Music

BACK IN TIME: GIANTS IN THE 80s

[Text by Toni Cheung]

80s was a movable feast, and the world was never the same.

1980s kicked off with John Lennon’s death just as he was releasing the come back classic album Double Fantasy with Yoko after a 5-year break. Then MTV (Music Television) was launched in 1981, Bowie reinvented himself for the MTV generation, the prevalence of music video acted as a 24/7 marketing tool bringing numerous new music styles and bands into the mainstream with the emergence of synthpop, new wave, rap and hip hop. The King and Queen of Pop emerged with Michael Jackson and Madonna creating various defining moments in pop music history. Charity records and concerts were supported by many rock music artists, social conscious bands, U2 drew significant attention in Live Aid (1985)and paved its path to become the world’s most important band. The legendary Hong Kong band , Beyond released the single The Land in 1988, sowed the seeds of rock and roll all over Hong Kong.

JOHN LENNON (1940 -1980)

John Lennon on rooftop wearing a denim jacket in NYC. August 28, 1974. © Bob Gruen / www.bobgruen.com Please contact Bob Gruen's studio to purchase a print or license this photo. email: websitemail01@aol.com phone: 212-691-0391

“I’ve been baking bread and looking after the baby. But what else have you been doing?’ To which I say, ‘Are you kidding?’ Because bread and babies, as every housewife knows, is a full-time job. “ – John Lennon in the 80s

1980s kicked off with John Lennon’s death just as he was releasing the come back classic album Double Fantasy with Yoko after a 5-year break. Then MTV (Music Television) was launched in 1981, Bowie reinvented himself for the MTV generation, the prevalence of music video acted as a 24/7 marketing tool bringing numerous new music styles and bands into the mainstream with the emergence of synthpop, new wave, rap and hip hop. The King and Queen of Pop emerged with Michael Jackson and Madonna creating various defining moments in pop music history. Charity records and concerts were supported by many rock music artists, social conscious bands, U2 drew significant attention in Live Aid (1985)and paved its path to become the world’s most important band. The legendary Hong Kong band , Beyond released the single The Land in 1988, sowed the seeds of rock and roll all over Hong Kong.

He was called Walrus, then he was John in the 70s, and he had walked away from making music in 1975 to become a “househusband” for five years, busy taking care of his newborn son, Sean and literally baking bread.When John Lennon and Yoko Ono stepped into New York’s “The Hit Factory” on 7 August  1980, John was returning to the music-making game after a five year absence with the comeback album Double Fantasy, was yet known as the last to be released in his lifetime. 

Double Fantasy had its worldwide released on 17 November 1980, which had mixed reviews , charting in the US at number 25 before rising to 12 and then 11. But after Lennon’s death, the public quickly grew hungry for his music, and Double Fantasy rose straight to number one. It remained at the top of the chart for eight weeks.

In 1980, Lennon claimed that the songs came to him in a sudden burst of creativity, but the truth is somewhat more prosaic: the songwriting muse never left him and he wrote the all-time classic songs in the album like ‘Woman’, ‘Watching the Wheels’ and ‘Beautiful Boy’ with a good clean simple straight forward arrangement which defines the sound of ROCK and POP in the 80s. These songs reflect the feelings of the warmth and breeze felt on the skin on a Sunday morning as you have breakfast with your family.

John’s death was the end of an era, though Double Fantasy was the legacy with immense positive vibe that embarks on the splendid voyage of the golden 80s ahead.

DAVID BOWIE (1947 -2016)

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“How hard could it be to decide to be a Top 40 star and then be one? John Lennon once said to me, ‘Look, it’s very simple—say what you mean, make it rhyme, and put a backbeat to it,’ “ – David Bowie

David Bowie notoriously defines Glam Rock in the 70s with drugs and hallucinations, it was a decade of putting out more than one record a year.  Bowie slowed down a bit at the start of the 1980s, it gave the world enough time to catch up his idea that music wasn’t something you just listen to. He was also a painter, a mime and an actor.

Since Bowie reinvented himself for the MTV generation with the pioneering video for the single ‘Ashes to Ashes’, he dominated the video age in the 80s with Duran Duran and Eurythmics, distant from than rockers of his own generation. In 1986 , Bowie played Jareth the Goblin King in the signature film Labyrinth, which was a huge success and his role became one of Bowie’s most memorable personas.

