Frankie Goes to Hollywood performs; the Footloose soundtrack; Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson
1984 marked the high watermark of the "New Music" of the Eighties (see 1983-The Year in Music), and the British invasion was still a force to be reckoned with. In March, 24 of the Top 50 singles in the U.S. were by British acts. It was also a year when soundtracks produced one big hit after another; the Footloose soundtrack was the biggest of these, with Kenny Loggins, Deniece Williams, and the duo of Mike Reno and Ann Wilson all having Top Ten hits off the album. Prince scored several hits, and reached the pinnacle of his career, with songs from the Purple Rain soundtrack, and Ray Parker, Jr. enjoyed a #1 hit with the theme from Ghostbusters -- as well as a plagiarism lawsuit filed by Huey Lewis and the News. Tina Turner made the biggest comeback in rock history, Madonna introduced herself in her first (but certainly not last) incarnation as a "boy toy," and Phil Collins and Steve Perry -- of Genesis and Journey respectively -- discovered just how successful you could be in a solo career if you followed a few simple guidelines: make your music danceable and MTV-compatible. Critics, of course, deplored the paucity of "message" in the New Music, and many blamed video. But there could be no denying that the music industry, suffering so grievously in the late Seventies, was healthy again. And even people like Bruce Springsteen and Hall and Oates, while initially scornful of video's importance to their careers, jumped on the bandwagon -- and profited greatly for the compromise.
Reggae entered the mainstream, thanks in no small part to UB40's Labour of Love, and a growing infatuation in white suburbia accounted for a steady stream of Bob Marley albums, singles, videos and books. Electro-pop insinuated itself into every genre, making itself indispensible to artists as diverse as Earth, Wind & Fire to New Order. In fact, in many respects, electro took over soul music and invigorated rap. Just ask deejay-rapper Afrika Bambaata. The Thompson Twins proved you could make some really good music with nothing but high-tech equipment. It seemed like everyone was employing the beatbox and the synth -- even Dr. John ("Jet Set"). Electro continued to stir controversy, as old-fashioned sorts persisted in their belief that the Oberheim DMX and other electronic contraptions betrayed music because anybody could make music with them. As though there was something inherently wrong with that.
As controversial as electro remained, the biggest controversy of the year surrounded Frankie Goes To Hollywood, who dared address the twin taboos of sex and politics with their monster hits "Relax" and "Two Tribes." The video for the former was banned in Britain because it dealt with gay sex -- insuring that the single would zoom to #1. The latter stayed at the #1 spot for nine weeks and went gold in seven days. The lesson: even a group of moderately talented fellows producing average material could soar to superstardom if they were willing to be just a little outrageous and iconoclastic. A mirror of the times, music had become awfully conservative. This was nowhere more evident than in country-and-western, where the most unusual thing to happen was that Willie Nelson teamed up with Spanish crooner Julio Iglesias for a hit single. C&W was never more homogenized; The Osmonds went country, Vegas lounge singer Lee Greenwood was named Best Male Singer and Slim Whitman was all the rage in Britain. Before the decade was out, however, country music would be fundamentally changed.
On the business end of things, this was the year when the record companies began to rethink giving away videos as free promotional material, and starting thinking of them as a mean to make a profit. MTV cut deals with several major labels, paying out millions for exclusive rights to videos. Nonetheless, MTV showed a profit for the first time in the first quarter of '84. Other entities showed profits, some tremendous. CBS enjoyed a 500% increase in profits. Industry-wide, the number of albums certified gold was up 25% over the previous year. Cassette sales outstripped LPs. On the legal front, a lower court ruled that the Federal Trade Commission failed to prove that the proposed merger of Warner's and Polygram's domestic record operations was an anti-trust violation. The merger would concentrate 26% of the American record market under a single joint venture.
Notable Events of the Year
Bob Geldorf orchestrates a gathering of rock stars called Band Aid to record "Do They Know It's Christmas," the proceeds from which will go towards famine relief in Ethiopia. The song debuted at #1 in the UK (November), and two weeks later made the top of the US chart. Written by Geldorf, the song would eventually sell 50 million copies. Among those who performed: Bananarama, Culture Club, Duran Duran, Eurythmics, Heaven 17, Kool and the Gang, Paul McCartney, Paul Young, Phil Collins, Sting, U2 and Wham!
Michael Jackson's Thriller, having sold 30 million units (so far) and a record-breaking 32 weeks at the top of the album chart, earns the artist a record eight Grammy Awards and seven American Music Awards. On 26 January, Michael's hair catches on fire while he's filming a Pepsi commercial; the artist suffers second-degree burns.
