fri 28/02/2020

Reissue CDs Weekly: Rockin' in the USA - Hot 100 Hits of the 80s | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Rockin' in the USA - Hot 100 Hits of the 80s

Reissue CDs Weekly: Rockin' in the USA - Hot 100 Hits of the 80s

Thought-provoking dig into ‘American pop’s final golden decade’

Stars of 'Rockin' in the USA - Hot 100 Hits of the 80s': the manly Romantics

One marker arrived on 1 August 1981, when MTV began broadcasting. With its format based around screening pop videos, American radio had a competitor and would lose the edge it once had. And due to the lack of local product, a significant proportion of the videos seen by US TV viewers were British rather than American – America had some catching up to do if it is was going to compete with the UK’s dandified, polished and television-ready exports.

Another marker was the arrival of digital instruments, digital recording and – with the CD – digital playback. Vinyl hung in there but daft formats like the Walkman-friendly cassette single were destined for the dumper. Digital and sampling were where it was increasingly at and, to a still meaningful degree, the music business has not recovered from what it imprudently embraced without due thought. Once digital data was efficiently liberated from the disc, music could just-about be instantly sent anywhere. This is a significant legacy of the Eighties.

Rockin' In The USA Hot 100 Hits Of The 80sWhile there’s no doubt the Eighties was a decade of change for how popular music was created, marketed and consumed, there were also impacts on the music itself. Would the sell-savvy Bruce Springsteen have made a single like “Dancin’ in the Dark” without taking account of MTV? It featured Springsteen’s first use of a synth, was subjected to a dance remix and further promoted on MTV by a brisk video. Integral to one of its follow-up singles, “Born in the USA”, was a booming, gated drum sound which, when rendered digitally, became a sonic fingerprint of the 1980s. The combination of technological change and changes in the means of dissemination changed the music.

Springsteen does not appear on and is not missed from the compilation Rockin' in the USA - Hot 100 Hits of the 80s, a fascinating 23-track examination of what its strapline calls “American pop’s final golden decade”. Although that might be pushing it, the audacious statement has merit: what was in the near future would fragment pop to such a degree that no group of singles or songs would subsequently fully define an era, no matter how disparate they were. A track could encapsulate aspects of the Nineties but not the period’s whole ethos. Whether the Eighties was “American pop’s final golden decade” is a contention which can be endlessly debated.

Rockin' in the USA includes hits which are undoubtedly integral to America’s Eighties’ pop landscape. It kicks off with The Romantics’ Sixties-via-new wave cruncher “What I Like About You”, a brash single which, whatever its manly pep, could never have been a hit in the UK where it seemed anachronistic. We did, though, embrace Cyndi Lauper’s evocative “Time After Time”.

Rockin' In The USA Hot 100 Hits Of The 80s amy hollandTime has not been so kind to other familiar tracks, which include The Bangles’ now-exposed-as-slight “Walking Down Your Street”, Pat Benatar’s clunky, lumpy “Hit me With Your Best Shot”, and The Cars’ over-mannered “You Might Think”. The Go-Gos’ Terry Hall co-penned “Our Lips Are Sealed” sounds fine though. The compilation ends on a hurrah with the track which gives it its title: John Cougar Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.”

Less familiar tracks add to Rockin' in the USA’s talking-point status. Marshall Crenshaw’s “Someday, Someway” is a pop gem and Bruce Hornsby & The Range’s "The Valley Road" needs to be heard but Mr. Mister’s “Is it Love” and Face To Face’s “10-9-8” are not singles requiring reappraisal. Contrastingly, Amy Holland’s Doobie Brothers-related “How Do I Survive” is worth paying attention to, as is Daryl Hall & John Oates’ superb “Say It Isn't So”.

Mixed-bag is the compound adjective best defining the bold Rockin' in the USA. Which is, of course, what American pop was during the Eighties. There may be little to no hipster cred in teaming up Mr. Mister and Hall & Oates, but that is not what this compilation is about. Instead, it stresses that American pop was in flux during the Eighties.

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