Posted on April 12, 2008
80's Guitar Rock: What Makes A Cultural "Decade"?
I’ve had this conversation periodically with friends and other nerds of all types (rock, video game, etc) and it always ends inconclusively. The conversation starts this way: “When do decades start and end?” The question seems fairly simple at first. A decade lasts from the “01” to the “00” of any given set of of years (i.e. 1981-1990) (or “00” – “09” if you can’t count). However, this answer always gives way to a further conversation that involves culture and events and to the actual perception of when the idea of a “decade” (i.e. “The 80’s) actually started and ended. What is the difference between an “80’s song” and a song “from the 80’s”? Curiously, the answers are nearly always different and usually vary from person to person. “Calendar” decades are rarely the same as “cultural” decades, and their beginning, ending, and time-span usually depend on the cultural aspect you are currently discussing. This is further clouded by your location in the world, which could change everything again. However, for the sake of this discussion, we’ll concentrate mostly on the United States..
Now, let’s start by going back to the 1950’s. If you are speaking about the “sociopolitical” 50’s then you could argue that the idea of the “50’s” started just after World War II in about 1946 when all the soldiers returned to the USA, finished their tours and were discharged from the army to go off and create suburbia as we know it. However, if you are talking about the 50’s as the decade of “rock and roll”, then it starts sometime around May 1955 with Chuck Berry (or maybe with Bo Diddly the same year), and lasts into the 60’s. Curiously the sociopolitical and cultural beginning of the 60’s is pretty easy to pin down to in November 1963 when JFK was killed. Curiously, that event coincided with a story on the CBS evening news about a new band named The Beatles that was bumped because of the national tragedy.
However, at this point things get murkier. Sociopolitically the 60’s probably ended when the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in 1973 or with Watergate and Nixon resigning in August of 1974. However, everything changes sociopolitically again in November of 1979 when the U.S. embassy was invaded in Iran, and the decade can’t end until this is resolved (See 1980s below). If this is not confusing enough, musically the 70’s are just as interesting. Some might say that the 60’s ended musically at Altamont in December on 1969, or with the release of The Beatles Let It Be in May 1970 or maybe with the release of Led Zeppelin IV in November of 1971. Some might even cite the release of Ziggy Stardust by Bowie in ’72, Ace Frehley joining Kiss in 1973, or The Who’s Quadrophenia released later that year as the final nail in the coffin of the 60’s, but then that might also be too late. However, this is where the 70’s gets very difficult. The decade basically gets cut in-half at about 1976 when Boston released Boston (the height of corporate rock) and The Damned released the Neat Neat Neat single after seeing The Ramones in July 1976 in the UK touring their first album The Ramones. Some might even argue that the affect of these events were not hit home until after the subsequent releases of Star Wars in May 1977 (thrusting in movie blockbuster era), the Atari 2600 VCS in November 1977 (starting the first video game era), and/or the release of Saturday Night Fever in December 1977 (when Disco was mainstreamed).
While the 70’s are so very confusing, the 80’s are pretty easy to figure out. Sociopolitically they ended in January 1981 when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated and the Iran hostages were freed. Musically the 80’s began in August 1981 when MTV debuted. . Some might argue that the final gasps of the 70s were stamped out in September 1983 when Kiss officially took off their make-up and released Lick It Up. This is because it is not uncommon to visualize the decades overlapping, with, for example, the last vestiges of the 70’s hanging-on years into the reign of the 80’s. While the music of the 80s continued to change over many years, the focus on image over sound brought-on by MTV remained a constant. This all ended when Nirvana broke “alternative” into the mainstream late in 1991 , hair-metal was defeated, and videos became mostly irrelevant (unless you figure Hip-Hip into the picture). However, the 80’s ended sociopolitically on schedule when the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunified in October of 1990. However some people might say that the 90’s did not really start until The Internet broke sometime in 1995 (or is this when the 21st century started?), but ended just about on schedule when the bubble burst in 2001. Others might say that the 90’s continued to play on the post-modern era that was signified by the events that ended the 80’s, but all was stopped butt-cold with the end of 20th century on September 11th, 2001 when everything simply stopped and had to be restarted again. This is where the conversation usually sends because next decade has not been written yet…unless of course sometimes brings-up The White Stripes…
This is how I see it anyway. Now, you may agree with all of this, part of it, or none at all, and that is the beauty of this discussion. It is an interesting thing to ponder, and a good conversation starter. Does your perception of actual decades match hard dates, sociopolitical events, cultural landmarks, or something else entirely? What if you decided to based the “decades” on Video Games. Would the video game crash of 1982 be the end of the 70’s? Did the 80’s for video games start with the domination of home computers in 1982, or with the Famicom in 1983? Would the release of the Sega Genesis in 1989 signify the start of the 90’s, or just the end of the 80’s while the 90’s did not start until the PSX in 1995? I suppose there is no real answer, and maybe there can’t be one, because different events are significant to people for various reasons, and let’s be honest, they are all pretty-much valid.
How does this affect the subject of this blog? Well, it means that, while some songs might have been recorded or released prior to or after the 80’s, the spirit of the “forgotten 80’s guitar band” runs through most of them. It also means that, while many of these bands reached a significant level of popularity in their time, they have, more-or-less, been paved-over in the 21st century. There is not much a simple blog can do you change any of this, and in reality, I’m not even going to try. However, if I can turn some people on to to some great songs from a forgotten era, it will all be worth it.
Now, here are few more video from 80’s Guitar Bands hat you might have never heard (seen) before:
The Alarm: Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke?
Midnight Oil: Back On The Borderline
The Skids: The Saints Are Coming
D.A.D : Sleeping My Day Away
Soul Asylum : Sometime To Return