12 February 2013

Postbag - Rubik's, Ellie Goulding And "The Wreck of '86", True '80s And The Beginning And The End...

Several wonderful comments and e-mails - thanks, folks! Glad a few people are reading '80s Actual!

Andrew (another Andrew!) asks:

Out of all the icons of the 1980s, what is your personal top?

Has to be the Rubik's Cube. Its launch, less than a year into the decade, and the ferocious craze that consumed 1981 are etched on my mind. The '80s and the Cube go hand-in-hand. Forever associated with my mid-teens and the getting-underway of the happiest era of my life.

Paul writes: 

In her song Anything Can Happen, Ellie Goulding refers to the "Wreck of '86", the year she "knew the panic was over". It was the year she was born, and since then she's found out that anything can happen! 1986 is seen as a wrecked sphere submerged in the sea in the video accompanying the song. It's a long time ago, isn't it? Makes me feel sad and old. The song has a brilliant '80s synth sound to it though.

Who on earth is Ellie Goulding?! :))

Sandra says:

I enjoy your blog. Its an unashamed celebration of the 1980s and I certainly have a lot of fond memories. I know eighties fashions and music are back in vogue, but why do you think the decade is so maligned by some?

In a nutshell, Thatcher and Reagan. I find it hilarious because, although I was an ardent Labour supporter and wouldn't have stopped a bus for Maggie back then, there is no way that the decade is to blame for all the ills of today. I was a care worker from the early 1980s until 2008 and the cutbacks imposed in England by the New Labour government caused me to leave and seek employment elsewhere. Getting in a froth about Maggie/Ronnie is simply a lazy and priggish exercise in my view. That era is long gone. And pretending the 1970s were Sunnybrook Farm is laughable. There are many things which need addressing now that were unimaginable in the 1980s. And besides, the '80s were colourful, zesty, fascinating, and multi-faceted!

And Keith asks:

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when the 1980's began and ended?

That's an interesting question! Do you really want to know?


OK, here goes...

How The 1980s Began...

Picture it, December 31, 1979... a decaying council house somewhere in England... no central heating... kitchen a prefab - condemned for years - slowly detaching itself from the house - the wind penetrating the gap... mouldy bedroom walls... metal framed windows at front... draughty wooden sash windows at the side and back - no double glazing... a housing estate that was truly a "sink estate" long before the term was coined... my parents were throwing a New Year's party - theme: "Welcome To The 1980s!"

The day did not promise well for the 1980s. The '70s had often been a nightmare for many of us - naff, brutal and sex-obsessed, but the oft-repeated promise on ITV on New Year's Eve 1979 that Paint Your Wagon was to be the big film for New Year's Day 1980 did not indicate any improvement. I mean, Paint your flaming Wagon! The "big film"! Can you imagine?

I was fourteen and in awe of the approaching decade. At the end of the 1980s I'd be twenty-four. It seemed an unimaginable leap. I'd be absolutely grown-up. Where would I work? Would I be able to find work? Who would I be with? What was sex like? What strange new trends would the 1980s bring?

Back to 1979, and I looked around our grim little house - even the Christmas decorations could not hide the fact that we lived in a dump. And as for the "mod cons"! No VCR, of course - only 5% of UK homes had them in 1980, so in 1979 we had no hope. No mobile phones. No computers - we regarded computers as being for boffins. Couldn't imagine what the future held there - I never dreamed they'd be at all relevant to people like me. No microwave. Never even seen one. Our TV was black and white. And we weren't "on the phone". Only one house in our street was. 

Mum had Coronation Street on as she put the sausages-on-sticks out, and Elsie Tanner commented: "Well all I can say is it's been a bad ten years!"

Too right, Mrs T!

The party got underway, the air thick with fag smoke, revellers plying me with drink - "Come on, Andy! Have a little!" But I didn't fancy it. My step-father and his pals were decked out in their finest 1950s gear. Of course, the 1970s had played host to a huge 1950s revival, but my stepfather and his pals had got there before the '70s got underway, all being mournful at having missed the '50s. They'd been children then - too young to participate in the fashions.

The music was naff. My mother loved Lena Martell's One Day At A Time, and it was played about eight times. Rockabilly Rebel by Matchbox also did sterling service on the turntable. The rest was a ghastly concotion consisting of the likes of Elvis, Charlie Pride and Jim Reeves. Making plans For Nigel was sadly absent.

The guests got progressively more and more sozzled... and the 1980s arrived.

We sang Auld Lang Syne and then, about twenty-five minutes into 1980, I was shocked rigid to discover... but, whoops, I can't go into that! Sorry!

At our house, the first day of 1980 passed with repercussions from the shocking incident which had taken place in the opening half-hour of the new decade, hangovers galore and, of course, the threatened Paint Your Wagon.

