The albums and cassettes I listened to in the Eighties (yep, that’s what we bought then), the really good ones, it’s funny how often I end up giving them a play today. And when they’re on, it’s not just the songs, but the emotions they stir, remembering little moments when that song or album it was on came out, a clear reminder of the time period or that something going on – deep associations. Perhaps this is part of what makes a great song and album great, music coupled with the time period and circumstances of that moment, paired to make a truly outstanding package.
Nowadays the concept and scarce regularity of which an entirely great musical work comes out in a single package is nearly as rare as air at 8,850m. There’s always a catchy tune, track to tap your foot to for a bit, but an entire work you listen to (not sure whether to say CD or digital file nowadays) part-and-parcel because as good as many of the tracks are, it’s still better as an entire body of work. That’s uncommon.
Letting the mind run wild, ruminating and recalling; there are Ten Eighties that still resonate at 39-years-of-age, prompt spontaneous smiles, revive old memories and give goose bumps.
Back in Black, Where the Streets Have no Name, Walk this Way, Heart and Soul, Purple Rain, I Want Your Sex, Paul Revere, Drop Dead Legs, Paradise City and Billie Jean. They’re all on my Ten Eighties. These songs, despite all the other incredible ones on their respective albums, really stand-out. The playlist is running as I write and these are truly stand-outs of their decade (listed in alphabetical order):
My first real Van Halen experience – cruising around Skate Country’s floor, lap after lap, to Diamond Dave pulling splits in the air on the video screen and the hits keep coming. Who would have thought this would be Roth’s last go with the band until 2012 when it didn’t really matter anymore? The cover, the synth intro – a big first for the band, and then the shiny rock tracks get laid-down one after another. Jump, Panama, Hot for Teacher and on it goes. The final couple songs while not radio hits put a big finish on one of rock’s great albums.
Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Wow, summer after Grade 10 and the guitar riff barrels from the rear speakers of my buddy’s Mustang. This was it, the hook, the anthem of not only the summer but year ahead. And then you got a taste of the record and it just unfolded – more and more and more. An iconic sound from the sky, laying-down a rock and roll bible that highlighted a decade and a fun teenage summer, just starting to pay attention to the ladies.
Back in Black (1980)
Holy crap – never heard anything like this! Is that guy screaming? In pain? Singing? All of the above? The band’s name I knew, but listening to the entire cassette (both sides) in the front seat of a co-worker’s car on a cool Canadian evening, in the parking lot of Lloyd’s Rollercade where I worked, it blew-my-mind. Infectious, rugged, intense and bare-bones-why-people-love-rock-and-roll. And this finally answered a question I’d wondered about since playing on wooden playground equipment during elementary school that had AC/DC carved in it. Thinking then that whatever AC/DC was it must have been badass and mind-blowing. Turns out they are.
The Top 8 at 8 dolled-out its nightly measure of hits on AM radio and there it came – “Sex”, and the guy singing wanted it. Turns out people weren’t sure if you could say that and have a video showing him saying it to sexy women. This was the first real make-out album for a plethora of young men, not excluding yours truly. Again, another summer that’s cemented by a cassette: lying on a bed, smooching between parents coming to the door “to see if we wanted a cookie or something”, and doing it some more. And to think we didn’t know he was gay!
Joshua Tree (1987)
A new city, what seemed a huge tower, the service apartment we were in was pretty cool and this was the big leagues – we’d moved to Calgary, AB. Heard the lead-single before coming here but was soon addicted to a second one, saved some money and made the mighty purchase. The beckoning guitar riff on the opening track formed a deep gravity that continues to pull. Slow ones, lyrics requiring a real listen, up, down, happy, contemplative. U2’s seminal effort.
Licensed to Ill (1986)
Band room in junior high, our conductor and teacher Mr. Frizzel is borderline losing his mind. It must have been the most perverse, untalented collection of noise ever assembled to his ears. Fight for your Right ran the band room stereo despite it being quickly removed by Mr. Frizzel if you didn’t get it out first. While we were loving the purest form of music with our instruments there was no doubt this couldn’t be ignored. The entire album blazed and it just gets better with age. Still spins in my hard-drive often.
Purple Rain (1984)
This man is wearing makeup and what looks like women’s clothes. But he’s with hot chicks in the video. What gives? Ah, forget about it, the songs rock. Pop and guitar, blaring emotion coupled with cold-cool-slow, on-fire licks and lyrics I couldn’t entirely understand. Something about this album had to do with sex but it alluded at 11. This album bashed through so many limits, norms, and made a hell of a lot of folks feel a bit uncomfortable while tapping their feet and no doubt getting their groove on. A modern symphony of sorts.
Raising Hell (1986)
Wearing a football jersey, the one with the holes in it that starts above the belly button, probably throwing some lawn darts, the beat bellowed from the ‘Older Guys’ ghetto blaster on the neighbor’s lawn. We all stopped and slowly found courage and reason to get closer and learn what the sound was. That led to sitting on the grass and taking both sides down. It played much of the next few months, forming a major part of the soundtrack that junior high summer in Prince Edward Island.
Go carts, mini golf, Atlantic beaches, all-you-can-eat-lobsters, swimming at Holiday Haven and summer. It was everywhere – Huey Lewis and the News were a sophisticated cool to a kid. Sports jackets, nice cars, curvy women, and a full band with saxophone – these cats were switched-on! A few pop-rock groovers, a required but decent slow song, falling in love number, and even a stab at country. This one ran many teenager’s cassette and record players for months.
A white, sequined glove on a guy’s left-hand, the populace became addicted to zippers, everyone was trying to slide backwards, the globe was mesmerized by the phenomenon. Few people have been more ‘IT’ than Michael Jackson then. This guy was big, bigger than???? Dance moves, bizarre but likeable clothes (that we’ve all lived to regret our mom’s having a picture of us in), infectious beats, and ripping guitar laid-down by Eddie Van Halen for free! A Beetle even chimes-in on a duet. Gotta find my glove…