That '80s sound is back
- This article was posted on one of my Def Leppard lists. I thought it would
be interesting for everyone to read.
Published Friday, September 10, 1999
That '80s sound is back
Jon Bream / Star Tribune
Debra Johnson and Sally Rhylick were standing on their chairs at the back
of the jam-packed Medina Entertainment Center, waving their arms to the
music of REO Speedwagon, singing along to nearly every song.
"I grew up with this music," said Rhylick, 42, of Mound, who had come with
10 friends -- nine women and one man -- in a limousine.
People raised on REO could have spent the summer going to concerts by
1980s acts they grew up on -- Journey, Pat Benatar, Night Ranger,
Slaughter, Sammy Hagar, Ted Nugent, Warrant and Ann and Nancy
Wilson of Heart, among others. This summer, Def Leppard's new single,
"Promises," hit No. 2 on Billboard's mainstream rock chart, and Great
White's "Rollin' Stoned" landed in the Top 10. On Sept. 28, Garth Brooks is
releasing an album of original material that sounds like '80s rock.
Why the rash of retro rock?
"They were timeless when they were out and they're still very good," said
country megastar Brooks, who grew up on '70s and '80s rock. "Def
Leppard -- the name, the band -- was cool; so cool never goes out of style."
The entertainment business has always been cyclical, says Tom Lipsky,
CEO of CMC International, a North Carolina-based record label that
specializes in new albums by old bands, including Slaughter, Dokken and
Lynyrd Skynyrd. "You see it in other areas. You see fashion recycling; I
have young daughters and I take them shopping for bell-bottoms. You see
TV shows we grew up on now being played on Nickelodeon and kids
watching them. You see certain trends of music recycling, as well. Guitar
rock has always been there; every different angle of guitar rock resurfaces
every so often."
Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert trade journal Pollstar, takes the
cynical view that "if you wait long enough, everything comes back." But he
says summer tours of '80s rockers -- Journey, M�tley Cr�e/Scorpions,
Great White/Ratt/Poison and Nugent/Night Ranger/Slaughter/Quiet Riot --
have done steady business, drawing an average attendance of 5,000 to
8,000. "Their fan base is still around and willing to come back to see
At least some of the fans are still loyal. Phil Pflaum, 36, of Dodge
Minn., said his wife's musical taste changed quickly from the '80s hard-
rock of M�tley Cr�e to the '90s easy-listening of Kenny G. He favors the
blues these days, but he and two pals showed up to see Nugent and
company at Target Center in July. "It reminds me of 10 or 15 years ago
and the stupid stuff we used to do," said his buddy, Greg Gilman, 38, of
Lake City, Minn., as they hoisted beers between bands.
John Klein, 34, of Blaine, has seen Journey three times this year. "All the
'80s bands are coming back because the music industry is lost," he said at
Journey's State Fair concert. "Look at this band. They are really having
You don't see much of that [at concerts]."
In their heyday, these '80s bands spent considerable time onstage, unlike
today's one-hit wonders who typically make a record before they ever step
onstage. In the late '90s, these bands are still road warriors. The Medina
offered Warrant on Thursday night and is presenting Ratt on Sept. 26 and
Quiet Riot on Oct. 1. Slaughter is still hitting the road for eight or nine
months a year. And the performances of these bands are typically full of
lots of energy and lots of hair.
"It's a rock show," CMC's Lipsky said. "It's not so serious. It's a bit
in-cheek. It's flashy, it's very theatrical, there's a lot of action
onstage. It's a
fun kind of thing to see. It's not just the music. It's also the fashion,
image, the lights, the smoke -- everything wrapped together."
KDWB goes Def
To some people's surprise, KDWB program director Rob Morris chose
Def Leppard -- which sold 45 million albums, mostly in the 1980s -- to
headline Sunday's sold-out Last Chance Summer Dance at Canterbury
Park in Shakopee. About 30,000 are expected to see such hot pop and
R&B acts as Christina Aguilera, 98 Degrees with special guest Mariah
Carey, Tyrese, K-Ci & JoJo and Monica as well as alt-rockers Fastball,
rappers Naughty By Nature, harmonizers Blessid Union of Souls and
reggae star Shaggy.
Morris said he picked Def Leppard to "balance the show." 98 Degrees will
perform at 6 p.m., which will allow the younger concertgoers to go home
early because they have school the next day, Morris said. He hopes that by
scheduling Def Leppard to appear after dark, the over-25 crowd will arrive
KDWB (101.3 FM) has been playing Leppard's new single "Promises," but
Morris has been researching oldies, too, because, for the past few weeks,
he also has been programming the new WLOL (100.3 FM), which
specializes in '70s and '80s rock. He says KDWB advertised Def
Leppard's appearance on a hard-rock radio station and on KFAN (1130
AM), the sports talk station that attracts many men over 25.
Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott has no problem headlining a Top 40 festival.
"We've always liked to wear a different hat on different days," he said.
can play Edgefest. We fit both formats. We don't feel uncomfortable in any
environment. Whether it be our crowd or not, we'll go out there and
convince them that they are our crowd. It doesn't matter if we're going on
with Aerosmith or Britney Spears."
At the hard rock-meets-alt rock Edgefest in Somerset, Wis., in May, Def
Leppard received unexpected salutes from such hip, edgy rockers as Hole
and Local H. Elliott recalled how Hole guitarist Eric Erlandson wore a T-
shirt onstage saluting Def Leppard's 1983 "Pyromania" album and how
singer Courtney Love went on a "five-minute rant on how people should be
grateful for Def Leppard," which she called the greatest band of the '80s.
However, Elliott, 40, said this week that he doesn't like being called "an
'80s band." "Nobody calls U2 or R.E.M. an '80s band," he said. "It all
seems to be wrapped around this big-hair thing, which we were never a
part of. You won't see photographs of Def Leppard with big hair; we had
long hair. We didn't put hair spray in; that was Poison and M�tley Cr�e."
Moreover, Def Leppard's new CD, "Euphoria," is outselling new titles by
other '80s bands. "Euphoria" has topped 500,000, whereas Lipsky said
he's happy with the new CDs by Dokken and Slaughter selling 50,000 to
100,000. In 1996, he launched CMC (bankrolled by BMG, a major label),
and sales have grown 30 percent every year. CMC figures to sell nearly 2
million albums this year -- and turn a profit. However, he finds his new
discs competing with old albums by his bands, whether it's Jefferson
Starship or Judas Priest.
Great White's "Rollin' Stoned" and Leppard's "Promises" -- both marketed
by major labels -- have landed on the radio. Why? "This kind of rock 'n'
is melodic, very hook-driven," Lipsky said, "as opposed to some of the
more alternative music that is more attitude-driven; it's not a traditional
structure to a song, it's not as dependent on a hook [catchy chorus] as
pop/rock has been."
Moreover, in the late '90s, Top 40 hits from the R&B and dance sides have
been based on rhythmic grooves rather than melodies, observed Blondie
guitarist Chris Stein, whose band enjoyed such '80s hits as "Call Me" and
"The Tide Is High." Except for power ballads by the likes of Aerosmith and
Celine Dion, there has been a dearth of melodic tunes on Top 40.
"I can see a big comeback for melodic rock," singer Elliott said. "And
people are starting to do harmonies again the way that Queen did, the way
that Boston did, the way we do."
Or maybe the explanation for this '80s rock rebirth is as simple as the
reasons why concertgoer Johnson still likes REO Speedwagon. "You can
dance to it, you can sing to it," she said. "It's classic rock."
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