What Made ’80s the Best Decade for Music?

When talking about music, the ’80s music gets overshadowed by the greatness of the 70s music. It is indeed bewildering because people still consider the ’80s as the most illustrious era for rock and pop music.

A cassette with '80s Music

The ’80s brought with it, the gifts of some new music genres. Until the ’80s, most of the music was rock-based, with heavy metal gaining prominence in the 70s. Though pop music has always been there, the ’80s breathed new life into the pop genre.

Whenever ’80s music gets brought up, people remind the greats like Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, U2, Billy Joel, The Police, AC/DC, Metallica, Guns N’Roses (the list goes on and on). Also, the ’80s were a time where music seeped into the silver screen as well. Great hits like Star Wars, ET, Die Hard and Terminator had impactful musical scores that helped their success at the Box Office. 

The ’80s still featured some classic bands like Queen, The Rolling Stone and Led Zeppelin, who found a new generation of fans in the ’80s. Then came the MTV in 1981, and it would forever change the way we consumed music. The bands and the artists soon learned the new way to present themselves in the new visual medium.

The main focus in the ’80s was to sell most albums, and it fueled the competition for best music.

The Three Things That Made the ’80s Music So Good

  • The Political Environment of President Reagen’s tenure

The economy under President Reagen was booming, and the middle class was resurging. Until the ’80s, the wealthy had access to music technology. But this changed in the ’80s. The middle-class men could also afford the music tech now. And so the beauty of music was cherished by everyone.

  • The Assimilation of Divergent Musical Styles Into the Mainstream

With the surge in the global economy, music gained new recognition. The music was no longer limited to geographical or language barriers. The record labels were trying everything that they could do to regulate the taste of the fans. But people were enjoying all kinds of music like Reggae, Afro-Pop, Latin Music and Hip-Hop.

It was the first time that the common answer of fans’ favourite type of music was “all kinds.” As the fans were listening to all types of music, clinging to a single type of music became uncool for the artists.

The ’80s witnessed the masterful blending of different music genres in a single music track. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is the perfect embodiment of this kind of blend. “Thriller” has the elements of classic rock, funk, rhythm and blues, techno and pop in it.

  • The Rise of Technology in Music

Bands like Pink Floyd used electronics in the 70s, but it became mainstream in the ’80s. For the first time, one could easily afford a sampling keyboard with an onboard drum machine to track their first hit.

Also, the tech has significantly reduced the recording expenses, and now artists with a moderate budget could record their tracks. But when it came to singing, the artists were on their own. The auto-tune was still not introduced, and the singers needed to re-record their tracks until they got a perfect one.

Record Labels Were Investing in Their Artists

The famous record labels of the '80s music
Major Record Labels of the ’80s

The music business was booming in the ’80s. Every record label wanted to sell as many albums as possible. The constant topic of debate between the artists and the A&R people was whether the album would sell. To maximize profits, the A&R people were constantly on the search for new artists. They wanted to find great talents who would have massive careers and could change the music game.

Music Videos

Most famous '80s Music videos
Some of the famous ’80s Music Videos

The Beatles with their “Hard Day’s Night”, and The Monkees laid the foundation for music videos. But the music videos came out as art in the ’80s. The music videos like “Sledgehammer”, “Thriller”, “Stand and Deliver”, “Smalltown Boy”, “New Frontier”, “Once In a Lifetime” proved that the music videos were the new formula of success.

The Mix Tapes

A mix tape with '80s music

In the ’80s, the MP3, Apple Music, Spotify were not a thing. If someone wanted the copy of a song, he would have to sit by his tape deck, waiting for the song he wanted to hear. Some people would even call radio stations and request their favourite songs and then record them.

Then came the dual cassette tape deck, with which one could copy tapes and put together his own mixes. With a collection of cassettes, one could make his compilation, and the mixtapes were born. 

The mixtapes soon became a gesture of love. People put together all the meaningful songs and give them to the people they loved. The thing that made mixtapes special was the effort put into making them.

The Walkman

Sony The Walkman

The Walkman changed music listening forever. It helped people to listen to their favourite music on the go. Portable music and transistor radios have existed for years, but people could only listen to radio stations. With the Walkman, people could listen to the music of their liking even on the move.

Sony invented the Walkman in 1980. Sony estimated to sell around 5,000 units a month. But in the first 2 months, they sold 50,000 units. Soon wearing a yellow case and earphones became a statement. Have you noticed how the AirPods have become a statement? Imagine the Walkman had gained the AirPods-like statement, but with nothing in the market to compete with it.

The ’80s was truly a beautiful decade for music lovers, and the revival of the ’80s music seems inevitable. The artists like The Weeknd, Daft Punk and Carly Rae Jepsen, have carried on the tradition of flamboyant synthesizers, sailing choruses, and heartfelt vocal performances.

The ’80s had a little bit of everything, from all-time great love songs like Prince‘s “When Doves Cry,” to songs you can’t resist dancing on, like Cyndi Lauper‘s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” to rock sensations like “Summer of ’69,” by Bryan Adams and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’Roses.

Hip-Hop and R&B gained prominence in the ’80s and grew further into the domain of pop music. Though some images come to mind when you hear the word “’80s music,” there was no single sound that dominated the decade. There were so many great records released in the 1980s that no single list could cover them all.

The ’80s nostalgia is into its fourth decade, and still shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

Liked this piece? Also read, Music Listening: Then and Now.

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