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When did the ’80s start?

I’m talking classic ’80s-style music here. Set aside metal, set aside rock, set aside disco.

I was listening to some music this morning. Most of my stuff is ’80s, in style if not in actual date. On a whim, I sorted my iTunes list by year because I’ve always maintained that the ’80s, as a musical genre, started in the late 1970s and I wanted to examine that more closely.

But I surprised myself, because my memory of what came out when was fuzzy.

A lot of music lovers, ’80s music lovers, consider the ’80s to have started musically 13 seconds into Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (1979).

But looking at my collection, it has to have started earlier. I own four choices that might be the first ’80s music, and all of them are somewhat surprising.

First, I have to eliminate a fourth choice: the Ramones. There’s no doubt that this superb band influenced the ’80s, but the band’s music is still too punk to be considered classic ’80s style.

So, who are the four? Elvis Costello, Blondie, the Cars, and a surprise pick I’ll reveal later.

Elvis Costello is the earliest of these artists, with the release of My Aim Is True in 1976, but I think his style is too generic to be considered ’80s. It’s good stuff and the earliest of all four options, but is it ’80s? I don’t think so. (I similarly dismiss Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who released an eponymous first album in 1976.)

The first album by the Cars came out in 1978, and there’s no doubt it is an album in the coming ’80s style. But Blondie was already around. Granted, Blondie started out punk, but by 1978 Blondie had evolved a more typical sound with “One Way or Another”. Call it a tie between those two bands.

My fourth choice, the surprise, is Plastic Bertrand and “Ca plane pour moi” in 1977.

It’s an interesting choice because that song is a remake of a British song titled “Jet Boy, Jet Girl” by Elton Motello that is more punk, primarily due to the dress and style of the vocals. The original song’s lyrics were too risque so the record company hired Plastic Bertrand to do a version in French. It is almost exactly the same song; it used the same musicians.

Why is this more ’80s than the Ramones? Most notably, I think, in the use of a horn section and on the emphasis on production values that you can hear in the Plastic Bertrand single (less obvious in the video below). I think these herald the start of the classic ’80s music style, and may be the first songs to do so as far as I can tell. I could be wrong. Do you have a better choice as the start?

Here’s the punk “Jet Boy, Jet Girl” (try to ignore the stupid German skits):

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Here’s Plastic Bertrand:

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So, you guys have any earlier candidates?

5 Responses to “When did the ’80s start?”

  • Yes, Roxy Music was a band that is better classified with 80s bands than 70s classic rock, but it’s clearly 70s:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roxy_Music#Style_and_legacy

    Also, Japan:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japan_(band)

  • Webs:

    I posted the same question to the grumpy old men at AGW, and got a few intriguing responses.

    Red Ant, the Grammy winning producer among us, threw out Brian Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets (1973). Eno had been a member in Roxy Music. I’m not familiar with the album so I can’t judge.

    Another suggestion was the Police, but they can do no better than tie with Blondie and the Cars in 1978.

  • David Bowie STATION TO STATION 1976, LOW, HEROES ’77.

    TALKING HEADS ’77. THE CLASH (’77).

  • Mike:

    Have to say listening to Rod Stewart Do Ya think I’m sexy sounds more similar to early 80’s than say 1973, the video does too thats in 1978, there was certainly a fashion and music change somewhere in the mid 70’s and certainly when New Wave begun it defined most of the early 80’s, Plastic Bertrand is also very upbeat more post punk. Not sure but many bands of the late 70’s started around 76/77 and it kind of changed

  • Mike:

    Maybe due to Punk and Electronic music it got more edgy and powerful towards an 80’s sound unlike the Sweet which sounds more 70’s whereas Plastic Bertrand doesn’t.

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