Like, Omigod! The '80s Pop Culture Box (Totally)

Various Artists

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Like, Omigod! The '80s Pop Culture Box (Totally) Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Rock criticism has two schools of thought regarding the '80s. One complains that it was all crass, commercial crap, breathing a sigh of relief that we made it through that dreck (thanks to IRS, SST, jangle pop, college rock, and hardcore punk, of course). The other celebrates the album as "cheesy" fun, full of naïve, silly singles; bad haircuts; big synthesizers. It's a school intent on reducing it all as nostalgic fodder -- and whenever '80s music is written about in this fashion, it's always given ironic adjectives, straight out of the height of valley girl speak. All this ghettoizes an era in pop music that was rich in innovation, great one-hit wonders, oddities, and inexplicable flukes that make it a wonderful cross between the first days of the British Invasion and the peak of AM pop in the early '70s. It was the last great era for pop singles -- the last time that singles really mattered, the last time that something totally unexpected could capture the minds of the public, before radio consolidation meant hits couldn't build in a region, before MTV turned to non-music programming and cut off a national outlet for new music. Like, Omigod! It's the '80s Pop Culture Box (Totally) captures that era pretty well. Even if it occasionally succumbs to treating the decade's music as if it was nothing but silly ephemera (which, granted, some of it was -- but it was catchy, well-made silly ephemera), it does do a couple of things right: Namely, it relies on new wave, yet tempers it with soul, hip-hop, hard rock, and soft rock, while realizing that the prime period of the '80s was before 1985, and that the one-hit-wonders and spirit of new wave faded away after that. This box spends about five-and-a-half of its seven discs on that era, with the remaining disc-and-a-half having about a disc's worth of 1986-era hits before quickly wrapping it up as we approach the first Bush era and the height of superstar MTV (the years when only the big guys -- whether it was Michael Jackson, Madonna, Aerosmith, Don Henley, or Steve Winwood -- ruled the prime time MTV airwaves, and the network no longer had to rely on interesting, primarily British, oddities to fill time). That's a good thing, because that was the best time for pop music in the '80s, and this captures much of the giddy feel of that time. The main problem with the box is that its sheer size gives the impression that it's more definitive than it really is. Forget the complaints that there's nothing from critical favorites and heavy-hitters like Elvis Costello, Hüsker Dü, Joy Division, R.E.M., U2, Prince, Madonna, Springsteen, etc.; the real crime is that there are numerous great, definitive one-hit wonders and fluke breakthroughs by cult favorites missing. Dan Hartman's "I Can Dream About You," as good as any single released in the '80s, isn't here; there's nothing from Adam & the Ants, XTC, or the Violent Femmes; "Warm Leatherette" isn't here, nor is M's "Pop Muzik," "88 Lines about 44 Women," or "I Don't Like Mondays"; there's not a single from Squeeze, Split Enz, or the Jam; no "Someday, Someway," no "Mexican Radio," no "The Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades"; no "I Know What Boys Like" or "I Melt With You"; Peter Wolf's "Lights Out," never present on any '80s hits collection, isn't here; "The Safety Dance" is missing; no Flock of Seagulls or Baltimora. It's hard not to miss any of the above, once you realize they're not here, especially since apart from Joey Scarbury's "Theme From 'Greatest American Hero'" and a host of novelties that it would be better off leaving behind (Bob and Doug McKenzie, Billy Crystal's "You Look Mahvelous," Don Johnson's "Heartbeat" - it's a wonder Eddie Murphy's "Party All the Time" isn't here), there's nothing unexpected here (other than it's amazing that Rhino has finally managed to release an '80s collection without the Plimsouls' "A Million Miles Away."). Still, many great singles are here, there's diversity in the selection, and it's a fun listen, so many collectors may prefer this to Rhino's classic, new wave-centric Just Can't Get Enough series. Just don't think that it's the final word on the '80s -- there was too much great pop music for it to be contained on a mere seven discs.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Devo 02:39 Amazon
2 Buggles 03:27 Amazon
3 Meco 03:03 Amazon
4 Queen 03:34 Amazon
5 Kool & the Gang 03:43 Amazon
6 Kurtis Blow 04:09 Amazon
7 Pete Townshend 02:44 Amazon
8 Blondie 03:32 Amazon
9 REO Speedwagon 03:22 Amazon
10 The Vapors 03:44 Amazon
11 Air Supply 03:54 Amazon
12 Dolly Parton 02:46 Amazon
13 Eddie Rabbitt 03:10 Amazon
14 Christopher Cross 04:16 Amazon
15 Grover Washington, Jr. / Bill Withers 03:58 Amazon
16 Gary Numan 03:57 Amazon
17 Donnie Iris 03:43 Amazon
18 Franke & the Knockouts 03:49 Amazon
19 The Cars 03:34 Amazon
20 The Afternoon Delights 04:01 Amazon
21 Billy Squier 03:37 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Billy Idol 03:19 Amazon
2 Loverboy 03:41 Amazon
3 Rick Springfield 03:15 Amazon
4 Tom Tom Club 03:30 Amazon
5 J. Geils Band 03:38 Amazon
6 Billy Vera & the Beaters 04:14 Amazon
7 Quarterflash 03:37 Amazon
8 .38 Special 03:55 Amazon
9 Joey Scarbury 03:14 Amazon
10 Bob & Doug McKenzie 02:43 Amazon
11 Rick James 03:20 Amazon
12 Tommy Tutone 03:47 Amazon
13 Kim Carnes 03:45 Amazon
14 The Alan Parsons Project 04:32 Amazon
15 Laura Branigan 04:52 Amazon
16 Daryl Hall & John Oates 04:32 Amazon
17 Larry Carlton / Mike Post 03:14 Amazon
18 Frank Zappa / Moon Unit Zappa 03:48 Amazon
19 Trio 03:25 Amazon
20 The Gap Band 04:03 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Duran Duran 04:05 Amazon
2 ABC 03:31 Amazon
3 Soft Cell 02:42 Amazon
4 Stray Cats 02:40 Amazon
5 Thompson Twins 03:14 Amazon
6 Missing Persons 04:24 Amazon
7 The Human League 03:58 Amazon
8 Haircut 100 03:37 Amazon
9 Men at Work 03:43 Amazon
10 Joe Jackson 03:47 Amazon
11 Bow Wow Wow 02:46 Amazon
12 Dexys Midnight Runners 04:14 Amazon
13 Toni Basil 03:27 Amazon
14 Golden Earring 04:51 Amazon
15 Melissa Manchester 03:58 Amazon
16 Bertie Higgins 03:07 Amazon
17 Buckner & Garcia 03:55 Amazon
18 Bonnie Tyler 05:35 Amazon
19 Toto 04:19 Amazon
20 Scandal 03:47 Amazon
21 Taco 03:25 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 4

