The decade of the '80s provided the listening public options that really had never been seen before. With the onslaught of Pop, Alternative, Punk, Hair bands, Metal bands, Hair Metal bands that were pretending to be not a Hair Band, New Country, Electronic jibberish, and so many other creatures came from the primordial ooze that was the Decade of the '80s.
The '80s did offer quite a spectrum of musical tastes that allowed the listener to extrapolate what it was that they wanted to be musically, and those that were truly adventurous dove into the deep end to see what they might swim up into. I was really no different, I brought my like for KISS, Alice Cooper, and ELO with me from the '70s and as the '80s progressed, so did I. I remember listening to Black Sabbath - Rat Salad on 8-Track with my uncle in his car, and my Mom traversed the infield of McAleece Field with my aunt, my cousin and I to see Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show and the strange smells that were wafting through the air that day...
I sat in amazement as I watched "Take This Job and Shove It" and the music that emanated from it, the music of David Alan Coe, the Mississippi Band, Lacy J. Dalton and Johnny Paycheck transferred me to the realm of the music of my Dad: Country.
Taking a trip with my truck driver Dad, whether it be to the store, or one of the trips I went with him in the summer, always resonated country music and many of my earliest memories of those trips were filled with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and whoever it was that sounded like his scrotum was in a pair of pliers as he sang. Dad always listened to that form of "entertainment", and although it seemed like all of that music revolved around dogs, divorce and drinking, I began to understand its importance in my life.
Now how can anything that is purported to be filled with songs of vice, sung with a voice that was deeply filled with bass and sounded like he smoked three packs of Lucky's a day do that, actually teach me it importance? It was easy really. I began to notice that this music was the sound of the working man, it was their voice, their deep, cigarette rasping voice. A cliche', absolutely but it made sense.
During the trips and travels I saw men and women that busted their asses so hard that they had a permanent slouch in their spine and this music seemed to talk to them and they held onto the words in the furrowed brows of their faces. I saw men and women that knew what it was like to work, get dirty, make a living and raise their kids, I didn't see excuse making whiners, nope I saw hard workers. It seemed like the dust of their labor had grabbed some of this music and held onto it as the next days labor and dust grabbed the next song, and so on, it seemed that this was how they were made and how they survived.
Growing up in a small town, it took some time for the next wave of music to hit me, it was 1982, my parents divorced and kids from my class began talking about these strange new radio stations that they knew of, and the music was different from what we had. This music was as sophisticated as those kids that knew of it, after all they began to hear this music in cities and other states (thus proving their sophistication) and as if it were something unclean, completely rebellious we began to change our parents radio stations to the scratchy sounds from the stations from a galaxy far, far away.
I still remember the first time I heard Van Halen on one of these scratchy stations, I was amazed! The music sounded loud (I wasn't too sure how it would go over in the cars of my parents) so I kept the volume at a respectable level. This new music seemed different and it seemed to force a strange up and down motion of my head as I listened to it and just as I began turning up the volume, I heard of a new station, and it was close. No more scratchy, fading signal but this station seemed even more different, they played the Go-Gos.
Sure the Go-Gos were chicks, but they were CHICKS, and hormones began to flow through the prepubescent teenagers and did I mention they were chicks? The music that began to spew forth was something new, it wasn't really loud, it seemed descriptive (hey I was like 14) but there was other music, not just by chicks and they played instruments foreign to me I think. Synthesizers and drum machines seemed to take the brains of those sophisticated students and made them weird, they seemed to become artistic almost overnight but it couldn't have been the Go-Gos that did it to them, and the names of these bands were odd, not peppy at all. I was exposed to a new world of The Smiths and the B-52s but the Smiths weren't the Smiths I knew in town and I sure as hell knew the noise coming from the B-52s definitely wasn't the sound of the bomber, this stuff was just not right.
I saw transformations in the sophisticated kids, they became really artsy, they cared about causes and they all seemed to know this Ramones family that I had never heard of . My roots weren't of those from the sophisticated kids, my roots began to grow in the dusty brow type thingy I mentioned earlier but I sure did like listening to my KISS records and that Van Halen guy did sound pretty cool so I decided to take that massive leap and stay on the fence between these long haired guys that kind of looked like chicks and the real chicks like the Go-Gos and Pat Benatar.
