Saturday, December 28, 2013

End of USSR Followed by Dearth of Good Music

It's a common refrain - "Music was better in my day".

"Why do you need new bands? Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974. It's a scientific fact" - Homer Simpson

In the case of post 80's music, however, I think that there is more to it. I can look back to all of the decades from the 40's through the 80's and find numerous examples of good music and accompanying lyrics.

Like languages, architecture, and other forms of artwork, music can give us an idea of the mindset and feeling of the people who lived through their respective periods. The music of the Big Band era of the 1940's, for example, can easily make one feel the virtual confident euphoria of a United States that, by her convenient geographic position, powerful industrial and agricultural bases, and Anglo-American culture that could be turned towards destroying fascist tyranny. I think that the feeling of the still-confident but more exploratory, concerned about a possible war with the USSR , and ready to break-out with newfound freedoms such as privately-owned automobiles 1950's could best be represented  by songs such as Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire, and those by Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

The 1980's was a decade in which music of solid quality came in all forms. Punk, Rock, Heavy Metal, New Wave, New Romantic, and all other variations and styles were available for the taking. Being one of them, I found that high school-age listeners of that era were rarely fixed on any one type of music in that period. Even Metal-Heads or other rockers would often be happy to hear 'Come on Eileen", 99 Luftballons", "Too Shy", Der Kommissar', or other songs - that in no way belonged to their favorite genres, on the radio

Americans eagerly listened to the music of bands from free Europe, and it's safe to assume that the feeling was mutual.

The advent of MTV in the United States provided an entirely new venue for new releases, and the portable cassette player (Sony Walkman) made listening to one's favorite a breeze.

By the 1990's when I was in my early 20's and still open to new music, I began to notice that few good songs were on the radio. MTV had already begun its descent into a forum for hedonism and acting as a mouthpiece for Democratic Party candidates. Grunge was the new style, joined by mind-numbing songs such as "My Prerogative" and "Ice, Ice Baby"*.

*[12/29/13 I should add that the only good part of Ice Ice Baby  was the music that was taken straight from David Bowie's Under Pressure]

It was years later when I came upon a possible correlation, and it hit me when I was reflecting on the end of the Punic Wars that were fought between Rome and her longtime enemy, Carthage.

Roman historians, looking back (as always) to see where things went wrong with a people known for patriotic, austere, and admittedly severe lifestyles, saw numerous occurrences that they (understandably) felt contributed to the decline of  morality, work ethic, and the new lack of willingness to serve in the legions.

The massive importation of slave labor created the latifundias, that in time forced the smallholder out of the farming business and into the city where he added to the number of people demanding welfare in the form of panem et circenses.  The reforms began by Marius, that were to eliminate the landowning requirement to for military service (very much like the crewmen of the earlier Athenian fleets) led to the shifting of loyalties from the Republic to the commanders of the landless soldiery. The constant flow of funds extorted from the newly-conquered provinces made elections of magistrates an issue almost purely of the amount of money on hand to buy votes.

There was also one more key factor that these historians noted:

The elimination of a powerful enemy state, one that had not only competed with Rome to become the supreme power in the region, but also came fairly close to forcing the Senate to come to humiliating terms (during the Second Punic War), removed from play the one factor that goes a long way to holding a people together and discourages them from abandoning their faith, love of country, and morality. 

The destruction of the last remnants of military power of  Carthage loosed the people from any fears of being ruled by a foreign power. Rome would have her problems in Spain, North Africa, and the regions north and east of Italy, but aside from the relatively brief invasions of the Cimbri and the Teutones (Gauls- not Germans as we know the word), Romans and other Italics (along with Greek cities in Italy and Sicily) no longer had any appreciable fear of an enemy marching to the Gates of Rome. They felt free to drop their strict lifestyle and enjoy themselves. They also became enervated and wanted lives free of hard work and long military campaigns. 

The 1980's was the last decade in which Western Europeans and Americans had to worry about a possible war with the Soviet Union. During that period we felt a certain connection with our elder cousins who lived in or close enough to the Fulda Gap to know that their way of life was a fragile one and could be blown to pieces in short order. This was particularly illustrated by the music of that era; 99 Luftballons is a classic case in point. The music of the 80's was marketed and listened to on both sides of the Atlantic. It also, like all art of a culture that has yet not reached its end, was full of life, stirred the soul as well as the mind, and made people feel even while knowing that our nations faced  threats far greater than terrorism.  

