Reverent is how I feel. I came up with that word specifically about the Police in September. On FB I’m going a little exercise called Social Distancing Top 5. Started it right around March 19 when we were all sent home from work.

      Every few days (although in the fall as the election drew nearer I mostly stayed away from FB so I put it in hibernation) I name a female solo artist, male solo artist, or duo or band (in kind of scheduled rotation), list my top five songs by the artist in order, then name a least favorite song. It’s not always an artist I’m particularly fond of (I’ve done Diana Ross and Whitney Houston, both of whose music I don’t really ever have to hear again). Personally, it’s an exercise in critical thinking. Socially, it’s getting people to share about something we care about, besides current events.

      Sometimes I name an artist and the responses aren’t just lists, but vibes. When I named the Police and listed my songs, the vibe I got was one of reverence. I and many of my friends revere the Police, and their music gets better as I get older.

      Sting solo is still good, but he’s like five percent as punk as when he was one third of the Police.

    2. Huh. I never realized you felt that way about The Police–not reverence, anyway. What would album would you recommend I listen to?

      I agree about the Sting’s solo stuff being devoid of the punk vibe, relative to the Police. Maybe it’s the mood I’m in now, but I view that mostly as a negative.

      1. In the days before you could listen to a whole album without buying it, I only knew the greatest hits songs plus all of Synchronicity. Now I’ve heard all their albums all the way through.

        It is a negative! Sting was punk as heck once upon a time. Old Sting is lovely but not the same, obviously. I commented on this when I saw him in concert. I can’t remember what I said, but the person next to me said, “He’s forty. I don’t think he can do that anymore.”

        Yeah, thirty years ago Sting was too old to do whatever it was I was asking him to do. Haha. I’m so old.

    3. I couldn’t wait for your recommendation, so I just picked Reggata de Banc. I’m about 3-4 songs in. I like the “punkiest” one the best, I think. (I must be in the mood for rock.)

      By the way, I know we’ve talked about this before, but the thought that “punk” and “grunge” are kinda empty labels has come up again. That’s probably going too far, but the musicians in both essentially seem like they’re returning to rock, in a more raw form, getting back to the primal source of the music–specifically the original rock n’ roll–versus groups like Hendrix, Zeppelin, Black Sabbath. I guess the labels are apt because the music is different from original rock and roll–more like a return to the ethos and spirit behind the style without being retro.

      Anyway, there’s something about the aesthetic that I like. I was never into punk, but when I listen to some of it, I found myself liking it. (Another part of me said: “This is just rock n’ roll,” though.)

      Give me some good punk albums to check out.

  8. Bands of the decade:

    Potential contenders, off the top of my head:

    Prince and the Revolution
    The Police
    The Pretenders
    Hall and Oates
    The Culture Club
    The Cars
    Tears for Fears

  9. I like this song, which has an 80’s sound, but more like ’86-’88. (The song came out in 1984.) The music kinda reminds me of Swing Out Sister or Bananarama. I like the SOS sound, by the way.

  10. Escape (1981) Journey

    Because I finished up a class on the Rolling Stone magazine’s 2020 all-time greatest albums, I’m interested in examining candidates that possibly should have made the list, but didn’t–especially from the 80s. Journey’s Escape is an album that came to mind. I should note that while I’m familiar with the popular tunes, this is the first time I’m listening to the entire album (at least from what I can remember).


    • Side 1 is really strong. On that side alone, the album deserves to be in the top 500. I think it would at least be in my 3rd tier.
    • Side 2 is more rocking–Schon’s guitar seems to dominate (although “Keep on Runnin,” on side 1, is pretty rocking.) I think of in a post-VH vein. Maybe the precursor or the original version of the pop-metal type of bands in the 80s. (As an aside, that harder forms of rock alienated the older participants in my class. These participants grew up on Beatles and Stones. I don’t think they could get into Led Zeppelin, Sabbath, VH, AC/DC. My sense is that those groups were two loud, aggressive and maybe too dark, for their tastes.
    • Listening to Steve Perry, I think of Freddie Mercury. Both could sing–pop songs and harder rock ones.
    • I have mixed feelings about the rocking parts of this. I like the aggressive guitars, but this 80’s version is not always my cup of tea for some reason.

    Verdict: Maybe this isn’t an all-time great album, but it’s a good one, at least. I think it should make the list of great 80s albums at least, and could make the 3rd tier of all-time great albums.

