Wednesday, June 3, 2015

1984: The Last Great Year of Pop

Today I've 'come out'. I'm writing a book. It's tentatively - or rather provocatively - titled 1984: the Last Great Year of Pop. Actually, I've been researching it for over a year, and thinking about it for much longer, but now I need to get on with the business of writing it. So I've taken three days off work and am marshalling facts & notes into prose to start making some inroads.
Who's this?
Why 1984?  Well, it's often said that the late 70s / early 80s was a glorious time for pop, and it was, coinciding with my late teens/early twenties. Plenty has been written about punk but the early 80s was also an inspirational time for pop; Simon Reynolds wrote an excellent book about the period (Rip It Up & Start Again: Post Punk 1978-84). At the same time the mid-to-late 80s have also been much maligned as the decade of big hair, bad drum sounds and style over content. It is a period which fascinates & divides opinion, more than the 90s for example which is still too close. 
There are personal, more subjective reasons too. For a start, I was there. It was the year I moved to London and started writing freelance for Sounds. It gave me privileged access to free records and concert guest lists. Of course, it wasn't just about pop (though for some reason I decided to buy every issue of Smash Hits that year, having never bought it before) and mostly I wrote about weird stuff like Nurse With Wound or Cabaret Voltaire, but I did get heavily into pop too. Anyway, here's 15 other reasons:
And these?
  • It was a year that began with the banning of Frankie's Relax and ended with Band Aid (the latter a significant event whichever way you look at it).
  • It was a year of many different scenes & genres (not just one overpowering one) with literally hundreds of great bands jostling for attention.
  • It was a year dominated by the Miners' strike, Cold War paranoia and more politically inspired pop than any other year before or since. 
  • It was the year of The Smiths, The Blue Nile, Depeche Mode, Scritti Politti, David Sylvian, The Style Council, Tears For Fears, The Cure, Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Fall, Talk Talk, Echo & the Bunnymen, U2 hiring Eno etc.
  • It was the coming of age for Factory, 4AD, Mute and Some Bizarre; This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance...
  • It saw the beginning of the Pet Shop Boys, Fine Young Cannibals, Lloyd Cole, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The Pogues, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, My Bloody Valentine and (gulp) Stock Aitken and Waterman.
  • It was the year of the 12" single, of remixes, of dance becoming incorporated into pop.
  • Yes yes yes, it made stars of Sade, Wham!, Nik Kershaw, Howard Jones and all that - and even bigger stars of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet - none of whom were as bad as we sometimes believe(d) them to be.
    And this glamorous singer? (Clue: it's not Carmel)
  • It was the winding up of the 'Second British Invasion' and the big-time beginnings of Madonna and Prince who promptly reclaimed the US charts.
  • It was also a strong year for alternatives: Cabaret Voltaire, Test Dept, Einsturzende Neubaten, Coil, 23 Skidoo, Foetus, Chakk, Man Jumping, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Bill Nelson and countless others; it also saw the release (though very few clocked it at the time) of Manuel Gottsching's E2-E4 and plenty more great stuff from Le Continent.
  • It was a time when the music press (there were four weekly papers) still mattered, and the nascent time of Smash Hits and style-bibles The Face and i-D. 
  • You didn’t go out on Thursdays or Fridays until after Top of the Pops and The Tube had finished. 
  • It was great graphic design and Frankie Say T-shirts, a year between analogue and digital and when synthesizers and drum-machines came of age. It was the beginning of the CD. 
  • It was the year of unsung heroes: Shriekback, XTC, Frank Chickens, 1000 Mexicans, Shock Headed Peters, The Sound, Thomas Leer, Sheila Chandra, The Daintees... 
  • It was the end of The Police and Soft Cell and the beginning of the end of Culture Club, Bowie, Eurythmics, Adam Ant, The Clash, The Stranglers, Madness, Human League and Heaven 17 though each definitely had their moments in 84.
  • It was also the year of Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and (its antidotal) Spinal Tap.
And this guy?
Over the last ten years, I've slowly realised just how much great music came out of '84 and currently have a playlist of some 300 tracks which I listen to fairly constantly. Of course, this could all be just so much nostalgia from a fiftysomething bloke who's living in the past (but I don't think so), and I'm definitely not saying 1984 was the best year ever (there are many earlier contenders)... just the last great year. 
Anyway, let's see how it goes. Don't hold your breath.-

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