Musicians who got me to love the 80s

When I started this blog back in 2015, I was of the persuasion that anything made after the 70s was pretty much crap, with a few exceptions. A lot has changed since then and I’ve opened my mind to all decades. Imagine if I only listened to music from two decades, I’d run out of material and it would get boring really fast. There’s no doubt that the 80s are classic rock now, and I guess the early 90s is classic rock now too – still not into a lot of 90s music, except for Britpop. I really like Britpop, but that’s because it reminds me of the 60s. I love Oasis and I love the Indian influences in Kula Shaker, for example. And The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”? That’s amazing too! And I’m obsessed with Cornershop’s “Brimful of Asha”.

How can I consider myself open minded if I don’t give music from different decades a chance? It’s a contradiction. And I think I had it all wrong about the 80s. I was distracted by the tacky fashions and aesthetic choices and my love of old rock bands, who let’s just say had less than stellar output in the 80s because by then they were essentially dinosaurs. For the most part, you can only make good music for so long before the ideas start running dry or you try to jump the shark to stay relevant and it ends up making you look like an uncool dad trying way too hard to look hip. When in actuality, the poppier stuff and the newer rock styles of the 80s were where it’s at. Music and art is something that evolves and changes over time and who wants to listen to the same thing rehashed over and over again? It’s like I said in my classic rock hot takes post, I don’t care about new music that classic rockers make. The old musicians had their time in the spotlight and I really want to hear something new and fresh. The entertainment industry (especially movies) has a problem where it’s the same families and people over and over again, we need new blood with fresh ideas.

It makes me sad seeing young rock fans who were like me when I was younger, hating on the 80s and calling it lame, when actually there’s some great stuff. If you’re a classic rock fan sceptical of the 80s, that’s okay, I was once there, and this list is for you: bands that opened my mind to the 80s. Let’s just call these bands 80s bands for people who don’t like the 80s. As always with these lists, there’s no particular order. For each musician I’ll share an album or a few songs that I really like. Not an exhaustive list, just 15, but I think it’s a good start and not overwhelming. I know that I feel overwhelmed when I see a large list, so I wanted to curate this and share the best of the best.

1. The Jam

The Jam were one of the first 80s bands I got into and that’s thanks to my obsession with the mod subculture. They’re the best known mod revival band. I’m not much of a punk person, but The Jam are excellent – clearly inspired by 60s rock and R&B. Sure, they started in the 70s, but they were active even in the 80s, releasing some of their biggest hits like “Start!”, “That’s Entertainment”, “Absolute Beginners”, “Town Called Malice”, “The Bitterest Pill”, and “Beat Surrender”. All of these are great songs that I think any 70s punk/power pop purist would enjoy. Aren’t the numbers of the years just a human construct? Why limit the music you listen to by the calendar?

The Jam at their best! I love the bass on “Pretty Green”. The bass in “Start!” references “Taxman”. “Dream Time” is another great song.

“Precious” is one of my favourite overlooked songs on The Gift. Really funky! I like it better than “Town Called Malice”.

As a bonus, if you like The Jam, you might also like The Vapours (who basically sound exactly like The Jam) and The Style Council – Paul Weller’s other band. I love “Shout to the Top” and “My Ever Changing Moods”.

2. The Clash

In my opinion, the punk band for those who don’t like punk. Incredibly versatile and could play in many different styles – including reggae/ska, disco, R&B, and hip hop. Like The Jam, they started releasing music in the late 70s, but released some great stuff in the 80s (you can skip Cut The Crap though. Only good song on it is “This is England”). You think London Calling was epic length? Try Sandinista!, it’s a triple album! The Clash weren’t all talk with their socialist politics. They took a cut in royalties so they could offer their fans a triple LP at an affordable price! That’s what being a comrade is all about.

My favourite tracks on this album are “The Magnificent Seven” (that bassline), “Hitsville UK”, “Ivan Meets GI Joe”, “Look Here”, “Somebody Got Murdered”, “One More Dub”, “Up in Heaven {Not Only Here)”, “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Police On My Back” (Equals cover), “The Equaliser”, and “Washington Bullets”.  It’s their most diverse album in sound, with something for everyone.

