I’ve lived a lie! I’m more ABC than ABBA!
PUBLISHED: 16:08 16 March 2019 | UPDATED: 08:15 18 March 2019
Which 1980s pop songs bring back memories for you? Did ‘Don’t You Want Me’ float your boat, or ‘The Look of Love’ get your pulse racing?
I used to know where I stood. Musically, I was a child of the glamtastic 1970s. The era of Ballroom Blitz, Dancing Queen and Bohemian Rhapsody – and pulsing disco that brings a sequin-hating colleague of mine out in a rash. (The Trammps’ Disco Inferno will do it.) Then another workmate knocks me flying.
She slides a five-CD boxset onto my desk. “NOW’s 100 Hits of the 80s”. My discombobulation is partly because the apostrophe is missing (strictly speaking, it should be ’80s) but mainly because of the track listing. Far from being a child of the 1970s I was, it was clear, an adult (ish) of the free market-loving shrink-the-state-and-society decade that followed.
I want to cry. But then realise a string of 1980s tunes did indeed provide the soundscape of my late-teen/early-adulthoody years. Time to accept it.
The evidence is incontrovertible. See if any of these hits chime with you.
Most of Blondie’s brilliance was born of the 1970s, but let the 1980 new wave/rock/disco-ey release Atomic stand as a representative emblem of the band’s greatness.
There were some slower ones, like 1980’s The Tide Is High, but most Blondie songs were high-energy from first bar to last. They hit you as if you’d shaken up a can of cola and opened it right in front of your eyes.
At this point I was in the sixth-form and Blondie was considerably more enthralling than translating 17th Century Molière.
Don’t You Want Me, The Human League
The 1981 Christmas number one, at the end of my first term away from home at college. A proper musical narrative, with videod “story”. Twenty-three years later, to the month, I’d hear them perform it at Ipswich Regent.
Town Called Malice, The Jam
(Warning: Bad pun coming.) I was a latecomer to the delights of Paul Weller’s band – it sounded a bit too angry for me, first time round – so this went under my radar early in 1982. Nearly 40 years later, there’s little better than putting on headphones after a tough week, turning the volume up and playing their greatest hits. The in-your-face but tuneful music, combined with the lyrics of a poet, has an insistence sadly lacking in much insipid modern output.
Check this: “Rows and rows of disused milk floats stand dying in the dairy yard/And a hundred lonely housewives clutch empty milk bottles to their hearts/Hanging out their old love letters on the line to dry.”
So, for me, a case of “jam tomorrow”, then. (Sorry. Did warn you.)
The Look of Love, ABC
Ssssh! Don’t tell, but this isn’t on the NOW CDs. But I make the rules and I’m having it.
My friend Jonathan had many things I didn’t – looks, quick wit, a car and a cassette of ABC’s album The Lexicon of Love. The last two were vital.
It’s the early summer of 1982. We’re at college. A group of us declares Thursdays “Going out Night”. We leave new-town Harlow for jaunts to softer Hertfordshire – and The Look of Love becomes the anthem of those carefree times.
Come On Eileen, Dexy’s Midnight Runners
August 16, 1982. First day at full-time, proper, grown-up work. The song’s all right (well, OK, it spent four weeks at number one, so maybe better than “all right”) and was a familiar sound to cling to while trying to find my feet.
(Can anyone name the Runners’ only other chart-topper? Ten points if you said Geno.)
Love of The Common People, Paul Young
I just read that this much-covered song was once recorded by Leonard Nimoy – Mr Spock in the original (and best) Star Trek series. (There’s a pub quiz question in the making.) But I remember only the 1983 Paul Young re-release.
I was living at Halstead in Essex, working in Chelmsford, and was obliged to drive through the middle of Braintree… at a snail’s pace. This being well before the bypass was built.
To cap it all, I had a surreal car, bought for £120: a Riley from the 1960s. An outdated “tank”, it’s the kind of vehicle that pops up on TV’s Morse prequel Endeavour.
The handbrake once came off in my hand at Great Leighs. But it did have a decent radio. Love of The Common People wasn’t my favourite tune, but it did help me through some slow commutes home during the dark nights before Christmas.
Flashdance...What A Feeling, Irene Cara
I lived in the perfect street in Halstead. In two minutes’ walk I could be sitting in the stand at Halstead Town Football Club or (better) sitting in the dark at the Empire cinema.
I was more susceptible to smaltzy tales back then, and Flashdance the film was from the shelf of Grade A Smaltzy Tales.
A teenage welder at a Pennsylvanian steel mill dreams of becoming a professional dancer, but is untrained. She works at it, and wins a place at Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory – as well as the heart of the mill owner.
Just to make it clear: it was the heart-gladdening optimism of Irene Cara’s song, and its blueprint for life (“Take your passion and make it happen”), that left an impression. Not Jennifer Beals’s big dark eyes. Honestly.
Axel F, Harold Faltermeyer
First trip to New York – 1985 – and Beverly Hills Cop is the inflight movie. This catchy Grammy-nominated tune peppers the soundtrack – and, get this, the film is one of Eddie Murphy’s good choices.
Into the Groove, Madonna
Another one not on the CDs, but hey. It’s still 1985, this powerful song is the sound of the summer and autumn. It’s part of the soundtrack of the film Desperately Seeking Susan, too, and I’m standing in Battery Park – the pointy tip of Manhattan with squinty views of the Statue of Liberty and the Staten Island Ferry, and where part of the film was shot.
Actress Rosanna Arquette has long gone, sadly, but you can’t have everything, can you?
It’s not fashionable to like Bananarama, but I’ve never been fashionable. Anyway, if you want to splash on some feelgood factor, or swallow an antidote to Brexit chaos, you can’t do better than the fruits of the Bananarama/Stock Aitken Waterman partnership.
This 1986 hit was their initial collaboration. Venus is among the NOW 100, but later B/SAW offerings (I Heard a Rumour, and Love in the First Degree, say) are even jauntier, catchier, camper, and don’t take themselves too seriously.
NOW 100 Hits 80s, from the Now Twic label, is £10.99
What are YOUR memorable songs from the 1980s? Do tell us (and say why they mean so much to you). We’ll aim to share all the favourites put forward. Email your list to email@example.com or send it to Steven Russell, features desk, Archant, Portman House, 120 Princes Street, Ipswich, IP1 1RS