1984: A Probing Musical Retrospective

Categories: Fiesta!


5. Hip-hop Became Legit
1984 was a pivotal year in hip-hop, where the last strains of disco were truly quashed and the genre came into its own, sounding optimistically fresh and aggressively relevant. Run DMC's "Rock Box" became the first rap song played on MTV.

The trio of Jam Master Jay, Darryl McDaniels, and Joseph Simmons went a long way in helping the hip-hop album gain artistic credence. Their eponymous debut took rap out of the disco for good and more accurately reflected the streets from which it was born. Sparse beats and gritty rhymes were replacing the pop-funk words of Grandmaster Flash et al, and no longer would hip-hop merely be regarded an interesting novelty by the mainstream.

But there's more to '84 and hip-hop than this. UFTO released the influential "Roxanne, Roxanne" -- setting a negative trend for misogynistic narratives in rap (which admittedly seems much tamer than stuff that came later). However, the almost immediate response by Roxanne Shante with "Roxanne's Revenge" would open the door for female MCs to gain their own voice in the next few years -- MC Lyte, Salt N Pepa, and Queen Latifah were listening.

2 Live Crew released their It's Gotta Be Fresh EP late in 1984, laying a template for the Miami Bass sound, amplifying the voices of Liberty City and Overtown. Meanwhile, hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa collaborated with James Brown for the single "Unity" -- an acknowledgement of the genre's debt to the Godfather of Funk, and a relationship that would showcase Brown's "Funky Drummer" as the most sampled rhythmic break in the history of hip-hop.


4. Pop Music Was Awesome
Nostalgia. It's not what it used to be. However, over time, it has become clear how much pop rocked in 1984. A list of some of the standout Billboard hits from '84 include "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want To Have Fun", "The Reflex" by Duran Duran, Lionel Riche's "Hello" (nod to fantastic video too), and Wham's "Wake Me up Before You Go-Go." If pop is supposed to provide melodic escapism from the hum-drum of the ordinary then '84 was a vintage year.

Perhaps the most evocative pop track of the year was Frankie Goes To Hollywood's "Relax." Frankie was a Molotov cocktail of Liverpudlian sarcasm, hedonism and politics that briefly set the charts alight on both sides of the Atlantic, causing significant waves along the way.

Before the original release of "Relax" in Britain, ads appeared in the music press that featured images of openly gay band members Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford dressed in sailor hats, leather vests, and rubber gloves. A caption under the image read "All the Nice Boys Love Sea Men," followed by "Frankie Goes to Hollywood are coming... making Duran Duran lick the shit off their shoes... Nineteen inches that must be taken always."

Further controversy occurred when the song's sexually suggestive lyrics got the BBC in a tizzy and they banned it from its playlist. That did little to deter "Relax" from rising to the top of the charts. In the United States, the single gradually reached the Billboard Top 10, causing a brief stint of "Frankie-Mania" Stateside, perhaps best epitomized by the "Frankie Says Relax" slogan T-shirts of the day.


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