Even traditional rock bands were known to incorporate keyboards into their music, live performances, and music videos.
New wave bands, however, were totally tied to the synthesizer without exception. This sound was present in the majority of 80s songs. Soft Cell’s hit popsynth ditty, “Tainted Love,” completely embraced the new wave synth sounds that were raging across the culture.
The electronic sound of the synthesizer combined with the driving BIM-BIM, whip-cracking beat and love-takes-no-prisoners lyrics made “Tainted Love” an enormous success, perhaps the greatest one-hit wonder of the 80s – and the 80s were, like, totally packed with awesome one-hit wonders.
Composed by Ed Cobb and originally recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964, “Tainted Love” found worldwide appeal when Soft Cell recorded it in 1981. Since then, it has been covered and sampled by countless groups and artists, including a Marilyn Manson version and a sample in Rhianna’s 2006 song “SOS.”
However, the song remains a testament to 80s music. It soared to the top of the UK charts and was soon released in the U.S., where, although it took 19 weeks to hit the top 40, it spent 43 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.
The B-side of the single was another cover song, the Supremes’ Motown classic “Where Did Our Love Go?” There was also a popular remix of “Tainted Love,” which included a brief interlude of the B-side. Remixes were standard fare for 80s songs, and longer versions of new wave songs were totally popular in clubs.
80s Music Video: Tainted Love
There were several music videos created for “Tainted Love.” One featured Soft Cell’s Marc Almond and David Ball in an ancient Greek setting. Another shows Ball haunted by starry apparitions interspersed with images of Almond singing against a night-sky backdrop.
Check it out:
The song’s videos were not among the most memorable or heavily featured 80s songs on MTV. However, radio stations played the heck out of it, cementing it firmly among the pillars of 80s music.
80s Songs and One-Hit Wonders
Soft Cell was just one of many bands who lucked out when their 80s songs became worldwide phenomena. One-hit wonders were standard for 80s music, and while most musicians prefer a long, steady career, these fly-by hits catapulted songs like “Tainted Love” to fame and earned songwriters, producers, and performers a pretty penny.
Tainted Love remains one of the most important 80s songs. It helped define 80s music and its popularity continues through cover versions and sampling.
They were a totally cute 80s fashion, but they made your feet sweaty and smelly. The plastic broke easily, and that meant you were always begging your mom to take you to the store to get a new pair. Yeah, they came in lots of colors and a few different styles. But out of all the trendy 80s shoes, we hated wearing jelly shoes the most — even if we did go through a gazillion pairs of them.
Stinky Plastic 80s Fashion
Why would anyone want to stick their bare feet into plastic shoes? Okay, so some people may have worn them with socks, which was, like, fashionably questionable (at best), but what did we think was so stylish about stinky feet? And believe me, no 80s fashion smelled worse (except maybe Aqua Net hairspray). I remember sitting around the house, wondering what’s that foul odor? — only to discover it was coming from my own jelly shoes! It was totally disgusting!
But 80s Shoes Had to Be Cute
But they were soooo cute! And when it comes to fashion, it’s all about aesthetics. They make your feet smell? So what? They look awesome! Women have been wearing uncomfortable shoes for decades… centuries even, and 80s shoes were no different.
All of my jelly shoes were made mostly out of soft plastic, but the back piece was hard and it used to give me blisters — blisters that hurt! The plastic along the sides of the shoes was always breaking. Did I mention they were cheap? You could get a pair for under five dollars, which was a good thing since I always had to replace mine.
But on the playground, jelly shoes totally ruled. I remember all too well how much all the girls thought jelly shoes were the greatest 80s fashion ever. We flaunted them, and for about a season, we gave them top honor among all our other 80s shoes. But alas, the love we had for our jelly shoes did not last (thank goodness).
Rest in Peace, Jelly Shoes
I’m sure all my old jelly shoes are in a landfill somewhere, stubbornly NOT decomposing. This is one 80s fashion that I’m glad has been laid to rest and one pair of 80s shoes that I hope never comes back into style.
