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Why did music drop in quality during the 1980s?

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Old
02-09-2017, 12:33 PM
  #1
seventieslord
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Why did music drop in quality during the 1980s?

This is not meant to be a blanket statement that music sucked in the 80s. Plenty of well known artists were at their best in the 80s. However, one thing I’ve noticed is that most mainstream rock artists who were established prior to the 80s and continued to produce into the 90s, did their least acclaimed work in the 80s.

To test this theory, I went to www.rateyourmusic.com and took a look at the average ratings of all albums by the following artists between 1964 and 2005:

Rolling Stones
Black Sabbath
Cheap Trick
Fleetwood Mac
The Ramones
AC DC
Paul McCartney/Wings
Ringo Starr
Bob Dylan
KISS
Rush
Pink Floyd
David Bowie
Aerosmith

Taking the 3-year average rankings of all albums released by these artists, I found this:

1964-66: 3.79
1967-69: 3.64
1970-72: 3.65
1973-75: 3.69
1976-78: 3.53
1979-81: 3.44
1982-84: 3.13
1985-87: 2.92
1988-90: 3.14
1991-93: 3.30
1994-96: 3.01
1997-99: 3.28
2000-02: 3.20
2003-05: 3.28

These artists were collectively very strong, putting out a large quantity of albums through the 70s and though they were starting to trend downwards by 1978, they mostly held steady through 1979 (3.59), the downturn started as soon as the 80s did (3.31, 3.35), before tanking in 1982 and beyond. At 2.75, 1986 was a low point, before the uptick started. Their output at least got out of the 1985-87 pit by 1990, before settling in for 15 years of average, workmanlike albums that rarely hurt their legacies like the mid-80s did.

Out of these 14 artists, among the 12 who released at least 2 albums in the 1983-87 range, ten of them saw acclaim far less than they had previously, and then recovered after that period. The only exceptions were the ramones (3.77, 3.21, 3.19, so they remained mediocre after), and Rush (3.70, 3.51, 3.22, they saw only a modest mid-80s drop, leading to an inevitable further drop beyond the 80s)

Why did everyone get so bad in the 80s, especially the mid-80s? Was everyone trying too hard to make “80s music”, which seemed like a good idea at the time but in retrospect was not? Were these albums received better at the time than they’re remembered today?


Last edited by seventieslord: 02-09-2017 at 12:42 PM.
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Old
02-09-2017, 12:40 PM
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Big McLargehuge
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Cocaine.

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02-09-2017, 12:41 PM
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seventieslord
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Cocaine.
LOL! That's the first thing a friend told me when I brought this up about ten years ago.

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02-09-2017, 12:46 PM
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Just look at the music Eric Claption wrote in the 70s vs the 80s.

Cocaine was written in 77/78 btw.

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02-09-2017, 12:52 PM
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seventieslord
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Originally Posted by Fixed to Ruin View Post
Just look at the music Eric Claption wrote in the 70s vs the 80s.

Cocaine was written in 77/78 btw.
He's another I could have included in the "study".

3.37 before 1983, 2.99 1983-1987, 3.12 since.

He follows the same pattern as the rest of them.

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02-09-2017, 12:54 PM
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Those bands had an established sound before the 80's and they decided they needed to keep up with the treads and tweaked their sound including synths,gated snares etc and an overall compressed sound. They also wrote to this new sound making them write tracks they wouldn't have normally wrote.

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02-09-2017, 12:59 PM
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A few theories: First to go with the "Behind The Music" esque or classic Greek literature, the hero gets powerful, has a great fall, and then reemerges from the ashes. I guess most of these bands hit rock bottom in the late 70s/early 80s with drug problems and artistic differences. The 80s was also before nutrition was a thing, personal trainers, etc..that really stated in the 90s. Look at Mick Jagger for instance.

80s production was just bad. The gated drum sound that Peter Gabriel and later Phil Collins used, too much reverb, weird "futuristic" sounding production that sounds like the future from an 80s sci fi movie. More synths.

