1980s music, Anita Baker, Beyonce, Bruce Hornsby and The Range, Chaka Khan, Chicago, Fountain of Middle Age, Kendrick Lamar, Maverick Sabre, Nneka, Pet Shop Boys, Run-D.M.C., Starship, Steve Winwood
Well, some of my music, anyway. About a third of all the music I own, like, or have access to was produced at least thirty years ago, as of this month. I guess I shouldn’t be bothered with the fact that everything from Johann Sebastian Bach, Blind Willie Johnson, and John Coltrane to Anita Baker, Steve Winwood, and Pet Shop Boys are all ancient in the mind of my teenage son. In a way, though, I am. Not so much that my music collection is an indication that I am no longer physically young. That happens to all of us. But whether this is a sign that my mind is no longer plastic enough to absorb new music, new styles, new ways of delivering a form of entertainment and escapism.
The fact that I’m still catching up with music released between 2011 and 2014 is troubling. I mean, it’s only been a year and a half since I picked up Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, MAAD City (2012). I have Nneka and Maverick Sabre on my playlists only because my wife keeps up with music through YouTube, Spotify, and Pandora. I still haven’t heard or seen the video for Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” have yet to hear a Nicki Minaj or Rihanna song that I truly like, and think that Drake and Meek Mill are pretty weak. Am I getting so old that I don’t understand what is or isn’t good music anymore? Or, did I ever have a handle on what was and is good music when I was sixteen, and am more discerning or snobbish now? Or, am I just a goofball who wouldn’t know good music if it bit me in the ass?
Maybe it’s all of the above. Below is a sample of my list of song that I described as theme music for Boy @ The Window. This is all music that came out in ’86.
There are some amazing songs on this list. Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love.” Simply Red’s “Holding Back The Years.” Sade’s “Never As Good As The First Time.” Who could argue with these? If anyone does, they just hate the whole genre of ’80 pop and R&B, and refuse to appreciate the music on any level.
Now there are other where I will concede the quality is questionable, but I like anyway. Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls,” Michael McDonald’s “Sweet Freedom,” and Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” all fit into all kinds of questionable tastes here. But compare “Sweet Freedom” to Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and its syrupy goofiness. Or, really, Michael McDonald’s super-popular duet with Patti LaBelle in “On My Own.” I hated that song as much as I could hate any music, but I was apparently in a small minority three decades ago. Baby Boomers – gotta love ’em!
There’s also Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” with Chaka Khan doing background vocals. You take Chaka Khan out of this song, and it’s an ’80s display of synthesizer prowess with pretty decent lyrics. Bruce Hornsby and The Range’s “The Way It Is” was and remains a simplistic “hearts and minds” analysis of American racism, but it was at least a self-consciously effort to address a social issue. Even when folks fall short, I can appreciate their music.
There are plenty of songs from thirty years ago that I either thought were silly, didn’t represent my mood from that time, or were a reflection of my need to escape my life. Anything by Chicago or Starship from ’86 would fit. I heard Starship’s “Nothing’s Going To Stop Us” at the local Trader Joe’s, a few days ago, and my stomach started cramping up. I actually got nauseous over a song! Grace Slick’s voice remains scary, I guess.
The thread between the music I listened to three decades ago and the music I have on my iPod, iPhone, and computers is clear, to me, if no one else. With the exception of country music as Whiteness affirming, I generally don’t care what genre it’s from. The lyrics are more important than the quality of vocals, and the vocals and music are way more important than any video made with the song. That probably makes me a bit old-fashioned. But it’s also why I still have music in my collection that predates my birth.