Some great songs on this one like classic rock radio staples “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and “Rock the Casbah”. I also like “Know Your Rights”, “Straight to Hell”, and “Overpowered by Funk”.

3. The Smiths

I remember first listening to The Smiths when I was in secondary school because I had this friend in theatre class who liked them. Great music to listen to when you’re depressed and anything happy will just make you rage and throw the nearest object. My personal favourites are “This Charming Man”, “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”, “How Soon is Now?”, “Bigmouth Strikes Again”, and “William it Was Really Nothing”.

4. The Stone Roses

A band with a short discography (so not too intimidating to get into) and one of the best debut albums I’ve ever heard. The Stone Roses is one of my favourite albums of the 80s and there’s not a whole lot of albums I’d classify as perfect from the 80s, but this is one of them. There are some 60s throwbacks in their sound with the jangling guitars and other psychedelic elements – making it a perfect band for 80s sceptical old school 60s/70s classic rock fans. I remember playing “I Am The Resurrection” for my dad and he thought it was way older than it is.

if I had to pick favourites, I’ll go with “I Wanna Be Adored”, “She Bangs The Drums”, “Waterfall”, “Bye Bye Bad Man”, “Made of Stone”, “I Am The Resurrection”, and “Fools Gold”.

There are a couple songs not on the album that are amazing: “Elephant Stone” and “Sally Cinnamon”.

5. New Order

One of the first post-punk/synthpop bands I got into. They were made up of former members of Joy Division, who agreed that if anyone were to die, they couldn’t continue as Joy Division. They became even bigger than Joy Division. They were a band that really opened my mind to all kinds of music genres, like electronic and dance music. Of course, I’ll always prefer the old school guitar driven music, but electronic music can be neat too and New Order are one of those bands that showed me that (Kraftwerk and YMO were two other bands that also opened my mind to that too). My favourite songs are “Ceremony”, “Dreams Never End” “Blue Monday”, “Age of Consent”, “Bizarre Love Triangle”, and “True Faith”.

6. Kate Bush

Another 80s musician I got into earlier on than others on this list. I found out about her music because of Pink Floyd. David Gilmour was the one who basically discovered her and helped her get famous. Basically, while she was still in school she knew she wanted to be a musician and she gave a demo tape to a family friend who knew David Gilmour. Gilmour was impressed and helped her get a better demo and a record deal. What I really like about her is her voice, her dancing, and that she writes pretty much all her own music. If you’re wondering where to start, I recommend her album, Hounds of Love.

Never for Ever has great tracks on it like “Babooshka”, “Violin” (a really hard rock song), “The Infant Kiss”, “Army Dreamers”, and “Breathing”.

My favourite tracks on The Dreaming are “Suspended in Gaffa”, “The Dreaming”, Houdini”, and “Get Out of My House”.

Just listen to this album in its entirety. It’s one of my favourites of the 80s.

7. Tatsuro Yamashita

Last year, I got really into city pop and surprisingly, I didn’t talk much about it on my blog, but if you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen me fangirl over some city pop songs. So what exactly is city pop and why is it exploding in popularity on the internet? Basically city pop is a genre of pop music from Japan that combines all sorts of sounds: from western pop and rock to jazz to R&B to disco. Japan is a country that you would think is futuristic, but surprisingly has not embraced streaming, with many music fans there preferring physical formats of music: vinyl and CDs. Hopefully one day we’ll see a lot more city pop on Spotify. But at least it’s available on YouTube.

Basically if you’re not sure where to begin with City Pop, I would say why not try the power couple of City Pop: Tatsuro Yamashita and Mariya Takeuchi? Tatsuro Yamashita is known as the King of City Pop. Personally, my favourite albums of his are Ride on Time and For You. Definitely a good place to start. Funny enough, before I got into city pop, I listened to vaporwave and future funk and city pop would often be sampled. In fact, Saint Pepsi sampled “Love Talkin’ (Honey It’s You)” and sped it up. Listening to the original though, nothing beats it!

