What were you doing in the 1980s?
I was playing in a band full time (which means gigging maybe once a week and rehearsing five days a week). Going to bed at 3AM and sleeping in until midday. Doing it pretty hard on the dole living in a one-bedroom flat that cost $55 per week in rent!! That was in an inner suburb of Melbourne called Richmond. It was a pretty rough neighbourhood back in the early 80s. I would go and meet someone using public transport such as tram or train wearing my 80s finery and my hair would be gelled up to the sky! People would either stare in amazement or hurl abuse.
What are your strongest impressions of the 1980s?
Most of my memories of the 80s revolve around the fact that I was in a successful band and all the peripheral garbage that goes with that. I think that people in general were much more interested in music and band culture back then. I always joke with my friends that these days all the rock stars are athletes and not musicians and singers!
Definitely the music and fashion were fun and exciting and the feeling of innocence in a pre internet society.
Geisha’s first video, ‘Fool’s way’, 1985, directed by Karl Stienberg
What historical event of the 1980s has most resonance for you? Why?
The morning I woke up to see the Challenger space shuttle blow up in the sky was such a shock. The terrible loss of life from something we had come to take for granted as safe and mundane as space flight. All of a sudden the whole world stopped for a moment and we all seemed to be watching it. In a time before instant news reporting, the internet and mobile phones, we still all sat glued to the TV and reeled in horror.
What was an event/party/pub session/nightclub of the 80s that stands out?
There was so many! Generally venues didn’t seem to be open as late as they are now of course. But quite often after a show we might go and have a drink or a dance at nightclubs such as The Ritz in St Kilda. Also The Ivy in Melbourne City.
The Ritz was this sleazy strip bar where we could go and have a quiet drink without being bothered by fans. We also knew quite a lot of the “dancers”, so it was a very friendly atmosphere. There was also a famous nightclub in St Kilda called The Razor Club – we used to love going there after a gig and usually not emerging until broad daylight!
Any memories (fond or foul) of what you were wearing in the 1980s?
Oh yeah! Pointy-toed leather shoes, coats with padded shoulders. Baggy high waisted trousers with braces. Neon coloured singlets! Junk jewellery. bangles and earrings. Eyeliner and mascara (sometimes even eye shadow!).
What music/movies/TV engaged you in the 1980s (and did you takes sides on VHS versus Betamax), and now?
I didn’t watch TV soap only news and ‘Sale of the century’ with Tony Barber. But I loved the ‘Back to the future’ movies also ‘Raiders of the lost ark’ etc….
I actually owned a Beta recorder and I still think it was a better quality picture than VHS – too bad the world went VHS as the 80s wore on; it got harder and harder to get Beta movies!
What were you listening to?
I used to listen to albums by bands like The Fixx, INXS, Simple Minds, Japan, Angels, Flowers (Icehouse), David Bowie, Peter Gabriel.
What did you do for entertainment/leisure then and now?
I think everything I did for leisure back in those days was something that got me out of the house as opposed to now where we have everything we need at home. I was never a big computer game kind of guy. I did spend a lot of time home recording music in my studio.
What do you think are the main differences between the 80s and how the world and/or your life is today?
In the 80s there were no mobile phones no internet and no immediate news coverage. To be a successful musician/singer/writer you needed to go out and travel around the country/world and sing your heart out every night to empty rooms until you caught a break. I also think that fame and talent were interlinked.
Nowadays we have the cult of celebrity. You can talk to someone on the other side of the planet from your car or canoe. You can make a record and video in your bedroom and post it on youtube for global broadcast without leaving the house!
Personally, I’m still involved in music with Geisha. We’re currently signed to Oz label Diamond Dod Records and we’ve just released a new album, ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’.
What was a prized object you owned then (and do you still have it)?
My Kawai baby grand piano that I bought with my very first publishing cheque in 1985; it had been a personal goal of mine to own one from the age of ten.