Nipping to the other end of the '80s... in the meantime, computers had begun to seem relevant, Reagan had come and gone, Maggie had won two more terms, Microsoft Windows had arrived, as had the first commercially available computer mouse and satellite TV, a raging torrent of crazes had gripped us (including Rubik's Cube, Pac-Man, deelyboppers, Trivial Pursuit and Dancing Flowers), DNA fingerprinting and the C5 had been invented, the mobile phone had made its debut, Big Bang had banged, Chernobyl had gone into meltdown, riots had raged, yuppies had arrived, swanked and sought dosh, the microwave oven and the VCR had moved into the ascendency, CDs had arrived and the World Wide Web had just been invented but was yet to become on-line reality...

Back to me...

How The 1980s Ended...

Picture it, December 31, 1989... a shared flat... quite pleasant, quite modern - built in 1980! The windows weren't double glazed, but it was centrally heated... I was "on the phone" and had a colour TV (a black FST model!). I was in my bedroom listening to the radio, which was belting out various pop hits of the '80s for New Year's Eve. 

"The '80s are dying now," commented the DJ.

What a gloomy thought, thought Andrew.

I was getting ready to go to a friend's party - a theme party - the theme being "beachwear". I had decided to pretend I hadn't heard about the theme thing and attend in some nice '80s flash trash - specifically the Miami Vice look, my favourite chic of the decade.

I wasn't looking forward to the 1990s. The "great and the good" had been telling us how bad the 1980s had been for us for some years before the decade ended - conspicuous consumption, image over content, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah, but I couldn't see that. I'd been so earth-shatteringly poor at the beginning of the decade (and, indeed had grown up in poverty), and the highly honest, brash glitz and posturings of the mid-to-late decade had been a great pleasure to me, socialist though I was. As had all the controversy. The '80s had turned into a bloody battle between Left and Right and I'd found the whole thing had made me feel alive

Then, 1987 had sent shock waves through the yuppie world with Black Monday.

And 1988 had given Thatcher the collywobbles with Acid House

It was said that the 1990s would make up for the "greedy" 1980s - we would be wearing lots of plain white clothes and women would be carrying handbags made out of recycled cardboard - or some such. That didn't happen and I found the 1990s to be a major disappointment - a long dark night of apathy, revisionism, greed and hypocrisy which continues to this day.

Don't be offended, '90s fans - we're all entitled to our opinions!

Anyway, back to the point.

Let my diary tell you about the end of the 1980s as I lived it - with a name blanked out to protect the (not so) innocent:))

The party was fine. I spent a lot of the evening with my tongue stuck down _____'s throat. The clock struck twelve and the '80s became the '90s. It was as simple as that.

10 February 2013

Fashion Trends Of The 1980s: Doorknocker Ear-Rings - Modelled Here By Neneh Cherry...

Here's Neneh Cherry giving us her BRILLIANT Buffalo Stance and sporting a pair of 1980s doorknocker ear- rings.

'80s ear-rings were often a nightmare - there was the putrid, coloured plastic variety; the axe head variety (looked very brutal indeed) and the studded doughnut (often black, but appeared to be studded with metal- went well with studded black lycra).

And then there was the doorknocker.

Who's looking good today?
Who's looking good in every way?

Er, Neneh, I hate to tell you...

But back in 1988 Neneh looked very, very trendy indeed.

Pet Shop Boys 1986 - "Opportunities - Let's Make Lots Of Money" - Original UK Chart Version?

They met in August 1981. And Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe made a Docklands development-sized impact on the mid-to-late 1980s popular music scene - rich in electronics and deliciously droll irony...

Had an enquiry from Phil:

Hi! I enjoy your 1980s site a lot and have a little question for you. In 1986 I loved the Pet Shop Boys hit "Opportunities Lets Make Lots Of Money". I have searched it out on YouTube and heard some great versions of the song, but I'm sure they are not the same as the version in the UK charts in '86. I seem to remember it being faster and even more electronic. Am I right? And if so, where can I find the chart version?

You are right, Phil! There were several mixes of this song. I have the UK chart entry mix on a 1986 compilation cassette - Now That's What I Call Music 7 - and it has a harder, faster, dancier sound. Do look out for copies of Now 7 on on-line auction sites. Of course, there is no CD version. Perhaps the NOW people might consider rectifying that situation with a release of all the pre-CD NOWs on that format for the thirtieth anniversary of the launch of this legendary compilation series?

1983-2013 - thirty years!! Doesn't seem possible...

Now That's What I Call Music 7 - 1986. The Pig had gone (last appearance Now 5) and for this outing we had a very different design. But then we were S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G. Neil and Chris filled us in in 1987:

 No questions in the house, no give and take
There's a big bang in the city
We're all on the make

We're S-H-O-PP-I-N-G, we're shopping
We're S-H-O-PP-I-N-G, we're shopping

Our gain is your loss, that's the price you pay
I heard it in the House of Commons: everything's for sale

Feel the Quality!

