Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1985

by Benjamin Ray

Some music critics have cited 1985 as the worst musical year of the ‘80s – some say of the entire rock era – and they're not too far off. The midpoint of the decade saw the New Wave movement nearing its conclusion, and in its stead a host of New Wave influenced pop with horribly dated, cavernous, soulless songwriting rule the radio. Mainstream rock didn't have much to offer, but the alternative scene (as always) had several good albums and songs that would later prove influential on the next decade.

Among the bigger success stories of the year was Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms, a poppier take on the band's sound that netted several hits while poking fun at the MTV generation, and Phil Collins' awful No Jacket Required, a dumbed-down soul-free affair ("Sussudio"?) that made Genesis fans cry. Better was fellow Genesis alum Mike Rutherford, whose Mike + The Mechanics offered the moody pop of "Silent Running" and "All I Need Is A Miracle," and Tears For Fears' sophomore Songs From The Big Chair, an excellent, moody album that saw three big hits.


Mainstream rock had a few good songs, such as Robert Palmer's "Addicted To Love," U2's live take of "Bad," INXS' "What You Need," the Cult's Love and Eric Clapton's "Forever Man." John Fogerty also resurfaced with the hit Centerfield, no doubt inspired by the Americana leanings of Springsteen's Born In The U.S.A. Mick Jagger went solo with She's The Boss, Iron Maiden offered the superb Live After Death and Loverboy had "Lovin' Every Minute of It." Less interesting was Rush's Power Windows, ZZ Top's moribund Afterburner, Bryan Adams' "Summer Of '69" and John Mellencamp's pandering "Small Town." 

Stevie Ray Vaughan's Soul To Soul was a bit of a relief in these troubled times, but the album wasn't the shot in the arm that Texas Flood had been. James Brown briefly hit big with "Living in America," David Bowie offered a superb guest spot on the Pat Metheny Group's "This Is Not America" and Supertramp closed out its career (for a while) with Brother Where You Bound. Following the breakup of the Police, Sting released his solo Dream Of The Blue Turtles, a preachy affair ("Russians love their children, too") that nevertheless saw airplay and appealed, with its political sentiments, to college students. Also noteworthy was the Jesus and Mary Chain's noisy Psychocandy, Depeche Mode's "People Are People," Run-DMC's King Of Rock and the Talking Heads taking a step backward with Little Creatures.


Speaking of college rock, R.E.M. offered its third album, the melancholy low-key jangle pop of Fables Of The Reconstruction, which was something of a disappointment at the time but has since gained respect. The Smiths also had the fantastic "How Soon Is Now?" (from the otherwise blah Meat Is Murder), Prefab Sprout offered the little-heard Steve McQueen, Dinosaur Jr. had "Repulsion," Love & Rockets the lovely instrumental "Saudade" and Green River, a messy Stooges-esque band from Seattle, released "Swallow My Pride." Though nobody knew it at the time, this was the opening salvo in what would become grunge; the band's songwriters, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, would go on to form Mother Love Bone and, later, Pearl Jam.

But that is not what was on the radio. No, radio songs of this year included the Live Aid pastiche "We Are The World," "You Spin Me Round," "Rhythm Of The Night," "The Power Of Love," "Something About You," "Lay Your Hands On Me," "Axel F," "The Heat Is On," "Walking On Sunshine," "Raspberry Beret," "Smooth Operator," "Voices Carry," "Don't You Forget About Me," Tina Turner's pretty good "Private Dancer," "Rock Me Tonight," "Every Time You Go Away" and Simply Red's debut "Holding Back The Years."

Oh, it gets worse: this was the year of "We Built This City" (lame), "St. Elmo's Fire" (lame), "Broken Wings" (lame), Stevie Wonder's "Part-Time Lover," A-Ha's helium-voiced "Take On Me" and three songs by Wham. And, of course, this was the year Heart dropped the electric guitars and went all soft with "These Dreams" and "What About Love." At least Aretha Franklin attempted something better with "Freeway of Love."

And that, friends, was the Year That Was in music.

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