The decade that made us, 80s was full of surprises. It brought happiness with the start of the fall of the Soviet Union and the beginning of a new future under Reaganomics in the United States. Old Walls were brought down, AIDS became a new battle and while all these things happened, music subtly embraced all occasions and came to the rescue of many. This was the decade of the MUSIC that still defines us. It was called the 80s.
The 1980s was the decade of uncertainty, people were used as part of the propaganda to convince each other of a better life in the Soviet Union and the United States. Although, by the end of the decade Soviets lost their steam to compete with the western world. The West had more things to worry about.
AIDS became rampant as many remained unaware of the consequences of unsafe lovemaking. The United States was battling not only AIDS but homeless drug addict people on the streets. While it was also the time for President Ronald Reagan to take charge and change the direction of his country.
This was also the decade of depression, John Lenon, the lead vocalist of the evergreen band, The Beatles was assassinated in broad daylight. Africa had its problems of poverty, backwardness, inadequate opportunities which became a call to action through the song ‘We Are the World’- the USA for Africa, every great singer of that time wanted to be a part of the initiative.
If not anything else, the 80s was a decade of music that questioned the status quo. The music didn’t subscribe to everyday life and brought out aspects that many wanted to hide.
One of these songs was 19 by Paul Hardcastle, “In 1965 Vietnam seemed like just another foreign war, but it wasn’t
It was different in many ways, as so were those that did the fighting
In World War II the average age of the combat soldier was twenty-six
In Vietnam he was nineteen.”
Hardcastle’s 19 subscribed to the ever-growing anti-war sentiment, It had a strong message to not involve teenagers in fighting deadly wars such as the Vietnam War. He points out in his song that Vietnam was now not a foreign war because many back home in the United States was fighting anti-war sentiment. Americans did come out of Vietnam with victory however, they had lost all the support for the war in their back yard. 80s was a period of self-reflection and fighting what’s good for the country rather than waging a war on foreign land and involving teenagers.
While many were against the war, the United States was successful in removing a democratic government in the Central American country of Guatemala and replaced it with brutal dictators that carried out Guatemalan Genocidal Massacre of the Mayan people in the country. The genocide began in the 1960s under Eisenhower but continued till 1990s and reached its peak in the 1980s.
R.E.M (Rapid Eye Motion) created a very subtle, sweet and deep song called ‘Flowers of Guatemala’.
“I took a picture that I’ll have to send. People here are friendly and content. People here are colourful and bright, The flowers often bloom at night, Amanita is the name, The flowers cover everything. The flowers cover everything”
The chorus of the song is a haunting experience– “The Flowers cover everything”- It means that the flowers and wilderness grow and cover everything including human bodies. It is expected that every day 40,000 people got disappeared in Guatemala during the peak of genocide.
While the world was falling apart in wars. Singer Sting asked various relevant questions in his song, ‘Fragile’.
“If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one, Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away, But something in our minds will always stay. For all those born beneath an angry star Lest we forget how fragile we are”
He is not describing a war but the aftermath of the war, No one remains happy with bloodshed, It is often said,” One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. Stings says through his song that the impact of bloodshed lasts more than the war itself. Isn’t it true for the World Wars, Gulf Wars, and Modern Day Wars in the Middle East, Afghan Invasion by the Soviets, The Chechnya War, and The Wars in Africa?
We are so fragile that we would wage a war to fulfil our small needs.
Also Read: 1980s Revisited: Early Hip Hop, Politics, Rebel Music and MTV
Why are So many songs on War?
The 1980s was a time when the intensity of war doubled, the ongoing cold-war led to many other small wars. The Iran-Iraq war where Saddam Hussein tried invading Iran, the Arab-Israeli War, Argentina-Falklands war and behind all these wars were the actions of larger powers like the Soviet Union, the United States and the United Kingdom.
There were various other songs that made it a decade of music as we know it today.
“I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston, “Take On Me” by A-ha, “Beat It” by Michael Jackson, “Into the Groove” by Madonna, “When Doves Cry” by Prince
In 1987, Whitney was still very much a fresh-faced siren with the crystal-clear voice and a world of possibilities at her feet. Her approach to this song—which, when you break it down, is more about loneliness than love—says a lot about her ability to radiate warmth and positivity through her singular sound.
The first and biggest hit by the Norwegian electro-pop trio A-ha, “Take On Me,” rose to international popularity in 1985 on the strength of its ground-breaking video, a mix of live-action and pencil-drawn animation that starred dreamy lead singer Morten Harket as the hero of an escapist romance between a lonely woman and a comic-book adventurer.
We get so used to the sleek, funky side of Michael Jackson that it’s easy to forget how hard “Beat It” actually legitimately rocks. Those exaggerated downbeats that feel like medicine balls being slammed down on a concrete floor and the raw desperation in MJ’s voice as he chronicles the harsh truths of the street-fighting life.
“They told him don’t you ever come around here
Don’t want to see your face, you better disappear
The fire’s in their eyes and their words are really clear
So beat it, just beat it”
Not just that a matured Michel Jackson sang,” Black or White”. Highlighting the ever-present stereotyping of colour. He says it doesn’t really matter if you are black or white. Ironically, we all know the number of skin surgeries Jackson had undergone to lighten his skin colour.
“I took my baby on a Saturday bang
Boy is that girl with you?
Yes we’re one and the same
Now I believe in miracles
And a miracle has happened tonight
But, if you’re thinkin’ about my baby
It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white.”
And the ever-lovely voice of George Michael gave us, “Praying for Time” as per of his second solo album. “Listen Without Prejudice”
George Michael was quoted in the September edition of The New York Times in 1990 regarding this song, he said: “No event inspired the song. It’s my way of trying to figure out why it’s so hard for people to be good to each other. I believe the problem is conditional as opposed to being something inherent in mankind. The media has affected everybody’s consciousness much more than most people will admit. Because of the media, the way the world is perceived is as a place where resources and time are running out. We’re taught that you have to grab what you can before it’s gone. It’s almost as if there isn’t time for compassion.”
” These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers
This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses.”
Suzanne Vega gave us “Luka” which dealt with the issue of child abuse. “My name is Luka”
“I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes I think you’ve seen me before
If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was.”
Although the song bravely tackles the disturbing issue of child abuse, Luka remains Suzanne’s highest-charting hit in the US, reaching No 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also earned several Grammy nominations in 1988, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
“There comes a time
When we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one
There are people dying
Oh, and it’s time to lend a hand to life
The greatest gift of all
We can’t go on
That someone, somewhere soon make a change
We’re all a part of God’s great big family
And the truth, you know, love is all we need
We are the world
We are the children
We are the ones who make a brighter day, so let’s start giving
There’s a choice we’re making
We’re saving our own lives
It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me.”
A time came when over 40 musicians heeded a certain call. The call was to come to a studio in L.A. and record a song — a song so epic, so star-studded, so unabashedly schmaltzy it will never be forgotten. That song, “We Are the World,” went on to sell more than 20 million copies and raise over $63 million for humanitarian aid in Africa. Though notable and good, its charitable work is not its legacy. “We Are the World” is known for being a wonderful, delightful, ever-entertaining hot mess of celebrities jockeying for attention and the ability to say their voice did the most for Africa.
The best ’80s songs embody that sense of flashy pomp and extravagance—from “Living on a Prayer” to “Don’t Stop Believin,” the decade’s penchant for everything over-the-top yielded tunes that make for the best pop songs and karaoke songs imaginable. So break out that Walkman, hit up the best vintage stores for your retro fashion needs, updo your hair and get ready to wear your heart on your shoulder pads.
THIS WAS the 80s.
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