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Taking in multiple genres and cultural events, David Elliott’s 1984 provides a fascinating and comprehensive account of a crucial twelve months in UK popular music.
"We should all head straight for this essential volume.” - Electronic Sound (#7, Books Of The Year)
"Esoteric, exhaustive and thoroughly enjoyable, 1984 hits the spot. It is on a par with Jon Savage's 1966 and David Hepworth's 1971.” - Record Collector
1984: British Pop’s Dividing Year comprehensively documents a crucial twelve months in UK popular music. It was the whole of the 80s rolled into one year: the passing of the baton from post-punk to indie; the shift from analog to digital; the last British invasion of the US charts; and with Band Aid, the beginning of pop’s obsession with global causes. It was also British music’s most political year as artists responded to the Cold War, Apartheid, the miners' strike and Thatcherism, with George Orwell’s novel providing a suitably paranoid backdrop. It was fun too: the madcap year of Frankie Goes To Hollywood and ZTT, the tabloid dramas of Wham!, Duran Duran and Culture Club; the first single by Pet Shop Boys, and debut albums by The Smiths and Sade. It was also a highpoint for indie labels like 4AD and Mute.
The book is doesn’t deal with just the usual limited group of artists who get covered in 80s surveys or compilations, but also the peripheral, often more interesting sub-genres of art rock and experimental, soul and reggae, jazz and heavy metal. And not just London, or the Manchester-Liverpool-Sheffield triumvirate, but also Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
There are chapters on the myriad genres, including the year's jazz revival; the burgeoning music video industry; music and style press; sleeve design; the growth of pirate radio and a boom in music on TV; producers, studios and the introduction of the compact disc; record labels (majors and independents).
1984: British Pop's Dividing Year - chapters
1. Make It Big
How the new pop of bands like Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Wham! and Spandau Ballet dominated the charts; ambition and appearance; the Second British Invasion of the US; return of the guitar, shift from small to big sonic palettes and the arena rock of U2, Simple Minds, Eurythmics and Tears For Fears.
How synthesizers and drum machines became the norm rather than the exception, and quirky synthpop acts either split up (Yazoo, Soft Cell) or broadened their sound (Depeche Mode, Human League, OMD).
3. Restless Albion
An Intercity tour of post-punk in England’s dreaming calling in on Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Bristol, Hull, Birmingham and London. Mostly guitar-oriented bands: indie in output, spirit and soon-to-be a new genre.
4. Close to the Edit
The phenomenal rise of the music video; the importance of a band’s image & style as much as their music; the influence of MTV; and a run-through of the most creative and in-demand video directors.
5. Punk’s Not Dead
Whither the class of ’77?The continuation of punk supported by small but dedicated audiences and (mostly) independent labels; Billy Idol; the rise of Crass and anarcho-punk; a run-through of ‘punk-at-the-time’ songwriters like Paul Weller (Style Council) and Elvis Costello; and the manufacture of Sigue Sigue Sputnik.
6. Rock In Opposition
1984 was British pop’s most political year as it responded to: Thatcher, the miners’ strike, unemployment, and global issues like the Cold War and Apartheid; the creative freedom of dole culture and communal spirit of benefit gigs; speaking out for gay rights and early reaction to AIDs.
7. The Politics of Dancing
Dance music and club culture. Influence of New York’s hip-hop and UK’s Streetsounds role in turning it into Electro; breakdancing, hi-NRG and the beginnings of Stock Aitken Waterman; EBM and the advent of techno; The Hacienda and warehouse parties; the introduction of ecstasy.
8. In the Studio
1984 was the year Apple launched the Macintosh computer and music went from analogue to digital, both in its instrumentation and recording. Studios became hosts for samplers like the Fairlight and ever-more sophisticated drum machines. And producers like Trevor Horn, Brian Eno and Stock Aitken Waterman turned water into wine.
9. In A Big Country
The early 80s saw a boom in Scottish bands with their own unmistakeable sound: Simple Minds, Big Country, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Associates, The Bluebells, Cocteau Twins etc. 1984 also saw the advent of Scottish blue-eyed soul (Wet Wet Wet, Hue & Cry), and the Celtic rock of The Waterboys, Runrig and Capercaillie.
10. The Unforgettable Freur
Post-punk in Ireland and Wales, from U2’s to the synthpop of Cardiff’s Freur (later to become Underworld). A lost year for Troubles-afflicted Northern Ireland following the split of The Undertones and SLF. The introduction of Enya and Sinead O’Connor, and The Alarm and (Welsh-language) Anfrhen.
11. First and Last and Always
The reign of goth, its origins, fashion and aesthetic appeal. From London’s commuter-belt goths (Siouxsie & the Banshees and The Cure) to goth’s northern heartland (The Sisters of Mercy, The Cult), from the Batcave to Batley.
12. Better by Design
Graphic design and the record sleeve: an 80s marriage made in heaven. The album and single as essential objects in a pre-MP3/Spotify era. 1984 featured some of the best work by designers like Peter Saville, Malcolm Garrett, Neville Brody and 23 Envelope. Also covers the iconic photography of Anton Corbijn, Brian Griffin etc.
