The 80’s Synth Invasion

As my music collection grows exponentially, I find it doesn’t grow in any sort of order.  It grows opportunistically.  For example, I don’t particularly buy what I want, I buy what’s available.  And that’s fine, because my tastes are broad enough (and always growing) that there’s always something I’m willing to buy.

It was a little while ago that I picked up my first album by Survivor.  You know, Eye Of The Tiger and all that.  Actually, that was the album I got.  When you’re familiar with a band’s hits and you want to become invested in them, you can take the easy route and buy the greatest hits album, or you can be a man and just buy an album.  At thrift store CD prices, being a man doesn’t cost a whole lot, so that’s where I went.  And I liked it.  They had a good sound and I put Survivor on the list for future album purchases.

That day came a bit later when I picked up another of their albums.  It was my morning commute CD today.  And my experience with the album really led me to thinking deeper about music in the 80s.  Eye of the Tiger was released in 1982 and the album I was listening to came out in 1986.  My thoughts led me to create a shitastic “comic” to express my thoughts.


The initial point I was trying to make is that the ‘86 album had 10 songs, and 9 of those songs were all keyboard, with the guitar relegated to chunking out 8th notes for rhythm.  The closing track was guitar-driven and really felt out of place with the rest of the album.

Something clicked with me when I listened to each song as it started out with synthesizer chords.  I felt really sorry for the guitar player – well, main guitar player.  The keyboardist also played some guitar.  I suddenly understood the huge pushback against synths from rock acts, which, being a keyboard player myself, I never really appreciated.

Survivor isn’t the only recent instance I noticed this, although it was the most visceral.  I had recently picked up Europe’s album Wings of Tomorrow.  Everyone knows The Final Countdown, sure.  And if you heard the rest of The Final Countdown album, it is also very synth heavy, but it is also well-balanced with guitar work.  But on Wings of Tomorrow, which is the album just before The Final Countdown, there are hardly any synths at all.  The change is remarkable.  Also from the 80’s is the band GTR, a band that was formed by two guitarists who wanted a guitar-driven album.  That’s how bad it was back then.  I didn’t grasp how much of a statement they were making.

Then the Linn drum machine came along and it started to put the pressure on drummers.  Now they could be replaced with rock-solid precision that could be edited at will.  Gina Schock had to fight with the producer to play on The Go-Go’s Talk Show album.  And Mutt Lange, I love his sound, but his reliance on drum machines really grates on me.  I still remember when my innocence was broken when I realized the ZZ Top album I loved so much had no real drums on it.  And then it began a real-or-not hunt on every album I had, which is not how music is supposed to be.

But there is an infinite palette of music out there for consumption.  I can lament Survivor softening up into a synth ballad band or I can just put on any hair metal from the same era and hear guitar.  There is always something on offer from some band, even if it’s not the band you want to hear it from.  Guitar songs never really went away, they just spread out.  And with my ever-expanding collection, I still find them.

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