We also still naively believed that Communism was only a foreign threat.

My opinion (that term is rare on this blog) is that the marked decline in the quality of music, along with the even-more rapid decline in morality, work ethic, appreciation for one's nation and culture in the West, can be traced to the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. It is no accident that the worst forms of "art" in the US, such as "piss Christs" and "elephant dung Mary's",  came about after the dissolution of the USSR. College students, having no fear of any possible invasions of their countries, no longer felt the need to ignore their Leftist professors, who blandly assured them that Marxism just hasn't been "done right yet". It was time to abandon any emotional attachments to obsolete notions such as patriotism and morality grounded in religious beliefs. 

We began to act like the the people in the times of Noah or Lot, and we thumbed out noses at the possible consequences for our acts and omissions. We have long told ourselves that, aside from acts of terrorism, we have nothing to fear. 

I will leave the reader to go over the list of some of the best songs from the 80's and think about whether the period from 1990 until today has produced anything near the quality (and sheer amount) of songs that we were blessed to have in the 1980's. The list is mostly taken (with a few subtractions and additions by me) from the link below. It does not contain all of the songs which I feel were the best, but I did bold the ones that I think were liked by the widest range of young listeners.
AC/DC, 'You Shook Me All Night Long'
After the Fire, 'Der Kommissar'
a-ha, 'Take on Me'

Air Supply, 'All Out of Love'
Air Supply, 'Making Love Out of Nothing at All'
Animotion, 'Obsession'
Asia, 'Heat of the Moment'
Asia, 'Don't Cry"'
Baltimora, 'Tarzan Boy'
Bananarama, 'Venus'
Beastie Boys, 'Fight for Your Right'
Belinda Carlisle, 'Circle in the Sand'
Belinda Carlisle, 'Heaven Is a Place on Earth'
Berlin, 'Take My Breath Away'
Big Country, 'In a Big Country'
Billy Idol, 'Dancing with Myself'
Billy Idol, 'Rebel Yell'
Billy Joel, 'It's Still Rock & Roll to Me'
Billy Joel, 'Uptown Girl'
Billy Joel, 'Pressure"
Billy Ocean, 'Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)'
Billy Squier, 'The Stroke'
Blondie, 'Call Me'
Blondie, 'The Tide Is High'
Bonnie Tyler, 'Holding Out for a Hero'
Bonnie Tyler, 'Total Eclipse of the Heart'

Bryan Adams, 'Heaven'
Bryan Adams, 'Run to You'
Bryan Adams, 'Summer of '69'
Chaka Khan, 'I Feel for You'
Cheap Trick, 'I Want You to Want Me'
Cher, 'If I Could Turn Back Time'
Chicago, 'Stay the Night'
Chicago, 'Will You Still Love Me?'
Chicago 'You're the Inspiration'
Corey Hart, 'Sunglasses at Night'
Culture Club, 'Do You Really Want to Hurt Me'
Culture Club, 'Karma Chameleon'
Cutting Crew, '(I Just) Died in Your Arms [Extended Remix]'
Cyndi Lauper, 'Girls Just Want to Have Fun'
'Cyndi Lauper, 'Time After Time'

David Bowie, 'Let's Dance'
David Bowie, 'Modern Love'

David Bowie and Queen, 'Under Pressure'
DeBarge, 'Rhythm of the Night'
Debbie Gibson, 'Only in My Dreams'
Def Leppard, 'Bringin' on the Heartbreak"''
Def Leppard, 'Photograph'

Def Leppard "Rock of Ages"Def Leppard, 'Rock of Ages'
Deniece Williams, 'Let's Hear It for the Boy'
Devo, 'Whip It'
Dexys Midnight Runners, 'Come on Eileen'
Dire Straits, 'Money for Nothing'
Dire Straits, 'Walk of Life'
Don Henley, 'All She Wants to Do Is Dance'
Don Henley, 'Dirty Laundry'
Don Henley, 'The Boys of Summer'
Donna Summer, 'She Works Hard for the Money'
Duran Duran, 'Hungry Like the Wolf'
Duran Duran, 'Rio'
Duran Duran, 'The Reflex'
Duran Duran, 'Wild Boys'
Eddie Money, 'Take Me Home Tonight/Be My Baby'
Eddy Grant, 'Electric Avenue'
Elton John, 'I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues'
Elton John, 'I'm Still Standing'
Eric Carmen, 'Hungry Eyes'
Escape Club, 'Wild, Wild West'
Europe, 'The Final Countdown'
Eurythmics, 'Here Comes the Rain Again'
Eurythmics, 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)'
Falco, 'Rock Me Amadeus'
Foreigner, 'I Want to Know What Love Is'
Foreigner, 'Juke Box Hero'
Foreigner, 'That Was Yesterday'
Foreigner, 'Urgent'
Foreigner, 'Waiting for a Girl Like You'
Frankie Goes to Hollywood, 'Relax'

