'Like, Omigod!' It's the return of the '80s
Does new boxed set indicate 15 more minutes of a revival?
(CNN) -- It was the decade of pastels and parachute pants, of MTV and "Miami Vice," of "Morning in America" and "Where's the beef?"
And now, the '80s are back.
With "Like, Omigod!: The '80s Pop Culture Box (Totally)" (Rhino), a seven-disc boxed set, the '80s have been re-primped and repackaged in all their glory. Here is the music -- Eurosynth and New Wave, roots rock and hair metal, novelty pop and soundtrack trash. The set even comes packaged with a Day-Glo, geometric-figure and zigzag-patterned cover and 90-page guidebook to everything '80s.
Of course, it can be argued the '80s never really went away. (Does anything in our retro-churning times?) Several labels -- including Rhino -- have put out a bunch of '80s CDs (some general, others narrowly focused), and Adam Sandler lampooned the decade in his 1998 movie "The Wedding Singer."
But there's something about the 20-year anniversary mark that brings back decade nostalgia in full force. The '50s returned in the '70s, sparked by "American Graffiti" and "Happy Days," and the '60s came back in the '80s, helped by New Wave, American indie rock and perhaps some anti-Reagan sentiment.
And the '70s -- in the guise of "That '70s Show," a funk rebirth and a handful of fashions -- got 15 more minutes in the '90s.
"We digest culture in 20-year cycles," notes Rob Tannenbaum, senior reviews editor for the music monthly Blender. "It's a marketing device. It taps into our good feelings about childhood when we have disposable income. When you're 30 or 35, you want to be reminded what it was like when you were 10 or 15."
'It's more a cultural capsule'
For Tannenbaum, though, "Omigod!" missed its chance.
"It's a partial glimpse of the '80s, a snide, condescending look," he says. "What's happened with the decades [in music] is that the '60s get taken seriously, everything in the '70s is laughed about, and the '80s are [seen as] the ugly retarded bastard of rock music."
The boxed set is loaded with chintzy pop, he says, and is missing the biggest stars of the '80s -- not just college radio favorites and depth of influential genres such as rap. There's no Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Prince or Michael Jackson, he points out.
"Those artists had the biggest record sales of the decade, and there's not a single song by any of them," Tannebaum says. Even if licensing was an issue -- and, with big stars, it usually is (try to find a '60s collection with any Beatles or Stones) -- the set should have been more judicious, he adds.
But David McLees, who oversaw the compilation for Rhino, makes no apologies.
"It's more a cultural capsule than a historical look at the '80s," he says. "There were lots of subjective decisions made. In the end, we decided to make it fun, kitschy, to skim a stone over the decade."
The songs on the set represent a variety of media, he adds. Some were MTV hits. Others, such as Billy Crystal's "You Look Marvelous," showcase a catchphrase. Don Johnson's "Heartbeat" is included because "it's Don Johnson, not because it's a great record," McLees says.
Robert Thompson, head of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University and an expert on all things pop culture, observes that the set celebrates an aspect of the '80s that has continued to the present day -- its ever-present irony.
"I think the '70s was the last pure decade. Once you're in the '80s, you're in the post-modern era," Thompson says. "Now we make fun of and celebrate so much of our culture at the same time. Rhino is celebrating that feat of the '80s.
"Any collection that features a-ha [one-hit wonder creators of 'Take on Me,' which was driven by a distinctive video]," he adds, "has an ironic stance to it."
'Kitschy makes it fun'
The box is a sequel to Rhino's '70s set, "Have a Nice Decade." McLees, who also put that box together, says he learned a lesson from that experience. He'd asked for an Elton John song and even held up the set's release when it wasn't forthcoming. Then he realized that most people already had Elton John songs; what they wanted was Edison Lighthouse, Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds and "Disco Duck."
"Kitschy makes it fun," he says. (The packaging helped; original runs included a shag-carpet cover.)
But the thing about the '80s, Tannenbaum says, is that people remember the silliness, but musically the decade is underrated. Many artists and types of music -- from hip-hop and indie rock to best-selling artists such as Madonna and Guns n' Roses -- caught tastemakers and labels by surprise, he points out.
"The way the biggest trends came out of nowhere is the big story of the '80s," he says.
"The way new music combined and recombined was an exciting story," Thompson adds, noting the mix of styles created house, goth and rap-metal.
Still, the music was so fragmented a boxed set containing all of it "is an optimistic conceit. The best you can do is drop in some hair metal, mainstream pop, country music ... to be representational," he says.
Which was what Rhino tried to do, McLees says. There were so many genres of music, so many worthwhile songs, he started out with a list of 900. "It was incredibly hard to take a thread and make something cohesive," he says.
If anything, the '90s were even more splintered. For now, McLees hasn't had to worry about a '90s set, and if there is one, "it should be done by someone younger." But he's bracing himself anyway.
"It was the decade of endless options," he says. "I don't envy the person who does it."
Rhino Records is a unit of AOL Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.com.
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