If you'd asked me last week what 1980s (pop) music I liked I would have laughed and said (not very seriously) 'none of it!' But this week, for some reason, I decided to give it a little thought... a person can't really hate a whole decade of music after all, can they? To help me decide what to post I tried to remember what I really listened to in the '80s (not necessarily what I liked most of all but just what was around me). All the details are below (and though it seems long I've probably missed out loads of stuff). Let's start at the beginning... 1980-83 (at weird Quaker boarding school in the north of England)
In 1980 I was 13 and just moving on from a love of disco/funk/glam/pop in the 1970s. At the beginning of this new decade I found myself mostly listening to a lot of heavy rock (old and new) – partly this was because it worked really well with drunkenness and a bad attitude (and I was good at both of these at this stage), partly it was because I lived in the North East of England and rock was massive there and partly it was because all you had to wear for rock world was jeans, a t-shirt and a denim jacket (so easy and I've never been one to bother much with complicated fashion looks). Of course this wasn't all I listened to - I also remember hearing everything from 'Fame', one-off pop songs like Musical Youth's “Pass the Dutchie' and Olivia Newton John's 'Physical' and lots of stuff by bands like Ultravox, Adam and the Ants, Yazoo, Culture Club, Soft Cell, Human League, Boomtown Rats, Heaven 17, Toyah, Spandau Ballet, Wham, Dexy's Midnight Runners and all those other '80s pop bands (I played 'Dare' to death, for example - hence the picture above). I remember loving The Police for a while too... and having a David Bowie phase (quite brief – though I liked songs from all his different eras). I remember also that there was one kid at school who listened to nothing but the Sex Pistols (I was never a punk though... just wrong place, wrong time as much as anything I suppose because when you think about it it also involved a lot of drunkenness and bad attitude so it could easily have been my thing). There was also a group of older kids (all heading for art school...or something) who wore long coats and liked other moodier bands with interesting album covers (bands like Psychedelic Furs, Bauhaus, Joy Division/New Order...). I didn't mind some of the long-coat music but art was my weakest subject (by miles!) and I didn't fancy the coats/hairdos/black clothes much either so I was never deep into that gang. I also had friends (and one girl I shared a room with) who lived abroad in countries where American soft rock music was cheap to buy on cassette (REO Speedwagon and all that) so I did listen to a fair amount of that too. It was OK... to a point. Music on TV changed in 1982 when 'The Tube' became a longer, ruder 'Top of the Pops' on Channel 4. I watched it but I think it was the rudeness I liked more than the music a lot of the time (though I do remember liking the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees). I guess they played some electro... someone must have somewhere along the line... and I think I first heard U2 on there as well (I kind of missed U2 really... it's not something that keeps me awake at night, I have to say). 1983-85 (at weird French school in London)
Somehow I ended up with another group of friends who liked heavy rock music (classic rock from the '70s mainly) so the headbanging life continued (once again usually with alcoholic accompaniment). I also listened to heaps of other stuff though and, for example, regularly went to a club with an older (more sophisticated..) friend up on the Strand that was run by Capital Radio and there we danced to lots of '80s music – Shalamar, Michael Jackson, Talking Heads, Paul Young, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Madonna, Hall and Oates, the Pointer Sisters (oh, the 'Beverley Hills Cop' soundtrack!), possibly even Lionel Richie (well, it's too late to lie now...). Also at home I listened to Capital Radio (it seemed really hip to me – compared to Middlesbrough radio stations of the time anyway) and I remember having a phase of listening to the Smiths (one friend was a big fan...I only ever had a 'best of') and the Jam (a bit after the event). My brother played a lot of Prince..and Billy Joel...and Bruce Springsteen (he worked at Camp America a lot - my brother, that is... not Springsteen). 1985-86 (In Madrid...pretending to teach English, hanging about a lot in bars...)