13. Sound and Vision
A boom-time for music on radio, television and film. The ubiquity of Radio One, influence of John Peel and resurrection of pirate radio. On television, TOTP and The Tube went head to head, while pop played a central role in new shows like Spitting Image and Miami Vice. Pop and Hollywood, meanwhile, got together as never before in Purple Rain, Footloose, Ghostbusters etc.
14. Generals and Majors
The ups & downs of the multinational record labels: the ‘Big Six’, plus independents-turned-majors Virgin, Island and Chrysalis. Record shops, hyping, lawsuits, the campaign against home-taping and the introduction of the compact disc.
15. Cowboys and Indies
Inspired by the DIY ethos of punk, by 1984 there were between 5-7,000 independent labels in Britain. This chapter tells the story of (amongst others) Rough Trade, Factory, Mute, 4AD and Some Bizzare, home to The Smiths, New Order, Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins, Soft Cell and hundreds of other cool bands.
16. Swingeing London
The psychedelia revival as promoted by the likes of Alan McGee’s Creation Records (Jesus and Mary Chain) and Dan Treacy’s Whaam! Records which would soon influence indie. Also psychobilly and the brief, confined-to-1984 cowpunk phenomenon.
17. English Eccentrics
Misfits and mavericks, pranksters and poets, including (amongst others) Malcolm McLaren, Julian Cope, Andy Partridge, Martin Newell, Robyn Hitchcock, Paddy McAloon, Lawrence (Felt), Kevin Rowland, The Monochrome Set, Momus, The Cardiacs, Half Man Half Biscuit, Shelleyan Orphan, Richard Strange and punk poets.
18. How to Destroy Angels
Experimentation and counter-culture. The legacy of Throbbing Gristle (Coil, Psychic TV, Chris & Cosey), Test Dept, SPK, 23 Skidoo, Foetus, Nurse With Wound. The peak of easy-to-produce and cheap-to-distribute cassette culture.
19. Smooth Operators
Like cowpunk, the jazz revival was largely confined to 1984 with the rise of Sade, Matt Bianco, Working Week, Swans Way, Carmel, Everything But The Girl and Loose Tubes. It found its way onto debut albums by David Sylvian, Style Council and Sting. It was played in London’s clubs by the likes of young DJs Paul Murphy and Gilles Peterson, danced to by the Jazz Defektors and IDJ, and would inspire Julien Temple’s Absolute Beginners musical.
20. Chasing the Breeze
Black British music included Bob Marley’s posthumous (3rd best-selling album in Britain that year); fine albums by Aswad and Steel Pulse; the sound-systems of Sir Coxsone Outernational and new kids on the block Soul II Soul; two extraordinary singles by Smiley Culture; explorations in dub by Dennis Bovell, The Mad Professor and Jah Shaka; the end of the ska revival; the smooth soul of Billy Ocean. 21. It Says Here
“You lived and died by the music papers in those days”, said Orange Juice’s Edwyn Collins. And yet, the serious monochrome broadsheets of NME, Sounds and Melody Maker were giving way to the more colourful and stylish Smash Hits, The Face and i-D.
22. Monsters of Rock
Punk had inspired a reboot of heavy metal, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal which launched the careers of Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and Saxon, and prompted original heavy rockers like Deep Purple to reform. 1984’s mockumentary par excellence, , summed up the scene perfectly. But it was US bands like Van Halen, Motley Crue and Metallica who were leading the way – the last named playing their first gigs in Britain.
23. Art for Art's Sake
The in-between, often uncategorizable but accessible music of Brian Eno, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Mike Oldfield, Bill Nelson, David Sylvian, Penguin Café Orchestra, Scott Walker, Virginia Astley, Sheila Chandra, Michael Nyman, Man Jumping and Andrew Poppy; plus neo-prog and the beginnings of new age.
24. Born in the USA
Although not a book about American rock and pop, it’s impossible not to refer to the huge influence it had on the UK scene. As Rolling Stone magazine wrote, “From Prince to Madonna to Michael Jackson to Bruce Springsteen to Cyndi Lauper, 1984 was the year that pop stood tallest”. Add the beginnings of hip-hop and its cross-over with white rock (Beastie Boys, Run DMC) and its importance was unarguable.
25. Big Black Flag
American underground: early REM to hardcore (‘Avant garde music you could shake your fist to’): the maximising of the minimalist composers (Reich, Glass); the eclecticism of Laurie Anderson, John Zorn and Bill Laswell.
26. Foreign Affairs
European one-hit wonders , Australian emigrés and Japanese infiltrators in the UK charts, plus the strange case of the Anglo-Belgian post-punk alliance through Les Disques du Crepuscule.
27. Band Aid
Singing for a cause: Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and Ethiopia.
As 1985 dawned, new pop and post-punk faded, rock returned and hip-hop became the dominant force in dance music. Live Aid, for all its good intentions, created an establishment and made rock musicianship, arena rock and middle age fashionable again. There were no new pantomimed Adam Ants, kimonoed Boy Georges or gypsied Kevin Rowlands. The late 80s saw the creeping in of watered-down white soul of Eurythmics and lots of new groups like Curiosity Killed the Cat, and the arenafication of U2 and Simple Minds.