Every generation is defined is some ways by its music. The rebellious nature of ’50s rock foretold of the upcoming liberation of America’s youth from the current prevailing social mores. The music of the ’60s celebrated that emergence of suburban culture and Western social hegemony. The ’70s music culture reflected the hedonistic pursuits of sex and drugs becoming popularized in American culture at that time.
So what did the ’80s musical culture reflect unto history? Well, many of you reading this column belonged to Generation Y, meaning that you “grew up” (i.e. were a teenager) during the ’90s.
You’re more apt to choose techno, rap, R&B and alternative rock music as what defines your generation. However, the ’80s was Generation X. We grew up with all things “old school,” like Coke can radios, Voltron, Scooby-Doo, Schoolhouse Rock and the Kool-Aid man and, of course, ’80s music. We loved it all.
We really thought our music was cool. I mean COOL. These two CDs, which typify the type of music that was indicative of the ’80s experience, are excellent representatives of this genre. Which is why only a gen-exer would buy these albums and you most likely would ignore them at the record store.
But, I invite you to raid your big sister or brother’s CD collection and check some of these out and you might begin to understand a little bit more of why we were so cool when you were so young.
I Touch Roses, The Best of Book of Love is actually a highly anticipated release for people who love “true” electronica. During the ’80s, everything (well, almost) about popular music was what became to be known as “electronica.”
Before U2, Depeche Mode, Erasure and other successful bands gained critical mass during the ’90s, they competed with and sometimes took their cues from bands, like Book of Love.
Roses takes you on a quick tour of ’80s pop and dance music. Perhaps the two most popular pop tracks from the album, “Boy” and “Alice Everyday” spent a number of weeks at the top of the Billboard Charts. The irreverent and direct lyrical assertions mixed with a deep-drum synth and electronic bells made “Boy” and “Alice Everyday” two of the coolest tracks of the ’80s.
Another track, “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls,” had me and my friends dancing straight through the summer of ’87. “Pretty Boys” defined an era where most of the teenagers I knew began to express their individuality and their rebellion through their music.
Let’s put it this way, I never even knew kids who openly discussed sexuality or sexual orientation until this period. The entire suburban dance scene at that time could be described as awash in a newfound sense of sensuality and sexuality. There was also this annoying androgynous vibe that was going around to at the time. The reason I tell you all this is so that you can understand the music a little better.
“Pretty Boys” is yet another example of the subtle lyrical irreverence which is laced throughout much of the ’80s greatest songs such as “Material Girl” by Madonna or “Pretty Boy” by Depeche Mode. Here, Book of Love exposes the prevailing themes of our tangled adolescence, sexuality, peer pressure, angst and liberation. Never mind, that the song still rocks (I’d play it at a rave even today)., but the message is relevant today as well.
I know it might be hard for many of you to share the same enthusiasm for Book of Love’s I Touch Roses, but I’m telling you if you’re every wanting to give an ’80s bands a try, this CD is one for your collection. Like most ’80s music, you can play this disc at a party or bring it along your commute to school for driving music. I guarantee that the music will grow on you. And you’ll love it like I do! Another ’80s disc that is worthy of checking out is Life In The Gladhouse, The Best of Modern English.
This compilation highlights Modern English’s short run of fame in the early ’80s. At the time, British post-punk/new wave bands began to flood the U.S. with their music and we ate it up in earnest. Hence, your older brothers and sisters with big sprayed hair and piercings. And, yes, for the record even I had a Mohawk haircut by 1986 (let’s not dwell on this).
We also began adopting the music. Thus new wave rock became the flavor of the moment and Modern English’s soft melodies mixed with a lite punk rock flavor was just the thing to whet out appetites for something other than disco.
Sadly, Modern English never really capitalized on some of their bigger tracks and the band never really went anywhere after 1985, although some their tracks survived to become classic party hits or ballads.
“Melt With You” is Modern English’s most popular track of that era. It’s basically a feel good, garage band type ballad which was the song to dance and drive to at the time. I remember my friend Chris forcing us to listen to it ALL the time (I think we finally threw his CD out the window, but he just bought a new one).
But, “Melt With You” embodies the playfulness and relative ease of teenage life at that time. Simply put, it encourages people to grab the one they loved and stop the madness, yes that was the extent of our politicalization back then!
Other tracks, such as “After the Snow” and “Carry Me Down” are typical of the other types of tracks ont his album. Basically, Modern English’s mysterious lyrics deal with sex, love and drugs – as did most songs at the time. It was also the best music to get high to, You know, when getting baked was still “bad” and “taboo.”
All in all, Modern English’s best of remains a venerable example of the new wave movement of the early ’80s. Check it out if you get the chance.
Both Modern English and Book of Love are bands which gives the listener a good survey of music from the ’80s. From the beginnings of electronica and techno, to the emergence of post-punk and new wave, these two CDs provide an awesome road trip to the music of Generation X.