Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday 80s Flashback for January 28, 2011

Image Credit: Computer Costume from the 80s [Make]

[Theme: Hi-Tech Living and Loving] -- Last week's theme was so much fun that I decided to expand on it for this week. We now move from the concept of Better Living through Science to how exactly are people living with the latest tech? Although you probably cannot turn around without tripping over one today, computers only started to enter everyday life in the 80s. And for every person who was excited for the new possibilities that these devices represented, there was someone equally anxious about the rise and proliferation of computers and computer control. In today's digital age of Google, Facebook, and internet advertising, privacy and security top the lists of people's big concerns. But at the onset of the computer age, folks were worried about being replaced by a machine -- or even losing their very souls. Think about Tron (1982), WarGames (1983) and Electric Dreams (1984), all of which had plots featuring computers that seemingly, or actually, came to life and challenged their human creators for control. Issues of alienation, loneliness, and loss of control, however, are as relevant today as they were in the 80s. Now, I could have gone quite dark with this theme, but I am in a good mood this week so I kept the choices fairly light. I hope you appreciate this week's collection of toe-tappers about the human spirit interfacing with cold, logical machines. 

Read and hear more after the jump.

Flashback #1
"Do I have to spell it out? Don't you think I show it?"   You might not know our first Flashback artist unless you're either from around Pittsburgh or spent time in the area during the 70s or 80s. Donnie Iris -- Dominic Ierace to his parents -- may be in the mortgage business these days, but he is Pittsburgh's most famous rocker. Now, that might not carry quite the same distinction as being the most famous rocker to come out of, say, Detroit or Philadelphia, but it's something. As a rocker, Donnie Iris had three things going for him: the nerd appeal of a Buddy Holly or Elvis Costello, a great sense of humor, and one of the most melodic screams in rock & roll. All three were on full display on his fourth solo album, Fortune 410 (1983). That album's single is our first flashback, and I chose it for its coy mix of computer logic and human emotion as well as for the promotional use of an Atari home computer in the music video. We're so used to product placement in movies and television that a music video featuring a new computer system (well, new in 1983) may not seem all that surprising at first. But in the early 80s, it was rare for a well-known company to invest in an artist's music in this way -- particularly an artist who didn't necessarily have national appeal. Maybe Atari was banking on Iris' nerdy glasses to help push them from gaming systems into home computer sales. Maybe Donnie knew someone in their marketing department. Whatever the reason, take a look at the video for "Do You Compute?" and see if you can recognize the Atari 1200XL. Why did this guy, who could crank out a tune like this and get Atari in his corner, not expand his audience farther outside of Western PA?

Flashback #2
"I sit so snug and isolated alone in the modern world."   Our second Flashback artist this week experienced limited musical success in the 70s before embarking on an acting career. While portraying Dr. Noah Drake on the popular soap opera, General Hospital, he took another stab at being a rock star and became one of the most popular artists of the 80s. His first two 80s releases had a decidedly guitar-oriented sound, but he layered more keyboard and drum machine work into the songs on his 1983 release, Living in Oz. The addition of those electronics combined with the lyrical content make this next song a perfect choice for this week's theme. More than any other song in 1983, or possibly the whole decade, "Human Touch" reflects the frustration over the lack of connection to fellow human beings in the face of increased technological options for, ironically, communication. Try to remember that serious message even as you watch this silly video featuring the background dancers from "Buck Rogers: The Musical." (OK, there was no such musical. But if there had been, these dancers would have been a part of it!)

Flashback #3"There's panic on the switchboards, tongues are tied in knots  |  Some come out in sympathy, some come out in spots."   I'm sure most folks know Dire Straits for 1978's jangly "Sultans of Swing" or 1985's slick "Money for Nothing." But sandwiched between those two releases is our third flashback of the day. The music is upbeat and the lyrics are somewhat humorous, but this song deals with an unhappy subject: The decline of the manufacturing industry that Western nations were experiencing in the 80s and that continues to resonate through the global economy today. "Industrial Disease" here is cited as both an actual malady as well as the labor force's reaction to media-hyped corporate shenanigans. In the wake of the dot-com bubble and the financial meltdown, this tune still seems downright fresh today. Let's face it: The specific industry focus may change, but the actions of corporate big wigs are relative from decade to decade.

If you recall the rule of three, then you know that third video marks the end of this week's flashback, 80s-philes. See you next Friday for another set of songs and a pocket full of memories.

1 comment:

Brandon Johnston said...

haha, Nice! and wouldn't you know I knew 2 of these- The Springfield and Dire Straits tunes. But I'm downloading the Donnie Iris as we speak. Now my nerdy anthem playlist is one song closer to complete. :D Good post.