08 September 2012

What Simon Says: '80s Stars Who Negate The '80s... And '70s Fantasists...

 Clare writes:

I recently saw an interview with Simon Toulson-Clarke, singer of Red Box, a two-hit wonder band of the mid-1980's. He claimed that the 1980's music scene was nearly all "70's influences" and that the music wasn't up to much - although Red Box were, in his opinion, innovative and good. I grew up in the 80's and bought the two Red Box hit singles and love 80's music and feel a bit distressed that one of my 80's singing heroes should slag my youth era and tastes in music. I think 80's music was thoroughly innovative and wonderful. Listen to music from 1980 and 1989 and you will see how far music progressed. What do you think?

I do see why you're distressed by this, but I think it has a funny side. The 1980s have long been reviled by the "great and the good" as a decade of unbridled greed. It follows that everything else within that decade must be reviled or negated too - from pop music to fashion, the 1980s, being the era of Reagan and Thatcher, have a very tough time. History is gleefully rewritten to accommodate the view that the 1980s are simply not worth examining - and, if anything is worth examining in that dreadful decade, it's because of "influences" from other decades - particularly the 1970s, which were rewritten as totally wonderful about fifteen years ago.

Also, if you formed a pop band in 1981 and you are one of the "great and good", it is desirable to say that you formed that band in "about 1979" (and certainly not in the 1980s!) - happens all the time - although the trend has faded more than somewhat in the last few years.

When I began this blog in 2005 it was because I was amused at the tendency of pop culture pundits (including the BBC - which continues to indulge itself in '70s fantasy presented as fact even in 2012) to move likeable pop culture of the 1980s into the 1970s or 1990s. A huge fad of the early 1980s suddenly became "1979", another early '80s fad slipped back to 1976, a popular TV ad of 1985 became 1990... it was nonsense and absolutely hilarious because it revealed how insecure and self-deceiving many media and web pundits were. We were fascinating, influential and groovy before the 1980s, we're much better than the 1980s afterwards. Nothing to like in the 1980s!

When somebody like Ed Miliband (born December 1969) states that he remembers the 1970s well or the BBC shows a Dominic Sandbrook (born 1975) series revising the 1970s into something glorious, one can only assume that some people were a little too influenced by the 1970s hype of the 1990s and early 2000s as youngsters.


I haven't heard the interview with Mr Toulson-Clarke, so I can only comment generally, but yes - the 1980s did have '70s influences - and influences from further back (just as the '70s were positively awash with influences from the 1960s and further back). It's only natural - decades are short periods of time, and if they were allowed no influences - particularly from the immediate past - then things would be very odd indeed as time is a constant stream and decades a human construct. Imagine, in the 1970s' case, if people could not have gone on wearing flared trousers after New Year's Eve 1969! Goodness - although these were very much a 1960s bequest and selling like hot cakes in fashion stores late in that decade, the '70s would have lost a major fashion trend, wouldn't they?

And the '70s would also have lost Chopper bikes (on sale in UK stores in 1969), the space hopper (on sale and a craze from spring 1968 onwards), rock and pop stars like Led Zeppelin, Slade and David Bowie, dreadful '60s-inspired wallpaper, plus the stylophone, hippie chic, and synthesisers (which would have been ruinous for the 1980s when synth pop entered its heyday!). 

And, just think, the '70s, which enjoyed a huge 1950s revival, would not have been able to revive that decade at all, nor the1960s ska and Mods and Rockers' scenes!

I believe that 1970s music and pop culture was far more swamped by 1960s influences than the 1980s was by 1970s influences simply because the 1970s had so many revivals - the 1950s, Mods and Rockers, Rockabilly, ska - and more -  and never fully succeeded in shaking the 1960s out of its hair (although Punk took a darned good stab at it!).

There is a lot of piffle written about Margaret Thatcher who, of course, won her first General Election in 1979. It's as though her tenure as Prime Minister throughout the 1980s was then absolutely assured and that the electorate had decided on a major and permanent change of direction at that point. From my perspective, from observing the events of 1979 at the time, I think that people were simply sick of the Winter Of Discontent, spiralling inflation and unemployment, and that's how she first got in. The BBC news bulletin at the end of Sheila Tracy's Truckers' Hour from May 1981 featured here mentions the results of a poll from a reputable source which found that if a General Election had been called at that point the Tories would have lost. 

Ah, a poll you scoff. Yes, good point, but Thatcher became highly unpopular with many people in the early 1980s and it was the Falklands War of 1982 which helped her tremendously to win a second term with a landslide majority. She even called an early election in 1983 to take advantage of that fact! And the election of Ronald Reagan as American President in November 1980 was  probably far more influential on the shape of the 1980s than anything Thatcher did simply because America is so much larger than the UK. And yes, loathe though many revisionists are to admit it, Reagan was elected in 1980 and inaugurated in 1981, not in the 1970s!

Let's look at 1950s influences on the 1960s and beyond: What if National Service hadn't ended in 1958, the Rock 'n' Roll era hadn't begun and the Pill hadn't been invented? What would the 1960s have been like then? Also, CND was formed in the late 1950s - ushering in the era of student protest. And what if Margaret Thatcher hadn't entered politics during that decade? No election wins in 1979, 1983 and 1987 then, eh?!!


