Over the decades, 1985 has been musically distilled into one event: Live Aid. And rightfully so. The concert event, that spanned two continents connected by a relatively new technology of satellite coverage, was the benchmark event of Generation X. Held in London and Philadelphia, Live Aid had performances by many of the top musical acts of the first 20 years of rock music. Oh, sure, you can ask where were The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson and his brothers, Bruce Springsteen, Prince, Wham! among so many others, but it still remains a feat that has remained unmatched, though Live 8 tried.
But, there was some fine music released that year, especially if you just ignore all the benefit singles that were released. Seriously? Did we really need Hands Across America? In retrospect, rap began to move into the mainstream more and more. New wave had become simply the sound of pop music. R&B was dominated by less talented bands attempting to cash in on the brilliance of Purple Rain and Thriller. Country…well, country was lost and would continue to be lost, albeit for the occasional brilliant album, forever. Unfortunately, rock was beginning to be dominated by glam metal, but the waters of alternative music was churning faster and faster preparing to explode in a few years.
So, yeah, I hated popular music at the time, but all the good stuff was bubbling underneath. But, in the long run, 1985 was not so bad.
LL Cool J – Radio (1985). Grandmaster Flash made the first consistently decent rap album three years earlier. Then Run-D.M.C. blew the roof off everything. So, in the aftermath, walked a 17-year-old budding sex symbol with his confident rhymes and his major league swagger than set out to clear a new path for hip hop. That emcee’s name was LL Cool J. All of a sudden, kids were blaring “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” from their cars. Oh, the times they were a-changing.
Lone Justice – Lone Justice (1985). It’s always going the first band to do something that will get lost in the shuffle. Back before there was a Counting Crows, Wilco, Uncle Tupelo or The Jayhawks, there were bands such as The Long Riders, Jason & the Sorchers, and my personal favorites Lone Justice. All of these bands did a futuristic take on country rock as they kept a foot in punk rock while giving a passing nod to Neil Young and Tom Petty. For my money, Lone Justice was the best of the bunch. They had some fantastic songs, but their cover of Tom Petty’s “Ways to Be Wicked” is revelatory. Maria McKee was a modern day Dolly Parton, with a first class band. Oh, if the public could have just embraced the greatness of the band instead of wanting to hear more Eagles retreads.
New Order – Low-Life (1985). New Order perfected their innovative synthpop/rock/dance fusion on this album causing ripples that are still being felt today. On this album, the band finally left behind the shadow of Joy Division to become one the most important alternative bands of the Eighties. “Love Vigilantes” sound as fresh as it did 35 years ago.
R.E.M. – Fables of the Reconstruction (1985). The growth of this band from album to album is simply amazing. I still find this album to be the darkest of the career. I don’t know what kind of demons they were exorcising at the time since the lyrics are so obtuse, but it sure seems like they had much to get off their collective chests. Yet, there is something just beautiful that came out of this darkness.
Run-D.M.C. – King of Rock (1985). They changed the world of hip hop on their first album, so on this one they went after rock music. Did they succeed? Yes and no. But, they did lay the foundation for their fantastic next album. Along the way, the band dabbled a bit in synthpop and reggae, proving they were up for anything to advance the sound of rap.
Scritti Politti – Cupid & Psyche 85 (1985). This album represents state of the art intelligent pop that is based in the lessons of Motown and new wave for a heartfelt update. “Perfect Way” remains a wonderful Eighties touchstone single.
Sting – The Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985). After the mega-success of Synchronicity, Sting felt it was time for him to fly the coop and establish himself as a solo artist. So, he went and grabbed a band of excellent jazz musicians, including saxophonist Bradford Marsalis (Wynton’s brother), to record some excellent songs. Unfortunately, we were not getting Sting’s trademark bass, which I feel like kind of ripped us off. Still, the album was excellent, perhaps his finest solo album. Yet, I am left wondering just what this album might have sounded like if Andy and Stewart were playing on it instead of some hired hands, though I do love Marsalis’ contributions.
Talking Heads – Little Creatures (1985). After years of expanding the band’s sound to include some excellent Anglo-ized African and funk rhythms, the Heads pulled back to their beginnings to focus on a set of excellent pop songs. This allowed the band to showcased their musicianship they had developed over the years with the expanded live lineup. At the time, it seemed like reaching back a bit was a major leap forward, not the ending of the line the album ended up being.
Tears for Fears – Songs from the Big Chair (1985). This album was truly a left field hit. No one was as surprised by this album from a band that was making dark synthpop just two years prior. Instead, the toned down the darkness, plugged in a guitar, bass and drums to create one of the best albums of the year. Remember the hits? They were “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “Shout” and “Head Over Heels.” And, the rest of the album is just as strong.
The Bangles – Different Light (1985). In 1984, The Bangles released their endearing and promising debut album, prompting many to unfairly compare them to The Go-Go’s. Where The Go-Go’s were punk and early Sixties girl groups, The Bangles were sipping from the water fountain of Sixties psychedelic rock where you could find The Mamas & the Papas, The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. But what these ladies added was their super power, their wonderful four-part harmony. To me, especially now that I have heard Prince’s original version of “Manic Monday,” is what made their version, and all of their songs, so very magical. These ladies can flat-out play and sing and should be taken seriously. They are no afterthought.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, that wraps up Day 2 of 1985. Day 3 will be coming soon. Peace.