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Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Eighties 

Following the announcement of next year's Royal wedding, there has been a lot of public comparisons between the 2010s and the 1980s. There are similarities, of course, but I don't feel like I've been thrown back 30 years. Thank goodness.

Back in 1980 I was a greasy-haired skinny 16-year-old with terrible skin and terminal shyness. Now I'm a bald fat 46-year-old gay bloke with slightly better skin and mild social avoidance issues.

In many senses, I grew up in the Eighties, as far as I could. I don't really feel like a grown-up even now but that decade saw me become vaguely human. A lot happened to me in that time which I might relate at another day but it all helped shape me. At least I left the decade with cleaner hair.

My memories are vague. I know what happened but none of it feels particularly "Eighties" if you know what I mean. I could tell you I started at Thames Poly in 1982 but none of my college memories have the stamp of that time or any other era on them.

My memories of the music of the time, however, definitely have a feel to them. It was the time when I really began to discover music and it was definitely of the Eighties.

I didn't actually like music much before 1979. I was vaguely embarrassed by it and couldn't see what my peers saw in it. It just didn't figure in my world. Music and fashion were things that happened to other people.

The end of the Seventies and beginning of the Eighties, however, brought me music in the form of promotional videos on Top of the Pops. Those videos, particularly ones using science fiction and fantasy themes, struck a chord in me.

Although a later massive Queen fan (just ask me how many times I've seen We Will Rock You!) I was completely underimpressed with their influential video for Bohemian Rhapsody in the seventies and yet completely captivated in '79 with the one for Hazel O'Connor's Eighth Day. It was part of a much longer film, of course, Breaking Glass, which I enjoyed many years later contrary to the tastes of the younger me. The video had the stage show that Kate (O'Connor's role in the film) performed at the peak, and end, of her career. It's a poignant moment in the film but taken out of context it's full of imagery and lyrics that would impress an impressionable 16-year-old. Glowing robotic woman? Check. Backing group with glowing eyes? Check. Pseudo-religious post-apocalyptic lyrics? Check.

Video Killed The Radio Star was similarly fascinating. Although I am gay now and probably was at the time as well, there was something about futuristically dressed women flying up and down clear plastic tubes in the middle of some laboratory had me buying the record.

The extract from the film Xanadu accompanying the titular single did nothing to distract me from the awfulness of the film (not seen until many years later by the way) but featured glowing flying Muses and flashing lights.

Other striking imagery caught me as well. I was desperate to buy anything by Adam and the Ants after I saw the video for Stand and Deliver and again later for Prince Charming, even though I thought the dance rather silly.

So, a pattern was set ... Any old bit of rubbish with good visuals. Nice video, shame about the song, as Not The Nine O'Clock News put it at the time. I knew it was crap but it looked good and sounded fun.

That said, by the time I was into Adam and the Ants, I was starting to listen to and appreciate the lyrics, many of which had a resonance with an introverted teen although a lot of them now make little sense. Just take a listen to Red Box sometime.

I even started liking other stuff for which I hadn't seen a video and probably, in hindsight, was still crap but appeared to my musical sensibilities at the time. That's how I ended up with Einstein-a-gogo and Japanese Boy, both of which I loved at the time and both are on my iPod although I wince a little when Japanese Boy is randomly selected and look around for the Political Correctness Police.

Throughout the decade there were many groups and singers that caught my attention - Human League, Eurythmics, Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, Yazoo, OMD, Blancmange, Toyah, Matt Bianco ... I could go on forever.

There were other songs which didn't really impact on me at the time but formed part of the backdrop for the decade. I have largely forgotten until I hear them on one of the many compilation CDs and find them triggering some fond memory.

One such was actually a great favourite: The Mobiles and Drowning in Berlin. It turned up on a compilation CD which I had to buy. I loved being able to hear it again.

I played that CD in the car while I was giving some younger colleagues a lift to a course. Surprisingly they liked everything on that CD except that one track which they decided was "evil clown music".

I suppose my odd and eclectic tastes haven't changed all that much after all. The shy 16-year-old must still lurk somewhere in my head. At least he's washed his hair.
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