Music was fun and I was really enjoying the fence, I could hear Pat Benatar on the radio and then listen to KISS on these cassette things that I recorded my KISS albums on, I was living the high life. Sure I was, my uncle, far from Rat Salad had a cassette he wanted me to listen to and with song titles like "Photograph", "Die Hard the Hunter"and "Rock of Ages" these guys sounded cool! Def Leppard became a staple of mine, I loved that album, they were flashy, they had cool guitars and when I visited a cousin that had this thing called MTV, I learned they had a video too.
So began my direction into what some were calling "heavy metal", but I always thought of it as "big hair music", but none the less, it was good stuff and I liked it. The bands in this genre seemed to understand the world, they had money, women and they sang songs about women, booze, and women, it just seemed right. The hair band era had begun and I soon became a large fan of Quiet Riot, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister and Ratt, and I began to learn that the music wasn't just about women and booze (okay sometimes it was) but this music was FUN. Long gone was the dust of the furrowed brow, the artsy fartsy bullcrap and instead there was FUN (ad WOMEN and booze). The genre became an obsession, it became that side of the fence in which I stayed more often than not.
Hair bands were about fun, country was about the working man, the artsy, and seemingly always depressed listeners to The Smiths, became "New Wave", "Alternative", or just plain odd. The problem was that the stupid fence always seemed to sway, and as I graduated from good old Galena High School in 1986, the girls I surrounded myself with liked this music that I easily identified as "bubble gum" as it seemed to mirror the pap from the '50s that all of the girls sang and swayed too, this stuff was exactly the same.
I always laughed at acts like Tiffany, Debbie Gibson and The Cutting Crew, but it seemed that this was the music that those were happy, in love or lust or confusion seemed to turn to and I guess that was what I perceived it to be, happy, poppy, lovey music and thus an entirely new set of emotions.
Galena, my own private corner of the world never prepared me for the phases to come, I came into the genre of punk in the late '80s and I soon found it wasn't comparable to the hair bands, but it seemed to be even more harsh that this "heavy metal" that I was discovering. Metallica sounded nothing like hair bands, they sounded harder, much angrier and they didn't sing about women and booze, nope they chose to sing about war, death and did it in such a fashion that it began to make my head bob up and down, much, much faster than before. As this new genre was filling up what I thought was the remaining spaces of the hair bands of before, punk grabbed me by the hair and beat me into the ground so hard that the music that resided there previously took off running at a dead sprint and vacated their space for the punks.
Punk was this amalgam of music, it had this brash, almost violent sound chock full of anger and profanity but also included the causes of the sophisticated kids, while doing it in such a fashion that you got pissed about the cause (see it brought the profanity out of me right there). Punk was raw. Punk was pointed. Punk was angry. Punk was what those sophisticated kids were missing; anger and angst.
While irreverent, punk was smart and they knew how to get your attention, and how to keep your attention too. Punk seemed like it was the music of any person searching for rebellion, there was enough anger for everyone. Or so I thought.
MTV had come to my little part of the world, and I began to see these other bands, with angry, angry lyrics about the police, abuse, and they sounded pissed off. The first time I heard Public Enemy I thought it was a little disturbing, that could be a bit of an understatement. Public Enemy seemed like they were ready for a revolution in the streets and the anger that they put forth was really kind of scary.
Several of my friends were really big fans of this music, and it seemed as if Rap was everywhere. As I learned through my own trials and tribulations, I realized that this new music was here to stay, and for good reason. This genre became the music of a generation, and although Hip Hop is often lumped into the title of "Rap", it requires its own genre and in many ways Hip Hop has become the "hair band" of Rap.
The decade of the '80s was as tumultuous of a decade that music has ever seen but taking little bits from each of the groups I have discussed, I learned work ethic, love, anger, as well as an appreciation of each and every artist that made their contribution. Without the music of the '80s, what would have become of me? what would have become of us? With the music of the '80s we have seen diversity, and with a little thought, I have seen how it helped make me, well... ME.