A Case for Late 80’s Pop

Nothing new to anyone on here, just a quick and cheap post I guess to try to convince Bish that pop didn’t suck after 1984, i think it got even better. More polished – probably peaking around 1987 for the swooniest pop for my money. (A monster year overall. We have our work cut out on that one.) Then it started to sort of unpolish itself, and started to go other places by the end of the decade. Which was all good.


Madonna – Crazy For You
Thompson Twins – Lay Your Hands on Me
Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls
Talking Heads – And She Was
Scritti Politti – Perfect Way
ABC – Be Near Me
Katrina and the Waves – Going Down To Liverpool
Prince – Raspberry Beret (not on playlist, for obvious reasons)


Bangles – If She Knew What She Wants
Peter Gabriel – Hear That Voice Again
Human League – Human
REM – Flowers of Guatemala


Smiths – Girlfriend in a Coma
Bunnymen – Lips Like Sugar
Cure – Just Like Heaven
George Michael – Father Figure
Brucie – Tunnel of Love
INXS – New Sensation
Terence Trent D’Arby – Wishing Well


Wilburys – Handle With Care
REM – Stand


B52’s – Roam
Pixies – Here Comes Your Man
Stone Roses – She Bangs the Drum

72 thoughts on “A Case for Late 80’s Pop

  1. Ah yes, this’ll be a lovely morning of nostalgia for me… Will plug in when I get to work! I was probably a little over-simplistic about the rot setting in in the mid-80s. But it did seem to get safer and less individualistic and, yes, less ridiculous after about 1984. (And as that supreme early 80s pop star told us, “Ridicule is nothing to be scared of.”)

    But actually, 1986-87 was when I really got hooked on music (as a 14 or 15 year old) so I do have great affection for it. And actually, the seeming quality barrenness of the charts made music that bit more precious for me: you had to work a bit to find the good stuff (and you got to feel superior when you found it!). Plus I was on 10p-a-week pocket money until about 1988, so would have struggled even more than I already did to keep up with owning the “good stuff” if it had been everywhere! So my bro and I made do with his copy of Kiss Me x 3, my copy of Ocean Rain/the grey album, his copy of Strangeways Here We Come…

    Ah happy days!

    • Yeah, after 1984, it might have been more about the producer than the artists. Langlois with U2, Jam / Lewis with Human League, and the production got so lush on everything. Which is i suppose why i liked it, it was such gorgeous ear candy.

  2. To be pedantic for a moment though… Surely “Going Down to Liverpool” was pre-1985? I think the Bangles had recorded their cover by then!

    • Kimberly Rew recorded his earlier, then the Bangles in 1984, then Katrina and the Waves in ’85. Which is my favorite version. I remember getting into it on the mothership once – I love the Bangles, but i’m not buying Americans going to Liverpool with a UB40 in hand. (nevermind that Katrina is American too.) Did you get the Bangles on the radio over there in ’84?

      • I don’t really remember the Bangles until Manic Monday. But that could be more down to my age than whether they were played. Plus, my folks were missionaries and we didn’t return to the UK for good until mid-1984, so before that is a bit of a blur for me (or, more accurately, a period I discovered retrospectively).

      • The Bangles were on national TV (The Tube) and GDtL was on the radio a bit. Hero Takes a Fall, too. But there sound was still very much out of the mainstream until they got even poppier on the second album.

        Nice list. You could DJ at the 1980’s retro nights! πŸ˜‰


      • Well, it’s not a terribly eclectic list, it’s pretty mainstream. Which is kind of the point, that’s what was all over MTV and maybe the radio, but i imagine there was some pretty horrible pap on AM radio here at the time.

        It would probably be more of an intro to younger people who weren’t around at the time, and who might wonder what the 80s were all about.

        I had a job a few years ago where i worked with a bunch of high school and college kids, and we took turns picking the digital radio station. I tried to put on the Safety Dance 80’s station once, and the kids were like, Amy, turn this fucking shit off right now. So we all generally settled on the Lithium 90’s grunge station for common ground.

      • I’ve always rather liked the ‘Americans singing about UB40s’ thing with the Bangles’ version. It’s sort of charming. In a ‘why is Kim Wilde singing about being a Kid in America in a London accent?’ sort of way.

        I’ve just watched the Bangles video on youtube. I have no recollection of it (Leonard Nimoy!) at all from back in the day.

      • I love that Kim Wilde song. I was uncharmed by a bunch of British kids singing about the tough life on Tobacco Road though.

