It was the decade that couldn't wait to get started and ended early. It kicked off with the celebratory “Pop Muzik'' by M in the spring of 1979, continued with the synth-pop double whammy of Tubeway Army's ”Are 'Friends' Electric?“ and Gary Numan's ”Cars'' in the summer of 1979 – and really got into its stride with “Video Killed the Radio Star”, the Buggles chart-topper of autumn that year, which anticipated the arrival of MTV in the US two years later.
It was the decade when UK acts like The Human League, The Police, Eurythmics, Culture Club, Duran Duran, Wham! and George Michael, Simple Minds, Tears for Fears, Pet Shop Boys, Billy Ocean, Simply Red, Bananarama, Billy Idol, Rick Astley and Fine Young Cannibals topped charts around the world, with the US in particular succumbing to a third British invasion. The only resistance they offered came from the mighty superstar triumvirate of Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince.
And it started to peter out in 1987 with “Jack Your Body”, the early house classic by Steve “Silk” Hurley, which heralded a shift in musical tastes that continued throughout the Ibiza-inspired Balearic era as well as the second summer of love period of 1988-89, before the rise of Madchester groups like The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays hit the final nail in the coffin.
The Eighties have been undergoing something of a reappraisal and a revival of late, culminating with the launch tonight of Sounds of the 80s, a brand new show presented by Sara Cox on Radio 2. For Bob Shennan, the station's controller, the decision to launch the programme was a no-brainer. “Sounds of the 80s was a show waiting to happen,” he says. With Prefab Sprout, Lisa Stansfield, Sting, Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, as well as Eighties revivalists The Feeling all releasing new albums and featuring on the Radio 2 playlist, it does feel like we're falling in love with the decade all over again.
Dylan Jones recently published The Eighties: One Day, One Decade – a look at the Eighties through the prism of Live Aid, the benefit event that defined a generation. Band Aid and Live Aid's Bob Geldof is back with the Boomtown Rats, one of many Eighties stalwarts gracing UK stages over the coming weeks. Peter Gabriel is touring So, his multi-million selling 1986 album, while Lloyd Cole is undertaking his biggest European solo tour ever.
In December, singer-songwriter Roddy Frame will perform High Land, Hard Rain, Aztec Camera's stunning debut, to celebrate its 30th anniversary. When it comes to value-for-money tours, Eighties fans can choose from a package presenting The Christians, Hue and Cry and Go West, while the epochal, evergreen Simple Minds will not only play four UK arena dates with Ultravox as support at the end of November, but also join the Virgin Records 40th Anniversary celebration at Koko earlier that month, alongside other Eighties acts associated with Richard Branson's old label – Public Image Limited, Boy George, Heaven 17 and Soul II Soul.
Coincidentally, Universal Music is making the most of the Virgin anniversary and catalogue – part and parcel of its recent acquisition of EMI – with a series of compilations appropriately entitled New Gold Dreams, Methods of Dance and Fascinating Rhythms, majoring on the aforementioned Eighties groups as well as John Foxx, OMD, Japan, Soul II Soul and Neneh Cherry.
Universal Music is also issuing 30th anniversary editions of The Hurting, the influential debut by Tears For Fears, one of several duos who helped to define the Eighties, and has big plans for Step by Step, a winning collection of Wet Wet Wet's greatest hits to coincide with the band's arena tour in December. Pet Shop Boys recently released their 12th studio album, Electric, and Erasure have made a Christmas electro album, Snow Globe, which is due in November.
Warner Music is gearing up for the release of a Simply Red box-set entitled Song Book, as well as Fisherman's Box, an exhaustive 7-CD set gathering the 121 tracks the Waterboys recorded for Fisherman's Blues to mark the 25th anniversary of the best-selling album. Not to be outdone, Sony Music have compiled Flashback: The Very Best of Imagination, as cheesy and groovy as you'd expect. Madness are re-releasing their 1981 film Take It Or Leave It and are hosting another House of Fun weekender at the end of November. Cherry Red's Cherry Pop imprint has become the home for lost Eighties albums like Fiction Factory's Throw The Warped Wheel Out, containing their 1983 Top Ten hit “(Feels Like) Heaven”.
Ian Peel juggles being label manager of ZTT Records, the imprint associated with Eighties über-producer Trevor Horn, and Stiff Records, with editing Classic Pop, the “Eighties, Electronic, Eclectic” magazine which launched a year ago. Classic Pop broke away from the music monthlies routinely and regularly doing cover stories on Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones.
“I was born in the early Seventies, so these artists mean nothing to me,” he argues. “The gap in the market was very clear to me because I was falling through it. The magazine has proved really successful. Not all Eighties music was great. But for too long, classic pop music has been sidelined and mistreated by the mainstream media. Every now and then, a TV or radio station does an Eighties night. It turns out to be a total disappointment – just a crude re-run of people joking about mullets and leg-warmers.
“The media has completely misread the public's interest in Eighties pop,” he says. “The kids who were into pop music then are now adults, with appropriately sophisticated tastes. They want to celebrate and see how the music of their youth has developed, not feel forced to cringe about it. Pop stars in the Eighties had an individual sense of style and substance.”
'Sounds of the 80s' starts on Radio 2 at 10pm tonight