Part IV - Society's & Culture's Impact on The Art of Music

80's collage

As we entered into the 1980s, world politics was on the minds of many adults. Reagan's "trickle-down" economics, AIDS, gas shortages spilling over from the 70's, the epidemic of "crack" cocaine, and the rising tensions between the America and the Soviet Union were leading the nation's headlines. But even in these darker times, music found a way to evolve, thrive and grow.

Technology proved to be a major factor in propelling music forward.  Although said to have been invented in the Netherlands as early as 1969, a "portable" music player grew into popularity called the Boombox.  The urban boombox of popular culture was the JVC RC-550, which was a monster box. It’s had a 10-inch woofer, it looked mean, with lights and the whole package.  The Boombox was designed to play cassette tapes and AM/FM radio, allowing users to broadcast their own music or recordings in the backyards, parks and street corners across America.  

boombox collage


It was from the Boombox where the roots of friendly competition was introduced during the early years of hip hop. "Blast Offs" would pair two Boomboxes together to determine which had the superior sound.  DJs would face off in clubs, mixing and often performing rap battles over pre-recorded songs.  A niche dance movement was growing in popularity along side the new sounds of Hip Hop.   B-Boying, or more commonly known as Breakdancing, made the streets and sidewalks your stage. You needed only a good beat, and maybe, a solid piece of cardboard. 


Movies propelled the dance craze even further, shortening the street style to just "breakin' ".  Movies also played a role during the next music tech boom - the birth of the Walkman. In 1979, Sony created the "other" portable player, a single audio cassette player called the Walkman, allowing its users to listen to their music on the go through lightweight head phones. Over 380 million Walkmen were sold since its release. 


Even with the groundbreaking inventions of the portable home stereo, one creation would define the generation.  On August 1st, 1981, Music Television, more commonly referred to as MTV, debuted in New York City. The concept was simple.  Using the format of radio with the technology of television, MTV introduced us to a variety of hosts they called Video Jockeys (a play on the older designation for radio personalities called Disc Jockeys).  With a channel solely dedicated to pop music, bands and record labels understood the near limitless potential they could achieve with the arrival of MTV. Not only must a song retain it's pop hooks and likeability, but it's performers were expected to conform to the fashion and beauty standards of their target audience. 



During its first few years, like dance shows of the 50's and 60's, very few black artists were slotted into rotation, with some notable exceptions such as Prince and Michael Jackson.  It was obvious to many that the channels initial target audience was the young teen to early twenties white, suburban viewer.  According to some sources, this enraged the head of CBS Records, who managed Michael Jackson at the time and threatened to pull all of their music.  CBS eventually allowed MTV to release Billie Jean, the song that is said to have broken the color barrier for other black artists such as Lionel Ritchie, Donna Summers, Tina Turner and Run-DMC


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MTV also opened the door to a new genre, which grew out of the NYC punk scene (and found its way to England) where the unique blending of 70s punk and the newer sounds of 80s pop would blend to form the New Wave movement. This new sound quickly gained popularity and ushered in what some refer to as "The Second British Invasion".  New Wave also was quick to adopt the newer electronic musical instruments such as the synthesizer, which would become a staple sound in the decade. 

When asked "What songs remind you of the 80s?", some fans of the era responded:

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Now we ask you?