Technology and the Music of the ’80s


It’s Monday morning. It’s 8:50AM. I’ve got the office door closed, my computer screens filled with work-related tasks to be completed, and my SONY Bluetooth speaker pumping out ’80s hits through Spotify. Suddenly, I’m distracted by the music. While it should be playing in the background setting an ambient atmosphere conducive to work-productivity, it’s instead taken up the entirety of my focus. Before long, I completely submit. A blank WORD document opens, and now I’m writing about what could arguably be the greatest decade of music…ever.

I’m a DJ by trade. Music grabs me differently than it does the average Joe, I think. Once it hits my ears, I immediately begin dissecting its parts from the whole, and compartmentalizing its pieces into my emotional storehouse. How does the beat affect my own heartbeat? How does the artist’s vocal presence sit inside the melody? Does the bassline—whether it’s Moog-keys or an actual bass guitar—resonate low enough in my eardrums and shake my happiness feelers? Are the pads airy and uplifting, or somber and depressing? Why am I just now noticing the bongos and congas sitting underneath the kick and snare, subtly but definitively driving the entire groove of the song? How was Michael Jackson’s vocal range so wide and emotion-stirring? What was it that made Eddie VanHalen god-like on the axe? These are some of the questions firing off in my mind constantly, while music is playing. It may sound like a lot to you, but it’s the process of how I enjoy music. I don’t just listen to it; I inhale it.

As a “Gen-X”er, I remember what it was like to hear music composed of 80 to 90% of live musicians and instruments in the studio. And then, technology began to make its presence known increasingly in the music of the ’70s into the ’80s. By the mid ’80s, synthesizers and electronic drum-kits had successfully invaded the different genres of modern music, the airways and the television. TR-808 drum machines became staple pieces of equipment in Hip Hop music, while electric guitars coupled with effects peddles dominated the rock scene. But it wasn’t just isolated to specific genres. Technology made its way into every genre of music (I’m thinking of Walter Murphy’s 1977 disco track “A Fifth of Beethoven”).

The music of the 80s was ambitious, creative, fresh and loud. RUN-D.M.C. partnered with Aerosmith to take rock/rap-fusion mainstream, with “Walk This Way.” Television shows like “Miami Vice” consistently showcased cutting edge music throughout their episodes. Rap music bogarted its way into previously shut doors within the industry and captured the inner-city and suburbs through the decade. And music took on a face, to influence culture and trends through television broadcasts like MTV and VH1 music-videos.

In 2023, pop music of the 1980s still lives and breathes on dancefloors and in countless playlists spanning generations. I find it fascinating that my Millennial and Gen-Z aged children still gravitate toward tracks produced decades ahead of their time, because the music had so much depth and heart infused. Technology, although prevalent in the decade’s music, was used to complement musical creativity; not stifle it. The lyrics of the decade’s songs carried weight and depth. Even the instrumentals were filled with breathing sounds creating sonically colorful scenes. I think everyone of every generation since the ’80s has at least one favorite song from that era. That’s a testament to the longevity of the decade’s musical-greatness.

So, those are my thoughts on technology and the music of the ’80s. What’s your opinion? Is there another decade you would choose over the ’80s for great music, and why? Let’s start the conversation.