Bowie was sharp, refreshing and healthy in the 80s, as he commenced his voyage of turning more mainstream. The climax was in 1983 when he created the best-selling album and single Let’s Dance, which sold seven million copies. He appeared in a boxer’s getup on the cover and performed in immaculate suits and a blonde pompadour. Another career high came in 1985 when he sang for a chairty, dueting with  Mick Jagger with the hit Dancing in the Street, went straight to number one and the historical performance in Live Aid.

Behind the fame and superstardom, it took away all Bowie’s passion for experimenting , though these were the crazy days that made him shine.

 BLONDIE

American punk rock band Blondie, 1979. From left to right, guitarist Frank Infante, guitarist Chris Stein, bass player Nigel Harrison, singer Debbie Harry, keyboard player Jimmy Destri and drummer Clem Burke. (Photo by Maureen Donaldson/Getty Images)

“He was the master of understatement. He’d say ‘Try looking over here’. He was very softly spoken and used a funny Polaroid portrait camera. ”– Debbie Harry on Andy Warhol

Blondie, featuring lead singer Debbie Harry,  gained fame in the late 1970s, as the pioneer in the early American punk rock and New Wave scene. The Cardigans would not have existed without the legacy of this new wave punk group. Their influence is enormous in many areas that Harry is sometimes even considered as the first  rapper to chart at number one in the United States due to her work on ‘Rapture’ in 1981.

The band was initially defined as a New Wave band but they only became famous for its eclectic mix of musical styles. Their first two albums were more successful in the UK and Australia, than in America. Blondie was regarded as an underground band in the US until the release of Parallel Lines in 1978, which was a number one selling album in the UK. The third single released from the album in the US, ‘Heart of Glass’, was their first US number one, topping the charts in April 1979.

Blondie’s first 80’s success came with the song ‘Call Me’  which was created as the theme song of the film American Gigolo. Then there followed the hit ‘Atomic’ from Eat to the Beat album reaching number one in the UK for two weeks in March 1980. The band’s success continued with their next album Autoamerican with the number one single like ‘The Tide is High’ and ‘Rapture’.

Andy Warhol’s  1980 acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas of Debbie Harry, is one of Warhol’s most accomplished and expensive portraits of celebrity. It is the ultimate culmination of Warhol’s exploration of the public fascination with female cultural icons. Debbie’s contemporary form of sex appeal lives on for generations.

MADONNA

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“A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That’s why they don’t get what they want.” – Madonna

Madonna packed her bags and moved to New York City from her Michigan hometown in pursuit of her dreams of becoming a dancer in 1977. The birth of MTV in 1981 with the new music video format was turning the industry upside down, yet it was tailor made for Madonna with a unique controversial style and appearance to dominate the 80’s MTV era. The music industry was never the same.

Madonna kicked off her reign as MTV’s Queen when ‘Borderline’ was released, following the success of tracks like ‘Everybody’ and ‘Holiday’.  Her follow-up album 1985’s Like A Virgin was the album of a lifetime. Along with Michael Jackson’s Thriller, it is one of the albums that defined the 1980s pop scene. The album hit the number one spot on the Billboard charts with dance-pop singles like ‘Into the Grove’ and the title track. ‘Like a Virgin’ video was one of the peak moments in the MTV era, based mostly on Madonna’s energetic dance performance through Venice.

Another defining moment in music history was her performance of ‘Like a Virgin’ at the first ever Video Music Awards. Her writhing on stage in her wedding dress and famous “boy toy” belt might be tame by today’s standard, but it was outrageous at the time.

Her next album True Blue won huge commercial success,  though not as classic as Like A Virgin. The last studio album from Madonna in the 80s was the controversial Like a Prayer. Her use of Christian themes and the video for ‘Like a Prayer’ which featured burning crosses and Madonna kissing Jesus, costed her the spokesperson contract with Pepsi.

MICHAEL JACKSON (1958 -2009)

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“People ask me how I make music. I tell them I just step into it. It’s like stepping into a river and joining the flow. Every moment in the river has its song.”– Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson wasn’t merely the biggest pop star of the 80s era, he was “The King of Pop,” a nickname that was something of a retort to Elvis Presley being known as “The King of Rock & Roll.”

Michael Jackson was a prodigy, a gifted singer and dancer , he first rose to stardom in 1969 as the 11-year-old frontman for the Jackson 5. The dazzling 1979 album Off the Wall co-produced by Quincy Jones, announced Jackson as a mature talent with his own solo project, and the singles ‘Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough’ and ‘Rock with You’ turned it into a blockbuster.

