Everything I Do, pt. 12: The 80s ended slowly, then all at once [September 22, 1991]
Plus; Guns N' Roses, Rozalla, Simply Red, and Marc Almond
This week’s Number 1: ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ — Bryan Adams
When did the 80s actually end?
The 80s were not a time, but a mood. Behind all of the legwarmers and brick-sized cellphones, there was an atmosphere of intense Cold War-era aggression. We embraced the plastic futurism of consumer culture in defiance of both Communism and the impending threat of nuclear war.
America inspired this mood in us. American culture was a bright beacon that cast a shadow over everything else.
If you accept this thesis (the 80s was about Reaganite consumerism rejecting Communism) then you could argue that the 80s ended right on time.
The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989. On New Year’s Eve, David Hasselhoff—a man who could be described as the 80s made flesh—sang a massive concert at the tattered hem of the Iron Curtain.
Surely, this was the death of the 1980s.
But the Cold War didn’t end at that exact moment, and neither did the 80s.
Soviet Communism still took a few years to die. And the charts were filled with songs that bounced to the Day-Glo rhythm of the preceding decade, things, like ‘Ice Ice Baby’ and ‘Hangin’ Tough’ and the final spurts from the rapidly declining Stock, Aiken & Waterman stable.
And, of course, there was ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’.
(EID)IDIFY is an 80s song. It would have been a big hit in 1982. It would have been a monster global smash in 1987. It would have fit perfectly on a Whitesnake album.
But I think that the 80s died during Bryan Adams’ run at the top. Specifically, I think that the 80s ended this week, around September 22, 1991.
You see, this week also saw one of the biggest events in 90s music. This was the week that the global legion of Guns N’ Roses fans were rewarded for their patience with not one but two new albums: Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II.
I remember spending most of 1991 just vibrating with excitement for the new albums. A year before they came out, I had obtained a bootleg with demos of some of the new tracks, including ‘November Rain’. They sounded fucking awesome.
The records had a huge midnight release in the States, with half a million copies sold in two hours. Excitement was at an all-time high, and the consensus was that this new music would explode with the force of a thousand Appetite for Destructions.
And then we actually listened to it…
Okay, look, I know people really dig these records. I get it. And I spent months playing them on my walkman over and over, trying to force myself to love them.
I could not love them.
The problem was that Use Your Illusion I & II were not what we needed. We needed a gunshot, a supersonic boom that would snap us out of the 80s. A noise that would shake us and make us say, “yes, the world is changed now, we are somewhere new.”
There was also one other big problem with Use Your Illusion.
They came out one week before this:
We’ll talk about Nirvana and Nevermind later. The important thing for now is that Nirvana’s record instantly defined the mood of the new decade.
We heard Kurt being ironic, detached, angry, self-hating, inward-looking, sarcastic, hopeful, right-on, bored, loud, and thoughtful, and we decided to be these things too. The 90s had begun.
Meanwhile, in the shadow of Nevermind, Guns N’Roses sounded like a bunch of cranky old millionaires.
Poor old Bryan Adams never stood a chance in the face of this new wave. He had a great 90s in a financial sense, and he probably sold more records than Guns N’Roses and Nirvana combined, but none of those records were purchased by anyone under 30.
The under-appreciated 1994 comedy Airheads did a great job of capturing the slight sadness of this exact moment. Even though the band in the movie all look like different incarnations of Eddie Vedder, it’s really the story of an old-school rock band that wants to be heard one last time before the world moves on.
Elsewhere in the charts
Number 7 (↑ from 13): ‘Everybody’s Free’ — Rozalla
Zimbabwean singer Rozalla never had a hit quite as big as this mahoosive 90s dance anthem, but she’s still going strong on the nostalgia circuit. She played a nightclub in Shrewsbury just last month.
Incidentally, I saw this lineup for a nostalgia festival on Twitter and felt weirdly angry on her behalf. Rozalla after The Cheeky Girls? Both of them after Chico?!? The audacity!!
Number 11 (↑ from 16): ‘Something’s Got Me Started’ — Simply Red
Mick Hucknall was one of the easiest targets of the 90s on account of his being ginger and kind of a twat. I don’t want to resort to the same lazy jokes about him, and I’ll even admit that some of the early Simply Red stuff is not bad. ‘Money’s Too Tight To Mention’ is a vibe.
But Jesus, Mick, this is a boring song. It sounds like it was written to be played on a supermarket PA.
Number 24 (New Entery): ‘Jacky’ — Marc Almond
Jacques Brel’s songs have a weird history.
So, Brel himself performed and sang in French, earning himself a big following in places where French is spoken. But he wasn’t known in this part of the world until the late 60s, when some musical types put together an off-Broadway show called Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. The show featured 25 English translations of Brel songs.
It doesn’t end there. Scott Walker was a big fan of the show, and he included a bunch of covers in his solo albums. Not direct covers of Brel, mind you, but covers of the English translations from Jacques Brel is Alive and Well.
These are the versions that most people know. Marc Almond’s feisty version of ‘Jacky’ here is a cover of the Scott Walker version, which is a cover of the musical number, which is an interpretation of the original Brel.
Weirdest Brel cover version: Westlife’s bizarrely successful recording of ‘Seasons in the Sun’.
Number 32 (New Entery): ‘Live Your Life Be Free’ — Belinda Carlisle
Kind of a ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth (Part 2)’. Sequels are never as good.
Number 37 (New Entry): ‘Internal Exile’ — Fish
I know very little about Fish but I do know two things:
1) His fans are very passionate
2) They get super mad when you say, “yeah but ‘Kayleigh’ is his best song.”
This song has bagpipes and stuff. It’s no ‘Kayleigh’. Sorry.
Album of the Week
Use Your Illusion I — Guns N’Roses
We’ve already talked about this album as a cultural event (above), but let’s talk about the actual music for a second.
Use Your Illusion is not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination. There’s lots to like on both records. The problem is that almost every song is a B- or a B+, with not one coming close to the perfection of something like ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’.
With other bloated records like The White Album or Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, you can make a Spotify playlist of the ten best tracks and end up with one pretty good record. I don’t think you can do that here. The problems are structural. It’s flawed on a songwriting level.
Many of the tracks feel like rough drafts of the same idea. For example, ‘Back Off Bitch’, ‘Double-Talking Jive’ and ‘Don’t Damn Me’ are all variations on a concept, and all of them are fine but none of them absolutely nail it. As a result, instead of one great song, you end up with three songs that are all just okay. And that’s what’s wrong with Use Your Illusion.
For the record: Use Your Illusion I > Use Your Illusion II, but ‘November Rain’ > ‘Don’t Cry’.
What’s going to be Album of the Week? Believe it or not, it won’t be Nevermind.