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By the end of the 1970s, disco music was rapidly declining in popularity, due in no small part to the raw energy of punk rock and the rise of an alternative pop sound known as New Wave. Early 80's music was largely dominated by groups such as the Clash, Blondie, Talking Heads, the B-52s and other New Wave or mainstream punk bands. The earliest years of this genre also saw the return of one-hit wonders such as Chilliwack and the Greg Kihn Band. Much like the early 1960s musical doldrums, the first few years of the 1980s were not particularly memorable.
The 80's pop scene benefited greatly from the advent of music videos and a cable television station dedicated to showing them on a regular basis. When the Music Television channel (MTV) first went on the air, bands and solo artists who already had promotional videos got an unexpected career boost. One important element of 80's music became the visual aspects of the song's promotional video. In fact, many of the genre's hits can be identified just as easily by the images in their videos as they can by the artists or song lyrics.
With such an emphasis placed on visual as well as musical appeal, many musical groups concentrated nearly as much time on their appearance and choreography as they did on their music. Bands such as Duran Duran, Bananarama, INXS and the Go-Gos often produced stylized videos shot in exotic locations and prominently featuring the most camera-friendly members of the group. The early to mid- 1980s were perhaps the best years for pop groups which incorporated fashion into their onstage personas.
80's music was also defined by older solo artists who contributed much of their best work during that decade. Michael Jackson's iconic album Thriller became a monstrous hit during that time. 60s icon Tina Turner became a solo sensation after the release of her album Private Dancer during the early 1980s. Singer/songwriter Billy Joel also dominated the pop charts with his album An Innocent Man. One of Paul Simon's most critically acclaimed solo albums, Graceland, also appeared during the 1980s. Other groups such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Dire Straits and REM all enjoyed major success during the 1980s.
While the pop music scene remained in flux, harder edged rock bands continued to produce solid albums, but many of the arena rock bands of the 1970s had either disbanded or succumbed to the excesses of the hard-living rock and roll lifestyle. So-called "hair bands" such as Motley Crue, Skid Row, Sebastian Bach and Whitesnake took over the reigns of hard rock, mixing the wild antics of Glam Rock musicians with the vocal pyrotechnics of power ballads and stadium shows.
Country music during the 1980s became much more commercial, with production techniques previously reserved for mainstream pop artists. Classic country acts were largely replaced with more commercially appealing performers such as Barbara Mandrell, Kenny Rogers and the group Alabama. The slick production values and pop sensibilities of many of these 1980s albums did not sit well with traditional country fans, however, and by the end of the decade many of the more traditional country artists were back on the charts.
One defining feature of 80's music was the frequent use, some might argue overuse, of electronic keyboards and drum machines. Many music producers used banks of keyboards and studio tricks to create a fuller background sound. This heavily produced sonic sweetening can frequently be experienced during the end credits of many 1980s movies, where groups such as Asia or Survivor would perform power anthems enhanced with synthesizers and over-the-top vocals. Perhaps the power ballads performed by these and other groups best defined the quintessential sound of 80's music, especially songs such as Starship's 1986 ode to the Bay City music scene, We Built This City.
Frequently Asked Questions
What defines 80's music and how is it different from other decades?
80's music is characterized by its diverse blend of styles, including pop, rock, new wave, and electronic music. It's distinguished from other decades by its heavy use of synthesizers, drum machines, and the emergence of MTV, which made music videos crucial for success. The era also saw the rise of iconic artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna, who not only defined the sound but also the visual style of the decade.
Who were some of the most influential artists of the 80s?
Influential artists of the 80s spanned various genres, with Michael Jackson leading the charge in pop with his groundbreaking album "Thriller." Madonna became a cultural icon, influencing fashion and music with hits like "Like a Virgin." Bands like U2 and The Police dominated rock, while Prince fused funk, rock, and pop. Whitney Houston's powerful vocals set new standards in R&B, and groups like Run-D.M.C. brought hip-hop to a wider audience.
How did MTV impact the music industry in the 80s?
MTV revolutionized the music industry in the 80s by giving music a visual dimension that was accessible to a mass audience. Launched in 1981, it became a powerful platform for artists to promote their music through videos, which often became as iconic as the songs themselves. MTV helped launch the careers of many artists and played a significant role in popularizing genres like new wave and hair metal.
What role did technology play in the sound of 80's music?
Technology played a pivotal role in shaping the sound of 80's music. The widespread adoption of synthesizers, drum machines like the Roland TR-808, and advancements in recording technology allowed for new textures and rhythms. These electronic instruments were integral in creating the distinctive, layered soundscapes of the decade, giving birth to genres like synth-pop and helping artists push the boundaries of traditional music production.
How has 80's music influenced modern artists and genres?
80's music has had a lasting influence on modern artists and genres, with its signature electronic sounds and bold aesthetics still echoing in today's music. Artists like Lady Gaga, The Weeknd, and Dua Lipa draw heavily from the 80s' synth-pop and new wave styles, both in their music production and visual presentations. The decade's impact is also evident in the resurgence of vinyl records and the sampling of 80s hits in contemporary songs.