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The 80's were a decade of experimentation and innovation. It was also the era, when music became more popular than ever before, which led to an explosion in new bands and genres. This meant, that there were many more influences on music during this time period, than there are today. While it is true, that some of these new bands did influence the '90s, they didn't do so in such a way as to make them sound like their predecessors. A lot of the music, that was coming out during the '80s sounded very different from music, that came before or after it.
For one, the musical style was a lot more influenced by pop music, than it was during the '60s and '70s. This was mainly due to the rise in popularity of MTV and the pop singles, that were being played on the radio a lot more. Bands like The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order, A-Ha, INXS, Duran Duran, and many more were having a lot of influence on the music, that was being made. Another big change from the past was the use of synthesizers and electronic instruments in music. Before this came around, rock and roll was almost completely ruled by the drums and guitars. Rock bands didn't use synths and electronic instruments, because they didn't exist back in the day.
The '80s saw the rise of these instruments in rock and it would forever change music as we know it. Bands like Craftwork, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Giorgio Moroder, Gary Numan, and Aphex Twin were all very influential during this time. Musically, the '80s was also a lot more introspective, than the previous decades. Many people attribute this to the troubled economy during this time period, which did play a part. The self reflection can also be heard in songs about relationships and even about drugs, which were big during this decade. In fact, the moral decline in American society can already be heard in music with a song like "Respectable" by The Rolling Stones.
These are only a few of the many differences between the music of the '80s and that of the past. To learn more about this time period and the music that was created, I would recommend, that you listen to some of these songs. They will give you a better idea of what the decade was like. Don't worry, they aren't as hard listening now as they were back in the day. Recommended Bands: The Smiths, New Order, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, A-Ha, Eve 6, The Style Council, George Michael, The Police, and U2. Recommended CDs: The Police - Reggatta De Blanc, Michael Jackson - Thriller, George Michael - Faith, U2 - The Joshua Tree, Talking Heads - Little Creatures, David Bowie - Let's Dance, Duran Duran - Duranguy, Depeche Mode - A Broken Frame, George Harrison - All Things Must Pass, Talking Heads - concert film from the '80s.
If you really want a good time, you should buy one of the many music CDs, that came out during this decade along with a pair of nice headphones. Sit down in a quiet place and listen to these CDs until the songs become as familiar to you as your own voice. Then, you will truly understand what the '80s were all about.
One of the common things you will hear when people criticize music from the 80's is the lyrics. Bands like Nazareth, Mötley Crüe, and W.A.S.P. are often brought up. Lyrics like "I'm violent, I'm stupid, and I'm proud of it!", "Drink a bottle full of poison, it won't even hurt!" and "When I die, I'm going straight to hell!" are among the more obvious ones. Another common complaint is the over use of synths and electronic beats in music. It is said, that the absence of these things make music from the '70s and earlier better, than that from the '80s. I don't really agree with this though. I think the '80s had their fair share of great synth songs, but I also think, that these songs are few and far between.
The answer is simple; it's the lyrics. Take a look at some of these old songs; they all have very simple beats and not much in the way of complexity. However, the lyrics in these songs are much more poetic and often times very meaningful. Take a look at the opening lyrics of Van Halen's "Panama" for example:
"Jump back, what's that sound? Here she comes, full blast'n top down Hot shoe, burnin' down the avenue Model citizen, zero discipline
Don't you know she's coming home with me You'll lose her in that turn I'll get her!"
I don't really think you need complex music with deep and meaningful lyrics to achieve a similar effect. The fact of the matter is, the simplicity of a song with complex lyrics is enough to create a much stronger atmosphere, than complex music with shallow or outright stupid lyrics. I think this is one of the few things, that can truly separate music from the past from today.
Remember, music is not just about notes and rhythms, it's about feeling. You can take a normally simple sounding song and make it much more powerful with lyrics, that mean something, even if they're complex. So turn off the radio and take some time to listen to something with deeper meaning. You may just find yourself experiencing feelings you never knew you could.
The music industry of the '80s was extremely lucrative and bands like Van Halen, Ratt, and U2 all benefited greatly from it. However, it is interesting to note, that the decade produced a few bands, who had relatively successful runs during this era although hardly anyone remembers them today. Personally, I think these five acts are the bestsellers of the '80s, if for no other reason, than because they all released a lot of music that's still enjoyed today (even though U2 has lost a bit of their luster recently)
5 . Tiffany
Tiffany was a relatively successful band, that rose to prominence during the '80s. The band was rather forgettable though and had no major hits, like some of the other bands on this list. Despite this, a couple of their songs did manage to enter the top five of the music charts. Their most successful song was "I Think We're Alone Now," a rather creepy ballad about loneliness which peaked at #2. Most people probably don't remember this band at all even though they were fairly popular at the time.
4 . Eurythmics
This band was actually a success during the '70s as well, but nothing much came of it at the time. The band broke out of the shadows during the '80s though and had a very successful decade. Their biggest hit was "Would I Lie To You?" which hit #1 in 1985. The song is about lying and actually does a good job of telling the listener not to do it. It's one of those songs that's catchy yet also meaningful. It's easily one of my favorite songs by them.
3 . Milli Vanilli
I know what you're probably thinking, how the hell does this obscure group from this obscure decade make the list when we are supposedly talking about the best sellers of all time? Well, this is where things get a little weird. This group had some success in the United States during the early '90s. That's right, the Milli Vanilli duo actually had a hit song in the United States! "Girl You Know It's True" actually hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1991. The song was just as corny as you'd imagine a Milli Vanilli ballad to be, but it was a hit nonetheless.
The duo consisted of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus. Morvan was the actual vocalist and performed all the singing. Apparently he was a pretty good mimic. In fact, he got his start in show business impersonating John Travolta onstrike. Pilatus did all the writing and was the more musically talented of the two. He played all the instruments on the song as well as many others for Milli Vanilli. He was also responsible for coming up with the dance moves for the video which Morvan mimicked in the video. Something about the whole thing just seems fishy and you have to wonder if Morvan didn't copy his famous impersonation of Travolta.
2 . George Michael
I don't think there's a single person on this planet that hasn't heard the song "Faith". It's probably the most recognized song from the '80s and for good reason. It's a very catchy song with an interesting and unique video to boot. This song was the was released from the "Faith" album. The album itself ended up sold with 25 million copies worldwide.
1 . We Are The World
We Are The World is without a doubt the most famous song from the '80s. It was released in 1985 by Columbia Records. The song was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie for the album "We Are The World" in 1985. The song was recorded by various artists in an attempt to raise money for the famine relif efforts in Ethiopia. The song became an instant hit, reaching the top of both the US Billboard Hot 100 and UK Singles Charts.
It was the biggest selling single in the US. It is arguably the most memorable song to come out of the '80s and is still one of the most recognizable songs today. It is the most successful charity single of all time.