Loving the 80s: 10 Song-writers that soundtracked the decade

The eighties: a decade synonymous with synth-pop, day-glo leg warmers, Top of the Pops and some of the most mind-bogglingly inane music of the last forty years. And yet despite that, nostalgia for all things eighties continues to thrive, fuelled no doubt by comeback tours by some of the leading lights of the eighties pop music scene. It’s easy to forget that for all the awful music served up during that period, it was a golden era for independent music in the UK, with some incredibly influential acts emerging during this period. It was also a period when some extraordinarily gifted song-writers came to the fore, writers that penned some of the most enduring and fondly remembered songs of that era. Here are ten such song-writers, and the songs that made them great.

 

Rattlesnakes –  Lloyd Cole
A self-styled intellectual, Cole was a somewhat unlikely pop star during a decade where good taste and refinement were not the bywords on the pop scene. He projected an image of a serious, intense and intelligent young man with a penchant for name dropping French philosophers in interview and in song. But the boy could write, and his marriage of intelligent wordplay and catchy melodies produced one of the great debut albums of the decade in Rattlesnakes.

 

Between the Wars  –  Billy Bragg
A genuine protest singer. The idea seems almost quaint now in an era when pop stars are more likely to be found whinging about the trappings of fame than anything real or meaningful about the society they are part of. But Bragg was different, and incredibly, he found a ready audience for his passionate but rough around the edges protest anthems. Bragg never shied away from writing about the issues of the day; he was an unflinching advocate of the miners during the devastating Miner’s Strike in mid-eighties Britain. He stood for something, and that alone ensures he will be remembered.

 

Luka – Suzanne Vega
Californian Suzanne Vega enjoyed a relatively brief but fruitful period of success when her single ‘Luka’ became a massive hit internationally in 1987. It was one of those songs that captured the imagination of the public and it is easy to see why. She went on to release another six albums, none of which managed to produce a hit of the magnitude of ‘Luka’, a song that remains a bona fide classic of that era.

 

When Love Breaks Down – Paddy McAloon (Prefab Sprout)
Other songwriters speak in hushed, reverential tones when the name Paddy McAloon is mentioned. His genius has long been recognised, stretching right back to 1985 when the second Prefab Sprout album ‘Steve McQueen’ was released. Critics literally foamed at the mouth – McAloon penned classy, insightful pop music that had broad appeal and even though success in the States eluded them, they managed to forge a very successful career on this side of the water.  Bittersweet songs of luminous beauty.

 

I Want You – Elvis Costello
Declan Patrick Aloysius MacManus (aka Elvis Costello): certainly one of the most prolific and arguably the most talented song-writer to emerge from this part of the world in the last forty years. Costello has dabbled in an array of different styles and genres but the one thing that remains constant is his extraordinary gift as a lyricist. From one of his least celebrated albums, this is one of his finest and darkest songs.

 

Fast Car – Tracy Chapman
Another one of those songs that seemed to capture the zeitgeist, Fast Car became a monster worldwide hit in 1988. It ensured that her debut album was a multi-platinum Grammy award winning success and thrust Chapman into the limelight so very early in her career. Following up on the success of a song like Fast Car was always going to be difficult, but despite drifting from the public eye, she continued to record and release platinum selling albums in subsequent years. This remains her finest achievement.

 

Oblivious – Roddy Frame (Aztec Camera)
He cut his teeth as a song-writer with the legendary Scottish Postcard Records label before signing to Rough Trade with his band Aztec Camera. Their breezy pop sound found favour almost immediately – at the age of nineteen, Frame had his first hit record and had recorded  ‘High Land, Hard Rain’ an album of remarkable maturity, peppered with catchy , memorable pop tunes. Despite his mainstream appeal, there was always a lyrical, poetic beauty to his songs. He recently released a stunning solo comeback album ‘Seven Dials’ that demonstrated that the knack for marrying melodic pop with intelligent, insightful lyrics has not been dimmed by the passage of time.

 

Sweet Dreams – Annie Lennox & Dave Stewart (Eurythmics)
A marriage made in heaven – Lennox and Stewart made a formidable team and produced a string of hit singles between 1983 and 1989. A combination of a striking visual image and a sophisticated take on synth-pop made them both a commercial and critical success at a time when the charts were awash with questionable fare. They were an act that were ahead of their time, writing intelligent pop music that appealed to the masses.

 

Kentucky Avenue – Tom Waits
One of the most celebrated and feted song-writers and performers of the last 40 years, Waits brought a menagerie of colourful and grotesque characters to life through his unique songs. An inspired lyricist, Waits truly inhabited the songs he wrote and sang with a larynx shredding intensity that was not everyone’s cup of tea. The eighties represented an artistic highpoint, with albums like Frank’s Wild Years, Swordfishtrombones and Blue Valentine up there with the very best in his vast back catalogue.

 

Antmusic – Adam  Ant
The epitomes of cool for twelve year old boys in the eighties. Enough said.