The Jacksons' Victory tour is the biggest grossing road show of the year. Michael Jackson earned $5 million -- and gave all of it to charity. Meanwhile Bruce Springsteen's Born In The USA tour visited 61 cities in 11 countries -- and was seen by 4.7 million fans.
Britain's first cable TV channel, Sky Channel, begins operations in January. And, while on the subject of the UK, "Relax" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood becomes Britain's bestselling single of the 1980s. The song's 43-week chart run would be the longest since Englebert Humperdinck's "Release Me" in 1967-68. The band's debut album, Welcome To The Pleasuredome, set a new record of over one million advance orders and entered the UK chart at #1.
After spending eight years in a stroke-induced coma, soul great Jackie Wilson dies, age 49. Other deaths in 1984: blues singers Big Mama Thornton and Alberta Hunter, country legend Ernest Tubb, R&B's Z.Z. Hill, jazz band leader Count Basie (79), bluegrass picker Don Reno ("Dueling Banjos"), age 58, and songwriter Meredith Wilson. Ethel Merman dies at 75. Soul superstar Marvin Gaye is shot to death by his father, a retired minister, during a family argument. ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill accidentally shoots himself in the abdomen with a .38 caliber pistol, but survives.
The Official Music of the XXIII Olympiad: Los Angeles 1984 LP featured
Loverboy, Foreigner, Toto, and composer John Williams
Top Ten Singles
1. "Owner Of A Lonely Heart," Yes
2. "Say Say Say," Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson
3. "Talking In Your Sleep," Romantics
4. "Break My Stride," Matthew Wilder
5. "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues," Elton John
6. "Twist Of Fate," Olivia Newton-John
7. "Karma Chameleon," Culture Club
8. "Say It Isn't So," Hall and Oates
9. "Union Of The Snake," Duran Duran
10. "Running With The Night," Lionel Richie
1. "Karma Chameleon," Culture Club
2. "Joanna," Kool & The Gang
3. "Jump," Van Halen
4. "Talking In Your Sleep," Romantics
5. "That's All!," Genesis
6. "Owner Of A Lonely Heart," Genesis
7. "99 Luftballons," Nena
8. "Running With The Night," Lionel Richie
9. "Let The Music Play," Shannon
10. "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," Cyndi Lauper
1. "Jump," Van Halen
2. "Somebody's Watching Me," Rockwell
3. "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," Cyndi Lauper
4. "99 Luftballons," Nena
5. "Footloose," Kenny Loggins
6. "Here Comes The Rain Again," Eurythmics
7. "I Want A New Drug," Huey Lewis & The News
8. "Thriller," Michael Jackson
9. "Nobody Told Me," John Lennon
10. "Automatic," Pointer Sisters
1. "Footloose," Kenny Loggins
2. "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)," Phil Collins
3. "Hello," Lionel Richie
4. "Somebody's Watching Me," Rockwell
5. "Miss Me Blind," Culture Club
6. "Automatic," Pointer Sisters
7. "Hold Me Now," Thompson Twins
8. "Here Comes The Rain Again," Eurythmics
9. "Adult Education" Hall and Oates
10. "Love Somebody," Rick Springfield
1. "Hello," Lionel Richie
2. "Let's Hear It For The Boy," Deniece Williams
3. "Hold Me Now," Thompson Twins
4. "To All The Girls I've Loved Before," Julio Iglesias & Willie Nelson
5. "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)," Phil Collins
6. "Love Somebody," Rick Springfield
7. "Time After Time," Cyndi Lauper
8. "Oh, Sherrie," Steve Perry
9. "You Might Think," Cars
10. Footloose," Kenny Loggins
1. "Time After Time," Cyndi Lauper
2. "The Reflex," Duran Duran
3. "Let's Hear It For The Boy," Deniece Williams
4. "Oh, Sherrie," Steve Perry
5. "The Heart Of Rock 'n' Roll," Huey Lewis & The News
6. "Self Control," Laura Branigan
7. "Jump (For My Love)," Pointer Sisters
8. "Dancing In The Dark," Bruce Springsteen
9. "Sister Christian," Night Ranger
10. "Borderline," Madonna
1. "When Doves Cry," Prince
2. "Dancing In The Dark," Bruce Springsteen
3. "Eyes Without A Face," Billy Idol
4. "Jump (For My Love)," Pointer Sisters
5. "Ghostbusters," Ray Parker, Jr.
6. "Almost Paradise - Love Theme From Footloose," Mike Reno & Ann Wilson
7. "Legs," ZZ Top
8. "Infatuation," Rod Stewart
9. "Self Control," Laura Branigan
10. "The Reflex," Duran Duran
1. "Ghostbusters," Ray Parker, Jr.
