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1980's Pop Music and Culture
Transcript of 1980's Pop Music and Culture
Popular Music and Culture in the 1980's
If Heavy Metal was the 2nd British Invasion, this is the 3rd.
A new wave of British bands hit the American charts with catchy, rhythmic pop music which relies heavily on synthesizers for all aspects of the sound: drums, keyboards, bass, processed vocal effects, etc. The music is very danceable, and is seen as a reaction away from the progressive/hard rock popularity of the 1970’s. This genre spawns many one-hit wonders. Great groups who exemplify this style include: Flock of Seagulls, Scritti Politti, UB40, Pet Shop Boys. This sound filters into the music of established and rising American artists such as Michael Jackson, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper.
The Third British Invasion..."Synth Pop"
On ground broken by "American Bandstand," "Soul Train," "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert" and other music-themed TV shows, a cable channel dedicated solely to music, MTV, arises in the early 1980's. It became THE vehicle for the marriage of culture via popular music in America. It had endless appeal...kids could see their favorite artists' videos 24 hours a day, and see what fashions were "in" and be aware of what was happening to their generation, and adults could see videos of their favorite music stars from the 1970's.
I WANT MY MTV!
The MTV Generation
MTV was launched 12:01 a.m. August 21, 1981, with the words "Ladies and Gentlemen...Rock and Roll."
The first video played?..."Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles. The second?..."You Better Run" by Pat Benatar.
In 1983, Michael Jackson released his single "Thriller" not over the radio as was traditional, but as a video on MTV first...setting a trend.
Although early music videos were fairly crude promo shoots that bands did, the rise of the Video Producer and the complexity and artistic level of these videos rose exponentially.
For the first time in history, the culture begins to drive the music, NOT the other way around.
"MTV's greatest achievement has been to coax rock & roll into the video arena where you can't distinguish between entertainment and the sales pitch." -Stephen Levy, "Rolling Stone"
This is a sub-genre of heavy metal that is “metal for the masses.” Its lyrics are not divisive or rooted in subculture like traditional metal, and the dress and style of the performers is very glam and outrageous, almost androgynous in nature. They also pioneer a heavier version of the rock ballad, which is what charts for most of these groups. Popular and successful groups in this style include Poison, Ratt, Motley Crue, and Heart.
This music was immensely popular with white teenagers, and received a great amount of airplay on MTV in the mid-1980's, especially starting in '87 in the slot called "Head Banger's Ball."
Some individuals, such as Bono from U2, and Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats, see opportunities for social change through popular music, recalling similar efforts from the 1960’s. Bono writes music about social problems and change happening both in his native Ireland and worldwide, and visits with various heads of state; Geldof records the famous “Do They Know It’s Christmas” single with the top British pop and rock artists of the day, which raised awareness of the neglected Third World. These efforts spawned large benefit concerts such as Live-Aid and Farm-Aid, and tapped into the “I bought a ticket so I can feel good that did a good thing for society” market.
Not to be outdone, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones
record an American response to this, using top American
talent, called "We Are The World."
Rock for Political and Social Change
In the early days, MTV was challenged in the media about not playing very many videos by black artists...it is generally agreed that the video that "broke the color barrier" was "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson. As early Rap and Hip-Hop became more and more popular on the radio, MTV began to include those videos on consistent airplay, especially the Run-DMC cover of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" (on which Aerosmith appeared) and "You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party" by The Beastie Boys (a group of white rappers).
In 1988, MTV began airing a slot called "Yo! MTV Raps" which featured nothing but Rap and Hip-Hop videos.
"Billie Jean" only got airplay when executives at CBS Records threatened to pull all of theirother artists from MTV unless it was played.
The rise of Black artists on MTV
This cultural music and lifestyle was born in the Bronx, created by inner city black and Latino youth...it comes out of the African tradition of call and response, the griots (oral tradition), and Jamaican "toasting" or dub music.
It came to light during the 1970's as block parties became more popular...DJ's would play popular soul and funk records, and would "rap" over the percussion breaks, imparting information about the next party, etc. Since these breaks were short, DJ's began to experiment with dual turntables, and from there, scratching and beat mixing/matching evolved.
In the early days of Hip Hop, "b-boying," a style of dance where
kids would wait until the break section of the song to
dance in a wild manner, evolved into what was known
as "Break Dancing."
Hip Hop was viewed as a positive thing for kids to get
involved with, a way to express the true experiences of
their lives in the inner city in a safe manner, an alternative to
the pervasive gang problems which plagued NYC.
Where does Hip-Hop come from?
Unlike how it started, today you would be hard pressed to find a lot of music programming on MTV. Beginning in 1997, MTV branched out to concentrate on being a cultural influence by becoming the first to program Reality TV ("The Real World," "Road Rules"), and progressively roll back music videos in favor of shows that appeal directly to youth culture, such as "House of Style," game shows like "Remote Control" and "Singled Out," and comedy shows like "The Tom Green Show" and "Beavis and Butt-head."
You might recognize shows like "The Osbournes," "Punk'd," "Paris Hilton's My New BFF," "My Super Sweet Sixteen," and "Jersey Shore" that ran from the early
2000's until now.
Consequently, MTV is considered to be the first TV
network to develop itself as a "brand," with a unified
vocabulary, visual identity, and corporate voice...something
that is now standard practice in the world of television.
What is MTV all about today?...
Societal Changes that affect the Popular Music Landscape:
•The transformation from an Industrial economy to a Service economy.
•The explosion of new and better technology. Between 1977-1980 the “Apple II” computer from Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak was born, IBM launched the “Personal Computer,” Atari produces a gaming console, Bill Gates invents the graphical interface “Windows,” US Govt. creates “Arpanet,” a geographical network between computers that had 430,000 “users” that can share messages known as “e-mail” and can post messages on the “Usenet,” a shared place in cyberspace. Guess what this was renamed as in 1985?...
•The emergence of the street gangs in major cities gives inner-city youths from broken families a sense of belonging through their code of “honor” and sense of territory. These gangs were not afraid of holding open conflict with other gangs, and using music to transmit their message to everyone who would listen.
*The power of the consumer over advertising..."New Coke" loses...or, does Coca-Cola "win" the Cola Wars?
•The children of the 1970’s became the “lost generation” of the 1980’s…their grandfathers had fought Hitler, their fathers were the Baby Boomers…what were they? Nothing. Yet.
Exemplified by Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, and John (Cougar) Mellencamp, chronicling and outlining personal struggles of the "everyman," working class values and issues, and personal redemption.
Working Class Rock
The popularity of Alternative Music in the mid to late '80's came primarily out of college radio stations that loaded their rotations with non-mainstream, non-Top 40 music. Bands like The Smiths, The Replacements, Dead Kennedys, Prefab Sprout, Husker Du, Psychedelic Furs, and Bauhaus did not achieve the mainstream success and critical acclaim that U2 and R.E.M. enjoyed.