"Metal health will drive you mad!" Ah, the sublime lyrics of Quiet Riot's Kevin DuBrow. Madonna and Michael Jackson may have reached their pinnacles in the 1980s, but the decade's music was wrapped and delivered in a single word: volume. Guitars, booze, and yes, hair. Remember, this was the Feel-Good Decade. We had a product of Hollywood in the White House. The decade's most popular and decorated athlete even had a name straight from Disney: Magic.
With the release of AC/DC's Back in Black in 1980, the decade had its standard established. Subtlety was dead, buried by screaming vocals and air guitar in every teen's bedroom from Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine. Three more albums comprise the four-pack of 80s rock that you'd need on that proverbial desert island: Van Halen's 1984 and a pair of classics released in 1987 (not a bad year to graduate from high school), Def Leppard's Hysteria and Appetite for Destruction by Guns N' Roses. Songs like "Hot for Teacher" (best drum intro in the history of rock), "Pour Some Sugar on Me", and "Paradise City" left metaphors to the pop crooners and screamed for gratification . . . now.
Let's not forget the kabuki-masked metal gods of the mid-70s and their rampage through a second decade. In makeup, KISS released what could be considered the anthem of their genre, "I Love It Loud" (1982). Sans the face paint, they recorded the prototype for a new hybrid that was -- like it or not -- born of the 80s: the power ballad. "Forever," released in 1989, was written by Paul Stanley and, gulp, Michael Bolton. Enough hair at the time to cover three decades.
In my mind's ear, the 80s opened to AC/DC's "Shoot to Thrill," Angus Young's scorching six-string knocking down the door to what's to come in post-Zeppelin rock-and-roll. As for the coda, it has to be Mötley Crüe's "Kickstart My Heart," the pounding beat of Tommy Lee's pre-Pam drums reverberating with enough testosterone and fury to still be felt, yep, here in the 21st century. And the 1989 album that carried the 80s' final sucker-punch to convention? Why Dr. Feelgood , naturally.
-- Frank Murtaugh
I wholeheartedly believe that music writing should be left to music critics, but when Frank swaggered into my office and threw this challenge at me, I had to take the hair-band lovin' child of the 80s on.
As a decade, the 80s was a selfish time. Reagan was running the show, and people were too busy conspicuously consuming to worry that maybe their music wasn't quite up to snuff. Don't get me wrong, a few bands got it right. Guns N' Roses, Mötley Crüe -- these guys rocked hard and loud, and REM and U2 took college rock from the dorms to the airwaves, but they were the exceptions to the rule. In addition to producing some of the cheesiest synth pop of all time, the 80s almost destroyed a few decent artists who redefined themselves to fit the mold. (Grace Slick building a city on rock-and-roll, anyone?)
When Nirvana burst onto the scene with 1991's Nevermind , it was the guitar chord heard 'round the country. A mulatto/an albino/a mosquito/my libido. Never before had such nonsensical lyrics made so much sense to so many. Nineties albums like Jane's Addiction's Ritual de lo Habitual and Pearl Jam's 10 took 80s bands out back and kicked their leather-clad butts. Music was once again being made by musicians playing actual instruments, not pressing buttons on sound machines. The 90s brought us Radiohead, the Flaming Lips, Beck, and the loveable nerds from Weezer. It found Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Wu-Tang Clan, and Snoop Dogg shoving their chronically challenged lives right into America's face. But more than anything, the 90s brought us back to reality.
Oh, the 90s had its embarrassments too, with the arrival of boy bands and the mere existence of Gerardo, but their contributions didn't define the era. Let's face it. The 80s was a fun time when Madonna got into the groove and Prince went crazy, but it wasn't a decade of great music. (To give credit where it's due, it has given frat guys everywhere themes for keggers.) At the end of the day, listening to too much 80s music is like eating cotton candy for dinner. It's fun, and it tastes good for a while, but at the end of the day, you're still hungry and you might just have a stomach ache.
--Mary Helen Tibbs
BY THE NUMBERS
7 -- Meaning of the Latin word "septem"; September was the seventh month of
the Roman calendar until 153 BC.
1887 -- The first year that Labor Day was recognized as a federal holiday.
65 -- Age the late Otis Redding would have turned this year on
81 -- Age B.B. King will turn this year on September 16th
71 -- Age Jerry Lee Lewis will turn this year on September 29th
150 -- Number of years the Mid South Fair has been going on
35 -- Number of food vendors at the Fair
760 -- Number of calories in a Funnel Cake
40,000 -- U.S. schools that no longer have recess
$59 -- Cost of a high-school class ring (with plain stone in "white lustrium")$29,112 -- Annual cost of tuition (2006-2007) at Rhodes College$5,048 -- Annual cost of tuition (2006-2007) at the University of Memphis
12 -- Regular-season games on the 2006 U of M football schedule
48.5% -- Graduation rate for Memphis City Schools students, which means:
51.2% -- Dropout rate for Memphis City Schools students
Frank Murtaugh, Mary Helen Tibbs