        Then again i should probably just shut up. I don’t seem to have much problem with a bunch of middle class Brits singing country and blues about life in America with cod country and urban accents.

  3. I’m surprised Touch Of Grey isn’t in your list, amy. An OK song given the full MTV treatment to make it a pop hit. Sold with an almost-tragic backstory, too: X-Factor gold! πŸ˜‰

    • You know, it probably should be on my list. Never even though of it though. Didn’t that get to #1 here? I’d say it probably got a new generation listening to the Dead, but most young Deadheads probably knew of them from their parents anyway.

  4. Great playlist amylee and a good representation of the music in the eighties tho’ one small niggle: The Boss, INXS, The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen … Pop!!!!!!

    Thanks for the heads up for future years in barbryn’s challenges.


    • I waas waiting to be called out on that. Nope, i wouldn’t call the Boss pop overall. Or the Pixies, for that matter, or REM, or the Heads, or whomever. Or others on that list. But they sure came with some poppy tunes in the late 80’s.

      Boss discovered synths in the 80s too πŸ™‚

    • I’d make a case for that INXS tune, and many others i left off of the list, as more funk than pop though. (Or pop funk.)

    • This is probably sacrilage, but i’l call Born in the USA more of a pop tune than a classic rock tune. And it’s, incidentally or not, the song and album that made Brucie massive here, despite kicking out great albums for the past decade or more. REM had been putting out great albums for a long time too, but it was Out of Time (1991) and the loathed (but not by me!) Shiny Happy People that made them massive.

      As to the heads up for future challenges – i thought about that but am not worried about it. At least from ’87 on, this doesn’t even scratch the surface, there was just so much else going on.

      • Hi amylee, you’re right about Born in the USA making The Boss a ‘commercial’ success, I would say it was true of the UK too, for me anyway as I was 17 going on 18 in 1984 and whilst I knew some of his earlier stuff, who didn’t know Born To Run I wasn’t in to Springsteen so much.
        I was just starting to explore wider music types having been a “metal head” through my teens and that album was the one that got me in to his back catalogue.

        It was Automatic for the People that got me listening to REM, though I had heard and liked Shiny Happy People, which was more Kate Pierson’s influence I think.

        I had been aware of INXS since the earlier part of the eighties but didn’t get “in to them” until Kick and ‘X’.

        You’re right about the late eighties as challenge years, there’ll be plenty to choose from πŸ™‚

      • Nebraska was just before Born to Run – quite a shift there. As a Jersey kid, i first heard of him from Greetings from Asbury Park, but missed a few albums in there as distracted by other tunage. Until BITUSA.

  5. Dunno, i’m not really buying the snobbery argument, although i’m not denying that there can be some snobbery involved. And i’m not a musicologist or anything, so my idea of it is pretty subjective. And because i obviously love a great pop tune, as well as obviously some classic rock.

    GF – for a crude sort of difference, in my own head anyway – i can think of it in terms of maybe AM and FM radio tunes. It’s actually possible to do that without snobbery.

    Here’s some other attempted definitions – my favorites being

    a) “The Pop Music Melting Pot”

    “Like other art forms that aim to attract a mass audience (movies, television, Broadway shows), pop music has been and continues to be a melting pot that borrows and assimilates elements and ideas from a wide range of musical styles. Rock, r&b, country, disco, punk, and hip hop are all specific genres of music that have influenced and been incorporated into pop music in various ways over the past 5 decades.”


    b) Pure (or Power) Pop

    “Art is not a concern. Audience pleasure in listening to the song is the primary goal.”


    • Here’s Michael Stipe on Stand

      “Singer Michael Stipe has said of the song’s origin that he and the other band members were discussing The Banana Splits, The Archies, The Monkees, and similar 1960s pop groups. β€œThey threw these super bubblegummy songs at me, and I said, β€˜I’ll raise you and see you one.’ And I wrote the most inane lyrics that I could possibly write. Now, it was a very intentional thing to do that. I really like most of those songs, in fact.”

    • I wasn’t meaning to have a dig at you, by the way, Amy (although I was obviously being a bit cheeky). I guess there’s also the sense that classic rock has stood the test of time whereas pop is inherently disposable. But funnily enough, I would argue that some of the most ‘of their time’ records sound fresher nowadays than some that were perhaps ‘built to last’ (which just sound tired now). See, I dunno, Yazoo’s “Nobody’s Diary” vs Dire Straits’ “Twisting by the Pool”. Or the Supremes’ “Stop! In The Name Of Love” vs Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” (yes, I did just google that as a contemporaneous track to the Supremes; no, I’d never heard it before).

