I hate the '80s


March 10, 2005


Take a look at the calendar of upcoming concerts and you'll see names like Motley Crüe, Duran Duran, Def Leppard, Bryan Adams, Tesla, Erasure, Billy Idol, the Psychedelic Furs and, of course, the much-anticipated return of U2.

You're forgiven for wondering for a moment whether it's 1985, but you haven't spent the last two decades in a Rip Van Winkle slumber: The '80s are back in a big way.

Eighties nostalgia is nothing new; we can trace its roots to 1998, when a John Hughes-soundtrack-obsessed Adam Sandler starred in "The Wedding Singer." Also, VH1 has been filling its schedule with musical flashbacks such as "Big '80s" and "I Love the '80s" for nearly a decade now.


When: 8 tonight

Where: Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont

Tickets: Sold out



When: 7:30 p.m. March 18

Where: Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont

Tickets: $50-$85

Call: (312) 559-1212


Every era in the history of popular music has its resurgence as fans experience the inevitable midlife crisis and yearn to revisit the "glory days" of their youth. There are indeed '80s sounds worth recalling, including the groundbreaking work of indie-rock bands that paved the way for the alternative explosion of the '90s, and the pioneering music made by early hip-hop innovators.

But the '80s music that is most often celebrated in the mainstream 20 years on -- and which is being re-sold now with the most gusto -- tends to be the very worst. In fact, an argument can be made that the decade was the most god-awful in rock history. With that in mind, and in keeping with the style of VH1's ubiquitous countdowns, I offer:


The Top Eight Reasons Why the '80s Sucked

1. Over-production
You can instantly date a record from the ’80s by the sonic values that dominated the charts, ranging from big to bigger to absurdly humongous. Any hint of subtlety went out the window as drums thundered, singers wailed, and guitars and keyboards created walls of sound that dwarfed Phil Spector’s, even in the work of artists who should have known better — witness Bruce Springsteen’s epic 1984 album, “Born in the U.S.A.”

In the way that Donald Trump’s skyscrapers compared to the buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright, these productions were gaudy, phony and thoroughly lacking in artistry, but they were necessary to convey the favorite dynamic of ’80s music, which was ...

2. Bombast
From the endless crescendos of ’80s hair-metal bands like Motley Crue and Tesla to the reach-for-the-stars posturing of synth-pop acts like Tears for Fears (who have reunited for a tour and a new album), the favorite mode of expression was to shout, shout, let it all out. What was there to shout about? Well, it hardly seemed to matter to many hitmakers, and that leads to our next problem ...

3. The dearth of social conscience
The ’80s were a turbulent and troubling decade as the rich got richer and the poor hung on for dear life. Underground acts in many genres railed against the political policies of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, and they sounded the alarm about social crises such as AIDS. But in the pop mainstream, it was all “don’t worry, be happy,” with nary a hint that there was anything more substantial to sing about, and with little conscience about pandering to things like ...

4. Sexism
From Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” world of slutty strippers to Madonna’s higher-priced “Material Girl” courtesan, women often were portrayed in the ’80s as one more commodity for sale to the highest bidder. It was as if the feminist strides of the ’60s and ’70s had never happened, and women who didn’t fit the airbrushed Playboy ideal were vanquished, even in their own videos — Anne Wilson of Heart barely appeared in her own band’s clips after she gained some weight and the group was remade as bombastic ’80s balladeers.

5. The advent of digital synthesizers
6. The dominance of early drum machines
Correlatives to the note about production values above, the ’80s gave us some of the most pathetic instrumental sounds in musical history. Where the analog synthesizers and the earliest drum machines of the ’60s and ’70s were intriguing new instruments in their own rights, the new digital instruments tried to electronically “improve” upon acoustic keyboards and drums but wound up sounding more artificial and obnoxious.

You know what I’m talking about: the fake “breathy” strings sound of a Yamaha DX-7 keyboard and the “army of handclaps” snares of a Linn drum machine. These sounds were tired five minutes after they were invented, but they appeared absolutely everywhere throughout the ’80s, proving to be almost as silly as our next factor ...

7. The fashions
I’m no expert here, but just look at the moussed-up hairdos a la A Flock of Seagulls, the legwarmers and slouch-shouldered tops that appeared in the wake of “Flashdance,” the kerchiefs and eyeliner for men favored by the hair-metal bands — have there ever been more ridiculous looks? And the culprit we have to blame for the popularity of these and other fashion faux pas was, needless to say...

8. MTV
Image has always been important in pop music, but the video explosion ushered in by the birth of music television — and the trumpeting of style over everything else, especially musical substance — ultimately may have been the most detrimental influence on ’80s music. Take, for example, Duran Duran: People always say they remember the videos, not the songs; the lighter-than-air synth-pop confections were mere afterthoughts. But if that’s the case, why bother to see your now-middle-aged heroes in concert?

The answer is that the now-middle-aged fans want to relive the past in the presence of their peer group — which is hard to do in front of the TV — while their younger offspring want to see what they missed. On her current tour, Ashlee Simpson makes a big deal out of performing a medley of “three great artists from the ’80s” — Madonna, Blondie and the Pretenders — all of whom hit the charts well before most of her fans were born.

Whether they’re trying to turn back the hands of time or experience some era long before they were born, the saddest aspect of all these people partying like it’s 1985 is that they’re missing so much great music in the present.

But we may finally be moving on soon. Even VH1 programming exec Michael Hirschorn admitted, “The early ’80s are sort of getting long in the tooth.”

What comes next? Why, the ’90s revival, of course: Rhino Records has an alternative-era box set coming soon, and VH1 has already been airing “I Love the ’90s” for several months. Out with the leg warmers, back with the flannel shirts.

In the meantime, if you just can’t get enough ’80s, Motley Crue’s show at the Allstate Arena tonight is sold out, but the band is coming back to the Tweeter Center in August. Duran Duran plays the Allstate Arena on March 18 (tickets are $50 to $85 through Ticketmaster, 312-559-1212), and Billy Idol comes to the Congress Theater on May 12 (ticket information to be announced).