Geisha’s 2010 video, ‘Mystery writer’, directed by Liam Firmagher
What event (personal or public) in the 1980s would you either revisit or undo if you could?
I had another personal goal when I was a kid which was to appear on ‘Countdown’ (music show in the 80s presented by Molly Meldrum).
By 1987 I had been on ‘Countdown’ more than a dozen times. I would love to relive the feeling of the first time that I got to appear on that iconic show!
In 1980 I turned four. The first song I remember appreciating in my entire life was ‘Bright Eyes’ by Art Garfunkel. It was a song from the animated film ‘Watership Down’ and I don’t know, somehow it spoke to me. It was as if woken from a dream! So, I have included ‘Bright Eyes’ here in my 80s mixtape, ‘The 80s As I Remember It’ even though it was released in 1979 because of its significance. After all, it took me a good year to hear it as a child living in Australia who didn’t exactly have their finger on the musical pulse.
This is a compilation of the songs of the 80s that stand out most in my memory. I remember really specific times listening to each and every song, specific fashion choices, pool parties and sleepovers, But, more significantly I remember Sunday night sessions transfixed by the radio, waiting to hear a song I had been waiting for all week and ready to hit the record button on my tape deck as the weekly Top 40 rolled on. Here, some of my mixtape gold could be found. Ends of songs cut off, tape hiss and that wonderful warping sound that could only happen when the record button was hastily and too lightly pressed. Ah, the memories!
So, I send you this letter along with this mix-tape also as a type of disclaimer as I find it necessary to reiterate that in the 1980s I was a mere child. I’m sure now that there were some cool musical things happening, yet I was not aware of them at the time! Yet, formative years they were, and so I cannot detach these musical influences from my adult life any longer. I cannot pretend! So here you have it: Wham, Cyndi Lauper, The Eurythmics, Boy George & the far uncooler periods of Paul Mc Cartney, David Bowie, The Cure & The Beach Boys were my first musical influences.
And so, at the ripe old age of 33, I finally admit to one and all that I wrote my first poem at the age of 10, inspired by Boy George’s ‘Karma Chameleon’ and I won the dancing competition at my Year 6 farewell to ‘Kokomo’ by the Beach Boys. There, I’m out!
Download the mix-tape featuring:
- Bright Eyes – Art Garfunkel
- Say Say Say – Michael Jackson & Paul Mc Cartney
- Karma Chameleon – Boy George
- Beat It – Michael Jackson
- Sara – Jefferson Starship
- Wake Me Up Before You Go – Wham
- Physical – Olivia Newton John
- Like A Virgin – Madonna
- Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper
- Take On Me – A Ha
- When Doves Cry – Prince
- China Girl – David Bowie
- Love Cats – Cure
- Love Is A Battlefield – Pat Benatar
- Hello – Lionel Ritchie
- Who’s That Girl? – Eurythmics
- Smooth Operator – Sade
- Flashdance – Irene Cara
- When Will I Be Famous – Bros
- Kokomo – Beach Boys
Countdown, Simon Townsend’s ‘Wonder World’, JJ and then JJJ were all there in the early 80s when the English 2 Tone ska movement exploded onto Australian shores. They were the media outlets that introduced an exciting new music to me, an impressible young lad from Chester Hill. Madness hosted Countdown, the Js played The Specials and The English Beat, and in 1983 The Allniters, a Sydney-based band had a hit with ‘Montego Bay’. They also appeared on ‘Wonder World’ and were listed on the Countdown chart list.
My first taste of live music was circa 1983-4. Western Suburbs Rugby League club was broke, so a benefit gig at Lidcombe oval was organised with local groups like Rose Tattoo and The Angels. The Allniters weren’t so popular. They came onstage to a barrage of coins being thrown at them and were quickly hustled off again. When the band finally came back to face the crowd, frontman Brett Patterson picked up a handful of coins and said, “most money we’ve ever made” and then broke into the set. For weeks after on the train to and from school I watched as they pulled down the stage and cleaned up the mess. I asked for and got their album, ‘D-D-D Dance’ that Christmas, on tape of course.
