1984, the best year for pop music?

The bomb will fall, the sentiment in 1984 (thebulletin.org)

The bomb will fall, the sentiment in 1984

Introduction

35 (!) years ago I was 18 years of age. During the course of this year many articles will be published about albums and/or music released in 1984.
In 2014 Rolling Stone Magazine proclaimed 1984 to be the most prefect year for pop music of all time. A great number of blogs (including Pitchfork), organizations (like Billboard) were in agreement. Is that unanimous praise justified? A great number of my all-time favorites are from that year, but was it really that special?

George Orwell - 1984 (richardspulps.wordpress.com)

George Orwell

The number was steeped in myth, in large part due to the George Orwell book. The extremely dark theme of the book made the year to be associated with dark, grim images. Although Big brother is watching you hadn’t been fulfilled in its entirety, that feeling of desperation and hopelessness was nonetheless very much there.

N.B.: To be fair, Orwell’s vision wasn’t that far from the truth; he had just misplaced the year.

International

So what were the major events in 1984?

1984 Summer Olympics logo (wikipedia.org)

1984 Summer Olympics logo

  • The Summer Olympics Games came to Los Angeles, which were boycotted by the Soviet Union, quickly followed by all of the Eastern Europe countries (except Rumania), Iran and Libya;
  • Ronald Reagan gets re-elected as president of the United States (his running mate was the future president George H.W. Bush);
  • Research into the new dangerous disease AIDS identified its origin, named HIV. It would take several years and many deaths before HIV could be contained, preventing it from turning into AIDS;
  • The Apple Macintosh, the first computer with a graphical user environment, is made available;
  • Margaret Thatcher survives an assassination attempt at the so-called Brighton hotel bombing. Morrissey, singer of the upcoming The Smiths, shocks the nation with his remark “The only sorrow of the Brighton bombing is that Thatcher escaped unscathed.”;
  • Richard Burton, Truman Capote and Andy Kaufman die;
  • India’s premier, Indira Gandhi, is murdered;
  • The United Kingdom and China agree that Hong Kong is handed over to China in 1997;
  • A huge humanitarian crisis takes place in Ethiopia during an unprecedented famine, leading to countless deaths. Coverage of the disaster leads to outrage (and action, see below);
  • Over 3,500 people die from poison leaking from the Bhopal Union Carbide Factory in India;
  • The coal-miner strikes, which would last 12 months, commence in Britain;
  • The fear of a nuclear war and its consequences reached its pinnacle. Television shows/documentaries like The Day After and WarGames, both broadcast in the last months of 1983 and Threads and On The 8th Day in 1984, made the fear palpable and traumatized an entire generation.

In The Netherlands

Kubuswoningen Rotterdam (onsverleden.wordpress.com)

Kubuswoningen Rotterdam

And what were some of the major events in my home country?

  • In Rotterdam the characteristic ‘kubuswoningen’ (cube homes) are ready for their first inhabitants;
  • Abortion is legalized (yes, it really took until 1984…);
  • Despite huge anti-nuke demonstrations in 1981 and 1983, the Dutch government nonetheless decides that cross missiles are to be placed on Dutch soil.

Personal

In 1984 I turned 18 years old, lived at home and did the fourth year in high school for the second time. Drumming and singing were more important than my education. And why should it not? The doom was ever present. I would become unemployed, no matter what I did or didn’t do anyway. So why bother? I didn’t have the faintest clue as to what I wanted to do after my high school days. After the summer holidays my senior year would start, so I had some time for contemplation.

Thanks to my mom I could earn some money every week to by records. Not as many as I wanted, but the most important ones were acquired. During the summer holidays I worked in the fields, getting flower bulbs out of the soil. The hours were long, the work was hard, but I made a lot of money.