    1. I welcome the chance to revisit this album, as it’s been several years since my last listen-through. Some friends and I have said the lesser-known songs on this album are the best, but I think this is only half true. “Escape” used to be my favorite track, but many years ago I realized “Stone in Love” is my favorite Journey song.

      I wouldn’t go so far as to call any of this hard rock; it’s more like straight-ahead, radio-friendly, basic rock and roll, like Styx, Foreigner, REO, Loverboy, and mid-80s Van Halen.

      “Lay it Down” is probably the rockingest song on the album, but “Stone in Love” is second.

      How would participants in your group have responded to Journey?

      Tracks, favorite to least favorite:

      1. Stone in Love
      2. Who’s Crying Now
      3. Still They Ride
      4. Escape
      5. Lay it Down
      6. Don’t Stop Believin’
      7. Keep on Runnin’
      8. Open Arms
      9. Dead or Alive
      10. Mother, Father

      The only track I really don’t care for is “Mother, Father.” The verses are terrible but the chorus is pretty good. Journey was my sister’s favorite band in high school, and this was one of the few musical things we agreed on: Mother, Father was the worst song on Escape.

      The soloing in Stone in Love is so great and the melody is fantastic. Solos are also the reason I have Who’s Crying Now at second. The version of this album on Spotify includes a live version of Who’s Crying Now, “Live from the Summit in Houston Texas,” and Neil Schon’s solo is blistering. His solos on this album are so lyrical — you want to sing along with them the way you do a good Brian May or Joe Satriani solo.

    2. I wouldn’t go so far as to call any of this hard rock; it’s more like straight-ahead, radio-friendly, basic rock and roll, like Styx, Foreigner, REO, Loverboy, and mid-80s Van Halen.

      I suspect our differences stem from my recent listening experiences–specifically of the RS top 50 all-time albums. That experience probably tilted my definition of rock to 50s-60s rock. Relative to the 80s, much, if not all of the music, would be hard rock; but I think you could make the case that it’s hard rock relative to something like the Rolling Stones.

      How would participants in your group have responded to Journey?

      That’s a great question, and I’m really curious to know how they’d react. My sense is that the harder stuff would turn them off–but it’s hard to say. I think Journey skirts the line of being too aggressive (for them)–in terms of the vocals and guitars. They all like rock, though, so I think they have a chance to like this.

      I’m also curious to see how they like the Sports album. I would expect them to like it. I’m also curious to see how they react to Cheap Trick or The Cars.

      I think I agree with you about “Mother, Father,” although I remember kinda liking it in high school.

      Finally, Schon did seem to have some nice solos. I think Steve Smith had one segment that caught my ear, too, but I can’t remember where now.

  11. Sports (1983) Huey Lewis and the News

    Mitchell suggested this as a great 80s band and/or a band that might be a contender for the one of the best albums–or something to that effect. I remember liking this album, and I was curious to see if it held up.

    The verdict? I think this is a good album, and it held up well–especially if you like rock n’ roll. I like Huey Lewis’s voice, and I sort of think he’s a bit underrated. When I think of 80’s music, I think there’s a segment that was either recreating or updating 50’s rock n’ roll. In my mind, Huey Lewis and the News would be an example of this, and listening to this album reaffirms this feeling. (The less well known songs on this are more rooted in the older form of rock. There’s more rock guitar solos than I remember, as well.)

    It’s an enjoyable rock album, and deserves consideration for that top 500 list. I’d definitely consider it in the a list of the one of the best albums of the 80s.

  12. I’m surprised that I still enjoy these 80’s songs–that they have stood the test of time:

    “Jeopardy” (1983) the Greg Kihn Band.
    I really like the clavinet (?) bassline in this.

    “I Just Can’t Let Go” (1985) David Pack
    I don’t remember listening to this song in high school, but it also sounds so familiar that I wonder if I did, but just can’t remember. David Pack is one of my favorites. Same with Michael McDonald.

    “One Thing Leads to Another” (1982) The Fixx
    I really like the guitar riff on this. The song is catchy and fun, overall.

    “Lessons in Love” (1987) Level 42
    I like the bassline, and the song overall

    “Can We Talk” (1993) Tevin Campbell
    Not an 80’s song, but I just wanted to mention it because I’m surprised I like this. I might even like it more from when it first came out.

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