      • Ah, Mountain. A band whose reputation far exceeds its musical value. I wonder how many people have actually ever sat through an entire Mountain album and thought “I must flip that over and play it through again”? See also; Grand Funk Railroad.

      • I’d literally never heard of them, Carole (and from a brief listen to that track, I can kind of see why). I just looked up the list of acts at Woodstock and picked an unfamiliar one!

      • I’m going to disagree with you too about classic rock having stood the test of time as opposed to pop. Wikipedia (fwiw) defines it as a radio format (ie FM radio here).

        Classic rock is a radio format which developed from the album-oriented rock (AOR) format in the early 1980s. In the United States, the classic rock format features music ranging generally from the late 1960s to the late 1980s, primarily focusing on commercially-successful hard rock, blues rock, and arena rock popularized in the 1970s.[1] Although the format appeals mainly to adults, many classic rock acts consistently attract new generations of fans.[2][3] Some classic rock stations also play a limited number of current releases which are stylistically consistent with the station’s sound, or from established classic rock artists who still produce new albums.

        Great pop passes the test of time as surely as rock does.

      • Ah, so it must be a (semi-official) US term then? I just thought it was a catch-all for the sort of music championed by magazines like Mojo!

      • Well, it is sort of a catch-all apparently, but stemming from the classic rock format. Those bands are still called classic rock.

        But back to Brucie – there’s a big difference to me between Rosalita, Born to Run (can’t stand that song), Nebraska, and then Born in the USA and subsequent albums. BITUSA was a really catchy tune, and the un-inane, non-throwaway lyrics made it brilliant. Tunnel of Love has a gorgeous aural landscape with those synths.

    • I don’t know whether it is a snobbery thing or something slightly different, a hangover from the underground ethos of the late 60s and early 70s.

      Certainly, I was incredibly dismissive of the overwhelming majority of acts that sought out singles chart success when I was in my teens and early 20s, until punk came along, when singles became relevant again. Until then, it was all about the albums. Singles were just commercial.

      Even in the 1980s, when there were a lot more singles that were worth listening to than at any time since the mid-1960s, most of the stuff put out was still rubbish. For me, it was usually a case of avoiding the radio as much as possible, except for late night Radio One, and seeking out music that wasn’t mainstream. I really hated the superficial glitz and sheen of most 80s stuff, especially as it was always accompanied by a faux-Hollywood video that looked like it was part of an episode of Moonlighting or Miami Vice. Yes, I hated 80s telly as much as I hated most of 80s chart music. I suppose that it is my age, but what I always wanted was music that came from outside of the mainstream, and I still do, really. That is why those 80s chart records that I do like were made by people doing it for themselves, on small labels and with a counter-culture ethos. They have a kind of honesty and sincerity that most of it lacked. I suppose that it is the difference between Orange Juice and the Kane gang, on one side, and Stock, Aitken and Waterman, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran on the other, to picjk a couple of obvious examples.

      There are a whole load of acts from the 80s that I never thought of as singles bands, because I discovered them as album bands; people like REM, for example, and later on Throwing Muses, Belly and Pixies.

      • I agree that the video thing gave a pass to a lot of bands (hi Duran Duran) that probably wouldn’t have made it as big if it weren’t for good looks. The music is really kinda crap. But as a visual person, i liked the idea of the art of video. Probably why i watched so much MTV in the heyday as opposed to listening to college radio as usual. Before that, all we got for visuals were the occasional concert film, or shit like this –

        As to singles vs albums bands – certainly sucks to have bought an album based on a single or two to find that the rest of the album sucked. But i love a good pop tune whether it’s by an album band or a one hit wonder. And yep, mixed in with those was and is a whole bunch of shit. And yep, classic rock had an awful lot of wank in there. Our FM radio played deep cuts (and nowadays they have a deep cuts Sirius station for old farts too.) You’d hear Brown Sugar on AM radio, and Can’t You Hear Me Knocking on FM. That helped sell a lot of albums, and probably helped to keep that problem at bay for awhile, until the 80’s singles anyway. When did they start releasing EPs? I think that’s a was a pretty good idea, actually.

        Now with digital, you can download any tune you want on an album as singles so you don’t get stuck with the rubbish when you want just one song or two.