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Greg Kihn Band 03:47 Amazon
2 Thomas Dolby 03:42 Amazon
3 Eddy Grant 03:49 Amazon
4 Eurythmics 03:36 Amazon
5 Madness 03:23 Amazon
6 Martin Briley 03:30 Amazon
7 Cyndi Lauper 03:53 Amazon
8 The Romantics 03:57 Amazon
9 Peter Schilling 04:12 Amazon
10 Naked Eyes 03:41 Amazon
11 Big Country 03:55 Amazon
12 The Fixx 03:24 Amazon
13 After the Fire 04:08 Amazon
14 The Motels 03:42 Amazon
15 Culture Club 04:08 Amazon
16 The Cure 03:34 Amazon
17 Kajagoogoo 03:36 Amazon
18 Michael Sembello 04:11 Amazon
19 Night Ranger 04:21 Amazon
20 Quiet Riot 03:27 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 5

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Yes 03:51 Amazon
2 Styx 04:49 Amazon
3 The Pointer Sisters 03:50 Amazon
4 Pretenders 03:53 Amazon
5 Foreigner 05:00 Amazon
6 Corey Hart 03:54 Amazon
7 John Waite 04:02 Amazon
8 Nena 03:53 Amazon
9 General Public 03:31 Amazon
10 Tracey Ullman 03:01 Amazon
11 03:58 Amazon
12 Laid Back 03:53 Amazon
13 Shannon 04:31 Amazon
14 Deniece Williams 04:10 Amazon
15 New Edition 04:09 Amazon
16 Ray Parker, Jr. 04:00 Amazon
17 Kenny Loggins 03:44 Amazon
18 Twisted Sister 03:39 Amazon
19 Scorpions 04:12 Amazon
20 Sheila E. 03:42 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 6

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Animotion 03:58 Amazon
2 Tears for Fears 04:06 Amazon
3 a-ha 03:47 Amazon
4 Simple Minds 04:20 Amazon
5 Katrina and the Waves 03:59 Amazon
6 'Til Tuesday 04:23 Amazon
7 Oingo Boingo 03:49 Amazon
8 Dead or Alive 03:17 Amazon
9 Jan Hammer 02:27 Amazon
10 The Dream Academy 04:17 Amazon
11 Mr. Mister 04:15 Amazon
12 Paul Young 04:16 Amazon
13 Starship 04:56 Amazon
14 John Parr 04:10 Amazon
15 Robert Palmer 04:01 Amazon
16 Harold Faltermeyer 03:01 Amazon
17 DeBarge 03:54 Amazon
18 Billy Crystal 03:58 Amazon
19 Don Johnson 04:17 Amazon
20 Wang Chung 04:11 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 7

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
1 Bananarama 03:50 Amazon
2 Bangles 03:23 Amazon
3 Max Headroom / The Art of Noise 03:18 Amazon
4 Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark 04:26 Amazon
5 The Georgia Satellites 03:24 Amazon
6 INXS 03:35 Amazon
7 Run-D.M.C. 03:39 Amazon
8 Timex Social Club 03:33 Amazon
9 Crowded House 03:57 Amazon
10 Simply Red 04:12 Amazon
11 New Kids on the Block 03:57 Amazon
12 The Fabulous Thunderbirds 03:23 Amazon
13 The Outfield 04:13 Amazon
14 Debbie Gibson 03:52 Amazon
15 Rick Astley 03:32 Amazon
16 Los Lobos 02:54 Amazon
17 The Escape Club 04:06 Amazon
18 Bobby McFerrin 03:55 Amazon
19 Richard Marx 04:25 Amazon
20 The B-52s 04:04 Amazon
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