2. "When Doves Cry," Prince
3. "What's Love Got To Do With It," Tina Turner
4. "State Of Shock," Jacksons
5. "Stuck On You," Lionel Richie
6. "I Can Dream About You," Dan Hartman
7. "Sad Songs (Say So Much)," Elton John
8. "Dancing In The Dark," Bruce Springsteen
9. "Sunglasses At Night," Corey Hart
10. "Missing You," John Waite
1. "Missing You," John Waite
2. "What's Love Got To Do With It," Tina Turner
3. "She Bop," Cyndi Lauper
4. "Let's Go Crazy," Prince
5. "Drive," Cars
6. "If This Is It," Huey Lewis & The News
7. "The Warrior," Scandal featuring Patty Smyth
8. "Stuck On You," Lionel Richie
9. "Ghostbusters," Ray Parker, Jr.
10. "The Glamorous Life," Sheila E
1. "I Just Called To Say I Love You," Stevie Wonder
2. ""Let's Go Crazy," Prince & The Revolution
3. "Hard Habit To Break," Chicago
4. "Caribbean Queen," Billy Ocean
5. "Lucky Star," Madonna
6. "Drive," Cars
7. "Cover Me," Bruce Springsteen
8. "On The Dark Side," John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band
9. "Missing You," John Waite
10. "I'm So Excited," Pointer Sisters
1. "Purple Rain," Prince & The Revolution
2. "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," Wham!
3. "Caribbean Queen," Billy Ocean
4. "I Just Called To Say I Love You," Stevie Wonder
5. "Out Of Touch," Hall and Oates
6. "Better Be Good To Me," Tina Turner
7. "I Feel For You," Chaka Khan
8. "Strut," Sheena Easton
9. "Blue Jean," David Bowie
10. "Hard Habit To Break," Chicago
1. "Out Of Touch," Hall and Oates
2. "The Wild Boys," Duran Duran
3. "I Feel For You," Chaka Khan
4. "Sea Of Love," Honeydrippers
5. "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," Wham!
6. "Like A Virgin," Madonna
7. "No More Lonely Nights," Paul McCartney
8. "Cool It Now," New Edition
9. "We Belong," Pat Benatar
10. "All Through The Night," Cyndi Lauper
Albums of the Year
Building the Perfect Beast, Don Henley; Sports, Huey Lewis & The News;
Like A Virgin, Madonna
Building the Perfect Beast, Don Henley (Geffen)
The '70s supergroup The Eagles broke up as the Eighties dawned, and while band member Glenn Frey embarked on a safe (and profitable) commercial path, drummer Don Henley did it differently. Throughout the 1980s he worked deliberately, painstakingly, to craft music with meaning, releasing only three solo albums during the decade. Building the Perfect Beast remains his most enduring classic. Aided by Danny Kortchmar (who wrote nine of the ten tracks on the album), Henley heroically carried the mantle of the Eagles with dignity and breathtaking skill as he forged a sound by fusing electronic and rock, creating in the opinion of many one of the ultimate albums of the '80s, complete with sometimes searing sociopolitical indictments, yet all cloaked in irresistible music, the prime examples of which are "Boys Of Summer," "Sunset Grill," and "All She Wants To Do Is Dance." The album was released in November 1984; the singles dominated the charts in early 1985.
Sports, Huey Lewis and the News (Chrysalis)
This Marin County, California group, formed in 1980, had a Top 10 hit with "Do You Believe In Love" from their previous album, but it wasn't until the release of Sports that they became superstars. This album, a perfectly easygoing rock-soul fusion, produced four consecutive Top 10 hits, including "The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll," "If This Is It," and "I Want A New Drug." Though Huey Lewis and the News would not have their first #1 until 1985 -- "Power of Love" from the hit movie Back To The Future --it was Sports that proved to be the band's highwater mark, and its defining moment as the chief purveyors of a pop-rock-soul sound that appealed to music fans across a broad spectrum.
Like A Virgin, Madonna (Sire)
1983's self-titled debut album introduced Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone to the music world, and produced several hits that hovered in the Top 10 realm of the charts throughout the early part of 1984 -- hits like "Borderline" and "Lucky Star." But it was her second platter, Like A Virgin, released in November 1984, that would establish Madonna as a superstar, and that there was a lot more behind the boytoy image. This albums singles wouldn't dominate the charts until 1985; "LIke A Virgin" would hit the top on December 22, 1984 and stay there for six weeks, and "Material Girl" would do nearly as well a few months later. In fact, it wasn't until a year after release that Like A Virgin would hit the top of the album chart. But that was indicative of Madonna's remarkable staying power.
Purple Rain, Prince and the Revolution (Warner Bros.)
