Okay, so I’m being a bit long-winded here, but probably the biggest thing about music today is that it seems to have inhereted the worst aspects of the eighties without welcoming any of the good things I remember about that time. Kinda sad that every time I listen to the radio for music I find myself wishing for the days when the idea of “sucking” was that the radio could have used more of my music, not that it didn’t like music.
Anyway, here’s my list: Top Ten Things That Sucked About Music In The 1980’s (and that suck more today)
- Is It Live, or Is It Memorex?
In 1976, ELO got in trouble because they used some tape here and there in their concerts (or they lip-synced the whole thing — depends on who you talk to). In 1985, much of the Duran Duran show used taped sequences, and a few years later Milli Vanilli would use frontmen as lip-syncing props, much to everyone’s seeming shock and dismay.Nowadays there are acts whom it’s known lip-syncs through their concert (indeed, their acts dictate that they must); indeed the present crime seems to be bad lip-synking or not knowing what to do when the background isn’t what you want it to be.
- The Development of the Megahit LP/CD
In the 1970’s you had billion-selling albums because the album was both artistically original and touched the soul of millions. “Tapestry” told of losing and gaining love, “Rumors” was about holding onto the good of a bad relationship. Accidental megahits, both; and proof that mass appeal didn’t have to mean a pile of shit was sold to the masses.Then came “Thriller,” and the game was changed. While it had something for everyone, there was nothing in it that reached into the heart.
Michael Jackson never recovered. Neither has the music industry. And artists suffer: where once you had abiding loyalties you now have one-album wonders who put out five albums to diminishing returns and fan bases.
- The Rise of Pseudo-Country music.
Country becomes lame enough for mass-consumption. America gloms on lame country stereotypes, revels in a past they spent running away from the past two centuries.
Now admittedly this wasn’t what they called themselves. I don’t blame them for this, as I wouldn’t want to be known as a group that spent more time in front of a mirror than practicing for the next gig, either.In many ways, this was the final, fatal outcome of trends within music during the eighties. Bands that once had to spend years practicing their chops found themselves bestowed with multi-million dollar contracts for the sole reason of being in the right place at the right time with the right look. Looks became more important than sound. And once you had your big hit, good luck hitting the charts after that.
- “Positive Mental Attitude” Music.
Do I honestly need to hear eighteen thousand songs telling me to chase my dreams and believe in myself? Especially when nobody else wants to believe in me or find out about my dreams, and the system is setting itself up to oppose such actions? And why does the edification get measured purely in terms of money and things? Since when did the word “We” become criminal?
- The Isolation of Tastes via Formats
Used to be you listened to a pop station, you got to hear a little of everything: some country, some rock, some pop, some R&B, even the occasional novelty song. Now each of these formats has their own station, and only in lame format ideas that view variety as an aspect of the past to be invoked when playing “older songs” only (like the JACK(off) format) are they allowed to mix with any sort of freedom.
- The CD Format.
With LPs, you had two sides with up to 20 minutes (25 if you wanted to really squeeze things in), which gave a limit to work with, so you had to choose and edit what you chose. Double LPs were signs of bravado and confidence in your spurt of creativity, they’re usually revered because such confidence was usually justified — to put out a release with two slabs of vinyl instead of one, you’d better be sure your stuff was good enough to be worth both slabs.Then came the CD with its single 74 (now 80) minute platter. Now you could throw everything onto that disk, including the nineteen minute epic (that would rock out at a six minutes, or better yet be a hit at four), and justify it as “giving your customers their full money’s worth.”
Too many did just that. From Robert Palmer to Tori Amos and many more, uncooler artists to boot.
A now-dead friend of mine had his own comment to this: “Triple Albums should have been Double Albums, Double Albums should have been Single Albums, and Single Albums should have been EPs (twenty minutes, faster play time, lower cost).” Add to this the idea that Doubled CD Releases (Springsteen, Guns ‘n’ Roses) should have been shrunk down to a single 60 minute disk.
Didn’t matter if it was put out on cassette or CD, the reissues were almost always crappy, half-baked affairs complete with blank insides and cookie-cutter formats. The only thought put into them was to see how small they could make the front cover of the LP look on a cassette cover.
- MTV bought by Warner Brothers.
When it was first out, it brought interesting music by bands willing to try out a mix of visuals and music, the pox of Rod Stewart’s sellout period to the contrary. However, once Warner Brothers got into the Video Showing business, art became covered up by commerce. Thousand-dollar video budgets were replaced by million dollar video budgets, and outsider groups were replaced by the old guard. Worse yet, the video became the center of the song, not tunes, the singer or the song.
- The New Fame Cycle.
Used to be bands would slog years and create a sound that both was true to themselves and connected with the audience. Bob Seger comes to mind in this instance — an artist who spent ten, twelve years making music, then figuring out a way of staying true to himself while appealing to an audience large enough to fill stadiums. And it wasn’t just Seger himself, many artists of the seventies worked their wares to the point where it was both good and popular, and the fans were rewarded.Then, in the eighties we started learning of a new fame curve: Sign, write immature songs, make hits, move on to more mature stuff, watch your audience leave you for newer bands.
Now, you’re given two CDs to make your case. And if that first one doesn’t sell millions of platters, don’t expect any support for the second CD.
You don’t get that in Country. Country may suck, but the format still makes you prove yourself before working you through their machine. And guess what: Country thrives. Coincidence? I think not.
Next posting (if I don’t get one of the items I presently have in the editing queue polished enough to post): What was good in the eighties (and still survives in some form).