Songwriting in the 1980s


I’ve been thinking about this for a while, ever since we’ve been doing the Picks of the Years thing. What got me really started on this was the way that the 1980s divides people. For some, it is the Decade That Taste Forgot and for others it is Pop Heaven. Personally, I reckon that the 80s were like all the other decades, there was good and bad.

One thing that is very 1980s is a kind of glossy slickness, perfect production and a big, wide-screen sound, but never fear, you won’t be hearing anything from the artists in the picture above.

Of course, there are other sides to ’80s music but it is the songwriting, production and general “bigness” of the whole thing that I have been thinking about. Even the intimate and emotionally-charged songs seem to have a sense of epic scale about them. OK, so sometimes it ends up being a musical equivalent of Top Gun, but that just screams out “1980s” anyway.

So, here is a playlist that showcases the glossy sound, the production, the soulful flourishes (without being soul music) and the all-round epic qualities. All of the artists are British, some are bigger names than others, one or two are probably not as well-known as they should be but all of the tracks I’ve picked show up at least one facet of what I’ve been rambling on about.


11 thoughts on “Songwriting in the 1980s

  1. Very big productions all. Liking some, not every song but it does give you a real sense of the times. I doubt I’ll ever like The The, but I do get the feeling I’m alone in that.

  2. it was big wasn’t it – matching the shoulder pads, the hair and the red rimmed glasses!

    The glossy production to me was personified by Trevor Horn and the output of ZTT, so Act, FGTH, Propaganda, Art of Noise would feature in my ‘BIG 80’s’ selection.
    Next up would be a couple of powerful female vocals that were just so much more than normal (but not in an ex factor way) Eurythmics, Yazoo for example.

    My soul is entirely dark so the over the top 80’sness of (some tracks by) Bauhaus, Sisters, Cure and The Glove spring to mind.

    These were my first thoughts at 80’s ‘bigness’ – epic is interesting.

    playlist here

  3. Well, I tried, I really did.

    Blow Monkeys (which is great) and Simple Minds were the only ones that I knew, but (apologies to Toffeboy, Bish and for anyone else for whom this kind of music is vital and life-affriming) yet again, despite the ‘bigness’ of the sound I just can’t find anything to hang on to, I can’t feel the ’emotional charge’. They sound glossy and big, but at the same time kind of……weak (??).

    I know it’s completely my own failure to engage with it, but it just seems strange that something so sparkly and ambitious can sound so wishy-washy to these untrained ears……sorry!

  4. Barring a brush or two with The The, Bryan Ferry and Elvis Costello I hadn’t heard any of these bands and none of the songs. I liked them all despite the love theme (something I’m really not a fan of). Best of the lot for me was Simple Minds. Thanks Carole.
    * Haven’t got round toShane’s list.

  5. Tommy James ~ Three Times In Love – released 1980

    This video’s the only live version of this session I know of. Didn’t know it was on YouTube.
    At # 2:42 – 2:44 into the video, camera quickly pans the fellow on keyboard.
    * That fella is my Late Cousin, Aris, – 20 yrs. old in that video.*
    He recorded & toured with Tommy James in the ’80s.
    It caught me so completely by surprise, that I’m a bit shaken.
    Aris passed away two years ago this month. Odd coincidence !
    I’d been thinking of him strongly before stumbling on the video.
    Just had to share this happening with ‘music’ people.
    Apologies in advance if this is inappropriate for the Spill.

  6. If the video above needs be removed, i understand. Guess was kinda making a ‘trbute of sorts’ …shoulda gone to the Rant board, lol

  7. Tommy James wrote the song w/Ronnie Sonata. It hit #1 – on the charts for
    Adult Contemporary for a week in 1980.
    It’s the title track on the album of same name.

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