Twenty-five years ago I was an oddity with too much Sun-In in my hair going to a grade school just over 20 miles outside New York City. My twin brother and I had a paper route to help finance our budding record collection, which consisted of The Pointer Sisters, Pat Benatar and Prince. My favorites were Eurythmics and Boy George. During a trip into the city, I remember buying a Culture Club book, but the one with the most pictures of back-up singer Helen Terry.
Even though a quarter of a century has passed, trends remain constant, as does my fondness of music from the Reagan era.
My poor parents could not distinguish between the chirps of Cyndi Lauper, Tracy Ullman, Pia Zadora or Madonna. Two iconic vocalists debuted in 1985, as both Whitney Houston's "You Give Good Love" and Sade's "Smooth Operator" proved to be breakout hits.
Madonna was at her prime, chalking up her second number one with "Crazy for You" and igniting the dance floor with "Into the Groove," "Dress You Up" and "Gambler." During her Live Aid performance, a brunette Madonna made a quip about the nudes from her salad days surfacing in Playboy and Penthouse. At the sold-out Virgin Tour, Madonna wannabes showed up decked out in lace, ribbons and rubber bracelets. I had flashbacks to this upon seeing attendees aping Lady Gaga at The Monster Ball Tour.
My sense of camp was well nourished thanks to Jem and the Holograms and pop misfires like Denise LaSalle's "My Toot Toot," Kurtis Blow's "Basketball" and Billy Crystal's "You Look Marvelous."
In the '80s men wore make-up, similar to how guyliner is trendy now. Neither are reflections of one's sexual orientation. Even Motley Crue sported war paint in the video to its cover of "Smokin' in the Boys Room." Many were oblivious or in denial about the sexual orientation of gender benders like Boy George and Dead or Alive's Pete Burns. Years later, both had revealing autobiographies.
Women also defied the norms. Grace Jones's vigilante was the highlight of the James Bond film View to a Kill. Later that year, she issued her signature "Slave to the Rhythm." Thompson Twins percussionist Alanah Currie had a mohawk and hid herself under baggy clothes. With a crossbow, outrageous wig and metallic outfit, Tina Turner was simply fierce as Aunty Entity in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
Dead or Alive and Bronski Beat landed their career defining hits stateside in 1985. The former had the often-sampled and often-repackaged "You Spin Me Round ( Like a Record ) " and the latter with the gay ode "Smalltown Boy."
MTV was well established by this point. Looking back at WHAM!'s "Everything She Wants" and "I'm Your Man" as well as Menudo's "Hold Me," how could we not know that pretty boys George Michael and Ricky Martin were gay? In 1985, we did not have out mainstream artists. This was before the wave of Pet Shop Boys, Melissa Etheridge and kd lang coming out in the '90s. But there was plenty of speculation about celebrities, some true, most not.
Icons David Bowie and Mick Jagger redid Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Streets." Although in elementary school, I was wise enough to understand the rumors that the pair supposedly did some dancing in the sheets as well.
Some of the artists we lost to the AIDS epidemic scored hits in 1985. Sylvester remained a staple in clubland with "Take Me to Heaven." "Tarzan Boy" was the sole hit for Baltimora, whose frontman, Jimmy McShane, would lose his battle to AIDS 10 years later. Dan Hartman topped the dance charts with "We Are the Young" and Queen's "One Vision" was on the Iron Eagle soundtrack. At the age of 32, Ricky Wilson of the B-52s died due to AIDS-related complications, the same month as Rock Hudson. Distraught, the band went forth and released Bouncing off the Satellites the following year, but took time off before returning with 1989's success Cosmic Thing.
A VHS tape of Christmas morning has my oldest sister's husband talking about a band on the verge of crossing over: R.E.M. The quartet from Athens, Ga., just came out with Fables of Reconstruction, which features "Can't Get There from Here" and "Driver 8." This set newly has been revamped with bonus tracks and demo recordings.
"Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits has the lyric "that little faggot with the earring and the make up … that little faggot got his own jet airplane / that little faggot he's a millionaire." If any other subculture or minority group had been slurred similarly by an outsider, media outlets would demand an edit. It is a shame, especially since Mark Knopfler has penned tremendous material like "Sultans of Swing" and Tina Turner's "Private Dancer."
The biggest anthem of 1985 was "We Are the World." Lionel Ritchie, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones assembled an all-star cast including Bob Dylan, Diana Ross and Bruce Springsteen to raise funds and awareness for the mass starvation throughout Africa. "We Are the World" was remade earlier this year for Haiti relief. Unfortunately it was absolutely awful with too many Auto-Tuned vocals and not enough talent.
All I have to say is, "They don't make them like they used to."