Styles & Forms | Eighties | Rock

This was a decade when the impact of dance culture on rock and vice versa sometimes led to exciting results: it opened with ‘Thriller’ and closed with the Madchester scene of Happy Mondays.

Punk had subsided to become the less threatening new wave movement, which, along with the new romantics, dominated the early days of the decade. As with the 1960s, producers emerged with their own distinctive sound – none more so than Trevor Horn, whose work with Frankie Goes To Hollywood was particularly influential.

The synthesizer was the decade’s dominant sound, with many groups replacing guitars with synths. One exception was Dublin’s U2, which started the 1980s supporting Talking Heads and ended it a supergroup. With live rock thin on the ground, a new wave of heavy metal swept Britain before the rise of ‘hair-band’ rock from the States later in the decade redressed the transatlantic balance.

Hip hop was beginning to be heard via the likes of Afrika Bambaataa, while disco kings Chic would become the decade’s hottest writing and production property (though Britain’s Stock, Aitken and Waterman might dispute that).

The descent of the Berlin Wall in 1989 threatened to open new markets to rock, both live and via the new compact disc medium, while even China had allowed western bands to penetrate the Bamboo Curtain. Popular music was now truly an international language.

Sources & Sounds

Just as the 1970s will be recalled for punk’s anti-fashion statements, so the decade that followed will be remembered as much for artists’ return to the dressing-up box as much as the music they made. Duran Duran, Adam and The Ants, Visage, Spandau Ballet, Soft Cell, Simple Minds, The Human League, Thompson Twins and Depeche Mode were just some of the bands to spring from so-called new romantic roots.

Fun And Fashion

David Bowie was the single main influence on the movement, his 1980 hit ‘Fashion’ becoming something of an anthem. London clubs such as Billy’s (which became the Blitz) gave the likes of doorman Steve Strange (Visage) and cloakroom attendant Boy George (Culture Club) their first leg-up to fame.

Instead of guitars, these new bands for the most part preferred synthesizers and rhythm machines. The synth was now considerably less expensive and, inspired by Gary Numan’s late-1970s hits, British youth was favouring the instrument over the previously ubiquitous six-string. And their exploits were chronicled in a new magazine for teens, Smash Hits.

America’s Talking Heads would attempt to forge a link between new wave and black music, more than doubling their quartet with an influx of funk musicians. New Order, who sprang from the ruins of Joy Division after Ian Curtis’s 1980 suicide, had a greater impact with their dance-oriented ‘Blue Monday’ which, available exclusively in extended 12-inch, rather than 7-inch single form, proved one of the most influential dance tracks of the era.

A New Attitude

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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