Genesis, 'Invisible Touch'
Genesis, 'Land of Confusion'
Genesis, 'That's All'
Genesis, 'Tonight, Tonight, Tonight'
Glenn Frey, 'You Belong To The City'
Golden Earring, 'Twilight Zone'
Guns N' Roses, 'Paradise City'
Guns N' Roses, 'Sweet Child O' Mine'
Guns N' Roses, 'Welcome to the Jungle'
Hall & Oates, 'Kiss on My List'
Heart, 'All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You'
Heart, 'These Dreams'
Heart, 'What About Love?'
INXS, 'Devil Inside'
Irene Cara, 'Flashdance...What a Feeling'
J. Geils Band, 'Centerfold'

Jackson Browne, 'Somebody's Baby'
Janet Jackson, 'Miss You Much'
Janet Jackson, 'What Have You Done for Me Lately'
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, 'I Hate Myself for Loving You'
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, 'I Love Rock N' Roll'
John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, 'On the Dark Side'
John Mellencamp, 'Jack and Diane'
John Parr, 'St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)'
John Waite, 'Missing You'

Johnny Hates Jazz, 'Shattered Dreams'
Jose Feliciano 'Feliz Navidad" 

Journey, 'Don't Stop Believin''
Journey, 'Faithfully'
Journey, 'Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)'
Juice Newton, 'Angel Of The Morning'
Kajagoogoo, 'Too Shy'
Katrina & the Waves, 'Walking on Sunshine'
Kenny Loggins, 'Danger Zone'
Kenny Loggins, 'Footloose'
Kenny Loggins, 'I'm Free (Heaven Helps The Man)'
Kim Carnes, 'Bette Davis Eyes'
Kim Wilde, 'You Keep Me Hangin' On'
Kool & the Gang, 'Celebration'
Laura Branigan, 'Gloria'
Lionel Richie, 'All Night Long'
Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, 'Lost in Emotion'
Lita Ford, 'Close My Eyes Forever'
Los Lobos, 'La Bamba'
Madness, 'Our House'
Madonna, 'Borderline'
Madonna, 'Crazy for You'
Madonna, 'Dress You Up'
Madonna, 'Into the Groove'
Madonna, 'La Isla Bonita'
Madonna, 'Like a Virgin'
Madonna, 'Lucky Star'
Madonna, 'Material Girl'
Madonna, 'Papa Don't Preach'
Madonna, 'True Blue'
Madonna, 'Who's That Girl'
Martika, 'Toy Soldiers'
Men at Work, 'Down Under'
Men at Work, 'Who Can It Be Now?'
Men Without Hats, 'The Safety Dance'

Michael Jackson, 'Beat It'
Michael Jackson, 'Billie Jean'

Michael Jackson, 'P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)'
Michael Jackson, 'Thriller'
Michael Sembello, 'Maniac'
Midnight Oil, 'Beds Are Burning'

Mike + the Mechanics, 'All I Need Is a Miracle'
Mr. Mister, 'Broken Wings'
Mr. Mister, 'Kyrie'
Murray Head, 'One Night in Bangkok'
Naked Eyes, 'Always Something There to Remind Me'
Naked Eyes, 'Promises, Promises'
Nena, '99 Luftballons'
Night Ranger, 'Sister Christian'
Olivia Newton-John, 'Physical'
Pat Benatar, 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot'
Pat Benatar, 'Love Is a Battlefield'

Patty Smyth "The Warrior"
Paul McCartney, 'Say Say Say'

