The 1980's had the best and worst of everything possible. Standing alone, the 80's can easily be a forgotten decade. However, the "polished" Classic rock, along with the (new wave) "rough drafts" of Alternative rock, and the birth of music television make the 80's a decade to be treasured.
Rush, ZZ Top, Asia, Yes, and (double) Van Halen all were on top of their games with intelligent Classic rock; great music and lyrics. I have stated before my opinion that Rush was THE rock band of the 80's, however that opinion was wrong (they were just my favorite band). Because of their lead-singer change in 1985, Van Halen easily put out more good music--and with 2 different styles of presentation. And you must never forget the 1st Supergroup of all-time, Asia, starting in 1982. Asia and Yes had all-star line-up changes during this decade of multi-million record sales; and the band with the most hits, great songs, and total sales was ZZ Top. Wow. I always jump at the chance to talk about Classic rock; just as I always jump at the chance to talk about the transformation from Classic (through New Wave) to Alternative. My personal influence and applications helped to define the new radio category of "Active rock"; so kiss my ass.
New Wave silliness was hard to take seriously, but there was something special in its roots. (Like me) Many of your now radio-friendly Alternative bands grew up on a mix of Classic, Punk, and New Wave (silliness). The slower (and more wackily dressed) cousin of Punk rock, New Wave would actually grow and blossom into "Alternative". As far as I know, the first band ever to present music in their own way, and on their own terms--without regard for fame or business success, was the Cure. Cure leader Robert Smith was making weirdo music way back in the 70's, and already had a cult following by 1980...Americans didn't know so much about all of this because Robert Smith was "happening" across the pond. Americans were more interested in individual icons like David Bowie and Elvis Costello. Cheap Trick--an excellent rock + roll band--also with a cult following by 1980, tried to take the "silliness" factor and use it to be even more popular...I normally don't like to agree with the "experts", but most of them call the Cure the premier Alternative band; it's hard not to.
In between '79 and '91, there would be musical drifting, swaying, shocking starts--and stops; hair, glare, and dare. The music world (maybe the whole world) was an active and interesting volcano. Punk rock would get angrier (perhaps at its New Wave cousin) with Danzig's Misfits, and Rollins' Black Flag. Depeche Mode brilliantly took artsy New Wave and made it pop radio-friendly. The Pixies took artsy New Wave and made it artsy independent (many argue that the Pixies did what they did without regard for fame or business success, as well). All of this excellent experimentation was part of a vast expansion--which also allowed for a "new" back-to-basics approach--like Guns + Roses.
There are so many other bands that deserve mention--and won't get it here; please do not be offended--but (again) kiss my ass anyway. Many 80's bands were based in experimentation; the Offspring (the best and most often overlooked name for a band ever, duh), Red Hot Chili Peppers, and REM were gaining massive momentum as the decade progressed. There were so many different "right now" things going that the only sure thing was that there was NO sure thing. Wait; there was exactly ONE sure thing: we will need AT LEAST ONE new category for all of this stuff.
New Age, Progressive, Independent, and Art rock all (somehow) came under this new heading of "Alternative"--even if the bands didn't like the term. Being in the #1 college town for music (Athens GA), I remember the angst of being called "alternative". Many good bands turned Punk, or simply quit, just to avoid the title; think about that. Or don't; I don't care.
It's perfectly set up for me to talk about being on the radio in Athens, GA in the 90's--but that's not the subject...The (music) world was a pretty messed up place in the 1980's. Love it or hate it, though, this decade was very important. And yes, it was a LONG time ago now (a galaxy far, far away perhaps), but think of how much you enjoyed music back in the 80's--maybe you need to write a new Commentary about it, too.
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