Trends: Classic and Prog Rock were seen as dinosaurs, so shorter more poppy hooks were welcome. Disco was dying out, first came punk, and then new wave. Also there was a lot more emphasis on style over substance, bands were dressing up more again. The irony is even in a 3-4 minute pop song there's still many instances of weird stuff or chords or odd time signatures thrown in there (I was listening to Hall and Oates last night at the gym and those guys would throw all kind of weird stuff in their songs). Today, the weird stuff has been mostly taken out.

MTV and musical segregation: For the first time artists were competing against each other to have videos shown. This was before MTV has specialized shows. Also for whatever reason, in the 70s there was much more musician crossover playing on records (Phil Collins for instance) In the 80s, rock guys were rock guys, pop guys were pop guys, and unfortunately there was racial tension. MTV was hesitant to play Rockit by Herbie Hancock, and Michael Jackson had to go through a lot to get his Thriller stuff noticed at first. Off The Wall which I like better as an overall record didn't get as much respect.

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02-09-2017, 01:03 PM
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I just want to pre-emptively argue that I think the quality did in fact drop in the 80s. That's not to say there aren't incredible masterpieces after the 80s, but nothing annoys me more than when someone blanket-dismisses anyone who suggests that the trend exists by going down the "music is actually exactly as good as it always was, you simply must not be looking hard enough/are clouded by bias/nostalgia/drinking the Koolaid" rabbit hole.

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02-09-2017, 01:05 PM
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For disco and dance genres, while there are albums out there, most of it came out as singles. There was a lot of fallout from Disco Demolition in North America including a war that reasserted racial lines and economic strata in music. Artists that attempted to bridge the gap were largely panned as being manufactured, insincere or vapid. Generational wars were also common in North America and Europe where there was an open war with the guitar (Metal, Hard Rock) and the synth (New Wave, Dance.) Again, artists who attempted to bridge that gap. . .

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02-09-2017, 01:06 PM
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02-09-2017, 01:08 PM
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How about they got old and just ran out of steam? There wasn't any shortage of great music in the '80s, it was just being made by new (or fairly new) faces (U2, The Clash, Talk Talk, REM, The Pretenders, New Order, The Cure, Tom Petty, Eurythmics, The Smiths, and so on).

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02-09-2017, 01:51 PM
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Yes, to be fair there was a lot of great music in the 80s. Duran Duran, Madonna, Michael Jackson, all the metal, Meat Puppets, Husker Due, Killing Joke, Prince, The Minutmen, SST records, R.E.M., The Replacements, Peter Gabriel, Janet Jackson, beginning of hip hop, etc. you can go on forever.

There were also a lot of experimental side projects and weird stuff bands did that by today's standard would seem taboo.

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02-09-2017, 01:57 PM
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Whoops, I missed that bit. Yeah, the way that you tested that theory makes no sense. Why would you expect the artists that were good in the 60s/70s to represent how good the 80s were?

Virtually no artists stay brilliant decade after decade, IMO.

But I would still argue that the artists that replaced them in the 80s, while many were absolutely brilliant, still fall short of the guys in the 60s and 70s.

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02-09-2017, 02:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Shareefruck View Post
Whoops, I missed that bit. Yeah, the way that you tested that theory makes no sense. Why would you expect the artists that were good in the 60s/70s to represent how good the 80s were?

Virtually no artists stay brilliant decade after decade, IMO.

But I would still argue that the artists that replaced them in the 80s, while many were absolutely brilliant, still fall short of the guys in the 60s and 70s.
The first paragraph is all about production. The Stones put out some solid records in the 90s but look a their 80s output and how they dressed also in the 80s. the 90s were all about embracing the 70s, especially the 7-8 bands that really went mainstream (Nirvana, PJ, Soundgarden, Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, Metallica, Megadeth, etc.)