Good riddance jelly shoes!
80s hair had to be grandiose. Heck, what wasn’t big in the 80s? We doused our locks with Aqua-Net until our hair was thick and sticky. But at least our hairstyle was securely fixed. No wind could knock down that 80s hair!
But we didn’t always have time to tease our hair. Some styles took hours to master and involved wrangling with styling mousse, gel, a hairdryer, a curling iron, a crimping iron, and that unwieldy can of Aqua-Net.
When you had to run out the door, a ponytail was your only option. But it was the 80s, so if you couldn’t find your banana clip, you probably went with a side ponytail.
Quirky 80s Fashion
In the 80s, we just had to be different. We had to be bold. Everything was an overstatement. Our 80s fashion was no exception and neither was our 80s hair.
Hairstyles come and go, and in the 80s, styles came and went pretty quickly. The most popular 80s fashion, the one you totally HAD to have, was one you wouldn’t be caught dead in six months later.
It was like – one day you had to have pair of jelly shoes to be cool. Anyone who was anyone had a pair (or twenty pairs) of jelly shoes. But just a few months later, anyone caught wearing a pair of jelly shoes would be ostracised. Lame, I know, but all 80s fashion was like that, especially 80s hair.
80s hair styles went in and out. You changed your hair about as often as you changed your underwear, so like, every day basically.
One day it was feathered, the next day it was teased up to the sky. A week later, you slicked it back, and a month after that you pulled it up into a ponytail.
If it was the 80s, maybe you secured your ponytail with a scrunchy or a banana clip. More likely, you swept it up into a side ponytail.
The Side Ponytail
Ponytails have always been popular. They’re fast and easy. They get annoying strands of hair out of your face and neatly pulled back where they’re, like, out of your way.
Anyone with hair past the chin can appreciate a simple ponytial. But you had to be a child of the 80s to appreciate the side ponytail.
80s hair came in many different styles and colors. The side ponytail could be teased up into a puff of curls, or it could hang loose. You could secure it with an old-fashioned rubber band, a scrunchy, or even a banana clip (more on those later).
It was all a part of 80s fashion – the shoes, the clothes, the accessories, and the hair. The side ponytail was a fast fix that kept your style current (trendy) and marked you as an 80s fashion pro.
80s hair and 80s fashion went through many fads and phases throughout the decade. The side ponytail was just one popular hairstyle. But there were many others. And we’ll totally be talking about those in future articles.
As a kid growing up in the 80s, I wore my leg warmers out.
Leg warmers could be found just about anywhere. They were wearing them on TV, in the movies, and even in schoolyards. As far as 80s accessories go, leg warmers were about as rad as it got.
You Wanted Leg Warmers
You wanted as many pairs of leg warmers as possible. If you were lucky, you had a pair for every outfit. Or at least each pair of shoes. They rounded out your big awesome collection of essential 80s accessories because they went with just about everything.
You could wear them to school, to a friend’s house, out on the town. And of course, you could totally wear them to aerobics class. Oh yes, aerobics were big in the 80s. Everyone was trying to be a Solid Gold dancer and you couldn’t do that without a solid collection of leg warmers and some wicked awesome dance moves.
The funny thing was that leg warmers weren’t that easy to find, even though they were like the most popular of all 80s accessories. You totally had to search if you wanted to build up a tubular collection of leg warmers. Sure, you could get them at dance wear shops, but those ones were usually plain and boring. You could find wilder patterns and colors of leg warmers at departments stores. And that was, like, way before the internet. So you for sure couldn’t buy them online.
80s Fashion and the Decade of Dance
If there was one running theme in 80s fashion, it was BIG. Everything was oversized and bold. If there was a second theme, it was dance. The 80s sparked a whole new dance craze that leaked into 80s fashion, and the 80s accessories were no exception.
