The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
Featured Song/Artist
"99 Luftballoons"
("99 Red Balloons")
Written by Nena
99 Luftballoons (Epic, 1984)

You and I in a little toy shop
Buy a bag of balloons with the money we've got
Set them free at the break of dawn
Til one by one they were gone
Back at base, bugs in the software
Flash the message, something's out there
Floating in the summer sky
99 red balloons go by

99 red balloons
Floating in the summer sky
Panic bells, it's red alert
There's something here from somewhere else
The war machine springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
Focusing it on the sky
Where 99 red balloons go by

99 Decision Street
99 ministers meet
To worry, worry, super scurry
Call the troops out in a hurry
This is what we've waited for
This is it, boys, this is war
The president is on the line
As 99 red balloons go by

99 knights of the air
Ride super-high-tech jet fighters
Everyone's a superhero
Everyone's a Captain Kirk
With orders to identity
To clarify and classify
Scramble in the summer sky
As 99 red balloons go by

99 dreams I have had
And every one a red balloon
It's all over, and I'm standing pretty
In this dust that was a city
I could find a souvenir
Just to prove the world was here
And here is a red balloon
I think of you and let it go

Gabriela Kerner entered the Eighties as lead singer for a German pop-rock band called Stripes, which released one album, in 1980. Gabriela then moved on to a new band, Nena (her nickname.) The quartet's self-titled, new-wave debut album, released in 1983, featured the hit nuclear protest song "99 Luftballoons." (It was during this time that antinuclear protests were sweeping Europe as the United States negotiated with its allies to place intermediate range missiles on European soil.) The album also contained "Nur Getraumt" ("Just A Dream.") In 1984 the band released 99 Luftballoons,a compilation of tracks from their first two European platters, including six songs in German and five translated into English (including "99 Luftballoons" and "Nur Getraumt.") "99 Luftballoons became a hit in America, reaching US#2, as well as the top spot on the UK singles chart in March 1984, selling over one million copies thanks more to its catchy melody and driving beat than to its political message. Nena tried to duplicate this success with an all-English album in 1985, entitled It's All In the Game, featuring the saxophone of David Sanborn on a couple of tracks, but this pop-jazz fusion effort failed to catch fire, and Nena disbanded soon thereafter.  Gabriela pursued a solo career, releasing numerous (German-language) albums in the 1990s.

 "It's My Life"
Talk Talk

Music & Lyrics
 by M. Holly & T. Friese-Greene
It's My Life (EMI, 1984)

Funny how I find myself
In love with you
If I could buy my reasoning
I would pay to lose
One half won't do
I've asked myself how much do you
Commit yourself

It's my life
Don't you forget
It's my life
It never ends

Funny how I blind myself
I never knew
If I was sometimes played upon
Afraid to lose
I would tell myself what good you do
Convince myself

It's my life
Don't you forget
It's my life
It never ends

I would ask myself how much do you
Commit yourself

It's my life
Don't you forget
It's my life
It never ends

After a year studying child psychology at Sussex University, Mark Hollis (b. 1955, Tottenham, London), quit school and formed a band called the Reaction. Aided by Mark's brother Ed, disc jockey and manager of the band Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Reaction was signed by Island Records in 1977. After releasing one single, "I Can't Resist" (1978), the Reaction disbanded. In 1981, Ed Hollis introduced his brother to bass player Paul Webb and drummer Lee Harris. Paul and Lee had been friends since school, and played together in several R&B bands.The trio were joined by keyboardist Simon Brenner (Mark Hollis provided the lead vocals and played guitar), and Talk Talk was formed. Again with Ed's assistance, the band secured six months studio time under Island's aegis. Talk Talk put the time to good use; their demos, produced by Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller, garnered them a recording contract with EMI Records..

