We'll always be together,
However far it seems,
We'll always be together,
Together in electric dreams.
Giorgio Moroder with
Philip Oakey 1984
Mention the Eighties and certain words are always sure to crop up: Thatcher is a
pretty obvious one. If you want to show off a bit you can put the -ism on the end.
That marks you out instantly as a keen observer and a bit of a political animal.
Say Thatcher and all you are doing is mentioning the name of a former prime minister.
Say Thatcherism and you are conveying a firm grasp of a whole political ideology
on which you could doubtless expound at great length. Insightful political analysis
with just the occasional witty apercu with which to drive home the sharpened point
of your rapier argument if only anyone would hang around long enough to listen.
From that easy starter plenty more words roll off the tongue, tasty little morsels
and historical titbits; words that have fallen out of use to be found now only in
dictionaries of olde englysshe. Miner: that's one. Falklands another - every great
leader needs a little war to help jolly things along every now and then. Let's see
who remembers this one: Westland. Others of course are making a bit of a comeback.
Musically we seem to be hankering for our youth - the Here and Now tours giving a
much needed boost to the pension funds of the likes of ABC, Kim Wilde, and Visage
who in an attempt to stave off a final fade to obscurity treat us once more to their
Fade to Grey. And as if to make all those guys feel right at home the government
is presiding over the return of those old favourites: rising unemployment and recession.
Of course for every three million or so out of work, others prospered. And it is
in that prosperity that so many other iconic images of the age were founded: Mobile
phones the size of house bricks. Filofaxes the size of err... house bricks. Suddenly
there was loadsamoney. The rich got richer and the poor got... house bricks and spent
much of their leisure time between going on strike and going to sign on pitching
them at the police.
People love to talk of the immorality of the Eighties. Sneering at the past, at what
a selfish nation we were. But I remember it as an innocent time. OK... so we may
have been selfish. We may have been flash. But there was a brazen honesty about it.
One thing I'm sure of: it was a simpler time. And childhood: we still had that. We
weren't born adults, there was more time to grow up. Unfortunately those that were
forced to grow up fastest died youngest – their recently accrued knowledge not enough
to stop them dying of ignorance. And then innocence started to fade.
We move in fear along our streets these days... disaffected, disillusioned youth
on every corner. On every radio phone-in the cry goes up: There's nothing for our
kids to do. They're bored. We need to invest in youth centres. Occupy the kids. Back
in the day, of course, we made our own amusement. The Eighties was a time of great
musical and technological advance. And these twin advances were united in Dixons
stores the length and breadth of the land. Every weekend the slouching masses of
very much illusioned youth would descend upon the keyboard displays with their hopes,
their dreams, their Flock of Seagulls haircuts and their outstretched index fingers...
Music making, and with it the potential for stardom, was brought within the reach
of both the musically and the digitally challenged. (That's fingers by the way, rather
than the challenge of digital: that glorious glowing creation that turned the mundane
into objects of such desire... watches, pacman, tomytronic... that ethereal unearthly
blue glow...) The extremes of emotion on such an occasion were almost too much to
bear. You'd try not to allow your hopes to soar too high as you moved as fast as
your drain pipe trousers would permit towards the glittering banks of moulded plastic.
Roland... Korg... Casio... exotic names reflecting as brightly in the eyes of the
onrushing budding pop stars as in the fluorescent lighting of the shop floor. Crunch
time comes on reaching the shop doorway... barring a disastrously close encounter
with a stacked pyramid of TDK D90 blank cassettes, the first across the threshold
is all but assured first go at the keyboards...index finger stiffening in anticipation
as for those next few precious moments all the blood in the adolescent body would
make a rare excursion away from one extremity to pool in another. In such a race
a well-placed winkle-picker would give the owner a good 30 yard head start over one's
basketball boot-wearing contemporaries and all that was left was to join your footwear
at your rightful place in front of the keyboards.
A chance to catch your breath now. Weigh up your options. A silent prayer as you
reach out with hope, fear and apprehension to the On/Off switch: The build quality
on a lot of those eighties keyboards was not always as rigorous and the electrics
not always as infallible as one would hope for (a frailty later acknowledged by U2
– the album Rattle and Hum being the tale of four simple lads from Dublin trying
to make their way in the music profession and struggling to overcome the obstacles
of poor equipment.) The warm glow of a red LED and the reassuring crackle from the
cheap speakers lets you know that this time you are successful. The shop has yet
to resound to the fumbling efforts of a thousand fingers striving for the weekend's
finest rendition of the opening bars of Don't You Want Me Baby and the power still
surges through the keyboard. (Those who make their attempt after lunch might not
be so fortunate.)
With the illumination of that LED a whole world opened before you. All the musical
experience you could desire was at your fingertips so long as your desire extended
no further than 20 or so synthesized voices distinguishable principally by their
name rather than any audible differences. Still with a variety of sizzling rhythms
at your command there was ample scope to pour your musical heart and soul out on
the carpeted floor of Dixons where it would lie among the discarded chewing gum wrappers
and dropped eye liners of your New Romantic contemporaries until the vacuum cleaner
came out at 5:15. Until then you traversed the musical spectrum. For reasons you
would never quite understand your finger would stab enthusiastically at the button
marked “bossa nova”. Presumably in Rio de Janeiro the cosmic balance was being maintained
by a number of kids whose eyes would light up as the button marked “cockerneekneesup”
Finally, when one's musical expression was exhausted there was nothing for it but
to hit as many demo buttons as possible before heading off to the hi-fi section in
search of eject buttons. The Eighties have been all too easily dismissed as brash
and graceless, but that wasn't universally the case – you just had to know where
to look and in the world of the soft eject tape mechanism there was grace, precision
and fluidity aplenty. So different from the dark days of the horizontal loading cassette
deck of the Seventies music centre – a heavily sprung mechanism that released with
a force that would do many a medieval siege engine proud. And whilst perhaps not
assured of bringing the walls of your suburban semi tumbling to the ground certainly
had no difficulty in spitting your cassette to the living room floor (whilst making
a careful note to retain a portion of the tape securely wrapped around the pinch
roller). In the Eighties only the really foolish wasted time listening to a stereo
or tape deck before purchasing it. Everything the consumer needed to know could be
discovered by the careful application of that oh-so-versatile index finger to the
eject button. The more imperceptible the click as that button was depressed and the
slower that door's progress to eventual rest the greater the quality for all to
see. For a few all too brief moments, life was not a race. Take all the time you
need. In fact, if you could press that eject button, pop to the kitchen, put the
kettle on, make yourself a cup of tea and decide whether a finger of fudge really
was going to be enough to tide you over until it was time to eat or whether in fact
you felt that your desire for a lot of chocolate on your biscuit was so great that
it warranted joining a club, then so much the better. But of course once that eject
button was pressed you could do none of those things. Instead, your gaze was locked
on that lowering door. A timeless, hypnotic moment while the rest of the world rushed,
all around you, headlong towards the Nineties.
Of course, the winkle-pickers are long since consigned to the back of the wardrobe;
I am no longer quite so “illusioned” and my hair has its own ideas about how it likes
to be arranged – more often than not in a neat pile behind me on the pillow when
I get up. But the music: the music remains and all those songs that I listened to
that made me feel so grown up now serve to make me feel young again.
I know that Cars was released in 1979 and so strictly speaking doesn't belong here...
but it wasn't until the eighties that Dixon's musical technology and my talent had
reached a sufficient level to match up to Gary's exacting standards so, ladies and
gentleman, I give you Gary Numan and Cars accompanied on the Saisho MK500 Stereo