EIGHTIES MUSIC, CHEESY BUT GOOD

~ Posted by Jeremy Duns, March 14th 2013

I fell in love with pop music as a teenager in the 1980s. While some of my schoolmates were fans of prog-rock, the Rolling Stones or Prince, my passion was for the likes of Prefab Sprout, The Lilac Time, Frazier Chorus and other obscure-sounding but in fact just-slightly-off-mainstream bands. From the age of 17 on, I shunned most “chart music”, which I dismissed as being, in that very 80s phrase, “naff”. The likes of a-Ha, Hall and Oates and Simple Minds were too unfashionable for me at that age, and for many years later.

But most of my perceptions of these bands’ music were from their public images and their biggest few singles heard on the radio or seen on MTV. Before the net, the only ways to find out about a band’s history were word-of-mouth, magazines, and perhaps an entry in “The Encyclopedia of Popular Music”. Image is a crucial component of the pop market, and I was easily swayed. So a-Ha were fronted by a singer who looked like a male model, Hall and Oates were cheesily preppy Americans, and Simple Minds were a self-important stadium group with a lead singer dating Patsy Kensit.

But reading issues of Q and concern about being fashionable are things of my past, and what remains is the music. On Spotify or iTunes, what Morten Harket or Jim Kerr looked or dressed like decades ago makes no difference. In the last couple of years I’ve been on a musical journey, revisiting a lot of the 80s pop I ignored the first time round. I’ve bought albums by these bands and many others, and loved them. When I put their image to one side, I found that a-Ha wrote tons of great pop songs, and Harket’s voice at times rivals the power and beauty of Roy Orbison’s—the reason that isn’t recognised, perhaps, is precisely because he was a pin-up pop star in the 80s. Daryl Hall’s webshow “Live From Daryl’s House” has introduced me to several great new artists, but also made me realize just how talented a musician he is, and what a brilliant songwriter. Stripped of flashback-inducing record sleeves featuring “Miami Vice” suits and haircuts, I’ve realized that “She’s Gone”, “Sara Smile” and “Every Time You Go Away” are as great as anything produced by Gamble and Huff. A long-forgotten Simple Minds song popped into my head last week, and I spent an hour on YouTube and iTunes investigating their back catalogue, listening to clips from across their career. I bought three of their albums: “Street Fighting Years”, “Real Life” and “Good News From The Next World”. They’re superb. There is certainly self-importance in, say “Mandela Day”, but they wrote some fantastic songs, and I now have a whole body of work to discover.

The net has opened up the history of pop music to me—I’ve discarded my adolescent preconceptions and snobbery and am enjoying a lot of music I missed the first time round. Next stop: Chris de Burgh?

Jeremy Duns is author of the Paul Dark spy novels, and the forthcoming non-fiction book “Dead Drop”, about Oleg Penkovsky. His recent posts for the Editors’ Blog are You couldn’t make it up and All shall have stars