Sounds of the Eighties by Dylan Jones
Were the Eighties just a musical wasteland of synth pop and vacant lyrics? GQ Editor-in-Chief Dylan Jones argues for a re-evaluation of the decade that also produced a charity record that changed the world forever.
To judge by the way in which it is talked about these days, it would be easy to assume that the Eighties was the worst decade for pop music ever. If you assumed that, however, you’d be wrong.
The Fifties had the dawn of rock'n'roll; the Sixties had the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and a dozen new genres every five minutes. The Seventies gave us glam rock and punk, while the Nineties ushered in Britpop and saw the explosion of House music. And the Eighties? Well, if you listen to the critics, then you will believe that the decade was responsible for Phil Collins, drum machines and, er, that's about it. But the critics are mistaken – there is so much more to the Eighties than that.
Just take the year 1984. This was the year that Duran Duran, Wham!, Simple Minds, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club conquered the world of MTV, but it was also the year of the Band Aid single, 'Do They Know It's Christmas?'. This charity record, organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise aid for the Ethiopian famine, was not only a huge hit, it tapped into a new Zeitgeist, one that initially appeared to be completely counter-intuitive compared with everything else that was happening in 1980s Britain.
In 1984, our world was becoming obsessed by status, obsessed by the trappings of the designer lifestyle, full of newly empowered yuppies wrapping themselves up in the spoils of style culture. Our new Swinging London had totally bought into a world of Italian espresso machines, lifestyle magazines, designer fashion, matt-black hardware, silver sports cars and lobotomised pop music. This year meant style over content, a Paul Smith suit, a Sade record (soon to be on CD), and a European holiday.
1984 wasn’t meant to be the year that Britain remembered to celebrate the Sixties: it wasn’t meant to be the year of benevolence, charity or global empathy. This was the Reagan/Thatcher era, when intransigence was king, and market forces determined everything, even which charity you supported. But, it was also the year that was probably the apotheosis of pop. Indeed, it would be easy to say that the entire decade was the apotheosis of pop, and whether you had a penchant for Culture Club, U2, Simple Minds or ABC, it was all here in living colour.
Dylan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of GQ magazine and the author of The Eighties: One Day, One Decade
Simple Minds play live at Annabel’s on Tuesday 29 April to open the Club’s trio of ‘Spring Back to the Eighties’ nights, followed by superb pop band Monaco on Wednesday 30 April. Annabel's iconic DJ 'Cass The Gass' returns on Thursday 1 May to bring the dance floor alive once more with a late-night set of his favourite Eighties music.