Those who dismissed this album, initially, as a film soundtrack were in for a big surprise. It was, in fact, Prince's most brilliant and cohesive work, his (and the Revolution's) finest hour, an almost instant classic that would showcase the artist's genius as no other album before or since. Though Prince had a clear vision of the film by the same name, and theoretically wrote all the tracks with that vision in mind, the songs stand independently of the film, and five of them were hit singles, with a couple of #1's: "When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy." The album would eventually sell 14 million units, and to no one's surprise. It was his masterpiece, and everyone, including Prince, could tell. Ironically, while Prince downplayed the overt sexuality inherent on past records, it was the lyrics of a song in this collection, "Darling Nikki," that inspired Tipper Gore to form the Parents Music Resource Center that agitated for warning labels on music.
Run D.M.C., Run D.M.C. (Profile)
The raw and innovative sound of nineteen-year-old rappers Run (Joseph Simmons), D.M.C. (Darryl McDaniels) and DJ Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell) did for rap what Van Halen's Jump did for metal -- it made it accessible to mainstream music listeners. And it did it by blending styles; the influential hit "Rock Box" ends with a blazing heavy-metal guitar piece by Eddie Martinez. This hugely successful rap-metal fusion would lead to greater things -- Run D.M.C.'s own remake of "Walk This Way" with Aerosmith, not to mention The Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right to Party" and Tone-Loc's "Wild Thing." "Rock Box" was also MTV's first rap video. In so many ways, this album proved that rap with positive messages and innovative absorbtion of other musical styles, could have broad appeal.
The Smiths, The Smiths (Sire)
The Smith's debut album entered the UK charts at the #2 spot -- and did it without benefit of a major label, a video, or much promotion to speak of. The reason for this success was simple enough; guitarist Johnny Marr and singer/songwriter Morrissey discovered a recipe for success, a commercial sound, as epitomized by the hit single "This Charming Man," fused with uncompromising lyrics arising from their indie roots. The album became an alternative radio favorite in the U.S. and rightly so, and The Smiths proved that even in the mid-Eighties there was a place for a band that rejected the "chart group" mentality and did things differently.
Born In The USA, Bruce Springsteen (Columbia)
Ten years after his classic Born To Run, and in the wake of his spare, solo Nebraska effort, the Boss reunited with the E Street Band to produce a rock album that produced seven Top 10 singles and made The Boss an American icon in the process. Seven of the tracks -- including "Born In The USA" -- were actually written and/or recorded prior to 1982's Nebraska. New songs were recorded but most, with the exceptions of "My Hometown" and "Dancing In The Dark," were discarded. The campaigns of both 1984 presidential candidates misinterpreted and exploited the title track; though wrapped in mainstream rock, these songs were tough and sometimes bitter condemnations of everything The Boss thought was wrong with American politics and society.
Private Dancer, Tina Turner (MCA)
Described by Rolling Stone as probably the greatest comeback album of the decade, Private Dancer went multi-platinum, reaffirmed Turner's place in the rock pantheon, and was a perfect example of the genre-blending style of Eighties music. The #1 hit "What's Love Got To Do With It" was built on a reggae foundation, "I Can't Stop The Rain" was electro-pop at its best, and Jeff Beck backed Turner on rock tunes like "Steel Claw." The album's opening track, "I Might Have Been Queen," penned by Jeanette Obstoj, is based on Turner's life story as related by the artist to producer Rupert Hine, and is as autobiographical as any song could be.
1984, Van Halen (Warner Bros.)
This metal band featuring flamboyant front man David Lee Roth, guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen, drummer Alex Van Halen and bassist Michael Anthony had been one of the hottest live acts for almost a decade. Prior to Jump, they'd generally cut albums to augment their road show reputation. This time, though, they were bored with the same old stuff, and took their time, learning how to mesh the new synth-pop sound very much in vogue in the mid-Eighties with their raucous guitar-based rock. The end result, their bestselling album yet, and their first #1, the title track. Some low-budget but highly popular videos propelled them into MTV staples, as well. This album made metal accessible to the mainstream music buyers, and paved the way for the invasion of the Top Forty by Bon Jovi and others.
Zen Arcade, Husker Du (SST)
This album didn't chart, but that doesn't detract from its importance as a landmark in elevating punk rock from the helpless rage of its previous incarnation into something far more expansive -- and hopeful. Husker Du, a Minneapolis-based trio, had set the thrash-rock standard in 1981 with their debut album; with Zen Arcade the band delivered a powerful message to disaffected youth: It's not enough to scream and rant about the inequities of life. You have to do something about it. As with so many great albums of '84, Husker Du expanded their musical repertoire, borrowing from other genres, including folk and psychedelic rock. Though not a commercial success, the album is undoubtedly a cultural (or subcultural) milestone.