Category: 80's Music

New Town

Never mind the racial implications of black women with feathers on their heads… Political context is not and never has been Bryan Ferry’s thing. He’s definitely presented some insensitive images throughout his career, but…but…but…I guess that’s not the point. I’m not looking to Bryan Ferry … Continue reading New Town

Neighbours

Say what you will about Mick Jagger’s gay football outfit, but I have an abiding affection for the Rolling Stones’ 1981 stadium tour. I used to watch that documentary all the time, and found it a fascinating spectacle. As in, Jagger’s ass in those leggings is a fascinating … Continue reading Neighbours

Midnight to Stevens

You may know that I feel ambivalent about the practice of actually buying physical manifestations of music. Ya know, it’s a ripoff and the record industry is a huge scam and one of their favorite gambits is overpriced box sets and ‘deluxe’ editions stuffed to the gills with garbage that the artists were initially smart enough to be ashamed of. But I’m contradicting myself to say sometimes it’s worth it, and  Clash on Broadway is a box set that so worth it. (Although why, why are they on Broadway? Are they auditioning for Cats?) The set contains most of the singles we all know and love, plus many unreleased songs that are magnificent and should have been singles. The Clash were one of the few bands to meaningfully transcend their initial punk attributes without looking like wussy sellouts, and also managed to bow out of their existence as a band without too much embarrassment, both of which are tricky things to achieve. It takes a wide-spanning collection of 60+ tracks to show their range, of which they had substantially more than most of their contemporaries in peroxide and leather. So, yeah, good investment.

Midnight Rocks

This was kind of a hit single for Al Stewart, and there isn’t a single literary reference or historical allusion in it. It’s almost a little disappointing – it’s such a nice tune and there’s a sweet saxophone solo, but it’s just not educational at all. I like Al Stewart when he’s singing about famous Nazis or the Cold War or Kurt Vonnegut. Without that unapologetic intellectualism, he’s just another Adult Contemporary soft rocker. (How I hate those terms!) Honestly, even if Stewart were content to produce soft rock ballads with no substance, he’d still be one of the best. His nerdiness sets him apart, of course, but his tunes are clearly outstanding, even if, for example, you don’t speak English. This is very of its time, though, very late seventies soft rock. The video throws it into sharp focus. Look the hairs!!! People who liked this probably also liked Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac. Which is fine; I like all of those things. Not everything has to have edge or be a danger to society. There is plenty of music designed to appeal to the part of me that gets wrecked and fucks shit up; Al Stewart appeals to the part of me that wants to learn more about the history of the Third Reich.

Middle of the Road

Fun fact: Middle of the Road was an early 70’s pop group whose biggest hit was called Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. It was, as you might imagine, terrible. This post is not about them, but it is one of those random things the dedicated researcher stumbles upon from time to time, much to their own regret. With that as an aside, we’re here to talk about the middle of the road as a conception of popular music and the subjectivity of perceived musical quality dependent upon contextual understanding. Or, in layman’s English, the phenomenon of not appreciating how good something is based on how much we’ve been exposed to it. In this case, The Pretenders have an awful lot of hit songs on the oldies radio circuit, songs you hear in grocery stores, songs that have become part of our collective aural wallpaper. That kind of ubiquity is the highest form of success, at least in terms of the artist getting a steady paycheck for the rest of all eternity. But I don’t think Chrissie Hynde set out to compose ambient music when she first picked up a guitar, and I think maybe she resents hearing herself in elevators. It makes people forget just how bona fide Hynde’s punk rock credentials are. There’s nothing more punk than marrying Sid Vicious for immigration purposes (she didn’t actually do that, but she tried.) Point is, The Pretenders were a badass rock band, and their having ended up on MOR radio is an unhappy irony. Of course, it’s a different time now, and the concept of certain music being MOR or ‘Adult Contemporary’ or otherwise somehow lacking credibility held a lot more water in the 80’s, before ‘credibility’ itself ceased to exist and irony became its own reward. So, like, idk, whatevs…

Middle East

This is a bit sad-making. Not least because Ofra Haza is no longer with us, of course, but mostly because not much has changed since she first sang so upliftingly about bringing unity to the Middle East. The Israeli-born singer used her music to represent her own background and Middle Eastern traditions across the cultural divide. She worked hard to be a cultural ambassador for the region, and musically at least, she was able to bring Hebrew, Muslim and Christian together. She certainly succeeded in bringing Middle Eastern music to the West. She was one of the first non-Western performers to achieve truly global popularity. Bringing diversity to pop music is a great achievement, and raising consciousness about political issues can be a big part of a popular star’s impact. But even the most inspiring songs fall short of the kind of power needed to make real political change. Ofra Haza was hoping for healing and unity, and did her best to promote those things, but it wasn’t enough, and today we still take it for granted that the Middle East is ten different kinds of screwed up, and go about our way. Ofra Haza wondered what to do about terrorism in 1989. If she were here today, she would be disappointed to still be wondering the same thing.