We used to wear leotards, like, every day. Yes, you pulled your jeans on right over your leotards and then pulled your leg warmers on over your jeans. Other 80s accessories inspired by dance wear were the off-the-shoulder cutoff sweatshirt and the sweatbands that we wore as stylish headbands, ala Olivia Newton John’s song and music video, “Physical.”
But when it came to the marriage of dance and fashion, not one of the 80s accessories could beat out leg warmers.
80s Accessories and Leg Warmers Layered
Most 80s accessories that came from dance style were altered for everyday wear. You didn’t actually wear a sweatband on your head. No. You used a ribbon or a piece of scrap material. I used to cut up old t-shirts. Even the leotards you wore out and about weren’t the same ones you actually wore to aerobics.
But not leg warmers. You bought them and wore them just as they were. And you layered them too. You totally layered everything in the 80s.
We layered shirts, tights, pants, and socks. We would’ve layered shoes if we could’ve found a way to do it and lord knows, somebody probably did. Leg warmers were totally perfect for layering, especially with some bitchen neon socks and two different colored sneakers.
Love That 80s Fashion
We slid them on over our pants and under our skirts. Sometimes we tucked them into our socks. Other times, we rolled them down over our boots. Leg warmers were an 80s fashion necessity. And they make little comebacks every now and then. Which is a good thing. For sure.
Look around and you’ll occasionally see someone rocking leg warmers. Just go to any dance studio and you’ll find them. Lately, they’ve been popping up as a retro trend. You better go find yourself a pair.
But no matter who’s wearing them now, to those of us who grew up in the most bodacious decade ever, leg warmers will always belong to 80s fashion.
We didn’t worry about ingesting chemicals or eating processed foods. We just gobbled down whatever was tasty. If we wanted the news, we either tuned in to the local television network or we picked up a newspaper.
We didn’t have personal computers and smart phones. The closest thing to Twitter was the water cooler in your office or the jungle gym on your school’s playground. Yes, to discuss what was going on in the world, we actually had to talk to people in person. When we missed our favorite TV shows, we were just plain screwed. There was no Tivo, no Hulu, and no iTunes. Read more
Who was born in 1988? Who died? What events impacted society and shaped the world as we know it today? Did we make any important advances?
This installment of the 80s timeline focuses on 1988. Read more
The Dukes of Hazzard was just one of many 80s tv shows that were based on movies. It was inspired by the 1975 film Moonrunners, also created by Gy Waldron, who took many concepts and characters from his original creation.
Our heroes are two all-American cutie-pie cousins named Bo and Luke Duke. Sometimes, their cousin Daisy Duke gets in on their adventures. These two fellas hightail around Hazzard County (Georgia) stirring up trouble in their muscle car, which is a customized 1969 Dodge Charger christened the General Lee.
The Duke boys’ main objective is to thwart the county commissioner, Boss Hogg and his half-witted cohort, the country sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane. They get a lot of help from their wise old Uncle Jesse, who’s not a big fan of the law. Read more
Before we all knew it, parents were scratching each others’ eyeballs out trying to grab the last one, because the stores kept running out. Nobody could keep them in stock. And at Christmastime, it was every collector for herself.
Cabbage Patch Kids literally swept the nation back in the 80s. Today, they’re just another toy on the shelf, but they were the reigning kings and queens of 80s toys just a couple of decades ago.
80s Toys and Trends
In the 80s, toys and trends had consumers running to the nearest department stores in a perpetual state of frenzy. Every week, it was something new — the Rubik’s Cube, Atari, and Cabbage Patch Kids.
If any decade knew how to bring out the inner child in every adult, it was the 80s. Because these trendy toys and games weren’t just for kids. The grown-ups got in on the action. Those Rubik’s cubes graced plenty of office desks. Parents sat in line right behind their kids to get a turn on the Atari. And yes, even the matronly ladies who didn’t know what leg warmers were had crazy Cabbage Patch collections.
Because in the 80s, you didn’t just buy something and enjoy it. You had to buy lots of somethings. Lots of the same thing, only slightly different: Rubik’s cubes in different sizes and colors, every new model of Atari along with all the games you could play on it, and as many of those squash-faced baby dolls as you could get your hands on.
