The mullets! The songs! The big-haired teens emoting teen angst in pastel clothes! Yes, to coincide with our rundown of the 100 best songs of the 80s, we couldn’t let our remembrance of this decade pass without looking back at the biggest things that made the decade so damn amazing.
1 Teen movies
The teen movie came of age in the 80s. From the gross-out comedies like Porkies through to John Hughes’ more thoughtful films like the epic Pretty In Pink and The Breakfast Club to dark gems like Heathers, these were resonant, beautifully realised films capturing, for the first time, the truth about being a teenager.
2 ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’
The 80s most dynamic boy band produced their best single in the form of ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’. It was a juddering new wave anthem shot through with a hint of weirdness. The video – featuring our heroes lolling about in a sunny spot- only added to the 80s glamour of the whole thing.
The 80s was the decade when this British record label rose from small beginnings to become synonymous with brilliant, forward looking alternative music. From first wave of bands like The Birthday Party and to Cocteau Twins to the second wave with US bands like Throwing Muses and Pixies, “4AD” became a marker of quality.
4 Alternative comedy
The 80s saw comedy leap out of the comfy 70s into politicized, more socially aware arenas. The likes of The Comic Strip, Alexei_Sayle , The Young Ones, French And Saunders and Blackadder brought this new wave to our TV screens and our pop culture was forever changed.
5 The ‘big concept’ album
Big production values, big artists. Some of the key albums of the 80s were unified by a big concept and/or aesthetic (‘So’, ‘Hounds Of Love’, ‘Sign O’ The Times’, ‘Graceland’). It’s easy to say ‘they don’t make them like that anymore’ but they really don’t.
6 ‘Girls Just Want To Fun’
Cyndi Lauper was a musical Howitzer. Combining an cartoonish style sense with a series of bubblegum pop gems, she was Madonna before Madonna. ‘Girls…’ was her statement of intent; a cutesy slice of blistering new wave pop that was bursting with joy.
7 The Cure
Robert Smith and his smeary lipstick gang filled the 80s with single after single of bizarre, cryptic and urgently wonderful tracks. Their run of game changing songs saw them repeatedly reinventing themselves and what they did.
Yes, we know that home taping “killed” music, but that didn’t stop us from compiling tapes for loved ones. And anyone who has read or seen High Fidelity they will understand the important, personal place that mixtapes had for a generation. Song selection, setting up the tape deck and designing the tape cover with a personal message. Making them on Spotify just isn’t really the same is it?
9 The Smiths
The Smiths’ run of singles from ‘Hand In Glove’ to ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ was of one the greatest in popular music. Jangling riffs met intelligent lyrics with psychosexual undertones – the effects were seismic for indie and music in general.
10 New Order
From the ashes of Joy Division came one of the most important and experimental bands of the 80s. They mixed indie with dance in a manner that would change the way anyone who picked up a guitar and synthesizer would operate in the future.
11 Super Mario Bros.
Do you remember a time before computer games had an insane masochistic learning curve and a metatexual bent? They were happier, simpler times, where two badly drawn wise guys had to run away from dangerous mushrooms.
12 Ludicrous escapist TV
Soaps like Dynasty and Dallas were massive in the 80s. It was the place where beautiful billionaires boinked each other and then walked out of the shower to realize the preceding months had all been a dream.
13 Saturday mornings = music
Remember when you’d wake from your slumber, realize it’s the weekend and then spend the whole of Saturday AM monging out in your PJ’s in front of the telly? Blissing out to The Chart Show and various music-heavy morning shows, including Going Live!. And who can forget Five Star-gate?
14 Weird toys
You know what, maybe toys have always been weird. Maybe not. But the 80s was the decade of the Cabbage Patch Kid and the talking bear Teddy Ruxpin, both rather strange when you think about it. No wonder it was also the decade that birthed Child’s Play with evil toy demon Chucky at the centre of the drama.
15 Saving up to buy an album
Before we could download the entire history of music at the click of a button, there was a period of time where the goal was to amass £5.49 to get an album on cassette tape that’d you’d been wanting for ages. That was about two months’ worth of pocket money. Can you imagine?
16 Amazing comedy films
The early 80s were a golden age for comedy flicks, with the careers of the likes of Eddie Murphy and Bill Murray exploding. there were also films like Airplane! which re-booted the power of the hilarious one-liner and paved the way for The Naked Gun series.
SS came into his own during the 80s, there was a point in the decade where you felt every blockbuster was created by him. Indiana Jones, The Goonies, Poltergeist and of course ET were works by the great cap wearer. Films that made a whole generation equate ‘popcorn’ with ‘aliens’ and an inflated sense of nostalgia.
18 ‘Billie Jean’
The moonwalk, the glove, the tightly controlled disco beat, the batshit lyrics. ‘Billie Jean’ was a defining moment in the 80s.
19 ‘Like A Virgin’
The helium-voiced strut of ‘Like A Virgin’ was a massive come-on from Madonna, who was making the transition from pop also-ran to megastar. The infamous MTV performance where she gyrated on the floor in a wedding dress was massively headline making.
20 Fan clubs
Before the advent of the internet, the special relationship between fan and artist was harder to bridge. That’s where fan clubs came in. Membership of this elite organization afforded you entry into special newsletters, merchandise and behind the scenes stuff. Following Lady Gaga on Twitter is not the same thing.
21 ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’
GNR had big hair, but they weren’t your usual LA metalheads. There was real dirt beneath Axl and Co’s fingernails. ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’ was the sweetest of their hard-rocking bunch, with a riff that would move into legend.
22 ‘When Doves Cry’
Prince leapt feet first into the double whammy of his first starring role (in Purple Rain) and its accompanying soundtrack. The first single ‘When Doves Cry’ was strange and exotic; the music chucked out the bass and the lyrics vibrated with animal magnetism.
23 ‘Walk This Way’
Sure there was Blondie’s ‘Rapture’, but white America’s first real slice of Top 40 rap was Run DMC’s duet with Aerosmith. This remake of their 70s hit saw an uptight Steven Tyler paired with a laid-back Reverend Run. It was a perfect match.
24 Power ballads
The 80s combined two great things; dry ice and mullets. Usually accompanied by a fist-in-the-air, big lunged power ballad, perhaps written by known cheesemakers Jim Steinman or Diane Warren and belted out by the likes of Meat, Whitney, Bonnie or Bon (Jovi that is).
25 Pop music’s Royal Family
This was the decade when a trio of ridiculously talented musicians (Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna) ruled pop’s roost. Has it ever been better?