05 February 2013

1989: The True End Of The Cold War

Faye asks:

Did the Cold War end in 1989 or 1991?

There seem to be differing views on this and I'd value yours!

I'll give you the view of Mikhail Gorbachev, who became Soviet President in March 1985, interviewed by Katrina vanden Heuval and Stephen F Cohen of The Nation Magazine in November 2008, Faye!

Mikhail Gorbachev: 

... If President Ronald Reagan and I had not succeeded in signing disarmament agreements and normalizing our relations in 1985-88, the later developments would have been unimaginable. But what happened between Reagan and me would also have been unimaginable if earlier we had not begun perestroika in the Soviet Union. Without perestroika, the cold war simply would not have ended. But the world could not continue developing as it had, with the stark menace of nuclear war ever present. 

Sometimes people ask me why I began perestroika. Were the causes basically domestic or foreign? The domestic reasons were undoubtedly the main ones, but the danger of nuclear war was so serious that it was a no less significant factor. Something had to be done before we destroyed each other. Therefore the big changes that occurred with me and Reagan had tremendous importance. But also that George H.W. Bush, who succeeded Reagan, decided to continue the process. And in December 1989, at our meeting in Malta, Bush and I declared that we were no longer enemies or adversaries.


So the cold war ended in December 1989?


I think so.


Many people disagree, including some American historians.


Let historians think what they want. But without what I have described, nothing would have resulted.

When you consider that after Reagan and Gorbachev first met in 1985, Reagan declared: "Gorbechev is a diehard Bolshevik!" and Gorbachev stated that Reagan was "A real dinosaur!" it seems amazing just how their relationship thawed. Do read the full article, it's fascinating (here), but the dramatic events of 1989 certainly left most of us agreeing with Mikhail Gorbachev that the Cold War had ended. Things no longer felt "Cold" - hadn't felt that "Cold" for a few years in fact - and there seemed no prospect of a "War".

Why this tendency persists to state that the Cold War ended in 1991 with the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, I don't know. Nothing 'signed' in 1989? The Cold War was never signed into being in the first place. I suspect though that many of the "great and good", including many highly respected historians, have a hard time allowing the limelight to fall on the 1980s, a decade many of them like to scapegoat and revile.

So they gabble things like: "and in 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. In 1991 a whole new era began as the Cold War ended and the world looked on stunned as the dissolution of the Soviet Union took place before their very eyes..."

I'm afraid, after 1989, that was no great surprise.

1989 - the year the Cold War ended? I'm sure that sticks in more than a few priggish gullets! But I'd much rather listen to Gorbachev.

04 February 2013

Paul McCartney And The Frog Chorus: We All Stand Together...

Remember Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus? The song, of course, leapt up the pop charts. Smash Hits interviewed one of the stars in their Bitz section back in December 1984 ...

The London Borough of Finchley is not only the constituency of Margaret Thatcher, but also the home of Hamish the Frog who, along with his two younger brothers Ian the Frog and Keith the Frog and the artistic assistance of Paul McCartney, has created a record that is positively hopping up the charts. 

"We All Stand Together" by Paul McCartney And The Frog Chorus is the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition for Hamish, Ian and Keith.

"We've been croaking and humming since we were tadpoles," explains Hamish. "We began with the odd gig down the local aquarium, then we graduated to more, er, prestigious venues - boating lakes, swimming pools etc."

The talented trio - actually they were a quartet at the time but fourth member Steve the Frog mysteriously disappeared only days after the opening of Marcel's French Bistro on Finchley High Road - first came to the attention of Fab Macca last year. The Frogettes were playing an open-air free festival (in Greenpeace) at a Sussex duckpond near the McCartney home. Also on the bill were Spawndau Ballet, Howard Toads and Barry Manilow. Macca, impressed by their "energy and commitment", invited them along to "do do a session" and the single was born.

So what was it like working with a living legend?

"You mean Rupert the Bear?" croaks Hamish.

No, no, no. We mean Paul McCartney.

"OK," shrugs Hamish, "but we don't just want to do novelty records. Our tastes are a bit more, er, radical than Paul's."

What does he mean exactly?

Hamish scowls. "Every year three million frogs are slaughtered and their legs amputated for the eating pleasure of the bourgeoisie," replies Hamish, hopping mad by this point. "The tragic death of our brother really brought this home."

Hamish wipes a tear from his eye, warns "Bitz" to expect something a bit more "hard-hitting" for their next single and hops off home to the luxury Finchley fish tank the brothers have just bought with their royalties.

There goes a frog who does not mince his croaks.