Those Ghastly 80s, Part I: Why People Should Hate The 80s
As far as “classic rock” goes, the 80s were a bad decade. For two decades, so many rock stars like Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Elton John, all of Fleetwood Mac, even my hero George Harrison had been doing drug (and hard ones at that,) but by the beginning of the 80s, so many had overdosed, Lennon was shot, and so rock stars everywhere were saying, “Maybe I shouldn’t kill myself with drugs.” The 80s thusly became a time for rock stars to detox, and, with their attention diverted toward not dying, their music suffered.
When describing the transition of Classic Rock into Classic Rock--80s, I don’t want to say “train wreck,” but I really can’t think of any better way to put it. When Clapton starts using synths, Steve Winwood goes to adult alternative, Keith Richards releases solo albums, and basically everyone attempts to adopt very mainstream productions and a middle of the road sound, you know that something is going on. These failures of Classic Rock--80s highlight the successes of following two decades. Bob Dylan released Empire Burlesque in Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five, which could be most kindly described as Bob Dylan meets Bananarama. His recent, critically acclaimed albums Love and Theft, Time out of Mind, and Modern Times, though, have all been in the vein of classic Dylan. It wasn’t just drugs. It was probably a little bit drugs, but it wasn’t just drugs.
Whereas musicians and bands of the 60s honoured those heroes of the decade before like Jerry Lee, Chuck, and Muddy, the punk movement the late 60s through the 80s raised the question, “Do dinosaurs like Clapton or The Rutles still have anything relevant to say, or are they, like the real dinosaurs, just going to lay dormant underground until one day they rise up and retake what was rightfully theirs?” The mainstream sound of Classic Rock--80s was the last stab at relevance from the vanguard of the 60s. When Bob Dylan decided to go back to releasing the kind of material he did best, he was conceding that he was now playing for a niche audience, and that no matter how good his music was, no one would ever listen to “Thunder on the Mountain” like they did “Like A Rolling Stone.”