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Monday, June 16, 2014

1984: A Probing Musical Retrospective

Posted By on Mon, Jun 16, 2014 at 4:05 AM

George Orwell's predictions in his dystopian classic 1984 seem more apt for 2014 than the titular year. The scale and scope of our intelligence agencies suggest that Big Brother is well and truly with us. Our corruption of the English language in social media is more than reminiscent of newspeak (LOL, LMFAO, LOLROTF&ICGU), while the circus surrounding things like Kim Kardashian's ever increasingly bulbous bum keeps many distracted from what their elected officials do in the realms of power.

No, perhaps a more representative prophecy of the actual 1984 can be found in the first lines of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. To quote Boz himself, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity" and so on.

Former B-movie actor, Ronald Reagan told us that it was "morning in America" again, while the number of families living below the poverty line tripled. Carl Lewis took the L.A. Olympics by storm as the Cold War continued, famine thrived in Ethiopia, and a civil war was fought out on the streets of Beirut. Apple released the Macintosh computer three months before the U.S. government belatedly announced recognition of the AIDS virus.

However, against this backdrop of dichotomies, popular culture thrived. Ghostbusters, The Terminator, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom were some of the top movies of the year. Paris, Texas and Repo Man wowed the indie crowd. Tetris, Transformers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were all rolled out in the same year that The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The House on Mango Street, and Glengarry Glen Ross debuted. On TV, The Cosby Show premiered, Madonna rolled around the stage at the MTV Music Awards and Alex Trebek began his stint as Jeopardy! host.

Musically, 1984 seemed to represent the apex of the eighties' style over substance the nineties would later arrogantly sniff at. However, nostalgia does wonders for the memory. Some wonderful things happened in the music world in this year. Here are six of them, in no apparent order.

6. The All Conquering Megastar There were a handful of '80s megastars that simply dwarf the endlessly tweeting stars and starlets of today. Prince released Purple Rain, often heralded as the greatest soundtrack ever. It cannot be denied that it's a great record, full of velvet-plush love songs, gorgeous guitar wankery and sheer unfettered primal lustiness (though Tipper Gore may disagree).

Bruce Springsteen's Born In The USA had the Boss selling out arena shows to 11 million fans, while still chronicling the woes and triumphs of blue collar America (and the Republican Party famously mistook the loud lament of the title track's chorus and tried to use it as a flag-waving campaign anthem for Reagan's re-election campaign).

In November, Madonna stepped into her own with the release of the album Like A Virgin. Though the album continued the dance-pop of her debut,she moved away from the confines of the average pop princess with the lyrical content of the sophomore effort. Madonna asserted a sexuality usually the bastion only of male stars. And from here on, she would shape pop culture more so than any female star before or since, consistently courting controversy along the way.


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