[Today: Lost in fluff…]
I like my neighbors and I like free records, so I especially like it when my neighbors give me records. But I don’t like Air Supply. Over the weekend I experienced the intersection of all those things when one of my neighbors gave me a pile of old family LPs, including a lot of dusty funk like Con-Funk-Shun, Rufus & Chaka Kahn, The Spinners and The Isley Brothers. Unfortunately, the album my neighbor grabbed to throw on the turntable for demo purposes was Air Supply’s Greatest Hits. It was all done with a wink and a nudge, in a kitschy, laughing way, but it took me directly back to the utter hopelessness of music in the 80s.
It’s easy now to rewind the 80s and see bands like Run-DMC, Guns N’ Roses, The Pixies, The Smiths, and Prince, and fool yourself into thinking it was an interesting decade for music. In hindsight, it surely was. But the reality at the time was that all those hybrid strains of music that ended up making the decade look semi-appealing were treated like grotesque genetic mutations – punk, disco, country, metal and hip-hop were pushed to the margins of the music industry and operated like underground genres for at least the first half of the decade.
That was largely due to MTV, which changed the dynamic of music by making quick cuts and photogenic lead singers more important than good albums. It took Michael Jackson’s Thriller going nuclear to force the network into featuring black artists, and anything resembling true rebellion was consigned to late night or the rejection bin. While MTV was busy bleaching the life out of popular music, the Top 40 was filled with bands like Toto, Asia, Spandau Ballet and Air Supply. “I think MTV put a huge dent in the songwriting craft,” bemoaned singer/songwriter Christopher Cross, who was left behind by the new channel.
One listen to side one of Air Supply’s Greatest Hits is enough to bring back those hopeless days of yesteryear. This album is anchored by big hits like ‘Lost In Love’, ‘Making Love Out Of Nothing At All’ and ‘Even The Nights Are Better’ – songs so saccharin sweet they’ll turn you diabetic. This was released in 1983, a time when the FM dial was dominated by the likes of Bryan Adams, Lionel Richie, Huey Lewis & The News, Hall & Oates, Chicago, Loverboy, Night Ranger, Wham!, Kajagoogoo, Culture Club, Men At Work, and Cyndi Lauper. Motley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx, of all people, neatly summed up the way things worked: “The music industry [was] saying, ‘This is the format, and if you’ll fit into this format, you can be on the radio, and… MTV will expose you, [and] we’ll sell records.'”
Unless you were really digging into the alternative sides of music (a much more difficult proposition in a pre-Internet world) it was hard to see past the blinkered world of MTV and popular radio. 1983 also saw releases that hinted at the future, by artists like Tom Waits, Metallica, Minutemen, Peter Tosh, Motörhead, Minor Threat, New Order, XTC, Gang Of Four, Johnny Cash, X, The Jam, and Cocteau Twins. But to a kid in Springfield, OR, those albums may as well have been released on the moon. What I mostly heard was a lot of bands that sounded like Air Supply, making hits out of nothing at all.
My neighbor’s LPs have come to a good home and will be used and appreciated. But the only way Air Supply’s Greatest Hits will see any more action is when I turn it into a frisbee…