The Allniters, Strange Tenants, Club Ska, The Leftovers, The Hangovers, Tenement Dance and in the late 80’s The Allsorts and Latenotes to name just a few, were all hard working ska bands. They were on the road playing not only popular city venues like The Sydney Cove Tavern and The Chevron Rock Room but travelling to the ‘burbs’ as well, places like Sefton Hotel, Chester Hill Hotel, Sweethearts Cabramatta, and Connections Penrith. This was very important as it brought the music to the masses in a time when train strikes were rampant. I remember circa 1986-7 a group of us were walking into a pub in Campbelltown where Naughty Rhythms were about to play. The place went dead silent, the Dj stopped playing and all eyes were on us (Rude Boys, Rude Girls) as we walked through the doors. The band came on and the singer announced before the first song, “Don’t worry guys the weirdos are alright…1, 2, 3, 4”.
The early Sydney ska scene opened my eyes to a much larger world. The sounds of a young Jamaica, the plight of black people in South Africa, left wing politics and Dj-ing. When on anti-apartheid marches in the 80s, we would be called ‘race traders’, often by guys that went to ska gigs. I still Dj and own/operate the ‘Intensified Soundsystem’ playing 60s Jamaican Ska. I’m a union rep and I still choose to wear my hair short, along with Harrington jackets, Ben Shermans and Doc Martins.
I’ve been trying to pin-point what it was about 80s ska that originally drew me in; the horns, the driving off beats, the pubs, the people, the beers, the clothes. But really it was knowing I didn’t want to be like everyone else. I make no apologies; I would never have made a good yob.
I still have the 80s records and, as we used to say (with total disregards for any copyright laws), “If you want I’ll make you up a mix tape”.
Hello, Howard, how ya doin’ friend; next door neighbour. Get your f#%*king jumbo jet outa my airport…
Says Bon Scott in the end refrain of the 1976 song off AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap ‘Aint No Fun (Waitin’ ‘Round to Be a Millionaire)’. You could be forgiven – if you were unaware of the impact Ronald Belford Scott had on the international rock music industry – for thinking Bon Scott a profane and trivial lyric writer. Because, well, he did use profanity, and he did write about fairly trivial things. But it was Bon Scott’s voice, both in an auditory and a literary sense that spoke to, and for a large section of Australian culture.
Irony. Something that may often be lost on certain overseas audiences, but something that drills straight into the core of Australian working class language. Bon Scott’s lyrics are chocka-block with irony. Bon’s lifestyle and proclivities were well known. So consider the lyrics of the song ‘Overdose’ off the 1977 album Let There Be Rock (and consider how Bon died): I never smoked me no cigarettes, I never drank much booze, but I’m only a man don’t ya understand, and a man can sometimes lose. Never drank much booze? C’mon, Bon! But he isn’t trying to deceive us. We’re in on the joke. We know he’s being ironic. Even the theme of the song is both ironic and a clever use of nomenclature. The metaphor of a drug overdose as an overdose of love. The character in the song is clean of drugs, but addicted to sex. (Of course this is now a theme song for wealthy, high profile men when they get sprung as multiple philanderers.) Another example is the above song title: ‘Aint No Fun (Waitin’ ‘Round to Be a Millionaire)’. Waiting around? To be a millionaire? Only an Australian would make such a statement. The idea of waiting around, doing as little as possible, but in the hope of one day coming into big money. And this not saying that Australians are not hard workers. It’s just an ironic statement. And Australians get it.
