Social media sites have been more splattered with 80s nostalgia than a Flashdance-off-the-shoulder puffy paint shirt.
When it comes to music, as a rule, I try not to dwell on the past, but the 1980s are special to me because they perfectly span my adolescence, from age 11 to 20.
I began my inklings of womanhood during the advent of MTV in the U.S. After growing up with the Eagles, the new sounds I discovered in 1982 were absolutely thrilling. Synthesizers came into their own, and jazz, reggae, Latin percussion and all sorts of exotic elements whirled together. Men and women experimented with looking androgynous and wearing stylish suits. Hairstyles were crazy and unpredictable.
Here is a list of just some of my personal favorite not-quite-so-overplayed MTV videos, the tunes that I struggled to stay awake to watch in the wee hours while crashing at my older brother Joe’s house (because he had cable and I didn’t).
I think I liked them so much because they were a little outrageous and glamorous, the antithesis of the 1970s prog and southern rock my teen brothers awakened me with well past my bedtime when I was a little kid.
Simple Minds — Promised You a Miracle
My first favorite video in 1982.
The English Beat — Save It For Later
I have two favorite videos from The English Beat, known simply as The Beat in the UK. The first is my favorite as a youth and the second is my favorite now. The Beat has stayed with me and evolved in familiarity more than most ’80s bands.
My favorite video of all time back then, Save It for Later has a sway and Beatnik aesthetic that was so cool to me as a kid.
The English Beat — The Doors to Your Heart
Now, this is hands down my favorite video. I love the energy and geography …
… but my favorite tune/video if I had to choose one …
The English Beat — Too Nice To Talk To
Prince – Controversy
This made us younguns’ go, “Wow, what was that? … Is it really 6 minutes long?”
(Of course, I couldn’t find it on YouTube)
INXS – Don’t Change
Uplifting, gorgeous rock ‘n’ roll. The band’s best tune of all time.
The Members — Working Girl
Irreverent, snarky and loads of fun.
The Fun Boy Three – The Lunatics (Have Taken Over the Asylum)
Considered by most to be a big-hair trifle, inferior to its members’ previous outing, the Specials, Fun Boy Three is unfairly underrated. The band had one of the most original sounds I’ve heard, combining modern effects with spooky reggae undertones, catchy choruses and dancy rhythms. Plus, David Byrne produced their album, The Waiting.
Bananarama with The Fun Boy Three — Really Sayin’ Something
Oh, Bananarama. I wanted so badly to dress like those girls when I was 13. They were my fashion icons. I even had my mom make me outfitslike theirs
Echo and the Bunnymen – The Cutter
Never Stop was my first pick but the original video wasn’t available; this is a gem, too, showing young Ian McCulloch’s full lips in full effect.
The Fall – Victoria
(One of thee best Kinks covers) with singer Mark E. Smith looking zany in a Napoloeon uniform. Very fitting.
R.E.M. – Can’t Get There From Here
Favorite R.E.M vid hands down. Funny, playful, smart,creative, crazy … the R.E.M. I love. Insanely arcane lyrics, like “Philomath is where I go.”
Let’s Active — Waters Part
Mitch Easter, Let’s Active’s frontman, produced R.E.M.’s early albums. This was my favorite on a favorite album of all time.
The B52’s — Song for a Future Generation
Thompson Twins — Love on Your Side
Blow Monkeys – Forbidden Fruit
Pretty horns and one beach party goddess. Loved the editing with backward-motion effect. (Sorry for the poor quality. All YouTube had.)
China Crisis – King in a Catholic Style (Wake Up)
The dorky brilliance and gentile charm of so many unsung pop geniuses of that time period. It made me feel naughty to sing the word Catholic in less than a reverential manner when I tape-recorded this tune, which was right around the time of my confirmation.
Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark – Joan of Arc
Moody proto synth pop at its best. Another “Catholic” song.
Depeche Mode — Everything Counts
That xylophone in the refrain always got me.
Haircut 100 — Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)
Shimmering and timeless … excuse the poor video quality.
Heaven 17 — Penthouse and Pavmenet
Heaven 17 didn’t sound quite like anyone else. The Human League counterparts released two great singles that outdid all of Human’s League’s hitlist (in my humble adolescent opinion). Would have to revisit to see if I still feel the same. … Most likely.
Tears for Fears — Pale Shelter
My first VHS tape was of Tears For Fears’ singles from The Hurting album.
Aztec Camera — Oblivious
This video by the Scottish band that made me shriek whenever it came on and I maybe got to see it just a few times:
Ultravox — Dancing With Tears in My Eyes
Dramatic and so beautiful.
Japan — Visions of China
Another rarity and such a big deal to me when it came on, usually in the middle of the night …
The Style Council — “You’re the Best Thing (That Ever Happened to Me)”
My favorite love song of the 80s.
Or maybe it was this:
Prefab Sprout — When Love Breaks Down
Favorite heartbreak tune.
Joe Jackson — Breaking Us in Two
The Fixx — Stand or Fall
Time Zone — World Destruction
Along with “Radio Clash,” a favorite rap song and protest song.
Wham — Young Guns
Wham when they were known as “Wham UK” — “Hey sucker, what the hell got into you?!”
Adam Ant — Desperate but not Serious
The Clash — (This Is) Radio Clash
The Police — De Do Do Do De Da Da Da
The Police and The Clash — they both are known for their white reggae rock but hated each other. Yet they are doomed to be remembered by me in tandem. Here is a video I loved to see because it was seldom on MTV.
Talk Talk — It’s My Life
Gwen Stefani couldn’t touch this.
Icicle Works – Whisper to a Scream
Icicle Works introduced me to Buddhism, funny enough.
New Order — Blue Monday
In 1985 my focus veered from MTV to my favorite underage nightclub, Skyfeathers, which featured a Union Jack-painted dancefloor. This tune lured the majority of the kids with big hair at the time.
Tones on Tail — Go
Another danceclub favorite.
My two favorite female-fronted videos:
Siouxsie and the Banshees — Spellbound
The Pretenders — Tattooed Love Boys
(She wasn’t British but her band was.)
The Smiths — What Difference Does It Make?
Word porn for adolescents and great rock ‘n’ roll, period.
The Cure — In Between Days
The tune, the video that put me over the moon for the Cure.
Split Enz — One Step Ahead
No list would be complete without my favorite New Zealanders.