THE 80s - Loved and hated - a polarizing decade

20. December 2019

80er Jahre

DIE 80er - Geliebt und gehasst - ein polarisierendes Jahrzehnt

Probably no other decade polarizes musically as much as the 1980s. It was the decade in which pop music, having already become big business in the 70s, found its commercial flowering, performed in full awareness of its potential to captivate the masses. A decade of strange clothes, synthetic sounds, but also of ironic play with the meaning of pop itself, in which numerous styles cross-fertilized each other and new paths were taken. In a multi-part series, we remember a time that was more complex and multilayered than many remember.

The 70s ended with a big bang: punk exploded into a music scene that threatened to become complacent and lazy. With snotty do-it-yourself attitude he turned against the much-cited rock dinosaurs with their gigantic shows, their demigod status and their escapades. And not without good reason, because be it Led Zeppelin, The Who, the Rolling Stones, the ex-beatles or prog acts like Yes and ELP - a certain fatigue could not be denied, surely also due to some excessive deaths, which additionally bathed the rock age in a light of transience.

In the USA, unlike in Great Britain, punk was more rooted in the artist scene. Accordingly, with bands like Suicide, Devo, Blondie or the Talking Heads, the more intellectual, playful New Wave emerged from Punk, which in turn was to have a great influence on the development of the British music scene. In the consistent pursuit of the punk approach, the synthesizer was discovered there, which also offered completely new possibilities to less musically adept contemporaries. Most simple but memorable melodies played to programmed rhythms: One could experiment a lot, and a feeling for a suitable key combination was already enough for a hit in the early 80s, as can be seen from the first pieces by Depeche Mode or OMD, which became formative for the musical development of the decade. The result was a fundamental change in the sound of pop music. The well-hung guitar god became the androgynous keyboard god, modelled after David Bowie's androgynous made-up keyboard god. The New Wave quickly gave rise to the New Romantic, with visually striking formations such as Duran Duran or Culture Club benefiting from the second major innovation of the young decade: the triumphal procession of video clips. Suddenly, visuals were a key factor in the marketing of music. As Howard Jones ("What Is Love?", 1983) remembers: "The crucial thing for a musician in the 80s was that you worked with videos and there were channels like MTV that reached an audience of millions. Of course not all clips were good. But the whole thing was exciting."

Quality versus commercialisation

The producers played an increasingly important role in this. Often working in the background in the past, they became the masterminds at the controls in the 80s in the course of the digital revolution and thus stars themselves, who shaped the sound of the bands with their ideas and often gave them a new identity - just think of the collaboration of Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno with U2. Last but not least, synth sound and video clips also represented a chance for established artists to reinvent themselves; one may even suspect that many bands would have disappeared without a trace if it had not been for the compulsion for reorientation that came with the innovations. For there was one reason not to be blind to technical innovations: money. The music industry had grown immensely, and everyone wanted a piece of the pie. Suddenly a band like Yes was discovered by a new generation thanks to the crisp sound of their 83 single "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" and the accompanying video. David Bowie, always on the cutting edge, recognized for himself a way out of the isolation of his cult stardom, hired disco expert Nile Rodgers as co-producer and in 1983 recorded the million-seller "Let's Dance", an album that was musically rather mediocre, but on the cutting edge (of course with catchy video clips). As it were, he "created" another phenomenon of the 80s in conjunction with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Phil Collins or Prince: the global superstar. Musically, these artists stood for a mixture of funk, pop, rock, soul and - in Prince's case - occasional excursions into the era of the faded guitar god. Quality was not necessarily the decisive factor here, the image and marketing of a global product came to the fore.

Read more in the current issue ...