Talk Talk's debut album, The Party's Over (1982), peaked at UK#21, while the single "Talk Talk" climbed to UK#23 after its reissue. During 1982, the band toured with Duran Duran and then headlined their own UK tour.  Brenner left the following year, to be replaced by  Tim Friese-Green. "It's My Life," from the album by the same name and penned by Hollis and Friese-Green, topped Billboard's Dance chart in 1984 and secured the band an international following. (It peaked at US#31 and UK#46, while the parent album went gold in every major European country -- except Britain.) 1984 also saw the band touring the US, supporting The Psychedelic Furs and Berlin. Talk Talk followed up this success with the 1986 release of their biggest single in the UK, "Life's What You Make It" (#16), culled from The Colour of Spring, which became a Top Ten album in Britain. This album marked Talk Talk's departure from the New Wave sound epitomized by "It's My Life" -- a transformation furthered by the 1988 album, Spirit of Eden. While Eden was not a commercial success, it was admired by critics for its innovative sound, enhanced by jazz and classical elements. But EMI was less than pleased, and when Talk Talk announced it would not tour to support the new album, suits and countersuits resulted in the band moving to Polydor Records, which released Talk Talk's fifth album,  Laughing Stock (1991), on its Verve label. This effort debuted at UK#26, the highest position it would achieve. Talk Talk folded; Webb and Harris formed O'rang and released an album in 1994 (UK#54), while Hollis would release a largely ignored solo album in 1998 (UK#53). EMI released a well-received best-of compilation, Natural History in 1990. It spent five months on the UK chart, peaking at #3 and selling over one million copies.

 "Electric Avenue"
Eddy Grant

Music & Lyrics by Eddy Grant
Killer on the Rampage
 (Ice-Portrait, 1982)

Down on the street there is violence
And a lot of work to be done
No place to hang out our washing
And I can't blame all on the sun, oh no
We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we'll take it higher
Oh we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we'll take it higher

Workin' so hard like a soldier
Can't afford a thing on TV
Deep in my heart I'm a warrior
Can't get food for them kids, good God
We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we'll take it higher
Oh we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we'll take it higher

Who is to blame in one country
Never can get to the one
Dealin' in multiplication
And they still can't feed everyone, oh no
We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we'll take it higher
Oh we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we'll take it higher

Out in the street...
Out in the street...
Out in the playground...
In the dark side of town...

We gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we'll take it higher
Oh we gonna rock down to Electric Avenue
And then we'll take it higher

Rock it in the daytime
Rock it in the night...

Edmond Montague Grant was born in Plaisance, Guyana on 5 March 1948, and moved with his parents to London in 1960. Five years later he formed a band called the Equals with two schoolfriends, drummer John Hall and bassist Pat Lloyd, as well as twin brothers Derv and Lincoln Gordon, who provided lead vocals and rhythm guitar respectively. The Equals enjoyed success with the 1967 album Unequalled Equals, which climbed to UK#10. The following year, "Baby Come Back," from the album Equals Explosion, topped the UK chart for three weeks. (The album also included Grant's "Police On My Back," which would be covered by the Clash in 1980.) Meanwhile, Grant recorded one of Britain's first ska albums, Club Ska, using a pseudonym. The Equals had several more Top 40 hits and became a big commercial draw in both Britain and Europe. Grant left the band in 1972 to establish his own production company, a London recording studio (Coach House), and then his own label, Ice Records. He released his first solo album, Message Man in 1977, playing all the instruments and providing all the vocals. The reggae-funk tune "Living On The Front Line," from 1979's Walking On Sunshine became a disco hit and peaked at UK#11. (Rocker's Revenge would have a 1982 Top Ten hit in the UK with a cover of the album's title track.)
Blending pop, dance, calypso and reggae elements into a new style of music he called "soca," Grant was destined for even greater success in the Eighties. In 1981 the pop/reggae fusion of "Do You Feel My Love," from 1980's Love in Exile, proved irresistible and propelled the song to UK#8. The following year, "I Don't Wanna Dance" topped the UK chart for three weeks. Grant moved to Barbados, built the Blue Wave studio, signed a marketing/distribution deal with RCA, and recorded Killer On The Rampage, which became his biggest-selling album (UK#7, US#10), and featured the hit single "Electric Avenue" (UK#2, US#2.) 1984 found Grant writing the theme to the film Romancing the Stone. He spent the next few years focused on producing other artists, returning to the charts in 1988 with the anti-apartheid song "Gimme Hope Jo'Anne," which climbed to UK#7. In the early '90s, Grant hosted the first annual Caribbean Music Awards at Harlem's Apollo Theater, and was engaged in a bitter contest with Bob Marley's widow Rita for control of Marley's publishing legacy -- a legal battle he ultimately lost. Through aggressive acquisitions, Grant reportedly compiled the world's largest collection of calpyso music.