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The Don Investigates… Eighties Music

It was in, then it was out… now it’s very much in again! Yep, 1980’s music is being constantly revisited today with long forgotten artists making comebacks and period TV shows using the sounds of the decade as their aural backdrop – notably the BBC’s Ashes to Ashes series. So what’s it all about then – and who exactly was Frankie and why did he want you to relax? The Don, who has been around the block a bit, but was never one of the New Kids on it, investigates…

Michael Jackson dominated the musical scene of the 1980’s. His Thriller album (1982) remains, with around 110 million sales, the biggest selling album of all time. Its spectacular fusion of music and dance is still cited as a major creative influence by many contemporary artists and was a true ‘crossover’ work, enjoyed across the cultural and colour divide.

One of the biggest British bands of the decade was Dire Straits. It could be argued that the presence of any of their albums in your CD collection today might indicate that their name suggests the state of your musical tastes, with their somewhat over indulgent leanings and naive lyrics no longer compatible with today’s more energetic offerings. However, their Brothers In Arms album was the first CD to sell over a million copies and offered the track Money For Nothing which was the first video to be shown on MTV Europe.

Read Mayhem! Well he would have. The Frankie Says t-shirt was a brief but explosive fashion statement of the time, worn in tribute of the band Frankie Goes To Hollywood, whose first single, Relax was banned by the BBC. It consequently reached  number 1, making the band, briefly, the biggest thing in British music. Their follow up single, Two Tribes was an immediate number 1 (this at a time when you didn’t have to sell 11 copies to do so), staying there for nine weeks. Frankie Says… Look How Wealthy We Are.

Just as Punk Rock saw off the dinosaurs of progressive rock in the 70’s, so the youth culture of New Romanticism dealt the death blow for Punk in the early 80’s. It was typified by bands such as ABC, Culture Club, Duran Duran and Visage bands led by men who were more than in touch with their feminine sides and not afraid to show it. Cue Duran-man Simon Le Bon and his alarming range of drastic hair do’s (Le Bon was the role model for men who preferred going to the hairdresser to the barber) while Boy George, appearing on Top of the Pops for the first time with Culture Club in 1982 had the nation wondering if he was a boy or a girl. His high pitched warbling of the bands first hit, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? enraged the critics of his androgynous fashion sense and taste for cosmetics so much, that the overwhelming answer for many was ‘yes!’.

The decade was a massive one for the promo video, with one of the more lavish being that which accompanied Vienna, the massively sprawling hit for Ultravox. Artistically, it is still worth viewing today (check You Tube) and it’s worth noting that, at the time, Ultravox’s record company so underrated band and video, that they refused to finance it! The finished effort cost just £7,000 – small change in comparison to the several trillion dollars it costs to make Jo Lo look and sound good in her videos today.

Cock rock came to the fore in the 80’s with the unfeasibly hairy Jon Bon Jovi and the band he modestly named after himself. They were a marketing man’s dream, created to fill the perceived gap where no traditional ‘rock’ band currently stood, with their genius in pouting, posturing, preening and scratching the eyes out of their Swedish rivals, the woeful Europe coming way above any actual musical ability.

By The Don