By Jordy Altman
The 1980s were a transition period for pop music. Before the glitz and glam of heavy rock ruling the boob tube, many musicians were struck trying to maneuver out of rock and roll limbo.
Disco was dying, punk entered puberty, and power pop kicked off the training wheels. But more importantly, new musicians embraced the cheap-yet-powerful space-age rock machine: the synthesizer. The decreasing price and ease of these keyboards led to a new genre of musician – spacey, suburban, and with easy-access to heavy eyeliner.
While some acts tried to remain true to their past, others produced pop music with jittery, high-pitched vocals. The results was a Top 40 chart that looked more like a patchwork quilt than a best-of list. Lucky for us, the cameras were rolling as more and more bands wanted to express their artistic flair with a music video. We went ahead and opened up the music vault to rediscover a kaleidoscope of kitsch with the forgotten music videos from the year 1980.
Billy Joel-“You May Be Right”
Doing his best to keep rock rock and roll alive (just look at that leather jacket!) Billy Joel was out to prove that he could rock harder than his commercially successful piano-ballad past. Joel’s “You May Be Right” music video is sassy as it is exciting, shimmying along the concert stage in a gold suit in front of an audience we never actually see.
Dexy’s Midnight Runners – “Geno”
Punk entered puberty, and apparently joined high school band. Dexy’s Midnight Runners brought the brass in a visual display that cuts back and forth from the band exploring the gloomy, urban jungle… to suddenly performing in front of a Rainbow Brite shower curtain at Skateland South. Fun fact: Many believe the song is a tribute to Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band.
Benny Mardones – “Into the Night”
It’s just a longing of the heart… right? Mardones kickstarts his verse with the lyric “She’s just 16 years old… leave her alone.” Sure, he’s an older man in love with a younger woman, but like those who thought disco would never die, it’s all just a fantasy. After all, Mardones’ answer to underage love is whisking the girl away on a magic carpet.
David Bowie – “Ashes to Ashes”
Bowie was no stranger to change. After surviving the 1960s and 1970s, his welcomed the new decade with his single, “Ashes to Ashes”. Amid spacey soundscapes whirling over powerful bass lines, Bowie sings the somber dirge of his own career career. Is he the clown, the crazy man, or just some astronaut floating in space…? Perhaps if he parades in front of that bulldozer long enough, he’ll tell us the answer.
Rocky Burnette – Tired of Toein’ the Line
A simple 50’s breakup song is reinvented for the 1980s. Rocky Burnette croons about his lost love while his latex-clad backup band struts around in front of multiple smoke machines and a cardboard cutout of the Los Angeles skyline. Oh, and Burnette appears in a fireman outfit at the end of the video, surprising his female musicians with a powerful spray from his firehouse.
KC & The Sunshine Band-“Please Don’t Go”
The last notes of disco were fading away, but KC & The Sunshine Band were determined to see it out to the end. Like the musicians aboard the sinking Titanic who continued to play, lead singer Harry Wayne Casey chants his mantra “Please don’t go away / I’m beggin’ you to stay” over the course of three minutes and fourth-three seconds. He and his band, noticeably less sunshine-y years past, rhythmically and emotionlessly sway on a empty stage at the local bowling alley.
The Vapors – “Turning Japanese”
Geisha, then guitar! Photograph, then samurai! The Vapors explore a tiny, Japanese house with translucent walls and large, pink shadows while singing about a beautiful Japanese woman. Why, what else could it be about?
Gary Numan – “Cars”
If Gary Numan went out to create the best example of synthesizer porn, he did it with the music video for “Cars”. Here was a man who didn’t care whether or not he wrote the next title track for whatever “Brat Pack” movie was about to premiere, Numan wanted nothing more than to stand in his prism of light and sing his praises about car safety.
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – “Enola Gay”
Members of OMD appear in the sky as they reflect on Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima which helped end WWII. When the band sings “It’s eight fifteen / and that’s the time that it’s always been.”, they are referring to the time the bomb, Little Boy, was dropped.
The Cure – “A Forest”
In 1980, “A Forest” was The Cure’s first UK single, featuring electric guitars with maximum reverb serving as a sombre reminder love hurts, man. Luckily, nihilism had not yet consumed The Cure in 1980, so Smith appears in the music video sans smeared makeup and towering hair. Such a nice boy.