Every decade is different, and the eighties were adamant about being different from the seventies. Hippies and long hair were out. Power suits and making huge piles of money while flaunting it in style was in. Unless you were Goth or a punk rocker, then everything was out. I guess. I won’t try to describe gothic style or punk culture, as I’ll surely get it wrong.
It was the golden age of electronic arcades, and PAC-MAN ruled. (Those dots or disks that PAC-MAN ate by the billions were actually quarters.) Rubik’s cube was so popular, that national and international competitions were created. Well, it was popular if you were good at puzzles, otherwise it wasn’t really popular at all.
Smurfs and Cabbage Patch Kids made their debut early in the decade. Teddy Ruxpin, a talking animatronic teddy bear, was said to be an ‘Illiop’ whatever that was. As the decade neared its end a group of crime fighters known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who also defeated alien invaders in their spare time, emerged from the sewers.
Primetime television dramas like Dallas, Dynasty, Magnum P.I., and Miami Vice, replaced sitcoms and set fashion trends. (Remember when Hawaiian shirts were cool?) Men wore mullets, mustaches, and ‘designer stubble’, in lieu of beards and sideburns.
Women’s styles were also influenced by television shows. Big hair, short New Wave styles, asymmetric haircuts, and a dozen other hair styles were patently eighties. Aqua Net hair spray and various brands of hair styling gel enjoyed brisk and steady sales in those years. Women started wearing suits to look more professional on the job. Shoulder pads squared-off women’s suit jackets.
In casual settings, leg warmers became a fashion accessory, particularly in aerobics and yoga classes. For a time, men wore baggy parachute pants, and women wore short, tight-fitting spandex mini skirts. Everyone wore acid washed jeans.
The Sony Walkman was a popular item that allowed joggers and others who were into the fitness craze to listen to the radio or cassettes. The Walkman helped cassettes outsell vinyl records for the first time.
Boomboxes and breakdancing not only comingled, they seemed to have a symbiotic relationship. Little wonder that the popularity of both faded simultaneously.
The eighties also brought the first cell phones, and a hand held TV with a tiny screen, called the Sony Watchman.
Music videos existed before the eighties, but some cable television executives dreamed up the idea of a cable channel dedicated to playing tacky, over-produced, music videos 24/7/365 and MTV was born. The channel was launched August 1, 1981 at 12:01am. Ironically, the very first music video played on MTV was “Video Killed The Radio Star”, by The Buggles. It’s no coincidence that good looks tended to get singers and bands on MTV. The quality of popular music has slowly degraded ever since it became more important to look good than to sound good. (No, I’m not bitter. Why do you ask?)
Like sharks smelling blood in the water, another group of cable television executives, probably joined by music industry executives, got together and
VH1 was created soon thereafter.
Nevertheless, alot of good music did come out of the eighties, and nothing defines a decade better than its music. Here’s a list, in alphabetical order, of many of the most popular acts, for you to reminisce and enjoy.
De La Soul
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
Guns N’ Roses
Hall & Oates
Huey Lewis and the News
John Cougar Mellencamp
Kool and the Gang
L.L. Cool J
Men at Work
Pet Shop Boys
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble
Tears for Fears
The Pointer Sisters
The Rolling Stones
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Question of the night: What’s your favorite thing about the 1980s?