For some, the allure of the decade that gave us Adam Ant, Prince, Madonna and Wham! is just as fresh as the Jordache jeans they once wore while bouncing down the street to Loverboy’s ‘Working For The Weekend!’ But those well-known pop staples weren’t the only anthems that dominated the Walkmans of the world. The 80s was a decade defined by excess: from the frothiest pop to hair metal’s testosterone and the darker depths of post-punk. Dig deeper into the cassette racks of yesteryear and dust off some of the forgotten 80s bands who possessed equal, if not greater talent than the icons we all know and love today.
Here are eight forgotten 80s bands you need to hear.
Johnny Hates Jazz
If you don’t instantly start bopping your head the second you hear the drum and keyboard intro to ‘Shattered Dreams’ and its lament of lost love, then you better check your pulse. In many ways, this song epitomises the 80s. While Johnny Hates Jazz didn’t last long as a band, they did manage to hang on for the latter half of the decade.
In fact, Johnny Hates Jazz not only spawned the classic songs ‘My Foolish Heart’, ‘I Don’t Want To Be A Hero’ and ‘Turn Back the Clock’, they also helped to springboard the career of then burgeoning filmmaker David Fincher. When ‘Shattered Dreams’ needed a video to make a splash on the all-powerful MTV, the future director of Se7en and Zodiac stepped up to the plate. The video was seen multiple times a day by a public who just couldn’t get enough of frontman/songwriter Clark Datchler and guitarist Mike Nocito’s heart and soul.
Hear: ‘Shattered Dreams’
Fun Boy Three
Formed by Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Neville Staple, after they quit the immensely successful 2Tone ska band The Specials, the trio would take things in a poppier direction with their new group, Fun Boy Three. Their debut single, ‘The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)’, may have sprung from The Specials’ sound, but their successive singles – ‘The Telephone Always Rings’ and their biggest UK hit, ‘It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)’ (with backing from Bananarama) offered jangly pop hits that were slightly left of centre. Perhaps due to their uncategorical nature, the group lacked staying power, but their influence lives on through the members subsequent side projects, from Hall’s work with Gorillaz to Neville’s collaborative work with The (English) Beat’s Ranking Roger, Special Beat.
Hear: ‘It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It)’
Before Canada had Céline, they had Glass Tiger. Though some may remember them by their former moniker, Tokyo, by the time the Canadian rock outfit recorded their debut album, The Thin Red Line, they were using their new name. While Glass Tiger don’t enjoy the same enduring popularity as a Duran Duran, their 1986 debut album went quadruple-platinum in Canada, gold in the US, and produced two of the decade’s top hits, ‘Someday’ and ‘Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)’, the latter featuring backing vocals by Bryan Adams. Glass Tiger never became part of MTV’s regular rotation and, as a result, got lost in the shuffle of great 80s bands, but they were a true force of pop nature, putting Canada on the cultural map and paving the way for artists to come.
Hear: ‘Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)’
Diesel Park West
Many have speculated why Diesel Park West never took off. Despite being more critically adored than many 80s bands on this list, for whatever reason their unique blend of proto-Britpop and US Southern rock never caught on. Whether it was leaning heavily on guitar solos on ‘Like Princes Do’, the lead track off their 1989 debut, Shakespeare, Alabama, or relying on lilting, Beatles-inspired melodies for songs such as ‘All The Myths On Sunday’, they never shied away from their influences. When their sales faltered, the band disappeared for a spell, leaving the label to pull together a number of B-sides and lost recordings for the album Flipped. Luckily, time works in the listener’s favour and Diesel Park West’s stellar work is preserved for all to hear.
Hear: ‘Like Princes Do’
It’s difficult to explain how a band that routinely employed 80s -era gimmicks (almost to the point of musical parody) could be so timeless, but Transvision Vamp had one element that set them apart from other 80s bands on the punk-pop heap: lead singer Wendy James. Having rose to fame in the UK as a burgeoning icon of the party scene, the group wore their synthetic pop on their sleeve. As they sang on their single ‘Trash City’, “The rules are, there are no rules.” Transvision Vamp boldly embraced their synth-powered mix of sexual antics and rebellious sneer.
Hear: ‘I Want Your Love’
Fine Young Cannibals
One could turn on MTV at any time of day and catch the music video to Fine Young Cannibals’ ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ on constant repeat. Lead singer Roland Gift’s voice lent itself to the 80s’ zeitgeist by repeating the simple lyrics again and again, giving the world one of the most effective earworms of all time. The song dominated radio play, made him and the rest of the Birmingham trio (a crew put together by guitarist Dave Cox and bassist David Steele, formerly of The Beat) household names and sent their 1989 album, The Raw And The Cooked, to No.1 on the Billboard 200. With two smash singles on their hands, ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ and ‘Good Thing’, FYT were primed for stardom, but they were never able to conjure the same chart magic again.
Hear: ‘She Drives Me Crazy’
Age Of Chance
There’s a fine line between being hailed a musical pioneer and being too ahead of your time. Age Of Chance succumbed to the latter. The Leeds four-piece helped to break down the boundaries between house music and rock, and paved the way for 80s bands such as Pop Will Eat Itself and Carter USM. As early champions of sampling, the group first came to notice thanks to their reworking of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ for a John Peel session, followed by a cut-and-paste remix, ‘Kisspower’. The dance-rock crossover act then scored a deal with Virgin, and their 1987 debut album, One Thousand Years Of Trouble, curried favour with the music press. With a diverse set of influences – punk, hip-hop, industrial and Northern soul – Age Of Chance were also one of the first “rock” acts to include a DJ in their line-up. They never topped the charts in either England or the States, but their influence proved to be long lasting. It’s not difficult to understand their appeal – and if your head doesn’t get it, your body sure will.
Hear: ‘Don’t Get Mad… Get Even!’
Guitarist Jane Wiedlin made pop history when The Go-Go’s, became the first all-female rock band to top Billboard’s album charts, but her solo career is not as faithfully remembered. Her 1985 self-titled debut is bubbly pop laced with mature subject matter; while soft on the surface, it still manages to damn convention, with Wiedlin sporting a bright baggy suit on the cover. She may not have racked up hits like fellow Go-Go Belinda Carlisle, but her solo output still gave us the two should-have-been hits, ‘Modern Romance’ and ‘Blue Kiss’.
Hear: ‘Blue Kiss’
Follow the 80s Classic Hits playlist for more decade-defining tracks from classic 80s bands.