        (A confession – as a sucker for pretty guys in makeup, i actually bought a Duran Duran album. It was awful.)

      • Duran Duran were obviously inherently ridiculous but having spent the last few months trawling charity shops for old 7″s (a new hobby) and having bought a fair few by Duran, I think some of their singles still sound pretty good: crisp production, tight playing and as funky as white English boys are ever likely to get. Their singles have certainly aged better than those by their contemporaries and rivals Spandau Ballet. (But I don’t doubt that their albums were awful.)

      • As for that Miami Vice / MTV (1984) visual aesthetic, i have to wonder how much of that can be blamed on Blade Runner (1982). A great film and a visual feast.

      • I never heard anything else from Spandau except for the True single. Which i still love. But they looked so good. Duran Duran might have been better if Simon was a better singer. But John Taylor is a great bass player. Seemed like they wanted to be Bryan Ferry / Roxy, but the real deal was putting out better solo music. I’ll still take the Power Station over Duran. Now that i played a lot, and still love Some Like it Hot. And Robert Palmer could sing.

      • Robert Palmer could indeed sing. He always just seemed a bit of a sleaze (at least in part because of the Addicted to Love video).

  6. The difference between pop and classic rock is simply the distance between your feet when standing on stage. Pop is more demure. πŸ˜‰

      • I’d never heard it till you mentioned the other day. Nice song but the plinky-plonky calypso-esque musical backing/production is a bit wince-inducing. Like the musical equivalent of someone my sort of age trying to squeeze into skinny jeans.

      • Yes, the video was fun but you do have a fair point, bish. I blame Brent (Mydland, who provided the keyboards). Oddly, it attracted a vast quantity of ‘young people’ to the band.

        Should have noted the caveat that, starting with Madonna, pop women have had to keep their legs apart on stage, to ensure we know that they too have genitals.

        With the arrival of MTV, pop needed a video more than a studio.

  7. Another post Fuel and i could probably do is a defense of 80’s funk. Lotta great white funk too in those years, and Prince finally embraced the funk with Sign O the Times.

    • Did Hue and Cry make it to the States? I bought Labour of Love on 7″ the other day. Good little bit of (Scottish) white-boy funk.

    • Funky Fuel in the 1980s. Ha! That’s a lie. But this is what I remember: Sorry, this is more early or mid 1980s cos I didn’t really go to “disco” discos after I left Blackpool, except for LA’s in Hull. After the Mid 1980’s it’s house and pop grooves like FYC, TT Darby, Inner City…

      Anyway, the slappy bass, funky 1980s:

      Mary Jane Girls – All Night Long
      Gwen Guthrie – Ain’t Nothing Going On But the Rent
      Shannon – Let the Music Play
      Rick James – Superfreak.
      George Benson – Gimme the Night (Wine bar favourite)
      Gap Band – Burn Rubber
      Farley Jackmaster Funk / Darryl Pandy – Love can’t Turn Around
      Gary Byrd – The Crown
      Evelyn Champagne King – Forget Me Nots Actually that’s Patrice Rushen but ECK had loads of hits and er… Melba Moore was in similar mode.
      Indeep – Last Night a DJ Saved My Life
      Tom Tom Cub – Genius of Love
      SoS BAnd – Groovin
      Xavier – Work That Sucker to Death (+ lots more George Clinton)
      Shalamar – Night to remember
      Quincy Jones – Ai No Corrida
      D-Train –
      Talking Heads
      Womack and Womack – Teardrops
      Ashford and Simpson – Solid
      Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing
      The Jacksons
      Michael Jackson
      Luther Vandross
      Freeez – IOU
      Lynx – You’re Lying

      If we start adding house/electro and rap like Herbie Hancock or MARRS and Grandmaster Flash/Melle Melle, Whodini then it becomes really broad. But the clothes I wore for going out in… Not sure I want to be reminded of those, so no videos.

      • Ha! I’ve played this recently. Ace (as in bad video) and the sidebar links to The Whispers, Frankie Smith, Kool and the Gang. I imagine this is hell for most people here… but listen to Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues influence or is it vice-versa

  8. I can give you some classic rock snobbery if you insist though. Classic rock vs hair metal, which i generally loathed. But Rich, Chinny, and Aba probably too would quite rightly argue with me and they’d be right – because they enjoyed it, and that’s kinda all that matters.

    • As quite a few people know, I have quite a liking for a bit of AOR/stadium rock stuff occasionally, but I really draw the line before you get to hair metal.

