Fire up the Delorean, Goonies, because today we’re going back to 1985, the year Marty McFly wore a life preserver vest and ordered Pepsi Free without anyone barking for payment or accusing him of jumping ship. Ship, you say? I’ve got just the map to lead you to the treasure. Because down here, it’s our time; it’s our time down here!
Much as the once-pint-sized adventurers who discovered One-Eyed Willie’s loot are today just a bunch of grown-ups with day jobs in an age where plutonium’s still not available at every corner store, so too are we, holding out patiently for a respectable mode of future-forward transportation, all but willing to trade in our flying car fantasies and hoverboard dreams for a safe and green Mr. Fusion. If you’re as unprepared as I am to face the fact that we’re now only three short years away from The Future as Marty knew it and much of it has come to bear, and you still haven’t found your own buried fortune or even written your way (spiritually) out of Saturday detention, then let us take you back -- down here -- where the ‘80s revival happening “up there” pales in comparison to the real thing, Cold War and all. Because down here, Rocky’s been training in Siberia, and he’s gonna take Drago DOWN!!!
Wow, where to even start??
I suppose with the hits:
We Are The World. Take On Me. I Want to Know What Love Is. Shout. Into the Groove.
No, wait, this is all wrong: How about the noteworthy happenings?
VH1 and Guns ‘n Roses are born. David Lee Roth goes solo. Metal Edge magazine debuts. Madonna hits the road for the very first time with The (so aptly and ironically named) Virgin Tour before turning 27 and marrying Sean Penn. Who opens for Madonna on that tour but The Beastie Boys, new to Rick Rubin’s and Russell Simmons’ just-off-the-ground Def Jam Records?
But what about up there, out in the world? Come on, guys - let’s get political for a second:
Breaking ground and paving the way for their future genre-melding Aerosmith collaboration, Run D.M.C. releases King of Rock in 1985, the first rap record ever to go platinum.
Not overtly political enough? Let’s go to D.C., where once-disparate clans unite as John Denver, Twisted Sister and Frank Zappa join forces to fight Tipper Gore and the censorship crusading Washington wives’ Parent Music Resource Center (PMRC) committee in the U.S. Senate -- a union giving birth to that fixture known as the Parental Advisory sticker.
Meanwhile, deeper underground in our beloved town, harDCore continues its rage against the machine both in and beyond The Beltway, as Dischord’s DIY ethos and D.C.’s myriad punk bands inspire many and raise our nation’s capital to the epicenter of the hardcore punk world.
And this is just the tip of the “forces getting serious and socially conscious in 1985’ iceberg, because as it turns out, 1985 was a perhaps unprecedented year for charity supergroups who spread support, awareness, and RAWK the world over via festival-meets-activism goodness:
Continuing and even featuring their fairly epic 1984 Band Aid lineup, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organize Live Aid, a two-headed rock beast stretching this time from Wembley to JFK Stadium (and later beyond to Oz), raising awareness for Ethiopian famine. Chipping in with their time and tunes were a slew of transatlantic artists: Elvis Costello, Sting, The Four Tops, Sade, Bowie, The Who, Madonna, The Stones, Queen, Elton John, U2, Billy Ocean, Simple Minds, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Crosby Stills & Nash, The Beach Boys, Clapton, Thompson Twins, Phil Collins, Duran Duran, Led Zeppelin (reunion!!!), Patti LaBelle, Hall & Oates,Tom Petty, The Cars, The Pretenders, Run D.M.C., Santana, Neil Young, and more.
Like nested Russian dolls (We’ll call them Glastnost and Perestroika), part of Live Aid was the famous early 1985 effort of Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson, organizing nearly 50 (mostly) American music legends for United Support of Artists for Africa (USA Africa) -- a project best known for (but even bigger than) the iconic and chart-topping “We Are The World” feel-good singalong. The USA Africa roster of artists continues the above veritable Who’s Who list, not just of 1985, but of the canon of modern popular music, with Ray Charles, Prince, Bob Dylan, Hall and Oates, the Pointer Sisters, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Steve Perry, Kenny Loggins, Willie Nelson, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Huey Lewis and the News, Tina Turner, Sheila E., Harry Belafonte, Kim Carnes, Dionne Warwick, Bette Midler, Waylon Jennings, Bob Geldof, Stevie Wonder, and members of Toto, Journey, and Fleetwood Mac -- as well as, of course, Lionel and Michael... and quite a few Jackson siblings. Throw in a Ghostbuster (classic SNL alum Dan Akroid) for good (Canadian) measure.
Just when it seems the rawkship couldn’t get any bigger, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young show up again, this time to found the inaugural Farm Aid, held in Champaign, Illinois, raising cash and awareness for American farm families in danger of losing everything. Once more, the rockers turn out and get the cause -- a now-annual tradition that as we know is still alive and well -- rolling, bringing with it this time, understandably, a little more twang: Dylan. Johnny Cash. B.B. King. Billy Joel. Alabama. Loretta Lynn. Foreigner. John Fogerty. Bon Jovi. Joni Mitchell. Lou Reed. Roy Orbison. Arlo Guthrie. Emmylou Harris. Don Henley. Bonnie Raitt. Kris Kristofferson. Randy Newman. Brian Setzer. Sammy Hagar. Eddie Van Halen. The Beach Boys. John Denver. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Huey Lewis -- many usual suspects and others, so generous yet too many to name.
Elsewhere in the globe, Wham! goes to China -- the first Western pop group to do so.
You'll never be this cool, so stop trying.
Oh, and among millions of other musical hits and happenings that we strongly urge you to experience more deeply and directly through our 1985 playlist accompanied by further readings, we’d be remiss not to mention the two stupid kids who two days before Christmas shoot themselves after listening to Judas Priest records -- an act of stupidity for which the band gets blamed and sued, accused of crafting secretly satanic backward subliminal messages, setting off that special powderkeg for much of the decade (and effectively scaring me off the darker side of metal for years).
Of course, if all this chaotic noise mixed with the soundtracks to all our favorite 80s movies feels incongruous, defying category and reminding us the 80s were a crazy time both at home and abroad, then let that be the message. And truthfully, if you weren’t there for it, you may not understand, in which case we’d like to end on -- and with -- this note:
Dear Mr. Vernonymous: We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in front of our computers for whatever it was that we did wrong. What we did WAS wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think 1985 is. What do you care? You see it as you want to see it: in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. That's the way we saw each other at seven o'clock this morning. We were brainwashed. But what we found out is that each one of us is... a brain... an athlete... a basket case... a princess... and a criminal. Does that answer your question?
The Chunky Club
(I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet, but your kids are gonna love it!)