It's hard to compare the 60s/70s to the 80s because there was Vietnam, Sexual Revolution, world was becoming more international for the first time vs. Reaganism, the Cold War Peak, etc. The grassroots efforts were much stronger in the 60s and 70s so folk music, blues, soul, etc. was much more prevalent and also recorded on analog while the 80s was more about experimenting with primitive technology like synths, drum machines, loops etc. that was refined in the 90s. Drum machines in the 80s that were $350-$1000 can be downloaded in 60 seconds as an app on on iPhone for example. The 70s also was America's intro to Reggae, Tropicalismo, Fusion, Fela Kuti, and electronic music via Germany (Krautrock) so it's hard to compare.

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02-09-2017, 02:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kihei View Post
How about they got old and just ran out of steam? There wasn't any shortage of great music in the '80s, it was just being made by new (or fairly new) faces (U2, The Clash, Talk Talk, REM, The Pretenders, New Order, The Cure, Tom Petty, Eurythmics, The Smiths, and so on).
Correct. Disingenuous and misleading thread topic.

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02-09-2017, 02:35 PM
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Correct. Disingenuous and misleading thread topic.
Methodology fails to take into account that people hate it when bands/artists they like "change" "styles".

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02-09-2017, 02:40 PM
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If it's the barometer you're going to use, the nature of critical analysis in media has to be brought up: that is, the (admittedly apocryphal) fact that critics tend to give lower ratings to repetitive media over media that stretches boundaries. It's not common for bands to have 10-20 years worth of work and constantly get largely positive reviews for it, especially when they're also commercially successful.

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02-09-2017, 02:42 PM
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Big McLargehuge
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I do believe that the 80s were the weakest decade of music since rock & roll became mainstream, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a ton of great music that came out of it.

That said, there are plenty of reasons that could be attributed to this, and I think each of them played a very real role in it.
  • Drugs...my first post was mostly sarcasm, but there's a hint of truth to it. Cocaine wasn't new to the 80s, I believe it's use actually peaked in the late 70s (and as pointed out, Clapton was singing about it in the 70s), but it became infamous in the 80s. Drugs have a role in the type of art that is created and certain drugs do different things to different parts of the brain than others. I won't pretend to know anything I don't know here, but I know I'm one hell of a better writer when I'm three glasses of whiskey in than if I've just partaken in some California medication that rhymes with narijuana.
    Plus we're combining a decade known for its excess, coupled with new drugs on the market that people didn't understand and didn't know the consequences for. There are plenty of musicians dominated by their vices today, but I doubt the percentage is as high as it was in the late 70s throughout most of the 90s (when the drug of choice switched from cocaine to heroin).
  • The popularization of synths and the like. Some were new in the 80s, some weren't...either way the 80s were the decade they become mainstream and as with anything that's new, most early works built around synths sounds incredibly dated decades after the fact. A lot of established acts also tried their hands with this kind of music to varying degrees of success...most of which weren't as good as their previous efforts for a multitude of reasons. With new technology and new instruments comes growing pains, and it's rarely the ones who cut their teeth playing a different style of music who are going to be the most successful with a new style (which, again, not exclusive to the 80s, but most dominant there. Studios chase trends, as seen with so many successful rock acts having disco albums in the late 70s).
  • Culture. The 80s were weird, very weird. This is true of any decade, but the 80s are distinctly unique in how poorly many of the trends in all walks of art have aged.
  • MTV. All of a sudden music videos were as vital to a band's success as the songs themselves. This was a non-factor before 1981, and has become increasingly less important since the mid-90s.

At the end of the day it's a matter of taste...but I think there's a very real reason you don't see the same love for the 80s amongst people who didn't grow up in the decade as you see with the 60s or 70s or even 90s. I was born in 1986 (read: I'm a 90s kid, I barely remember anything before I was 4 or 5 years old) and my musical tastes basically bypass the 80s entirely. While I loved a lot of music in the 60s my taste in music basically jumps from Lou Reed's early solo work and glam-era Bowie to Pavement chronologically. That isn't to say there aren't 80s songs and even albums that I love...but if I made a list of my top 50 songs I wouldn't expect to see more than 2 songs from the 80s on there. If I made a list of my top 50 albums I wouldn't expect to see more than 1 or 2 albums from the 80s on there. If I made a list of my top 50 bands almost all of them would be more well-known for their work in another decade...but that's me.