Cabbage Patch Kids
At first, they were butt ugly. People were simultaneously put off and enchanted by their squished faces. Oh, and the strange fact that they claimed to have literally been seeded, sprouted, and grown from an actual patch of cabbage. That made them even weirder and more alluring. They even came with adoption papers.
In terms of 80s toys, I remember Cabbage Patch Kids being the biggest craze. Atari was huge too, but people weren’t assaulting one another in toy stores to get an Atari. Cabbage Patch Kids, on the other hand, well, let’s just say I’m surprised it never escalated into an old-lady riot.
In my memory, it wasn’t unusual for grown-ups to play with 80s toys. But games like Atari or puzzles like Rubik’s Cube are pretty age-neutral. What were all those grannies doing lining up for three blocks to get one Cabbage Patch Doll for each of their granddaughters plus five for themselves?
It was an odd phenomenon. Exactly the kind that could only happen in the 80s.
Today, these silly dolls go for $199 apiece (and again — you don’t buy them — you adopt them), so if you want to add one to your family, go ahead and get one at cabbagepatchkids.com.
80s slang was downright viral. Most of the popular verbiage of the decade faded before the 90s really got rolling, but a few favorite words have stuck around and followed us right into the new millennium.
“Awesome” is one of those words. And why shouldn’t it be? Unlike the weirdly popular “bad,” which actually meant “good,” “awesome” was accurate. It honored its definition. And it rolled off the tongue quite nicely, especially when preceded by the other most popular word of the decade — totally (as in: totally awesome!).
Best of all, it was a versatile word that you could use to stress the greatness of just about anything: awesome shoes, awesome song, awesome time, awesome decade (that would be the 80s, people).
80s Slang Overload
In the 80s, slang was rampant. Long strings of adjectives made the decade unusually rich with unnecessary verbiage: Oh my god, I like totally have to get that way awesome new song by Madonna, like right now, dude. Fer sure.
Naturally, the big proponents of the crazy slang were the kids. Without teenagers, 80s slang would been practically nonexistent.
But why? Why did kids suddenly take over the language and remake it to their own, hormone- and angst-ridden purposes? My theory is that this was a side effect of another 80s trend, which was in film making. In the 80s, producers started to see the teen crowd as a lucrative audience. To boost business, they made more movies for this particular audience, and peppered the dialog appropriately. You know, so the kids would totally understand the awesome characters and, like, relate to them.
I’m not going to get all crazy and whip out the Oxford English dictionary, but it’s worth taking a look at what “awesome” means. Here’s what dictionary.com says:
During the first half of the 80s, he was busy bumping hips with Wham! mate Andrew Ridgeley. But he spent the second half of the decade basking in the solo spotlight and earning a seat among the best and most admired (lusted after) 80s singers.
George Michael had swagger, he had style. He had a crooning voice full of passion. And he had a totally tight ass.
80s music gave us plenty of voices, but none were as smooth, sexy, or vulnerable as George Michael’s. Whether he was be-bopping a Wham! ditty or warbling a heart-wrenching solo love song, his vocal prowess stopped you in your tracks. He made you dance, smile, cry, and laugh at love. To put it simply: he made you feel.
80s Singers: Style or Substance?
In the 80s, singers often danced around their own voices. In fact, you didn’t have to have great vocal abilities (a sad fact that’s even truer today) to be a hit singer in the 80s. Marketing experts mastered the art of convincing listeners that the way singers looked was even more important than the way they sounded, and video… well it went and killed the old radio star.
But George Michael had the whole package. He could hit the high notes and he looked pretty tasty while he was doing it. He showed the world of 80s music that listeners still appreciated real talent, as long as it was packaged in a pair of tight jeans topped up with a sexy leather jacket.
In a decade that preferred style over substance, George Michael gave people both. He had it all.
George Michael’s 80s Music
George Michael first came to the public’s attention as one half of the British pop duo, Wham!. These two 80s singers formed their little band in 1981 and promptly put out the album Fantastic, which included several hit 80s songs, including “Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do).”
