On occasion a memory from the past will trigger something in my brain and I’ll fall into a deeper hole of nostalgia. That’s been the case recently concerning summer music from the 1980s.

The trigger, this time, was two separate American Top 40s I listened to on recent Sundays.1 One was from 1984, and was loaded with Prince, Bruce, Tina, Cyndi and the Footloose soundtrack. That was one of the truly great summers ever, between some epic pop artists and the LA Olympics.

Two weeks later I heard one from 1982, this time an interesting mix of the Go-Gos, Men at Work, John Cougar and other artists I was listening to back then with others like Air Supply, America, and Elton John, all music that my mom was listening to at the time.

After much over-analysis of those songs and the memories they stirred, I decided 1982 was a hugely important musical year in my life. That was the year I officially transitioned away from most of my music being influenced by my mom and her friends to picking my own music. We still listened to a lot of the same music – another bonus of having a mother only 19 years older than me – but she was drifting away from the music of the 70s and into “lite rock” while I was discovering New Wave and harder rock. There was still a swath of mainstream pop music we both enjoyed: Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie were the most obvious examples. But ’82 was the year that common ground began to shrink rapidly and soon there would be almost no overlap in our tastes.

Which led to more over-analysis about the changes in radio over the past 30 years, most of which I’m sure I’ve written about before. While much of the music of the 1980s was pretty awful, historically speaking, it was still a golden age for pop radio. There just isn’t the variety of music represented in mainstream pop today that there was back then. Now it’s all dance/hip-hop derived music. In the 80s there was dance music, rock, all the New Wave artists, a dose of pop-country, and then the massive artists like Prince that defied easy labeling.

Was it better then? I think most people will argue the music of their pre-teen and teenage years was the best of their lives. I do think that common culture, represented by what Casey Kasim played on AT40, was better. You could go anywhere and people your age would have that common base to work from.

That said kids today have far more access to music than my generation did. They aren’t reliant on Casey or MTV to tell them what to listen to. They can go out and sample 1000 different bands from 100 different sub-genres and decide what they like on their own. They don’t have to sit and wait for the songs they like, they can get them whenever they want them.

What does it all mean? Hell, I don’t know. All I know is I’ve had these songs, and all the memories and feelings associated with them, bouncing in my head for the past few weeks. As much as I tried to find some meaning in them, I could not. So I figured maybe if I shared this experience, and overdose on 80s summer pop over the holiday weekend, I’ll be ready to start anew on Tuesday.

Happy Labor Day weekend, everyone.

  1. One of the local retro stations spins old AT40s every Sunday. I try to listen in a little each week.