Thursday, February 28, 2008

What's wrong with the 80s?

I'm an 80s kid. I had heavy metal hair, wore leg warmers in high school and two-tone denim micro minis with granny-boot-style high heels and lacy shirts in college. Including giant white tee shirts over neon spandex body suits (with heels and little lacy ankle socks) to class. My hair was sprayed pink for Easter while wearing white lace elbow gloves, and with red sparkle for Christmas to match my vintage velvet dress. Usually, my hair was dyed purple. A very tasteful shade of eggplant. When going to a frat party, I looked like one of Robert Palmer's models from "Addicted to Love", except I used color gel to paint designs on my slicked-down hairstyle.

In short, I had one helluva great time!

When word got out that Barry was working on a "Greatest Hits of the '80s" record to go with his (read: Clive Davis') "decades" theme, though, I spit out the same reaction that most people today have toward music of this decade. "EeeeewwwWWWWWwwwwww". "ARE there any songs in the 80s that were 'greatest hits'?" "What's it going to be? A Milli Vanilli track that's 4 minutes of instrumentals?"

But in spite of the cracking wise, the 80s had a lot of new innovations that are taken for granted and some great times that were forgotten about in order that the naysayers can appear "cool" or "sophisticated."
  • Synthesizer keyboards. This was the decade that some engineer finally got his poop in a group and created an instrument that was easy to use, did not take up an entire room, and could consistently create unique sounds that were impossible to create with "traditional" instruments. Thus you have an entire new world of music opened up for exploring.
  • First attempts at electronic facsimiles of standard instruments. You can always tell an early-80s record by the sound of the electronic drums. Instead of a sharp staccato hit, you get a soft burst of sound that almost instantly fades. "Pianos" sounded like bells rather than hammers on strings. No, they did not get it right immediately. But a first step had to be taken so electronics could evolve. 10-15 years later, electronic drums are a staple to most students, before serious kids going pro move on to their larger, awkward, more expensive kits. Plus, more kids can study drums now because their parents don't have to listen to them - they hear themselves on headsets. You don't know how much I wished I had something like this when I wanted to learn to play. Electronic pianos are now the standard for any travelling act, even among high-end professionals. Take a close look at Barry's piano in any video or concert footage from 1999 to today (not counting the LV Hilton): it's not a "real" grand piano, it's an empty shell with an electronic keyboard set into it. Not only is that cheaper to move around (in both labor and insurance costs) you don't have to tune it or replace strings every time it's set up.

On a purely emotional level for me, the "80s sax-and-synth" sound represented something that was light, bright, and hopeful. Even sad lyrics took a different turn with that style of instrumental behind it. (Petra took that contrast to extremes in "Rose-Colored Stained Glass Windows" from More Power to Ya to spell out an indictment of complacency. It sounds like a fun and secure-feeling song, until you delve into the lyric.)

Recently, 1989's Barry Manilow has been on my iTunes. Sometimes, you don't want to have to focus too much to get the message. I don't see anything wrong with that. When you want to really get a mental workout, that is what Paradise Cafe and Mayflower are for. So maybe a Barry 80s record isn't that bad an idea. What in the world is so wrong with just having fun without jumping through someone else's hoops to "get it"?

(The preceding was written by a self-admitted amateur music lover and not a professional musician. Yes, I know my opinions are simplistic and I know precious little about how music is made at all levels. I'm OK with that. ;-) )

PS - there's a great list of 80s songs for speculation here.

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