The End of an Era?
Author: Amanda Knight
Imagine walking through your local record store on a Saturday afternoon. The promo posters for the latest releases are hung in the storefront windows beckoning the avid and casual fan alike. After all; that is the it record and you simply must tear off the shrink wrap in a fury the moment you get it home to your turntable. The store is alive and bustling. The radio is tuned to the local station in the background and the guy working behind the counter has a line of eager fans that are more than willing to drop a few bucks out of their paycheck to express their devout love for their band.
Now imagine walking through the aisles, gazing at the records you already own, the ones you wish you owned, and the ones you wouldn’t dream of owning. You’re just about to hone in on the very album you’ve been waiting for when, much to your horror, something catches your eye. Lying there cold and alone in the clearance bin, a cut through the top corner, and a miserable red sticker slapped onto the shrink: The Who My Generation. Immediately, your attention is completely drawn to the ghastly sight. But, it gets worse, underneath it is The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers, Jefferson Airplane Surrealistic Pillow, The Beatles Abbey Road, Jimi Hendrix, Are you Experienced! You are now woken from your fantasy only to discover you aren’t in your local record store but a place called Tape World and all these people are in here to buy the newest album from some band called Wham! And that local radio station? Well, it’s indeed playing all the hits, and every one of them is guaranteed to come with a synthesizer. You are quickly reminded that it’s 1985 and in the clearance bin laid the remnants of rock era gone by.
It is of my opinion that the 1980s in general were hard on rock bands of the 1960s and 1970s. No longer did Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop or Kansas’ Carry on Wayward Son receive regular radio play but instead we heard Blondie’s Call Me and Lipps Inc.’s Funkytown. While the 1980s were launch pads for the careers of Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Bruce Springsteen; the 80s proved to be the nail in the coffin for 60s and 70s rock bands. The 1980s ushered in an era of synthesized, studio-produced magic that not even Jimmy Page himself could re-create on stage with one guitar. Rock as we knew it had finally lost its last flake of glitter as new musical genres and styles dominated the airwaves. The ‘consumer generation’ prompted a need for classic rock bands, as we now know them to evolve and keep up or die trying. This move proved particularly harmful to Queen’s career with their 1982 album Hot Space that prompted fans to remind them that Disco still sucked. Pink Floyd, while poorly received by critics, appealed to their followers with the release of A Momentary Lapse in Reason in 1987.
While we true rock fans would remain followers no matter what the 80s would do to our beloved bands; one can’t help but confess to themselves: It just wasn’t the same. The sound became different. The lineups became different. Even the way albums were released was different with the advent of eight track tapes and cassettes. U2 would replace The Beatles on airwaves and Phil Collins’ solo career
would trump his work with Genesis. Was rock reinvented or did it meet its demise in an era where drum machines and looping were on the rise? Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and Guns and Roses wanted us to know that rock was still alive and well. But, was it the same ol’ rock we knew and loved with bigger hair? In my opinion, no. It was 80s rock. Big, excessive, and loud just like the 1980s were intended to be. It gave birth to a new kind of rock that cast an ominous shadow on our pioneers of the 60s and early 70s.
I think another factor we must consider as the façade of rock changed are the fact that it’s fans, like the 70s, were growing up. David Bowie once sung ‘look out you rock and rollers; pretty soon now you’re gonna’ get older’ and he was right. We gave peace a chance and now it was time for Modern Love.
There was another little game changer the 80s bestowed upon us that I’d like to refer to as MTV. All of a sudden the music video was an art form and musicians walked a fine line between their musicianship and acting. Don’t tell me you can listen to Michael Jackson’s Thriller without picturing the crucial, well-choreographed zombie dance routine. Live concert footage became nostalgic compared to the cinematics a good director could throw together in five minutes, thirty-two seconds. The rock flame would burn dimmer as the decade of excess made “classic rock” seem less than excessive.
It’s nothing unusual that bands want to be progressive always advancing, always changing, but maintenance of the group dynamic and its original sound intention is a key piece to survival in the ever-changing music landscape. The 1980s saw a technological and cultural boom that made it a struggle for our aging bands to keep up. It brought a second British Invasion of new wave, punk and addictive pop. Suddenly, guitar solos were traded off for iconic synth riffs such as that of Aha!’s Take on Me and Van Halen’s Jump. Influential? Of course it was. The entire decade was. But when I think about rock, I can’t help but also think that the decade bullied it. Rock was heavy, or so we thought until the 80s defined heavy. Perhaps I’m a little biased, but I miss it. The last stop on the bus was 1979 and that’s as far as our fare would take us.
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