8. Mariya Takeuchi

Pretty much everyone’s first exposure to city pop is “Plastic Love”. My friend Patrick, referred to it as the “Stairway to Heaven” of city pop. It’s such a great song that makes you nostalgic for a decade in a country that you may have never lived in. Why do I feel such a connection to this song even though I was born in 1994 and I’ve never been to Japan? Anyway, she’s a lot more than “Plastic Love”. I like her songs “Once Again” and “September”:

9. Kino

I found out about this rock band thanks to Bald and Bankrupt, one of my favourite YouTubers. He’s this guy who travels all around the former Soviet countries and interacts with locals. In one video, some Kino was playing on the radio and he was talking about how awesome Viktor Tsoi (the frontman of Kino) was. Kino are one of the most loved rock bands in Russia, but virtually unknown outside of Russia and former Soviet countries. However, thanks to the internet, there are fewer barriers to discovering music from around the world. Basically, Viktor Tsoi is seen in Russia like how grunge fans might see Kurt Cobain or how classic rock fans see Jim Morrison: a voice of a generation, authentic, great performer, gone too soon. He once said this about Kino’s popularity and reputation for authenticity:

“Almost everything can be forgiven to those who are honest.  Say, for example, if we [Kino] play our music in an unprofessional manner, or sing our songs in an unprofessional way – and we have made countless mistakes of this kind – our fans will overlook this, but, if we do not try our best to be honest our fans will never forgive us.”

Viktor Tsoi took authenticity another step further: he kept working in a boiler room doing maintenance even as a rock star. He wasn’t rich, in fact he was so broke that he couldn’t afford a wedding dress for his wife. He even avoided the draft (Russia even to this day requires all men to serve in the military) Being a rock star in Soviet Russia was difficult to say the least, everything had to be underground, rock music was banned by the government. Anyway, amazing rock band. If you like The Cure, you’ll love Kino.

If you want something more acoustic and kinda hippie sounding, you might like this song, “Aluminium Cucumbers”, from their debut album 45.

An album that’s a good place to start for new Kino listeners is Gruppa Krovi, their breakthrough album. The first two tracks are fan favourites.

10. Indochine

My friend, Amanda, got me into this French new wave/post-punk band. A while ago she was on a big Indochine kick and was telling me all about their music. You don’t need to know French to like Indochine. Another awesome band with siblings: twins Nicola and Stéphane Sirkis. They are one of the most loved rock bands from France, in fact, the French band with the most album sales! Ask any French person if they know Indochine and it’s like asking any English speaker if they know The Beatles. Sadly though, they aren’t well known in America, but they have a real following in Quebec and in Peru! My three favourite albums are L’aventurierLe péril jaune, and 3.

My favourite tracks are “L’aventurier”, “Leila”, “Indochine”, “Dizzidence Politik”

Favourite tracks: “La sécheresse de Mékong”, “Razzia”, “Pavillon rouge”, “Miss Paramount”, and “Kao-Bang”.

also has a lot of great songs: “3e sexe” (I’ve played this one so many times on repeat last year), “Canary Bay”, “Trois nuits par semaine”, and “Tes yeux noirs”.

11. The Cure

We can’t talk about post-punk without talking about one of the best bands from that genre, The Cure! They’re a band that I didn’t get into earlier and I regret that. I don’t think I really listened to them much until last year. When I was younger I was really into 60s music and The Cure are very different from that, but as I opened my mind, I saw the beauty of gothic rock and post punk. Helps that I got into more depressing and sombre music like Steven Wilson towards the end of my undergrad. And one of my favourite modern bands are Molchat Doma, who were definitely influenced by bands like The Cure, Joy Division/New Order, and Kino. If you’re looking for a place to start, I like Seventeen Seconds and Faith

Favourite songs: “Play For Today”, “Secrets”, “Three”, and “A Forest”.

Favourite songs: “Primary”, “All Cats Are Grey”, “The Funeral Party”, “Doubt”, and “Faith”.

