The Mid-80s were a Musical Wasteland

Lexxi Foxx from Steel Panther at Nova Rock 2014

Maybe it was all the AquaNet, excessive amounts of eyeliner and entirely too much spandex, resulting in oxygen deprivation to the brains of a solid years’ worth of musical composition. Or maybe it was all flash and no substance.

Either way, new research examining some 17,000 songs that registered on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart not only identified three musical revolutions, in 1964, 1983 and 1991, but determined that the songs of 1986 were… well, boring.

Loud guitars were popular in songs that charted in the late 1960s and had a resurgence in 1985 or, as Dr. Matthias Mauch, a researcher from Queen Mary University of London, told the BBC, “A lot of hair metal and stadium rock, like Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, came into the charts, and they had a bigger share of the overall charts,” compared with other genres of music. If you didn’t sound like a hair band, there wasn’t much interest in you on the radio. Different was over.

Hair metal choked out most other forms of musical expression, according to the paper, published in Royal Society Open Science. The songs considered the biggest hits all sounded kind of the same, and things went stagnant, until the late 1980s and early 1990s, when rap took over.

“The study showed that pop music was at its most boring in 1986, when the rise of drum machines and synthesizers led to many similar sounding songs,” Professor Armand Leroi of Imperial College told the UK Daily Mail. “Everybody imagines that there was a golden age of music once — and it is usually when they were about 17. We found that music stays pretty much constant in terms of its diversity, except in the 1980s when it took a dive…Suddenly everyone was using [synthesizers and drum machines], and everybody sounded like Duran Duran.”



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