      There are whole musical genres that I cannot bear at all. I can’t stand Oi and all that shouty hardcore punk stuff that originates from people like Sham 69, Cockney Rejects etc and I don’t much like stuff like Sum 41 and Green Day who call themselves punk but just sound like identikit frat boy rawk to me

    • Sorry, I’m REALLY late to this, but hoping that the comment’ll pop into people’s Inboxes:
      Officially and for the record – I almost completely lost my connection to heavy rock from about 84-89 because I FUCKING LOATHED hair metal. There are NO records in the DsD collection from Motley Crue, Poison, Ratt, WASP, LA Guns, Cinderella, etc., etc. None, zip, zilch.

      If it involved hairspray, spandex, eyeliner, videos filmed from crotch-level of a band gurning athletically on a migraine-inducingly-overlit stage, and endless braindead lyrics about “gurlz”, it could just FUCK RIGHT OFF!!! There’s not even any Def Leppard here after 1983’s Pyromania.

      * whew! * … calms … So, er yeah, Classic Rock snobbery? Guilty as charged, m’lud.

      Pop, on the other hand, I embraced BIG-STYLE in the mid-80s. I agree with Carole & Fuel’s comments quite a bit, but sorry, Amy, because of tastes I acquired at that time, I also own two Basia CDs.

      • Apologies! I thought that you were a Kiss fan at least. I absolutely can’t stand them. I’d toss Whitesnake in with hair, and i’ll duck and run before i get into that discussion – i have to say i’m not well enough informed to make my case there. I own no albums, but even i admit to a liking for some of Ratt, LA Guns, and Skid Row. Finny you mentioned Da Lepp – i though Pyromania was a few cuts above hair as well, that’s more in the vein of basic rock i think.

        • Oh I am a KISS fan alright, Amy. But I have been since Double Platinum came out, so they were firmly entrenched in my psyche a good six/seven years before the hairspray became more important than the song. (And yes, I appreciate the double-standard I’m guilty of in that comment.)
          You alluded to Dave Lee Roth. Love the man, love his humour and attitude, but actually, yes, much of his post-VH output is exactly what I objected to. His would be about the only albums I have that would crop up in any hair metal Best Of … lists. Aerosmith would also feature in said lists, but somehow – probably again because I was a fan of the band before the 70s ended – I don’t consider them ever hair metal.

          You are BANG ON about the re-invented Whitesnake, though. But I don’t want to start that argument again either.

      • On the subject of DLR: if Bish didn’t already have the mother of all selections to choose from, I might have tried to shoehorn [sorry!] Sensible Shoes into RRSA Nostalgia.

      • I love VH – i give DLR a pass before the solo career. Couldn’t stand the actual Diamond Dave gigolo stuff. (And i believe you’re a Hagar fan, but i’m not.) I think they started to become hair a bit on1984 though. We both like Panama, I like Jump but you don’t, and i loathed Hot for Teacher.

        Perish the thought on Aerosmith though. Tyler had long hair, and that’s about all they had in common with hair metal. I’d call that more classic rock or Carole’s stadium rock. A buddy did say that he could weep when he hears their old blues based rock though. I like Janie’s Got a Gun, but Don’t Want to Miss a Thing was shit, they lost me there. Old age happens to the best of them.

  9. Another interesting case here is Peter Gabriel. From classic rock – yup, prog was classic rock here. FM raido was where you went to hear your Crim, Yes, ELP, Genesis, etc. And there were synths too.

    So from Genesis to some great solo stuff – Shock the Monkey and Games Without Frontiers to So. Now Big Time and Sledgehammer were as commercial pop tunes as you could get. I remember one critic saying that Gabriel got away with it because he was singing about his dick. Great video, anyway. (I personally don’t like either of them much, or Don’t Give Up, but that’s just me.) But some otherwise seriously beautiful tunes on that album.

    Meanwhile, Phill Collins took Genesis all the way down the pop toilet.

    • I never much liked Sledgehammer or Big Time either. And both – particularly the former – were over-dominated by video visuals. I almost can’t imagine Sledgehammer as a song you would just listen to.

      • I have to say that I generally don’t really like music videos at all.

        I’d rather hear music than watch a silly film with a song attached to it. Videos with bands in concert tend to be a bit more acceptable, though. There are very few videos that are worth watching more than once, Anton Corbijn’s video for Atmospheresprings to mind.

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