Sunday, May 16, 2010

Retro thinking

I've been doing some time travelling the last week or so. I try not to indulge in nostalgia music too much. I grew up in the 80s and I thought I was more than aware of the weaknesses of the music in that decade. Yes, we have U2 and a few other choice bands, but I think if you look at the last 60 years of popular music, "cheesy" is probably the word that describes the decade the best.

So even while I'm constantly trying to find new bands or acts, or hoping acts that I already like have new music coming out soon (next up, I believe, is a new Band of Horses album) I do occasionally like to listen to music coming out of the 80s.

But here's the thing...I thought I had a pretty good grasp of 80s music. I knew which acts were popular, along with the music trends and who influenced what. However, I think I'm coming to the conclusion that I do not know nearly as much as I would have thought. This comes from a series of events rolling together over the past few weeks.

First up was flipping the TV over to Galaxie to the 80s channel a couple of weekends ago, just to have some music on while we were cleaning. And yes, some of the hits were there, and some of the songs I have literally not heard in 25 years or more. There were songs that came off of such a beast as "New Wave Classics, Vol. 13" (seriously?). But then there was music I'd never heard of before and was kind of good. Which was weird.

Then I picked up a copy of the last Spin Magazine, which was their 25th anniversary issue, which was talking about different acts and musical scenes and songs...again, a surprising chunk of it I'd never heard of. Then today, on a lark and because there's nothing else to watch on a lazy Sunday morning/afternoon, I watched something called "Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 80s." I think I had the most fun arguing about whether or not acts like Madness, Big Country and Thomas Dolby were really one hit wonders with people on Twitter and Facebook. But again, there were a number of songs I'd never heard of before. For that matter, I was shocked to see Aldo Nova and Red Rider on the list. The show was American, and I never figured "Lunatic Fringe" and "Fantasy" were ever hits in the US.

So yes, there is a surprisingly large void when it comes to my knowledge of 80s music. And in retrospect, I blame this on OZ FM. And maybe Much Music, but they came later. For those who can remember such things, Much Music was a pay TV channel during the first few years of its existence. And my father, well, he's not cheap, but he hates to waste money. Moreso back then. So the odds of getting him to splurge on a music video channel were slim.

So yeah, counting on OZ FM and Casey Kasem's American Top 40 for you music education in the 80s means there were bigger gaps than I might have thought (I don't think The Cure or The Smiths were played that often, for example). I guess I could have tried listening to CHMR, but with due respect to the friends I have who were DJs on the station, or are still there, CHMR in the 80s was a nightmare to listen to. The "90% of everything is crap principle" was taken to the extreme and DJs were either playing crap music or were sounding like condescending pricks because you couldn't get the awesomeness of whatever they were playing. Or they were stoned and incoherent.

I missed a lot of fun music in the 80s, it appears. And that kind of makes me sad. Stuff that was great, but that never would never had made it onto the Top 40 or on OZ if you put guns to their heads (my one and only time I ever called OZ to request a song was to hear "Istanbul, not Constanople" by They Might Be Giants. The DJ laughed at me and hung up). I'm not sure if it would have made a difference in my life, but I think it might have.

I remember how important music was in the Muse in the 90s. People running into the office after getting a tape from some unknown act called Nirvana or Tori Amos. I discovered a lot of cool music at the Muse. Those are the friendships that tend to stick and last, when you can bond over music or movies or TV. So I wonder what it would have been like to have found someone who could have introduced me to the cool music, rather than whatever was popular on OZ at that time.

Just some thoughts on a Sunday afternoon of watching too much 80s music video...

Last Five
1. Bad (live) - U2
2. The Guitar - They Might Be Giants
3. Maybe sparrow (live) - Neko Case
4. Don't believe it all - Treble Charger
5. Leaving on the evening tide - Ron Hynes*


WJM said...

The only problem with 80s music is that they didn't play the good stuff on the radio then, and as retro-fodder, they don't now.

Meanwhile, Baby Boomer fodder from the 60s and 70s, selected by Dingo and the Baby or some such, will continue to dominate the airwaves until the last of the geezers kicks it.

rohodster said...

I bet if you were to ask the program director of OZ from those days, he/she would tell you that CANCON played a large factor in this.