In 1984, with their release of the album Make it Big, Wham! became a worldwide 80s music sensation and the boys suddenly found themselves plastered on the walls of suburban teenage girls’ bedrooms here and across the pond. Hit songs from Make it Big included “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “Freedom,” “Everything She Wants,” and “Careless Whisper,” a single that marked George Michael’s first solo effort.
After becoming the first Western pop music act to tour China in 1985, Wham! released their final album, Music From the Edge of Heaven, which featured a second solo single by George Michael, “A Different Corner.” The die was cast and Michael’s solo career took off. Wham! officially split in 1986, saying goodbye to their fans by releasing a compilation album titled The Final.
Tired of playing to screaming female teens who were more interested in collecting pin-ups and having sexual fantasies about him, George Michael shifted his focus to a more sophisticated sound and officially kicked off his solo career in 1987 by recording a duet with music icon Aretha Franklin. “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” became a number one hit on both the UK Singles Chart and the Billboard Hot 100. Together, Michael and Franklin won a Grammy in 1988 for Best R&B Performance (Duo or Group with Vocal), beating out several other 80s singers.
It was the fall of 1987 when George Michael released his first solo full-length album, Faith. He wrote and produced all of the tracks except for one (which he co-wrote) and played numerous instruments on the recording. But before the album came out, the first single hit the airwaves.
You Want My What?
“I Want Your Sex” came out in the summer of 1987, and I remember it clearly. Everybody loved the song because it was so dirty. The rockers loved it, the hip hop crowd loved it. Hey, everybody wants the same thing, and George Michael just decided to go and sing about it.
As a reward for his honesty, George Michael got banned. Some radio stations wouldn’t play “I Want Your Sex,” although there was plenty of other 80s music that was just as racy, even if it was more subtle about it. Other stations opted for a toned-down version that replaced “sex” with “love” (as if they’re the same thing!). MTV only played the video late at night, proving that they weren’t as cutting edge as they had been just a few, short years earlier (hell, they played “Like a Virgin” all day, every day, practically 24 hours a day! MTV never turned their backs on 80s singers Madonna or Cyndi Lauper, did they? Wait… did they?). Casey Kasem suddenly started acting like an old geyser; he refused to say the song’s title and instead introduced it as “the new single by George Michael.”
People can be so totally lame.
George Michael decided to step forth and defend his poetry. He recorded a brief introduction for the video in which he said: “This song is not about casual sex.” Well, listeners didn’t care what kind of sex it was about. They wanted the song just as much as they wanted the sex. And they got it. “I Want Your Sex” hit number two on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in August, 1987. And it stayed in the top ten for six weeks. That sure showed all the prudes out there what’s what.
You Gotta Have It
The second single, “Faith,” went on to become even more popular than the sex song, if you can believe that. This was probably mostly due to Mr. Michael shaking his booty up close to the camera in a pair of nice, tight Levi’s. Now it wasn’t just the teen chicks who wanted to touch his body (I know, not everybody). The MILFs and the grannies, they all wanted a piece of his action too. The single hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100, cementing Michael as one of the most popular 80s singers of the decade.
The album itself spent a grand total of 51 (non-consecutive) weeks on the Billboard 200 Top 10, including 12 weeks at number 1. Three more number one hits followed: “Father Figure,” “One More Try,” and “Monkey.” Eventually, the whole album went diamond by selling over 10 million copies in the US.
Hit the Road
I was lucky enough to see George Michael shake his groove thing during his 1988 Faith tour. Let me tell you something: the man can sing. I like to joke about what a hottie he is, but his music ability is totally something to be reckoned with. He’s right up there with Freddy Mercury. Sure it’s pop music, but it’s sweet and soulful and heck, it’s downright sexy. I still have my ticket stub and my concert booklet, and I remember dancing in the grass with my friends as this man’s amazing voice boomed around us. Good times. Good times, indeed.