12. Dexys Midnight Runners

Everyone knows them for “Come On Eileen”. Great song and definitely on that list of songs that make all the white people turnt at any party. But they are more than that! In America, they’re a one hit wonder and believe me, they deserve better than that in America. They take a lot of inspiration from American soul and R&B music and Celtic music (frontman Kevin Rowland’s parents were born in Ireland). Even their name comes from the 70s Northern Soul scene, with Dexys being short for Dexedrine, a recreational drug that people would take so they could dance all night. Their soul inspired sound definitely makes them an 80s band for people who love the 60s.

This is my favourite Dexys album. The cover photo is of an Irish Catholic boy from Belfast holding his belongings, trying to get away from the unrest. Sad story about the recording of the album. The record label were planning to pay them way less in royalties than other bands and Kevin Rowland threatened to steal the album and hold it ransom until the label agrees to pay them fairly. The label laughed and didn’t take him seriously, but Kevin Rowland followed through and stole it, taking it from London to Birmingham. They returned the tape when the label agreed to pay them more in royalties. Young Soul Rebels, indeed! It’s an excellent album from start to finish, but I really love “Geno” and their cover of the Northern Soul classic “Seven Days Too Long”. “Geno” is a tribute to Geno Washington, an American R&B singer who is a favourite of Mods and Northern Soul fans.

Another great album. Favourite tracks besides “Come On Eileen” are “The Celtic Soul Brothers”, “Let’s Make This Precious”, “I’ll Show You”, and “Jackie Wilson Said” (a Van Morrison cover, and imo better than the original).

13. The (English) Beat

Early on when I was diving into classic rock and the mod subculture, I found out about 80s ska and that was probably one of the first things that made me realise the 80s did have some music worth listening to. I love 60s ska, so why wouldn’t I like 80s ska? As much as I may have been trapped in the world of mod, it did introduce me to great stuff from the 80s, so maybe it isn’t so limiting after all.

I Just Can’t Stop It is an excellent album and one of my favourites of the 80s. You might even like this if you’re a fan of 70s punk.

“Save it For Later” is another favourite of mine and Pete Townshend covered it and he sang it like he wish he wrote it.

14. Talking Heads

You may say you hate the 80s, but I’m pretty sure you’ll like at least one Talking Heads song. How could you not like them? Even better, they have a really diverse discography because David Byrne got into all kinds of music (funk, world music, avant-garde, among other genres) thanks to Brian Eno, who produced a bunch of their albums and worked with them a lot. The diverse sounds guarantee that you’ll find something you like by them. I know you’ll say “Hold on! They released music in the 70s too!” but they released a lot great music in the 80s and I associate them more with the 80s. They made danceable rock for people who don’t like disco.

An excellent album. I love the songs “Born Under Punches”, “The Great Curve”, “Once in a Lifetime” (what a meme of a song and music video), and “Seen and Not Seen”. Bonus tracks “Fela’s Riff” and “Right Start” are also really good.

A very funky album. I like “Burning Down the House”, “Girlfriend is Better”, “Slippery People”, “Moon Rocks”, “This Must Be the Place”, and “Burning Down the House”.

15. The Barracudas

This is a band I didn’t know about until last year and I found out about them thanks to Spotify – once in a while the algorithm will suggest something good and this is probably one of my favourite recommendations yet. Like a lot of other bands on this list, they’re a great band to listen to if your favourite music is from the 60s because a lot of their sound has throwback elements, lots of nods to surf rock, garage rock, and power pop. If you like The Jam, MC5, and The Raspberries, I think you’ll also like The Barracudas.

Drop Out With The Barracudas has a lot of their best songs. My personal favourites on here are “I Can’t Pretend”, “We’re Living in Violent Times”, “Don’t Let Go”, “Summer Fun” (I love the mock retro ad for the Plymouth Barracuda), and “I Wish it Could Be 1965 Again” (this is a song that I’d call my theme song – love the Beach Boys/Ramones influences on this one).

So these are my picks for bands that opened my mind and made me realise that the 80s has a lot going for it, you just have to look somewhere else that isn’t the rock dinosaurs! Always look for new things and keep an open mind when listening to music, you never know what you might like! There’s no decade that has just bad music. Great music is released every year, you just need to find it!

Who are your favourite bands from the 80s?

Shoutout to my friend Patrick for supporting the blog!

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