AC/DC were a very hard working band. They weren’t waiting around. They were slogging it out in pubs throughout the mid 1970s. And Bon, who was quite a bit older than the rest of the band, had already been doing it for a decade with other bands. The hard work paid off. Each album sold better than the last, and with the release of Highway to Hell in 1979, the band became internationally successful. And ironically, this played a big part in Bon’s death. The band was by no means an overnight success, but playing in pubs in Australia, making just enough money for a feed and a few bottles of Stones ginger wine is a long way from living in London, rehearsing in state-of -the-art studios and having access to as much booze as you want.
Those close to Bon say although he was happy with his success – it was his life-long dream – he was not entirely on top of the world while in London writing for the follow up to Highway to Hell. He was drinking heavily – waking up late and starting the day with a glass of whiskey – according to his Japanese girlfriend at the time, Anna. The week of his death, Bon had asked Anna to move out of his flat in Victoria (London) so he could concentrate on writing. On February 18, 1980 Bon had been drinking all day and went out with an acquaintance, Alistair Kinnear, to a bar where Bon downed glass after glass of quadruple scotches. Kinnear could not rouse Bon from his car when they arrived back at, first Bon’s flat, and then Kinnear’s flat, so Kinnear left Bon in the car to sleep it off.
Circumstance conspired against Bon. It was freezing, he was passed out and his body alcohol poisoned. And Kinnear didn’t go down to check on him until part way through the following day. Bon was pronounced dead on arrival at Kings College Hospital. Acute Alcohol Poisoning was the official cause of death. No other drugs were found in Bon’s system.
No one would argue that Bon Scott joined Jimi Hendrix, Mama Cass, Janis Joplin, John Bonham and others in that ironic hall of fame. Amazing, original talent claimed by the lifestyle that enabled that talent to flourish.
Bon’s voice is still as loud and clear as it ever was.
A final and maybe bitter irony is that AC/DC, with Brian Johnson singing, has become one of the most successful rock bands of all time. Certainly Australia’s most successful rock band. For many though there are two AC/DCs – Bon’s, and the other one.
The Powerhouse Museum has in its collection not only one of Angus Young’s Gibson SG guitars, but this very cool original iron-on transfer from 1976, and a rare picture disc record which is on display in ‘The 80s are back’ exhibition.
This article was originally published on the ‘Object of the Week’ blog, where our curators take you behind the scenes at the Powerhouse Museum.
Toys have changed a lot since the 80s. Yesterday’s Atari is today’s Wii, Cabbage Patch Kids are being given a run for their money by the new Bratz kids in town and Bart Simpson is probably more popular than Inspector Gadget ever was. All that aside, 80s toys are seriously awesome and we want to know, what were your favourites? Which toy could you simply not live without?
Vote now! Or add your comments if your favourite toy is missing from this list.
80s illustration in Australia was dominated by artists such as Reg Mombasa, Ken Done, Alex Stitt and Michael Leunig, all bringing their unique, expressionistic take on Australian life to the world stage. There seems to be a genuine attempt to try and create an ‘Australian style’ of illustration during this time. You can see the influence of the colours and shapes of the Australian landscape, as well as the movement and cultural diversity of the cities throughout the illustrations of this period. It’s all brilliantly rendered with the use of strong palettes, bold line work and rich texture.
While it might not be the aesthetic most commonly associated with 80’s album covers, you don’t have to search too hard to find some incredible examples of illustrated art created for some of our biggest musical exports. With their simple concepts, honest design, and masterful illustrations, these are some truly unforgettable covers.
The classic Icehouse record ‘Man of Colours’ (1987) has one of the decade’s most iconic and striking covers, featuring a barely-there outline of a man holding three coloured flowers. Designed by band mates Iva Davies and Robert Kretschmer, it’s a striking example of both minimalist design and illustration.
In contrast there’s all the beautiful detail, complexity and theatricality of Crowded House’s self-titled debut (1986), with illustration and design by bassist Nick Seymour. Seymour went on to illustrate all future Crowded House records, creating one of the most original and beloved identities for an Australian band.