Mainly I listened to Spanish and Latin American music (Silvio Rodríguez, Joaquín Sabina, a Basque punk band called La Polla Records) but I also had some Beatles cassettes with me (a taste of home?) and I remember the cousin of one of my Spanish friends there listening to wall-to-wall Dire Straits ('the money for nothing...')!
1986-89 (Cambridge...never known for its happening music scene... we were living in a museum after all...)
It was weird coming back to the English-speaking world and to its music after a year away. One of my best friends at uni was much trendier than me though (not hard... really not hard) and she got me right back into British pop music by sitting me in her room and playing me a million cassettes of 'cool' music (of course she was cool – she came from near Manchester...). Some of that music I still like (Billy Bragg, more Prince, Elvis Costello, Kirsty McColl, Communards and by association some old Bronski Beat, more Talking Heads, the Pogues), some of it I've hardly listened to since (Cocteau Twins, Half Man Half Biscuit, Fine Young Cannibals...) and some of it I can't remember at all (again more drink was often involved – I remember she had a cassette with 'The Woodentops' written on it but I can't remember anything about how it sounded). Around the same time another friend played me my first Tom Waits ('The Heart of Saturday Night' though that's from 1974 - it's still one of my favourite albums...again with the '70s...) and I remember another group of students (mainly from Bradford) who wore long coats and who especially liked the Smiths and, again, the Cure (what is it about those coats..?). At college discos (which were pretty dire...) I remember Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer' being a big favourite as well as lots of James Brown. In the second year I seem to recall Whitney Houston and George Michael making an appearance and at the same time I'm aware that the Stock, Aitken and Waterman factory was producing Kylie and Rick Astley and all that and playing them on TV's new music horror 'The Hitman and Her' (I did watch it but, like everyone else, only when drunk and mainly to take the piss out of it). Then in my last year I did even less studying than ever (was very unhappy) and listened to nothing but a local station (Chiltern FM) that played a lot of soul music (old and new) mainly because it felt comforting, I think. My reaction to Cambridge and its atmosphere of academic elitism, it seems, was to blast out Luther Vandross, Alexander O'Neal, Regina Belle and lots and lots of Diana Ross (an odd rebellion, perhaps, but it worked for me). Then at some point in my final year (before exams...) I was introduced to house music and ecstasy. But that's a whole other story...
So, with all this listening in mind... what have I chosen for my '80s pop song this time around? The band I've picked surprised even me because I was never really a proper fan, I don't particularly like the singer and all his nonsense and I never saw them live or anything (there's a live version of one of their big songs here). I guess some people would say they were more alternative than pop – certainly the singles charted in the UK but not very near number one and hardly at all in the big market in the USA (discography here). Still, to me, from this distance it seems like pop (just pop that might last rather than, like the SAW factory, pop we'd rather forget...) so I'm running with it. The song I've chosen to post is a later number (from 1986 – details here) and when you read about it you realise it's really an anti-pop pop song which is kind of interesting too (maybe all the best ones are that way inclined). I've gone for it really just because I like it (the lyrics most of all...the inclusion of words like 'Humberside'...) and I suppose that's one of the things with pop, isn't it - you can just like a song - you don't have to worship the band or anything. We are not those tribes they bang about on sometimes in the press after all - we are individuals... there are just a lot of us.
(added later) Apparently they played this song on the radio this week after the demo in London about student tuition fees (news here)! Maybe I'm psychic...
Originally from the north of England, I live in Angus, Scotland where I walk a lot, think a lot, listen to lots of music, sometimes write poems, sometimes read poems out to other people, sometimes write songs, read all kinds of odd things, watch a bit...oh and I look after my family too.
I sometimes organise poetry and music events - details are usually here (though nothing coming up in the near future). This year I went travelling with my family - photos and notes are here. Now we're back I have moved to a new regular blog - it is here.
More about the song
You can buy my book (published 2008) from my website if you fancy it (go to 'book' page) or from www.amazon.co.uk if you prefer the comfort of the multinational corporation. My book is printed on recycled paper and card. I have 12 different poetry postcards available too.