THE 80’s Song
Imagine if you will, a time capsule. Inside there is one object: a flash drive with only one thing on it: one song that represents the entirety of the 1980’s. One single song that encapsulates a decade.
What song is it?
Yes, there were many, many thousands of songs that were recorded and released in the 1980’s. It’s easy to come up with a list of at least 100 songs off the top of your head that might be strong contenders for this answer. But, like Highlander, there can be only one.
By now, if you lived through your formative years in the Spandex Decade as I did, you probably have your answer already. But, in the words of Lloyd Dobler, I’ve thought about this quite a bit.
It could be “Take On Me”, but it’s not. Nor is it “Thriller”, “Sledgehammer”, or “Money For Nothing”. All are more landmark video icons than great songs. It’s not even “Don’t Stop Believing” — this isn’t a look at top karaoke songs. What about “Every Breath You Take”? Hey! “Livin’ on a Prayer” is a great 80’s song!
All are good choices as 80’s songs. But not the choice.
The song that you’re searching for, the song that checks the most boxes, is…
“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds.
Consider these things:
“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was rejected at first by Simple Minds. They only wanted to record their own material, and that song was written by someone else . It didn’t matter to them that it was written specifically for them with them in mind — and that one of the writers had already won an Oscar for Flashdance. So it was offered to Bryan Ferry (of Roxy Music), who turned it down. Then to Corey Hart (“Sunglasses At NIght” isn’t the song, either? C’mon!). Cy Curnin of The Fixx (with their own contender, “One Thing Leads To Another”) also said no. As did Billy Idol.
It was only after Chrissy Hynde, herself 80’s royalty as leader of the Pretenders (and wife of Simple MInds singer Jim Kerr), encouraged them to reconsider that they took on the song. Kerr added the “la-la-la-la’s” to make it his own.
Musically, the song itself has so many hallmarks of the 80’s sound — the snappy, solid snare drum downbeat, haunting synth and keyboards carrying through the song, and especially that galloping, Duran Duran-esque sixteenth-note bassline that holds it all together. The only thing missing was a guest Eddie Van Halen guitar solo.
But what completes the circle and makes it THE 80’s song is as the anthem of “The Breakfast Club” from the paragon of the coming-of-age in the decade, John Hughes. Hughes’ movies are synonymous with the 80’s, and “The Breakfast Club” might have been his symbolic masterwork. The movie was all about figuring out who you are and where you might belong in the world. Hallmarks of the entire Gen X gestalt. In 2013, Molly Ringwald herself released an album of standards and included a genuine Brat-Pack fronted cover version of the song as a tribute to Hughes.
The irony is that the “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” demographic of Gen X today is often overlooked, sandwiched invisibly between the Baby Boomers and Millennials. So much so that it’s now sometimes known as the “Forgotten Generation”. Yet for those of us who spent our formative disenfranchised years in the 80’s we all know who we are now. We are all a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.
So will you recognize me? Call my name or walk on by? It probably doesn’t matter anymore. Our minds are far from simple now.
But what is simple is that you won’t do is think of anything else but the 1980s when you hear that song. The decade will envelop you as you sing along with “la-la-la-la” and raise your fist to the one singular song that more than any other speaks for a decade.
So, do you agree? Hit me with your best shot. Or, how about a “Song for a Decade” from another one — the Sixties, Seventies, what about them? Is there a “one song” for those as well? Let me know!