Little River Band’s ‘Monsoon’ (1998) and the Hunters & Collectors 1984 album ‘Jaws of Life’ both compliment each other nicely, respectively taking their visual inspiration from the outback’s extreme wet and dry seasons. There’s an almost primitive approach to the illustration, with simple forms drawn in a rough, raw style. The texture of the materials used becomes part of the illustration itself.
Illustrated typography is also a strong feature on most of these covers and is beautifully integrated on both the Crowded House and Little River Band covers.
The history of the arcade machine spans nearly 100 years, with its roots in coin-operated, turn-of-the-century amusement park midway games. By the 1950s pinball machines (sans electronics) had well and truly become a phenomenon, setting the foundations for both the burgeoning youth gaming culture and the billion-dollar games industry. While the revolution had been slowly gathering momentum, it become a juggernaut by the end of the 70s following the introduction of the computer chip and Nolan Bushnell’s revolutionary cabinet design.
Attempts to harness the seemingly limitless potential of computerized gaming began in earnest in the early 80’s. Leading the charge was PacMan, not only a massively popular game but a worldwide cultural phenomenon spawning every conceivable form of spin-off merchandise. While the graphics and gameplay had evolved only slightly from 70’s classics like Pong and Space Invaders, the real jump in evolution was character design. In many ways PacMan set the template for the game franchise.
Following PacMan was another gaming legend, Donkey Kong. Again only a small step forward in both graphics and gameplay, but a leap ahead in storytelling and character development. Donkey Kong also featured the first appearance of Mario, then known simply as Jumpman. From these humble beginnings, Mario went on to become a fully realized character, arguably the most endearing in gaming history, with his own universe and cast of supporting characters. Mario continues to to sell dozens of his own titles, and has appeared in an endless stream of merchandise tie-ins, including a feature film.
The enormous success of these early arcade pioneers saw massive developments in all areas of game design. The limitations of the early games, which largely consisted of pushing a joystick around to move a pixelated character around the screen and out of danger, soon became far more sophisticated and immersive. Games such as Pole Position, Street Fighter & Dragon’s Lair all contributed to revolutionizing every aspect of gameplay. The minimalist, two button machines of the 70’s with their Bauhaus inspired typography and monochrome interface swiftly became antiques, replaced by bold and brash game franchises, with rich pixelated worlds to explore and joysticks, guns and steering wheels with which to explore them.
Arcade cabinets also received numerous design revisions. Hoods became recessed, screens became larger, and more sophisticated controls were added. By the end of the decade there were entirely new game machines including ride on bikes as well as ski and boxing emulators. More attention was also given to graphic design and illustration, with cabinets literally covered in game franchise art. While these advancements in design and technology were fully embraced by gamers, a great part of the arcade experience was standing before one of the more traditional machines with a crowd of people behind you cheering you on.
The culture of arcade gaming exploded throughout the decade. Arcade machines were everywhere – shopping centres, take-aways, bars, movie theaters and of course in their own arcade stores. It became a social sport, with high scores as the ultimate goal. Towards the middle of the decade, the console revolution began to take gamers out of the arcades and back into the lounge-room, however the massive popularity of arcade machines and amusement centres like Playtime continued into the early 90s. While the home gaming experience offered numerous advantages, anyone who stood in front of an arcade machine during the 80s with a pocket full of change will fondly recall the sensory overload of flashing lights, buzzing noises, and the thrill of getting your three-letter name abbreviation in the high score charts.
