Decades in Music; Part 5 – The 80s: Discos, TOTP & working at Woolies. Guest blog post by @maffrj

I watched Top of the Pops 1980 on BBC4 last week and found myself singing along to The Pina Colada Song, Coward Of The County and Too Much Too Young. Does this tell you anything about my musical taste when I was 9? I think the only thing it really tells me is that I watched Top of the Pops EVERY SINGLE WEEK around that time, and that the only music radio I got to hear was the Terry Wogan Show on Radio 2 around the breakfast table, and of course the charts on a Sunday night with fingers poised over the Play and Record buttons. My parents were not the most musically influential parents anyone ever had. I never knew my dad express any interest in music until about 10 years ago when he came back from a Spanish holiday asking me whether I owned any Leonard Cohen as he had enjoyed the CD they played in the bar they’d been to. My mum on the other hand had a fair few records, most of which were ex-jukebox 60s 7”s or things like Johnny Hallyday that she had bought during a period in Switzerland in her youth. If she did play her records in the house though, it was more likely to be Glenn Campbell or Perry Como that she listened to, rather than her nice mono copy of A Hard Day’s Night or Elvis’ Golden Records. So I was pretty much on my own. I can remember dancing in the discos in the village youth club (known as The Tin Shed, because that was what it was) to things like D.I.S.C.O., Prince Charming, Swords Of A Thousand Men and Reward. The more I look at it, the more I realise that the decade was really all about chart music for me. I had a best friend who was into Heavy Metal and who owned loads of stuff like Iron Maiden, Kiss, Saxon, Judas Priest etc but that never appealed to me and I stuck with my copy of Ultravox’s The Collection and thought I was pretty cool (Ed: No Matt, you have NEVER been cool). You can look at my vinyl from that period and find it full of such delights as Modern Romance, KC & The Sunshine Band, BA Robertson, Spandau Ballet, World Cup songs and Sting. To this day I still hope the Russians love their children too. Then there was a hooky tape of Thriller that we got from a guy on Abergele market. It must have been on a C60 or something as you had to turn it over as soon as side one was done, otherwise you got a load of silence, and then had to fast forward side two until you found the music again. This must have been just about the first album I owned. I had a knock-off walkman not long after that, which, in the grand tradition of 80s teens everywhere, gave me the chance to listen to music in the back of the car while my dad would listen to Gardeners’ Question Time. Often Tango In The Night. I think the first time I actually came close to buying what I would now consider to be within my current tastes was when Talking Heads released Road To Nowhere and And She Was and I asked for Little Creatures as a Christmas present. I never got the records I asked for for Christmas. So on I went with my cassettes of Brothers In Arms, Whitney Houston & Debbie Gibson albums, and my Level 42 & a-ha stuff (I’ll stand by those last two to this day!). And then in the summer of 1987, I had done my O-Levels and was just about to start a summer job at Rhyl Woolies when I heard True Faith. And I bought True Faith. And I never looked back. I really think that that opened the floodgates for me. My good friend Eifion was way ahead of the curve when it came to these things, having been buying Factory & ZTT stuff fairly obsessively through high school, but I had never really paid much attention to the music he played me until this point. I still had my moments, [I have more Deacon Blue records than anyone could reasonably require (Raintown/Riches limited double vinyl!)] but a combination of The Chart Show indie chart, The World Won’t Listen being played on repeat in the sixth form common room, and my own burgeoning inquisitiveness about things that I wasn’t necessarily going to hear on the top 40 started me along a road that has done me pretty well over the years. In that short 87-89 period working on Woolies record counter, getting to hear more music from schoolmates, starting to read the NME, hearing things like Birthday, Surfer Rosa, The Guitar & Other Machines, Floodland… Sign ‘O’ The Times for crying out loud80sA Prince! How did I get this far in without a mention of Prince? On New Year’s Eve in 1989 BBC showed a 4 (?) hour 80s music retrospective with loads of great TOTP stuff (John Wayne Is Big Leggy sticks in the brain for some reason) and at the end they revealed the results of a survey on musicians & journalists about who were the best and most overrated acts of the decade. I know The Smiths featured prominently in both lists (possibly topping the latter) but I’m pretty sure I punched the air when Prince was revealed as their act of the 80s. You’ll get no complaints from me. So in September 89, with the decade drawing to a close, I made my way to Coventry Polytechnic with a grant in my pocket and about 5 decent record shops within walking distance. I was ready for whatever the 90s could throw at me. As long as it was guitar led indie.

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