Aaah the 80s, dark days for pop IMO. Sure we had The Cure, Smiths and JAMC, but rather too many of pop’s A List decided to take the decade off meaning that for every Bunnymen album there were too many Reynolds Girls singles.
So here’s our list of the top ten artists who spend the Thatcher/Reagan years on gardening leave. Let us know who we have missed.
Weller lost his mojo in the 80s – before being rediscovered by Mojo readers in the 90s. The cracking 1977 debut In The City, and the writer’s block-stunted This Is The Modern World followed by The Jam’s finest 38 minutes: All Mod Cons. Sound Effects just about passed muster in 1980, but The Gift was terrible. And while we’ll accept Town Called Malice as a stone cold classic it’s not enough to show for a decade that included the Style Council.
Then, with Paul Weller, Wildwood and the seriously chart-bothering Stanley Road – which I bought in a seven-inch box set, never played, and have now lost – Weller was back on track. And while his output has been patchy since, we have to doff our critical cap to Weller’s willingness to try anything once. And he did himself no harm by refusing the reunion bandwagon: From The Jam for chrissakes!
The poster boy of bunking off the 80s, Neil Young seriously misjudged his audience. Re-Act-Or and Trans; two titles that strike fear into even the most ardent Youngian. Add to that a sudden passion for distinctly average barroom boogie and a live persona that made the punk upstarts of a decade earlier seem warm and cuddly, and 70s superstar Neil began to wane.
But, the decade-closing Freedom had him back on track. And his later discovery of grunge saw him take a Vedderless Pearl Jam (always the best kind) under his wing for Mirror Ball, and things just kept on getting better.
But unlike most of the rest of this list Neil has an excuse for missing the 80s that didn’t involve drugs – Compact Discs. He hated them, and went into a sulk that has lasted to this day with his long-awaited Archives collection coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Massive chart success is no measurement of an album’s quality in our incredibly fussy minds. After a troublesome gestation period that almost got him dumped by Columbia until Born to Run saved his bacon, Springsteen was the biggest thing around in the early 80s, with stadium-filling tours and fist-pumping chart toppers. But The River runs dry compared to Darkness On The Edge of Town, and his only great album of the whole period, Nebraska, was a bleak solo effort that was overlooked by many –except in hindsight.
After the E-Street Band-free 80s and early 90s, The Boss realised what his last great album was and basically re-made it with another bleak solo effort that was again overlooked by many, The Ghost of Tom Joad. Back in the groove and with the old gang back together again, he made the highly impressive The Rising. Several cracking albums on, and Bruce is still one of the best live acts when he hits town.
In the musical equivalent of winning Manager of the Month and then losing the next three games straight, Johnny Cash’s induction into the Country Music Hall of fame in 1980 led to as barren a creative stretch as the Man in Black ever endured.
Dumped by his record company and shunned by his old friends in Nashville, he lowered himself into forming bands with the likes of Kris Kristofferson, and appeared in a selection of made for TV movies – the 80s were not good for Johnny.
It was 1994 before Rick Rubin dragged him out of this trough to record the stunning American Recordings – a spare collection of haunting country tracks recorded by Rubin on Cash’s living room. Grammy awards and another batch of Rubin recorded albums followed, and at the time of Cash’s death in 2003 his reputation was well and truly back in the black!
Okay, so 1989 is officially the 80s, but Lou started his winter of discontent with The Bells in 1979, so we still had to wait ten whole years before the excellent New York dragged Lou away from the gates of critical hell. He always was ahead of the times anyway.
It must have been something about living in Berlin in the 70s that caused Lou along with fellow 80s dodgers Bowie and Pop to screw up so royally in the decade of Princess Di and the Falklands. Or, it could have been that Lou got married in 1980, and divorced ten years later – maybe it is true about happiness being the enemy of creativity!
The 80s started off poorly for Bowie – how else would you characterise the hell that was Under Pressure – although, I must admit to loathing Queen more than any other band ever, so that could just be me. Perhaps it was just the double act of Thatcher and Reagan that got Bowie going all commercial, and with truly massive hits like Let’s Dance and China Girl success was not the problem. And while we can see the quality of some of this stuff, the horrible Tonight with its Tina Turner duet really was a crime against his own legacy.
A brief flirtation with forming a rock band, Tin Machine seemed to drag him out of his soft soul stupor, but the restless creative spirit that is Bowie at his best didn’t remerge until the almost industrial sounds of Outside in 1995. He never had the same success again, but at least the 80s provided him with a sizable lump sum for his pension.
In 1983 Bob Dylan made an album with Mark Knopfler and Sly & Robbie. That should tell you all you need to know about how bad the 80s were for Dylan. But, the fact that the album, Infidels, is regarded as one of his better 80s efforts is even more telling.
After a spell of self-enforced Christianity in the late 70s Dylan floundered for focus, and released miserable session after miserable session. The very end of the decade saw the release of Oh Mercy, another semi-critical success, but compared to his earlier work it was still a pale imitation. In fact, it took until almost the end of the 90s for Dylan to return to form, with the impressive Time Out Of Mind, before entering the new century with the even better Love And Theft – let’s hope he has even more to offer!
Stevie wonder went from an experimental musical genius to a writer of incredibly popular pop nonsense. Okay, so he made a fortune from tracks such as I Just Called To Say I Love You, but who apart from engaged couples looking at first dance options would consider play listing that now ahead of the likes of Superstition or just about anything off Songs In The Key Of Life? Nobody, that’s who.
And don’t get us started on Ebony and Ivory – two fallen stars buddying up for a truly terrible take on racial harmony. We love the sentiment, but c’mon guys, you were certifiable geniuses in your day!
And while we’re pleased Stevie is touring again and putting on some great shows, and his more recent recordings have shown some upturn we’re still waiting for the album that will reignite our love of this music prodigy fallen on three hard decades.
The Beach Boy’s main man checked out for much of the 80s, with drug and mental health problems that would have kept less-hardy souls down for good. Spells in and out of hospital, blooming weight and getting the sack from the Beech Boys did him no favours, and his occasional solo work at the end of the decade met with the muted response it deserved.
And, so went the 80… and the 90s… and then, all of a sudden Brain was back. And while it’s hard to refer to a 37 year old project as ‘new’, the fact that Brian finally got SMiLE off his back probably did him no end of good, and several fantastic shows at the Royal Festival Hall proved him to be in fine, if a little weird, form.
The 80s were a mixed period for Iggy, the third of that trio of Berlin good time boys along with Bowie and Reed. He made a lot of money thanks to Bowie having a smash hit with the co-written China Girl, and also had the big selling Blah, Blah, Blah set. But, compared to the likes of The Idiot and Lust For Life, this album was less than satisfying.
But, it appears as though unlike the drug addled 80s that many of his contemporaries went through, Iggy was in some kind of stasis, and as anyone who’s witnessed the ultra-buff Pop strut his stuff at any of this decades re-formed Stooges gigs the man looks cracking – not just for his age, but for pretty much anyone’s age for 25 up!
And he still keeps going – check back for more info in 2038.