Do you remember the hit television series ‘A-Team’? Here’s a quick memory jogger:
1. Take four Vietnam veteran soldiers
2. Frame them for a crime they didn’t commit
3. Have them go on the run
4. With a twist – they help the innocent along the way
5. Include lots of cowboy swagger, machine guns, action shots and explosions
6. Incredibly, in the midst of all the ruckus no one ever seems to get hurt
So how exactly does the fair Boy George from new wave band, ‘The Culture Club’ fit into this scene of macho posturing/saving the world? Perhaps they were desperate for another wooden celebrity guest appearance to boost the ratings? Go on, watch a little of the episode that aired on 11 February 1986…
Speaking of wooden celebrity guest appearances, Frank Zappa is thoroughly entertaining as crime boss “Mr Frankie” on ‘Miami Vice’. The (unintentional?) hilarity of the dialogue (‘weasel dust’!) is matched only by the poorly staged action scenes (I love the guy that practically pushes himself off the side of the boat during the struggle) and the smattering of well-placed swimsuit models. You too can watch a cheesy slice of this episode that screened on Valentines Day in 1986.
Closer to home, our very own hit comedy series of the decade was The Comedy Company and it first went to air on 16 February, 1988. It featured well known actors like Glenn Robbins, Kim Gyngell and Russell Gilbert and also some silly guest appearances by Aussie music celebrities, including Kylie Minogue and INXS.
Out of all the characters though, ‘Kylie Mole’, played by Mary-Anne Fahey seemed to garner the most celebrity. She interviewed INXS, pulled off schoolgirl pranks with Kylie Minogue and like all good delinquent youth, she made it onto the Ray Martin show.
And how could we forgot her hit song, ‘It’s So Excellent’ that went all the way to number 8 on the Aria Charts in 1988. Till next week!
Barbie has changed a lot over the years. Just like Madonna she knows how to tap the latest trends, keeping her look fresh for new generations of fans. When Barbie first appeared in the late 50s, Mattel sold kids on the dream of growing up to be a glamorous young lady with gloves and hats and furs and..a fabulous wedding frock of course.
But I guess that by the time the 80s rolled around what the kids really wanted to be were rockstars! Forget that prim and proper lady-in-waiting cookie cutter image, it was the MTV generation after all and bands were living large – living icons projected into every home with a shared television. So it came to be, that on my sixth birthday held at downtown Mayfield McDonalds, amidst the Junior burgers, fries and icecream cake, I unwrapped one of these desirable microphone toting, mini-skirt wearing, shiny silver disco-dancing doll vixens…
To be honest, I really wasn’t that much into dolls. But what I really loved? The white and pink tape of goodness that came in the pack. Countless karaoke hours were whittled away singing along to the ‘Barbie & The Rockers Theme Song’, getting to know the band members (Barbie, Ken, Dana, Deedee, Derek, Diva – lots of ‘d’ sounding names made their shout outs really punchy) and being totally ‘Born with a Mike in My Hand’.
You too can relive your Barbie and The Rockers dreams at ‘The 80s Are Back’ exhibition. We’ve got the whole band on display, with a stage and all! As Ken would say, “that’s cool”.
On August 17, 1980 a nine-week old baby girl mysteriously disappeared while camping with her family at Uluru, the remote red centre of Australia. Her name was Azaria Chantel Loren Chamberlain. Her mother Lindy Chamberlain became a household name thanks to the ensuing media frenzy surrounding the case. In an Australian first, television viewers from all over the country watched the proceedings in court from the comfort of their armchairs and decided for themselves whether they believed Lindy’s testament, that a dingo stole her baby. Despite inconclusive evidence, Lindy was sentenced to jail for murder only to be later released on February 7, 1986 when new scene of crime evidence located Azaria’s soiled baby clothes near to a dingo’s lair. Results from numerous inquests are ‘undetermined’ and to this day, a body has never been found but we do know much more about dingo behaviour and have seen a rise in dingo attacks on humans.
The case inspired various films, television drama and even an Opera. In 1988, Meryl Streep mastered the Australia accent in order to play the lead role as Lindy Chamberlain in the feature film, ‘Evil Angels‘.
Since her release, Lindy Chamberlain has worked closely with the The National Museum of Australia to document her story. You can view Azaria’s clothing, a souvenir Azaria Chamberlain trial tea-towel and other items on the museum’s website.
The National Library of Australia also hold related material in their collection.