MTV Music Awards 1984 (bustle.com)

MTV Music Awards 1984

Main events in the world of music

The following musical events were important in 1984 (to me anyway):

  • House music originates in 1984. In Chicago the first serious groundwork is done for the genre, that would break through 4 years later;
  • Run DMC release their debut album, which would turn into the first rap album to be certified gold and the first time a rap album was nominated for a Grammy Award;
  • MTV becomes a household name, making 24/7 music television a staying power for decades to come. In 1984 the first MTV Music Awards are organized, which turn out to be the major breakthrough for Madonna;
  • Video clips are becoming a form of art in their own right. Michael Jackson releases the song Thriller as a single. It is accompanied by a ground breaking video, which was broadcast for the first time in The Netherlands in early1984. Duran Duran releases a spectacular video for The Reflex, which contains numerous astounding effects. Prince releases his movie Purple Rain. Many view the movie as one long video clip with a story;
  • In the US the traditional lines between ‘white’ and ‘black’ music are getting blurred more and more. MTV, the rise of rap, and the start of sitcom about a ‘black’ family (The Cosby Show) all play their own part in that;
  • The compact disc starts its undeniable rise and would decimate the vinyl market over the course of just a few years;
  • Marvin Gaye is murdered by his own father;
  • Count Basie and Jackie Wilson die;
  • Dutch band Doe Maar stops, which is a national event. Crass dissolves;
  • Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax is banned by the BBC, basically ensuring it reaches number 1 on the charts;
  • After years of abuse by ex-husband Ike and a break from entertainment, Tina Turner returns and scores huge hits again;
  • At the end of December the single Do They Know It’s Christmas? is released. It’s made by a collaboration of British artists, under the moniker Band Aid. The singe’s proceeds are donated to Ethiopia to help fight the famine. The following year We Are The World (the American Do They Know It’s Christmas?) and Live Aid would generate even more money. Charity and pop music could go together very well.
  • The Police play their last show. It would take until 2007 before The Police would perform again;
  • Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) and Jim Kerr (Simple Minds) are married;
  • The great movie This Is Spinal Tap is released. Nowadays, it’s considered a classic for (pop/rock) music lovers;
  • Tipper Gore forms the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) in response to the “filth” she hears on her daughter’s copy of Prince‘s Purple Rain;
  • Big Audio Dynamite, Dinosaur Jr., Fine Young Cannibals, Frehley’s Comet, Mint Condition, Sepultura, Simply Red, Soundgarden and Ween are formed;
  • Blue Rondo À La Turk, Foghat, Ippu-Do, Jefferson Starship, Soft Cell, Split Enz, Thin Lizzy and Tygers Of Pan Tang disband.

Important albums

Obviously, 1984 belonged to Prince. During the course of that year Purple Rain the album, Purple Rain the movie and Purple Rain the singles were released. For the first time attention was pointed to this genius from Minneapolis on a global scale. The movie (budgeted at $ 7 Million) was one of the major film hits of the year.

For me personally, it meant my true introduction to the world of Prince. In May of that year I went to my weekly hangout (’t Stamcafe at Heerhugowaard), where I heard When Doves Cry for the first time. A masterpiece, like nothing I ever heard before (or would ever hear). An incredible song, that still astounds me to this day.

But, what makes 1984 so special to me, besides Prince’s breakthrough?

Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense - Movie poster (thecolonial.org)

Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense – Movie poster

  • At the time I thought it was a great album: Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads (the corresponding movie wasn’t shown in The Netherlands until 1985). To this day, the movie is regarded as the greatest concert film of all time;
  • Even though I didn’t really like it at the time, 1984 was also Bruce Springsteen’s year with the release of Born In The USA, the album that contains superb songs like No Surrender, Bobby Jean and Downbound Train;
  • Something I was really smitten with at the time was the debut album by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: From Her To Eternity;
  • The dissolving of Japan spawned two great pieces of music: the first solo album by David Sylvian: Brilliant Trees and the debut (and last) album by Dalis Car, a collaboration between Mick Karn and Peter Murphy (ex-Bauhaus);
  • Madonna released the album Like A Virgin, one of the first big albums to be recorded digitally;
  • U2 releases The Unforgettable Fire, aan album that somewhat restores my faith in the band, after the disappointment of the preceding War;
  • The Waterboys release their phenomenal A Pagan Place;
  • Van Halen release their last truly great album, 1984, which turned out to be the last album featuring the original line-up;
  • The Smiths debut with The Smiths, which is rather disappointing sound-wise, but within the same year they also release the superior Hatful Of Hollow;
  • Echo & The Bunnymen release Ocean Rain;
  • Sade makes her debut with Diamond Life, an album that sold millions of copies;
  • The Cure turned happy on their latest album The Top with ingenious pop songs;
  • Simple Minds released their follow-up to the great New Gold Dream: Sparkle In The Rain, which contained Waterfront, a fantastic song, but as an album was kind of a letdown;
  • David Bowie releases the disappointing Tonight;
  • Joe Jackson also disappoints somewhat with Body And Soul;
  • The Gun Club releases The Las Vegas Story, which is their best album (in my opinion);
  • The Blue Nile releases A Walk Across The Rooftops, which contains their best song ever: the wonderful Tinsteltown In The Rain;
  • At the time I adored Lloyd Cole & The Commotions’ Rattlesnakes and Thomas Dolby’s The Flat Earth;
  • King Crimson released the last part of a trilogy, which I held in high esteem: Three Of A Perfect Pair followed the preceding Discipline and Beat.

1984 also saw releases by Hüsker Dü (debut album Zen Arcade), Paul Weller’s The Style Council (debut album Café Blue), INXS (The Swing), The Replacements (Let It Be), Talk Talk (It’s My Life), Tears For Fears (Songs From The Big Chair) and The Bangles show they can create beautiful pop songs by releasing the single Going Down To Liverpool.

Despite the fact Michael Jackson released Thriller over a year earlier, 1984 still was an important year for him. His Thriller video broke every record and was a classic video. However, it was also the start of his problems. While filming a Pepsi commercial his hair caught fire, resulting in severe burns on his scalp. According to intimate friends that event ultimately led to his increasingly erratic behavior and looks.

According to Dutch critics the album Hole by Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel was one of the most important releases of the year. By now, that album is nothing more than a footnote.

Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense - Movie poster (thecolonial.org)

Prince – When Doves Cry (maxi-single)

In conclusion

Well, that’s all very nice, but what does it all mean? Was the year 1984 that good or not? The answer is unequivocally yes. It was a fine year. Is it better than 1987, 1966 or 1978? Of course that remains a question of taste, but the fact remains that two of the major new musical genres that still resonate today, made their first real impact in 1984, some of the true great albums of all time stem from that year and a number of impressive careers started in that year as well.

On top of that, it is the year of When Doves Cry. So, I can support the statement.

Albums June 1984 (discogs.com/apoplife.nl)

Albums June 1984

June 1984

Without a question, the month of June 1984 probably was the most astonishing month in all of pop music history. Over the course of that month alone 6 albums that remain close to my heart were released:

Top 10 best sold singles of 1984 (in The Netherlands)

  1. Danny de Munk – Ik voel me zo verdomd alleen
  2. George Michael – Careless Whisper
  3. Prince & The Revolution – Purple Rain
  4. Stevie Wonder – I Just Called To Say I Love You
  5. Lionel Richie – Hello
  6. Jermaine Jackson & Pia Zadora – When The Rain Begins To Fall
  7. Pat Benatar – Love Is A Battlefield
  8. Duran Duran – The Reflex
  9. Queen – I Want To Break Free
  10. Paul Young – Love Of The Common People

Top 10 best sold albums of 1984 (in The Netherlands)

  1. Lionel Richie – Can’t Slow Down
  2. Sade – Diamond Life
  3. Paul Young – No Parlez
  4. Michael Jackson – Thriller
  5. Prince & The Revolution – Purple Rain
  6. Spandau Ballet – Parade
  7. Duran Duran – Seven And The Ragged Tiger
  8. Robert Long – Dag kleine jongen
  9. Tina Turner – Private Dancer
  10. Talk Talk – It’s My Life

In closing

What do you think? Is 1984 the greatest year in the history of pop music? Or do you disagree? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: 1984, the best year for pop music?. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

I Love 1984 (twitter.com)