Still, I look back upon 80s music much more favorably than I do 80s cinema....*cringes*


Last edited by Big McLargehuge: 02-09-2017 at 03:02 PM. Reason: typo
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Old
02-09-2017, 02:58 PM
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Cocaine.
also AGE

ACDC burned themselves out in the 70's/80's

but they still put out

80--BIB
81- For those about to Rock
83-Flick of the Switch (Rudd sacked half way through due drug burn out)
85-Sink the Pink
86-Who made Who(3 original songs)
88-Blow up your video
90--Thunder struck

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02-09-2017, 02:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Big McLargehuge View Post
[*]The popularization of synths and the like. Some were new in the 80s, some weren't...either way the 80s were the genre they become mainstream and as with anything that's new, most early works built around synths sounds incredibly dated decades after the fact. A lot of established acts also tried their hands with this kind of music to varying degrees of success...most of which weren't as good as their previous efforts for a multitude of reasons. With new technology and new instruments comes growing pains, and it's rarely the ones who cut their teeth playing a different style of music who are going to be the most successful with a new style (which, again, not exclusive to the 80s, but most dominant there. Studios chase trends, as seen with so many successful rock acts having disco albums in the late 70s).
I think this is bang on. Just for fun I used my Eric Clapton example and picked Cocaine (1978) and Forever Man (1985) and listened to them back to back. I think everyone should try it. Very interesting how different one artist can sound based on the trends in music at the time.




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02-09-2017, 03:09 PM
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seventieslord
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How about they got old and just ran out of steam?
Well of course that's a possibility, but they all survived the 80s, kept making music and proved to ecxeed the quality they put out in the 80s, almost without exception. If it was just age, they'd keep getting worse, but they didn't and haven't.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shareefruck View Post
Whoops, I missed that bit. Yeah, the way that you tested that theory makes no sense. Why would you expect the artists that were good in the 60s/70s to represent how good the 80s were?
Maybe the title of the thread was misleading. But I measured exactly what I meant to measure - whether established artists began making albums of lower quality.

There was definitely quality music in the 80s.

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02-09-2017, 03:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Big McLargehuge View Post
[*]The popularization of synths and the like. Some were new in the 80s, some weren't...either way the 80s were the decade they become mainstream and as with anything that's new, most early works built around synths sounds incredibly dated decades after the fact. A lot of established acts also tried their hands with this kind of music to varying degrees of success...most of which weren't as good as their previous efforts for a multitude of reasons. With new technology and new instruments comes growing pains, and it's rarely the ones who cut their teeth playing a different style of music who are going to be the most successful with a new style (which, again, not exclusive to the 80s, but most dominant there. Studios chase trends, as seen with so many successful rock acts having disco albums in the late 70s).
Pretty much this. I was going to come and post it in a broader stroke. Basically considering some of the acts in the OP and some other artists, they changed their sound for the times and it didn't really lead to their best work.

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02-09-2017, 04:48 PM
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Could be that the record industry assumed that baby boomers would shift to mellower genres like easy listening or smooth jazz as they got older. That never really happened, so veteran artists who were trying to maintain appeal to the younger market in the 80s by sounding contemporary then got the green light to go back to their roots and just be themselves, follow their own musical instincts, and reconnect with their original audience.

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02-09-2017, 04:56 PM
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For rock, a lot of it had to do with the boom in hair bands so all the old guys were trying to follow suit and do power ballads and **** when it just wasn't their style.

More electronic based music was becoming more popular and mainstream so musicians had a lot of new toys to play with that didn't always hold up over time.

I don't think drugs mattered. Drugs have always been present in music.

Death of disco in the early 80s and the fallout of it.

Rise of hip hop.

I don't know if the 80s were really all that bad honestly. There's a lot of transition in the music going on, for sure, but that's prevalent in every decade.

90s had grunge and alternative, but also had nu-metal and boy bands.

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02-09-2017, 04:56 PM
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I think ZZ Top might be the only previously established band that actually got better in the '80s.

Yeah I said it.

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