Over the next week or so, Cory Clifford will look at the three most essential albums from a certain key year in music history. First up: 1982 and the evolutions of punk and disco.
The early eighties were a very strange time for modern music. In one respect, you had a new arena for the bands coming up from the fall-outs of punk and disco. On the other hand, both punk and disco (as well as heavy metal) no longer existed as “the newest craze,” but rather sat on a plane of existence where all three would produce some of the most overplayed and obnoxious-sounding music of the decade. The early eighties is where sub genres played an important role, and youth culture would start its greatest revival since the late 60s. 1982 was an especially pivotal year. One reason is that hardcore punk reached the point where a legion of teenagers (mostly young men) became their own heroes of stripped down, fast, aggressive musical rebellion.
Milo Goes To College by The Descendents
A lot of people like to give credit for the rising of indie rock to the jangle-pop and cowpunk bands that came out in the late 80s like R.E.M. and Cowboy Junkies, but I would solely give credit to hardcore punk. Not only were they popularized through an underground network gaining a rapid following, but they were somehow becoming popular on different levels of the mainstream media, outside of radio or MTV. Those bands were the topic of Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization, and seen with Fear’s now-infamous performance on Saturday Night Live. But one of hardcore’s most influential and groundbreaking records was also one of its silliest and least political.
Milo Goes To College was every slacker’s dream, as Orange County’s The Descendents would bring a Buzzcocks influence to the hardcore scene, singing about similar topics as their forefathers: being a geek and pining for sex. “Suburban Home” speaks truths about the cookie-cutter dream life of suburbia, and the irony of content-in-boredom in the classic line “I want to be stereotyped/I want to be classified.” “I’m Not A Loser” is a hateful anthem against the offspring of the robotic, suburban baby boomers from “Suburban Home,” in response to those spoiled party types’ opinions of people like The Descendents. The love-lost heartache comes in full action on “Hope” and “Marriage.” “Hope” has the perfect balance of wanting her while she’s with someone else, and “Marriage” does every romantic geek justice, as Milo sings “I don’t want to have sex with you/I want to be your friend/I want to be with you/I want you to marry me.”
Milo Goes To College was a cataclysm of the pop-leaning punk of the 77 era with the newer aggro-hardcore, resulting in what would eventually be known as pop-punk. With punk, bands were getting more aggressive in America as social unrest and economic disparity were increasing at alarming rates. Meanwhile, in the UK (despite similar issues), punk had hit the point of “higher art,” headiness and something that would later be known as “twee.” 1982 was incredibly important for indie pop and post-punk, and fortunately that year saw the release of one of the earliest albums to combine and revolutionize both.
You Can’t Hide Your Love Away Forever by Orange Juice
In 1981, NME (Britain’s most on-the-cusp music magazine) released a compilation filled with various independent artists that were quickly gaining a terrific following. Of those that were featured, three Glaswegian bands with a similar style and a scene-like kinship showcased a very interesting, softer, much sweeter side to what had become labeled “post-punk.” One of those three was the terrifically funky, jangly and baritone-crooned Orange Juice. Due to the rise in popularity of several bands featured on the album, the following year was a perfect opportunity for the veteran Scottish band to release their terrific debut, You Can’t Hide Your Love Away Forever.
Fronted by the awkwardly romantic Edwyn Collins, the band was stylistically similar to The Byrds, Louis Prima and, most noticeably, Motown artists. Nearly every song is upbeat, beautiful and fun-sounding, yet they’re complemented by a swarm of lyrics filled with frustration, sarcasm and loneliness. On “Untitled Melody,” Edwyn sings “you’re so transparent, I can guess without question/that you need something or other, to cover your expression,” over a jolly paisley-colored track where you wouldn’t expect it paired with a song about co-dependence.
The super-funk of “Tender Object” will make you want to get up and dance, but if you’re in a lyrical mood, lines like “Here I go around and around/Sick inside and eyes to the ground/Looking for a sign to set me free/In my chic cold misery” should do the trick. Additionally, in tribute to Motown, Orange Juice did a terrific cover of a late-career Al Green track “L.O.V.E. Love.” You Can’t Hide Your Love Away Forever rebelled in a different, more tender light, and Orange Juice’s debut album would not only make them a household name, but also inspire many young songwriters to learn that inward aggression plays just as well on record as outward aggression.
Thriller by Michael Jackson
Despite dance pop’s frequent reduction to eye-rolling responses in modern times, in the early 80s it was the perfect response to the tired old sounds of disco. Michael had already shown elements of dance pop on his adult comeback album, 1979’s Off The Wall, but what made Thriller that much more impressive was the influence of underground synth-funk pioneers Zapp and Prince. But where Thriller differed with those records was in Michael Jackson’s status as the music industry’s Prince Charming, and the album had an incredible production budget, as well as the co-production of the legendary Quincy Jones. Due to the tender and heavily spent process of Thriller, it ended up sounding like the near-million dollars spent on it, and it solidified Michael Jackson as the King of Pop.
Even more groundbreaking was that Thriller was a huge deal for African-American culture. Even though MTV had been around for nearly half a decade, Michael Jackson was the first black artist to have a video air on MTV, and eventually conquered the airwaves of the channel thanks to the brilliance of album tracks “Thriller” and “Beat It.” There’s tender sweetness in songs like “Human Nature” and “The Lady In My Life,” that truly found Michael singing in his own voice and dancing to the most forward-looking beat that any pop star at the time could boast. Despite the monstrosity of hits on this brilliant album, there’s one that continues to be the most impressive thing Michael has ever done. Michael’s super-funky dancefloor-filling classic “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).” Looking back, Thriller sounds just as good thirty years later, and despite his untimely death a few years ago, he still remains one of American culture’s greatest legends.
1982 blew music into a million different directions, and the pop world, indie world and youth culture would never recover or look back in the same way. Tune in next time, as we take a look ten years back into 2002, and its daring English take on hip-hop, the best album to effectively speak truths about post-9/11 America and how that year would introduce the world to rock n’ roll’s hookiest and most brilliantly-produced band since The Kinks.