Maybe it is just nostalgia speaking, but I believe that – on the whole – the music from the ‘80s and the early ‘90s is better than what is being produced today. It may simply be that I am getting old. Every generation complains that the music of the subsequent generation is loud and incomprehensible. My father lamented my musical taste, as I am sure that I will Nathan’s. If – as seems to be the trend – music degenerates over time (it would appear that Newton’s second law applies to music too) – I shudder to think of what Nathan will be listening to by the time he becomes a teenager. But I remain convinced that turning on the radio on any given morning will vindicate my bias: so much of what passes for music today is simply thinly-veiled sexual innuendo; computer-generated tunelesses with nonsensical lyrics. I miss the ‘80s.
Now I realise that I am probably glamourising the past. After all, some of the lyrics from the era were particularly stupid. There is no argument from me. Remember this line from Toto’s Africa? “The wild dogs cry out in the night, as they grow restless, longing for some solitary company.” What on earth is “solitary company”? So I am under no illusions, and I do think that much of what topped the charts when I was growing up was as lecherous as Nikki Minaj or as mindless as Katy Perry. However, and this is big for me, at least Toto – and every other band at the time – played their own instruments. Maybe they were sub-moronic in terms of being wordsmiths, but at least they passed as musicians.
One of my favourite bands was Stryper. Just take a look at the cover of what is probably their best album, Soldiers Under Command:
Don’t you just love the outfits? There is something admirable about a time when men could perm their hair, prance about a stage in Spandex, and still be considered manly. The industry had not yet begun to define what a musician ought to look like. As long as you could play the guitar like Oz Fox or hit the notes that Michael Sweet habitually hit, it did not really matter if you looked like a Barbie-ninja. Do yourself a favour and listen to one of the songs from the album. You don’t have to like the style, and the lyrics can border on imbecilic (“God’s the rock that makes us roll”?! Really?!) , but there is definite genius in the guitar-work. You will not find guitar solo work like Stryper’s on any album today. It was commonplace in the ‘80s.
It was an age where much of the music contained hard-hitting social commentary, was uncompromising in upholding whatever belief-system was being promoted, and where the fact that you were scantily clad, had enormous mammaries and bleached-blonde hair did not automatically qualify you to be a superstar. You had to have actual talent for that. Sadly, I do not think many young people today can appreciate how far we have fallen. Our musical idols back then begged us to make a difference and change the world; the iconic figures in the industry today are exhorting young people to be reckless with drink and sex because life is short. But can we really expect more when the music industry is more about money than talent? Producers have long since realised that they will make more money more quickly if they offer up stars who can hypnotise the teenage market hormonally rather than aurally. Resistance is probably futile, but I will continue to passively protest by playing Stryper very loud at every available opportunity. At least that way, even if Nathan does not come to love their music, he might at least – in making the inevitable comparison to the music of his time – see how vastly inferior popular 21st Century music tends to be, and gravitate towards something probably still loud and incomprehensible to me, but with a little more moral and musical substance.