Music Features

Dare: How 1979-1982 invented modern pop music

It may have taken time to get a little distance, but we can now all agree what a fantastic musical decade the 1980s was. Sure, there was the odd misstep, but if you think a flawless period exists, you’re either lying to yourself or incurably Panglossian. In fact, the 1980s’ influence was so strong and widespread that we now seem to be living through a 1980s revival that has lasted longer than the 1980s did the first time around.

Despite its clear importance, there is still often a certain degree of sniffiness from the UK music press when the topic of the 1980s comes up. It’s as if they still suspect that the only decent artist of the era was The Smiths, and everything else was vapid, yuppie-pop. From time to time, you’ll still come across a piece that takes delight at sticking the boot in the glossy sheen of Wham! or reducing Robert Smith of The Cure to a cartoonish figure who sings about monsters under the bed.

Record label boss and music critic David Laurie has no such qualms about nailing his colours to the mast and professing his love for all things ‘80s. His new book, Dare, focuses specifically on the extraordinarily fertile period from 1979 to 1982, and is subtitled, ‘How Bowie and Kraftwerk inspired the death of rock n’ roll and invented modern pop music’.

This book takes on greater significance following Bowie’s recent passing, and it’s fair to say that he’s the protagonist of the story. Laurie takes us on a tour of the musical landscape in the years after punk as electronic music worked its way into the mainstream. Bowie was the forefather here, and nearly every band who made waves during that period took inspiration from him in some way or another.

Laurie is clearly a music fan first and foremost, and his love for the era spills onto every page of Dare. Mind you, he has got a stellar supporting cast: it would be difficult to not be enthusiastic when writing about such magnificent pop stars as Adam Ant, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones and Martin Fry.

Because Laurie approaches much of his subject matter as an obsessive – surely something everyone reading this site can identify with – Dare regularly touches on his personal relationship with the music he’s writing about. It’s a potentially dangerous game, but one at which he largely succeeds thanks to his warmth, keenness and eye for detail. His ardour also has the happy corollary of shining a light on some oft-neglected figures from pop’s past; there are paragraphs dedicated to OMD and, in particular, their ambitious fourth album, Dazzle Ships, as well as such much-welcomed adoration for Stiff Records and Ian Dury.

On the other hand, Laurie seems to think being in love with one era means he has to forsake all others. He’s scathing about the production on Kanye West records (despite Kanye being arguably the most innovative artist currently working, as well as being influenced by Bowie) and there is snobbery and unnecessary digs needlessly peppered throughout the pages. Furthermore, there’s bizarre revisionism (the assertion that Kid A received a “pasting from the mainstream media” upon its release) and outlandish claims (on Associates’ Billy Mackenzie: “Aretha Franklin is about the only pop singer that bears mention in the same misty breath.”)

Still, the subject matter makes for an enjoyable read and any book that reveals the incredible trivia nugget that Chicory Tip’s Son of My Father and Donna Summer’s I Feel Love were produced with the same Moog will always be worth your time.

The invention and richness of 1979 to 1982 is well summed up by Laurie pointing out that a record as odd and outré as Japan’s Ghosts could be a top five hit. But Dare also launches headfirst into that extraordinarily inventive period and produces a well-informed fan’s eye view of what was going on and how it shapes the world we live in today. All done with the utmost of respect, sincerity and happily, no ironic distance between music and listener. It’s clear that Bowie and the rest will still be influencing the music we love for many years to come.