The 1980’s were a totally tubular decade, the era of Rubik’s cubes and Max Headroom, bandannas and leg warmers, of Cabbage Patch Kids and Garbage Pail Kids and conspicuous consumption, and of course some great and some not so great music, which is why the ‘80’s gave us the mixtape. If you love the ‘80’s then you didn’t grow up in the ‘80’s, but if you did grow up in the ‘80’s see if you can match these songs with their descriptions and deeper meanings below.
- 99 Luftballoons-Nena
- Take On Me-A-Ha
- Melt With You-Modern English
- Safety Dance-Men Without Hats
- Dude Looks Like A Lady-Aerosmith
- Eat It-Weird Al Yankovic
- Girls Just Want To Have Fun-Cyndi Lauper
- Billie Jean-Michael Jackson
- Like A Virgin-Madonna
- Karma Chameleon-Culture Club
- Every Breath You Take-The Police
- The Reflex-Duran Duran
- Our House-Madness
- Purple Rain-Prince
- Hip To Be Square-Huey Lewis & The News
- On its surface a denial of paternity this dance tune by the then rising King of Pop was also a response to growing interest in western goods in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe even as the Warsaw Pact nations remained suspicious of capitalism.
- Even the most well-stocked bomb shelter, this song reminded us, would require careful rationing and maintenance of a filtered ventilation system to ensure long-term survival in the event of a nuclear war.
- A comeback hit for a band that had been on “permanent vacation” this song used gender-bending lyrics as a metaphor for the increasing nuclear arms stockpile that was intended to be a show of force as part of the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) that was intended to keep the nuclear superpowers in check even as international tensions escalated.
- This popular love song that’s become ubiquitous in cheesy commercials was inspired by the melting of mannequins used in nuclear bomb tests.
- The effects of widespread nuclear blasts on the climate and the ensuing “nuclear winter” became a widespread topic of discussion in the 1980’s and the subject of this song which became one of its performer’s signature pieces. It would be followed a few years later by “Alphabet Street”, about the codes entrusted to a “designated survivor” in the event of a nuclear attack during the president’s State of the Union address.
- Missile-launch surveillance is a full-time job as reflected in this song about the military personnel entrusted with keeping watch over the “lucky clover” of radar tracking and other early warning systems.
- A popular club hit the “dance” referred to in this song is international agreements toward nuclear disarmament and the negotiated withdrawal by the superpowers from certain parts of the world.
- Best known for its amazing music video that combined animation and live action as a young girl enters a comic book world the song and video both were a subtle yet poignant commentary on nations in remote parts of the world engaging in armed conflicts as proxies for the United States and Soviet Union.
- A popular parody of a Michael Jackson hit this song was also about the importance of storing canned goods and other non-perishable food items in bomb shelters in preparation for nuclear war.
- This British ska toe-tapper was all about the ongoing maintenance of a bomb shelter and the responsibility thrust onto the younger generation of ensuring survival in the event of nuclear war.
- This song’s performer shocked MTV audiences with her provocative wedding-dress performance but even more shocking was the song’s addressing of the nuclear superpowers’ massive arsenals and the fact that some of the weapons had not been updated in decades.
- A nuclear holocaust would likely require survivors to stay in cramped fallout shelters for months, even years. One of the biggest challenges would be staying healthy, as emphasized in this catchy hit from 1986 which featured then-San Francisco 49ers Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott singing backup vocals.
- Best known for their flamboyant lead singer this band’s catchy dance tune with its line about “red, gold, and green” was both a plea for universal harmony and a reference to Africa’s strategic importance in providing uranium for nuclear arsenals.
- This catchy German pop song is about nothing more than buying a shitload of balloons.
- Written and performed by a singer whose vocal range was as extreme as her punk hairdo and makeup this anthem to girls having fun was a cultural response to the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation.
God, I miss the 80s. (Overtly political comment redacted)
When I look back on all that was wrong with that decade–including the constant specter of nuclear war–I realize I miss it too, even though I can’t explain why.
I just love that “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was listed as ‘O’ — Cyndi has long contended that song is about masturbation. Since you listed #6 for L & I, I’m going to assume I got them all right because the fix is on. As a good child of the 80s; however, I only just passed.
Wait a minute, “She Bop” was also about masturbation, which now has me wondering if that’s what every Cyndi Lauper song was about. And nuclear war, of course, because that’s what every song in the ’80’s was about, so you passed with true colors.
Excellent post—how you came up with all this is genius! Although I think you’re giving some of these acts a little too much credit!
It all started with the feeling that we’re having an ’80’s redux moment, complete with the specter of nuclear war, and I realized that threat explained a lot about the ’80’s. And I have a soft spot for these acts, having grown up in that era.
This amazing post distracted me from the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation. You’re the bomb, Chris.
The daily dose of optimism you provide always gives me hope that things will turn out all right. And we may even find new friends no matter what happens.