In 1982, Michael Jackson reunited with Jones to create Thriller, the album that shattered every music record on the books. He enlisted Eddie Van Halen to play guitar on the metallic hard rock of ‘Beat It’ while inviting Paul McCartney to duet on the chipper soft pop tune ‘The Girl Is Mine’. He played it safe by releasing the McCartney duet as the album’s first single, but the second single, ‘Billie Jean’ was what defined the most critical moment in pop music history, it was a pop explosion, topping the charts all over the world, and it was also the first video by a black artist to air on MTV. 

Seven of the nine songs from Thriller were Top 10 hits, it earned eight Grammy awards, and topped the Billboard charts for 37 weeks, it is the biggest-selling album of all time, earning 32 platinum certifications in the US. Some of the singles’ success is due to his sensational performance on Motown’s 25th Anniversary Special in 1983, a performance aired on May 16, 1983 where Jackson unveiled his signature moonwalk dance that shook the world.

What we must remember today and forever is the accolades for Michael Jackson’s philanthropic work, he wrote the 1985 charity single ‘We Are the World’for Africa, which he collaborated with Lionel Richie bringing all the superstars together singing this most touching and melodic tune, reaching the sales in excess of 20 million copies.

WONG KA KUI (1962 -1993)

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“Life is not what you have gained but what you have done.” – Wong Ka Kui

On the other side of the world in a metropolitan city, a lad called Wong Ka Kui who was entirely captured by David Bowie’s magnetic voice , which drove him picking up a guitar and form the Hong Kong legendary band, Beyond with Yip Sai Wing in 1983. In the same year they won an award for “Best Band” in a competition sponsored by Guitar Magazine. Beyond self-published Goodbye Ideal  on cassette tape in 1986, Their early styles were mostly hard rock, new wave, post-punk, experimental, and avant-garde.

Then they met Leslie Chan, who later became their manager and signed with Kinn’s music. In 1987, Beyond recorded and released their first album Arabian Dancing Girls, the album sales was extremely poor, and they were criticised by other rock bands about commercialising their original hard rock. In 1988, Beyond released the pop album Modern Stage.  Again, their album sales were poor.

Realising they would not be given with a second chance if they fail again, Beyond recorded and released their next album Secret Police with songs that were more within the popular genre. This album altered the entire Hong Kong music history. The single ‘The Land’ about leaving homeland in pursuit for dreams and freedom, become a tremendous success, plus the other single ‘Loving You’ which gained significant airplays and popularity. These simple but incredible melodies written by Ka Kui touch strings of souls and is a work of genius.

Then they released the album Beyond IV with their super popular hit ‘Truly Love You’, which was a tribute song to mothers, they become the most popular band in Hong Kong history. Beyond’s popularity in the late 80s has paved the path for them to create more music in their own accord and songs about social values in the 90s.

 U2

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“In general people put too much faith in the rich, the famous, the politicians, and not enough faith in themselves.” – Bono

Island Records signed its first international contract with U2 in March 1980. The first album Boy was released in October that year and began its spiritual journey. The album offered a fresh new sound that earned rave reviews in both the Irish and UK press.

While synthesizer acts and bubblegum pop bands dominated the early 80s, U2 went off in their own unique direction, Bono’s lyrics tackled subjects like faith, spirituality and death. It may not be outrageous to name U2 as “Band of the 80s”, they released seven studio albums and one EP in the 80s, and with album and single sales climbing, U2 was poised for international stardom in the mid-1980s.

Their tremendous popularity was significantly earned by charitable live shows. The Live Aid concert for Ethiopian famine relief in July 1985, was seen by more than a billion people worldwide. It was a defining historical moment when U2 stole the show with a relentless, 13-minute version of ‘Bad’ when Bono jumped down into the Wembley Stadium crowd to dance with a fan. They were on the headlining spot on 1986’s “Conspiracy of Hope” tour for Amnesty International.

The ultimate greatness arrived in 1987, with the release of U2’s fifth album, The Joshua Tree. U2 had delivered a record at their musical and lyrical peak with commercial success. Biblical images showed up throughout the record as Bono questioned faith, social injustices, governmental oppression, terrorism, and drug addiction. The album debuted at number one in the U.K., and reached number one in the U.S. The songs ‘With or Without You’ and ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ gave U2 its first number one singles in the U.S. The Joshua Tree was the fastest-selling album in British chart history, and TIME magazine declared the band as “Rock’s Hottest Ticket.”.  U2 had become the biggest band in the world. It is unbelievable how this band evolved from the 80s hype still enjoys the same or even more popularity today than the 80s.

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