Sing something simple

I have a theory…

And here is what it is, this theory of mine. It’s a theory about ’80s pop music.

Pretty much everyone seems to have a fondness for ’80s music. I realise this is not so much a blanket as an enormous patchwork quilt made for charity by 1,000 people statement; but generally speaking, ’80s pop is usually going to go down well at a party, it’s the basis of hugely popular ‘School Disco’-style club nights, and it seems to be the era of music that can put a big silly smile on the face of anyone aged 25 to 45 – whatever your particular favourite band or subgenre of ’80s music you like/d (personally, I was a Wham!/Five Star/bubblegum pop kinda gal. My sister, being older, was more into the likes of Duran Duran/Police/Adam And The Ants).

And here’s my theory. I don’t believe that a fondness for ’80s music is purely down to nostalgia or sentimentality. That doesn’t account for all the 18 year-olds that want to go to School Disco nights. No, I think our fondness for ’80s music is chiefly down to melody.

I used to freelance for a big company, and several years ago I went to their huge fancy Christmas party. And I’ve never really experienced a DJ doing what the DJ did that night. He simply worked his way through the decades. Which was really very unimaginative, of course… But which made it absolutely crystal clear what each decade of pop music centered around.

He started with the ’70s, and disco. And it was brilliant, and we danced our socks off. No other decade made music as good to dance to as the ’70s. Four-to-the-floor, the disco beat… You can’t, well, beat it. And then the music moved to the ’80s and what did we do? We danced a little badly, rather awkwardly, we shuffled, we jumped around… But by god, we sang our hearts out. And then it moved to the ’90s – and suddenly, we couldn’t sing along anymore. We could dance, though not as well or as enjoyably as we did to the ’70s music, because ’90s pop – including its melodies, that we couldn’t really sing along to – was as dull as hell. Because in the ’90s (and I’m talking dance music here, not Oasis, Blur etc), you really had to be taking drugs to enjoy the music. It was the only thing which made the monotony bearable.

So, back to the ’80s. As it were. Yes, the pop music of the ’80s wasn’t good to dance to, it really wasn’t; and of course it had its share of monotonous tunes. But generally speaking, it was a decade in which pop had stonkingly hooky* melodies. And it is human to want to sing: it’s the most inherent form of music-making we have. It’s why we love karaoke, and The X Factor (And by ‘we’ I mean, the nation. Not necessarily me. Or you). Singing is in us all, whether we can do it well or not; and that’s why the pop songs that linger in our minds or do best in the charts are the ones with the hooks or great singalong tunes. It’s true now as much as it was back in the ’80s – it’s just that there were more of them in the ’80s.

Back then, the likes of Wham!, ABBA and Duran Duran were churning out catchy songs; songs we could sing along to. And further evidence that it was melody which counted above everything is that, half the time, we had no bloody idea what they were singing about. Yup – the tune mattered, but lyrics? Not so much. Duran Duran were the masters of this, and no song of theirs fulfilled the singalong melody/nonsense lyrics combination quite as well as this one:

Of course, it was the chorus of The Reflex that was brilliantly catchy; but that said, it did have that other great singalong element: namely, harmonies in the verse. But I digress. The point is, you can sing your heart out to the The Reflex, yet have absolutely no idea what you’re singing about. (Also in this category: Spandau Ballet and Nik Kershaw.)

George Michael was a little more obvious, of course. Indeed, he was a triple threat – because Wham! gave us catchy melodies plus obvious romantic lyrics plus you could actually dance to their songs. I present the jury with Exhibit A:

You should have seen me dance my little cotton socks off to that one at school discos. And they really were little cotton socks.

So, that is it. My theory. That is mine. I’ll leave you with two personal ’80s singalong favourites. This one is credible:

This one, not so much. But I don’t care. I used to listen to it on loop on my personal stereo (and it was a personal stereo, oh yes, not a Walkman) as I cycled happily through the Staffordshire countryside, singing my heart out. Well, as long as there was no one else around. Although even if there was, I was usually cycling fast enough to not be recognised:

*Anyone remember the great ’80s band Stonkingly Hooky?


  1. says

    I bought the single of My Favourite Waste Of Time. πŸ™‚

    I have a theory about drugs and music – a lot of the mid-80s stuff is Cocaine music – it’s insanely fast and the production is SO sparkly. Everything is shiny and trebly and over-produced. Compare with Heroin records, which are often dark, reverb-drenched, swampy sounding records…

    I remember the first time I heard Aha’s Hunting High And Low album after a LONG hiatus – the tunes are SO fast. It’s nuts. But chock full of outstanding melodies. choonz choonz choonz. #choonz, in fact.

    Lo and I certainly find that we’re drawn time and time again to big ole’ 80s choonz when we’re picking cover versions. They’re SO maleable, you can really twist ’em round. Love it.

  2. says

    Steve – delighted to hear I’m not the only one with a massive soft spot for that Owen Paul song :). And I like your theory about drugs, and think you are most probably correct. I can totally see why you and Lo are drawn to 80s songs to cover… As so may were saturated in so much production, but essentially very strong melodically, presumably to strip them back and find the song underneath, as t’were, must mean you uncover many gems. I’ll have to try it myself!