“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” Chapter 26 “How the ’80’s Wrecked ’70’s Rock Bands”
By Bruce Williams
My wife and I have this ongoing debate—she loves all things ‘80’s; the movies (The Goonies, Adventures in Babysitting), the music, all the cheesy schlock. I berate the pastel colors, the big hair, the leg warmers, the movies’ embarrassing dialogue, and, most importantly, how many of my favorite ‘70’s rock bands (gritty, dirty, druggy) added spandex and a synthesizer to try to “adapt” to the emergingly awful ‘80’s.
Take Jefferson Airplane for example. The band that rocked Woodstock with “Somebody to Love” and “White Rabbit” suddenly changed their name to Jefferson Starship, and began putting out such tripe like “We Built This City”—eventually dropping the “Jefferson” altogether and just going with the flashier, more soulless “Starship”. Then there’s my beloved Van Halen…after a fallout with lead singer David Lee Roth they bring in proven commodity Sammy Hagar (Montrose, followed by a solid solo career), but start churning out sappy turds like “When It’s/Why Can’t This Be/Love” instead of DLR’s motto “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” which are diametrically opposing viewpoints on what it means to be a Capital-R Rock Star Love Machine (insert high leg kick here).
And the ‘80’s also ushered in the new glam rock—not the Bowie-Ziggy style but more the Cinderella & Poison type. Makeupped (and not cool and menacing like Kiss’), Aqua Netted poseurs and one-hit-wonderists that slowly killed the art of album rock. I remember watching a reality dating show in the early 2000s that featured a then washed up Bret Michaels who would constantly ask the herd of skanks vying for his perverse attentions if they “could handle the Rock Star lifestyle?”—which from the look of it included wearing a bandana to cover up your receding hairline and a bad case of genital warts.
And speaking of Bowie, there’s a video of him and Mick Jagger doing “Dancing In the Streets”
in oversized suits and fluffy hair that is so universally offensive that it angers me every time I see it—my brain crying out “How could he do that to the Stones?!” It wasn’t until I read Keith Richards’ memoir “Life” and heard his derisive take down of that particular preening version of Mick that I felt okay again. There is no better example of famous people being told that they “can do no wrong”—I challenge you to find this video, watch it, and share in my righteous fury.
Oh, the‘80’s…suddenly Aerosmith is a pop band. No more “Dream On” or “Kings and Queens (and guillotines)”, now it’s all lipstick and boas and “Cryin’” or “Dude (Looks Like a Lady)”…it’s like their balls fell off when the calendar turned (though I admit I actually like those two later tunes by ‘Smith, even if they’re a little light in the breeches). Def Leppard also became a Top 40 hitmaker, offering up radio play friendly “Hysteria” instead of their earlier, hard-driven “High’n’Dry” (technically out in ‘81, but we all know it takes a new decade a couple of years to find its footing and define its new iconography).
The list goes on and on…Chicago’s ass kickin’ anthem “25 or 6 to 4” morphs into the wan, pathetic “You’re the Inspiration” and “Hard Habit to Break” as they put their fists down and lay their delicate feelings on the doorstep of the objects of their desires (yawn-groan). My wife (the delightful Michelle of previous columns) loves those last two songs. She also dragged me to a Richard Marx concert last year, but she was so tickled pink about it that I held my nose and went (he was pretty good live…okay, there, I said it).
In the ‘80’s defense, though, they did usher in metal and set the table for grunge—the backlash to the DeLorean Decade. The biggest dagger to great album rock—you know, when you’d play it over and over again start to finish, lying on the shag carpet reading the liner notes and ogling the cover artwork scanning for hidden messages from your idols—the killer, really, was streamed music. Now people just buy the radio song and leave the rest behind. Can you imagine just buying “Back In Black” for $1.29 and never getting to “Let Me Put My Love Into You”? It would’ve been a crime, really. Undiscovered “Jamie’s Cryin’”s left all over the place like the parsley on a blue plate special.
One last plug—go download you some Glorious Sons…pound-for-pound one of the best rock bands out there knocking it out today. I’ve seen them twice live now, and will hit them up every time they come to Seattle—once we can resume our live concert diets. Slow rollers “Sometimes On a Sunday” and “Pink Motel” will get you started, then “Kill the Lights” and “Sawed Off Shotgun” for some real meat. You’ll thank me (if you still like to rawk).