Paul Young, 'Everytime You Go Away'
Paula Abdul, 'Forever Your Girl'
Pet Shop Boys, 'It's a Sin'
Pet Shop Boys, 'West End Girls'
Pete Townshend, 'Let My Love Open the Door'
Peter Schilling, 'Major Tom (Coming Home)'
Phil Collins, 'Against All Odds'
Phil Collins, 'Easy Lover'
Phil Collins, 'One More Night'
Phil Collins, 'Sussudio'
Phil Collins, 'You Can't Hurry Love'
Power Station, 'Some Like It Hot'
Prince, 'Little Red Corvette'
Prince & the Revolution, 'I Would Die 4 U'
Prince & the Revolution, 'Let's Go Crazy'
Prince & the Revolution, 'When Doves Cry"
Queen, 'Another One Bites the Dust'
Quiet Riot, 'Cum on Feel the Noize"
Ray Parker, Jr, 'Ghostbusters'
Real Life, 'Send Me an Angel'
REO Speedwagon, 'Keep on Loving You'
Rick James, 'Super Freak'
Rick Springfield, 'Jessie's Girl'
Rockwell, 'Somebody's Watching Me'
Rod Stewart, 'Some Guys Have All the Luck'
Roxette, 'Listen to Your Heart'
Run-D.M.C., 'Walk This Way' (feat. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry)

Rush "Subdivisions
Rush "Tom Sawyer"
Rush 'Red Barchetta"
Scandal, 'The Warrior'
Scorpions, 'No One Like You'

Scorpions, 'Rock You Like a Hurricane'
Shannon, 'Let the Music Play'
Simple Minds, 'Don't You (Forget About Me)'
Skid Row, '18 and Life'
Sly Fox, 'Let's Go All the Way'
Soft Cell, 'Tainted Love'
Spandau Ballet 'True'
Stacey Q, 'Two of Hearts'
Starship, 'Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now'
Steve Miller Band, 'Abracadabra'
Stevie Nicks, 'Stand Back'
Stevie Wonder, 'Part-Time Lover'
Styx, 'Mr. Roboto'
Styx, 'Too Much Time on My Hands'
Survivor, 'Eye Of The Tiger'
Survivor, 'High on You'
Talk Talk, 'It's My Life'
Talking Heads, 'Burning Down the House'
Tears for Fears, 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World'
Tears for Fears, 'Shout'
The Alan Parsons Project, 'Eye in the Sky'
The B-52's, 'Love Shack'
The Bangles, 'Manic Monday'
The Bangles, 'Walk Like an Egyptian'

The Beach Boys, 'Kokomo'
The Cars, 'Magic'
The Cars, 'Shake It Up'
The Cars, 'You Might Think'
The Clash, 'Rock the Casbah'
The Clash, 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go'

The Dream Academy, 'Life in a Northern Town"
The Fixx, 'One Thing Leads to Another'
The Fixx, 'Saved by Zero'
The Go-Go's, 'Our Lips Are Sealed'
The Go-Go's, 'Vacation'
The Go-Go's, 'We Got the Beat'

The Human League, 'Don't You Want Me'
The Knack, 'My Sharona'
The Moody Blues 'Your Wildest Dreams'
The Motels, 'Only the Lonely'
Pointer Sisters, 'I'm So Excited'
The Police, 'Don't Stand So Close to Me'

The Police, 'Every Breath You Take'
The Police, 'King of Pain'
The Police, 'Wrapped Around Your Finger'
The Romantics, 'Talking in Your Sleep'
Spandau Ballet "True"

Thompson Twins, 'Doctor! Doctor!'
Thompson Twins, 'Hold Me Now'
'Til Tuesday, 'Voices Carry'

Tina Turner, 'Better Be Good to Me'
Tommy Tutone, '867-5309/Jenny'
Toni Basil, 'Mickey'
Toto, 'Africa'
Toto, 'Rosanna'

Tubes, 'She's A Beauty'
Twisted Sister, 'We're Not Gonna Take It'
U2, 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'
U2, 'Where the Streets Have No Name'
USA for Africa, 'We Are the World'
Van Halen, 'Jump'
Van Halen, 'Panama'
Wang Chung, 'Everybody Have Fun Tonight'

Wham!, 'Careless Whisper'
Whitesnake, 'Here I Go Again'
Yes, 'Owner of a Lonely Heart'
ZZ Top, 'Sharp Dressed Man'

1 comment:

  1. I know almost all those songs - but ask me about anything since then and you'll get a blank look ...