Let's look at the influence the 1980s had on the 1990s. What if the World Wide Web hadn't been invented in 1989? What if the Game Boy hadn't been invented in the 1980s, or Microsoft Windows? What if the ZX Spectrum and the Apple Mac hadn't come along? What if the first handheld mobile phone hadn't been unveiled in 1983? What if work on the current GSM mobile system hadn't begun in 1982? What if the Grunge scene hadn't started in America? Or the Stone Roses had not released their seminal 1989 album? What if...

To sum up: to pretend that the 1980s were simply a lot of '70s influences and were somehow stagnant or alone amongst the decades for having influences from the past is pure piffle and bunk. To pretend that the 1970s were not HUGELY influenced by the 1950s and 1960s is similar piffle and bunk.  Anybody with a thought in their head can see that it is pure nonsense.

It's like some kind of illness "bigging" up certain decades. '80s Actual simply looks at what went on within that ten year span, referencing the past and the future where necessary. 

And we maintain that it was a turbulent, vibrant, fascinating and influential decade. 

And that's fact.


Dave Mullen said...

I recently saw an interview with Simon Toulson-Clarke, singer of Red Box, a two-hit wonder band of the mid-1980's. He claimed that the 1980's music scene was nearly all "70's influences" and that the music wasn't up to much - although Red Box were, in his opinion, innovative and good.

I had to have a think on who Red Box were, and yeah, they had a decent (if cheesy) song or two to their name, but hypocritical interviews like this are nothing I've not seen before. And Everybody has an opinion after all.

I think 80s music does have a very distinct sound, it's generally very upbeat in tone and obviously there's the use of synthesisers and different instruments than we get today but I've been reminiscing and listening to a lot of stuff via the wonder of Youtube in recent months and finding a lot of forgotten gems that I've not heard in donkeys years and never get radio airtime, (Double:Captain of her Heart for one). The thing that gets overlooked a bit is that this was a decade that still embraced different genre's and some experimentation in the charts - Reggae was represented by UB40 among others, Synth-pop was championed by by OMD, Soft Cell, Axel F & Ultravox, I think I'm right in saying Rap first appeared here as well.
Yes, there was an awful lot of silliness and cheese in the charats as well. A heck of a lot. But on the other hand you could say this was a sign people, and the industry, didn't take themselves deadly serious as well - they could have fun!

Drew said...

The '80s definitely saw the American Rap scene evolving into Hip Hop, the golden era of synth pop and the creation of House and Acid House. And there was a lot of experimental stuff too, not to mention The Smiths - indie legends today! But I think it's funny the way the 70s are hyped. Quite a lot of that decade really did reek of the 1960s! The "diss the 1980s" attitude makes me smile. Sooo priggish! :)

Anonymous said...

Good point. It doesn't suit a lot of people to 'big up' (as you call it) the 1980's because of Thatcher and Ronnie R. And of course the 1970's were awash with 1960s, 1950s and further back influences (and you forgot the '70s big flirtation with 1940's fashion, lots of 30's/40's boutiques), just as the '50s teddy boys loved Edwardian style jackets (hence the name) and Twiggy adored 1920s hairstyles in the '60's. The '80's also exalted in retro, but it wasn't until the 1990's that it became the main or just about only thing. God, that was boring. And for anybody who spent their teens and twenties in the '90's, you have my sympathy! And the 1970's repackaged and sold as the new 1960's in the 1990's and 00's to gullible little morons. So very sad!

Drew said...

Oh, every decade has its good points - including the '90s! And every decade has its retro! The "thoroughly modern" 1920s brought back the shawl and the bustle and loved "Pre-War Dances"! Whilst I'm here, can I ask that people resist dive bombing this blog with comments and adverts for their radio shows, etc? Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

I've got a couple of new names for Disco music. How about Post Soul or Post Motown? ! :)

Drew said...


Shoe Hole said...

The 70's, 80's, 90's, 0's and 10's were/are trash. Nothing could compete with the mighty 50's and 60's. From rock n roll to psychedelia, the first stirrings of electronic music and rock, anything beyond is over-produced and over-hyped trash!

Drew said...

OUCH! :)

Anonymous said...

Tracey Thorn of Everything But The Girl is just the same as the Red Box guy. A middle class prig, determined to make her early years so commendable. Her autobiography is a masterpiece of revisionism, and of course she didn't want to be like Simon Le Bon and make loads of money. She simply wanted to be in a band. As it was, the only thing Everything But The Girl did in the 1980s that I remember was a cover of "I Don't Wanna Talk About It". Yuppie fodder. So SUBVERSIVE, Tracey girl!

Co Patrick Rogers said...

A well written post. And speaking as someone who loves the two Red Box hit singles, and their other lesser known songs, I was quite annoyed by reading that.

Ironically 'Lean On Me' and 'For America' ooze the mid 80's sound, reminds me of what Paul Simon and Malcolm McLaren were doing around the same time! The 80's did have some bad moments, I'm not particularly a fan of UB40 or U2 but that's just my opinion. And the 60's and 70's had their own fair share of horrific music, *cough* 5 hour long guitar solos, no thanks. The 90's had some brilliant music, especially when it came to Dance, Hip Hop & R&B. I'm very sceptical over the much hyped Britpop era....

The 1980's do recieve alot of unfair slack and I think most of comes down to bitterness. It was a decade which had many faults (as do all decades) but it was certainly unique!

Drew said...

Ah, thanks, Patrick! You sound very level headed. Good to hear from you.

Cogers said...

Thank you Andrew!