Almanac Music: There’s Never Been More to Adore Than in ’84

Call me hopelessly out of touch but I have an altogether borderline theory the world hit peak music in 1984.

Sure, wearing your sunglasses at night was advised to protect peepers from pastel polos and assorted fashion crimes.  And swallowing the ’84 vintage mush served by Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, George Michael and Stevie Wonder would make for a hell of a tucker trial.  If you’re too young to remember, or if as a reflex action you’ve locked away your ‘Eighties memories in a vault marked ‘do not disturb’, then I feel for you.

Because despite all that I’m bullish the following 946 words will have one refiling 1984 in a figurative time capsule triumphantly marked ‘cripes, that was a bloody good year after all, now that you mention it’.

At a time when MTV and newfangled space-age CD’s were revolutionizing music consumption, life seemed less complex and worries comparatively few.  Although the rise of AIDS and fear of nuclear Armageddon played party pooper with young minds, global warming, the internet, 9/11 and George Orwell’s dystopian 1984 prophecies weren’t yet on the radar.

The era may have been afflicted by overworked synths and sax solos but I prefer to focus on the plethora of distinctive riffs, hooks and melodies across a range of genres; new wave, R&B, hard rock and hip-hop to name a few.

Critical to any stellar season, most of the elite players – the undead of which are still going round by popular demand – were in top form.

When Michael Jackson’s hair wasn’t on fire he was burning up the charts Eat_It_Weird_Alwith a modest little production called Thriller.  A duet with Paul McCartney?  Why not?

Mounting a challenge to the King of Pop was a Prince that would become a symbol by name and definition.  After his monumental Purple Rain album (and movie) he could do or be anything he damn well wanted (except play in the ruck or a key position).

Other music royalty, Queen, gave ’84 The Works – a welcome return to form having been written off by themselves as much as their critics.   Meanwhile another queen, Boy George, produced another megahit (though the less said about ill-fated fellow gender bender Divine the better).

As the voice of the common man Springsteen would spurn any title however Born in the USA confirmed for all time who was boss. Bruce had the Midas touch – in the memorable Dancing in the Dark video he plucked an oh-so-shocked Courtney Cox out of the crowd and obscurity.  Such an Eighties moment.

Whilst evergreen piano men Elton John and Billy Joel kept their new women* and record labels happy, Cyndi Lauper’s year would sustain a career.  Conversely Madonna, a wily manipulator of music, fashion and image (acting not so), began with a bang and continued to deliver many more.  Other rock chicks to make 1984 their own included Pat Benatar and Tina Turner in an unlikely and lucrative comeback.

In the rock world the year would mark the rise of the hair band. Bon Jovi entered the scene (without being a runaway success) and Van Halen released the imaginatively titled 1984.  Despite great commercial returns David Lee Roth would jump off the bands wagon before the year was out, oddly citing their output was ‘morose’.  At least the original Karate Kid might have cheered up the high kicking lead singer (mic on, mic off).  Def Leppard’s one armed drummer Rick Allan probably had more  reason to feel bitter.

Speaking of cinema, Footloose wasn’t my cuppa but I must admit to harbouring a secret fondness for Deniece Williams’ Let’s Hear It for the Boy.  Then there was the cult classic This is Spinal Tap as the antidote to Neverending Story (Kajagoogoo’s Limahl) and Electric Dreams (Human League’s Phil Oakey).  Other tracks synonymous with film blockbusters included The Heat is On and Neutron Dance (Beverley Hills Cop) and Ghostbusters (Ray Parker Jnr).cassette

Across the Atlantic so many iconic Eighties artists dominated the airwaves.  The Smiths were as prolific as they were terrific, despite their label’s haphazard mode of release.  Depeche Mode would emerge with a harder edge, U2 began their stratospheric ascent and New Order, The Cure, Simple Minds, Tears for Fears, Bananarama, The Style Council, Spandau Ballet, Eurythmics and Duran Duran were all enjoying their heyday.

In what was a groundbreaking venture, a number of the aforementioned stars aligned before the year was done to record Do They Know its Christmas? as part of Bob Geldof’s crusade against famine in Africa. Take it or leave it, the track sold over a million in its first week and reinforced 1984’s enduring historical significance.

The year may have ended on a serious note but generally speaking music was upbeat. Frankie said Relax, though I was too young and innocent to know where Holly Johnson was coming from (see what I did there).   That said, there was plenty of Thatcher/Reagan inspired angst and other dark matter if you knew where to look.

Artists still enjoyed freedom over formula at this point of music evolution, leaving scope for quirky, short-lived sensations such as Nena, Matthew Wilder and Wang Chung.

On the local scene there were conflicting emotions over Split Enz and Cold Chisel calling it quits, albeit on high notes.  Hoodoo Gurus, Models and Kids in the Kitchen found their groove.  Dragon finally cast aside serious personal issues to reform and relaunch what was a seriously fine band. For good reason, the Oils and INXS were on the brink of international stardom, the latter’s The Swing album arguably their best.  Though not making waves in the charts this particular year, Divinyls, The Church and Men at Work also deserve a sneaky mention.

It must be said back in the day it was easier for home grown acts to gain solid radio play and access to a wide array of live venues (pre Pokieville).  TV also offered opportunities no longer available to be seen and heard; Sounds, Countdown, Rock Arena, Wavelength, Rock Around the World – even Hey Hey it’s Saturday. Nowadays there’s Rage, talent unreality shows and bugger all else.  Stuff eking out a living from web downloads, wouldn’t it be good to drive a Delorean back to 1984?  And at the other end of the exchange, how much more was music valued when it required a degree of effort and consideration when making a tangible purchase?

So in closing, and as the final irrefutable piece of evidence, I hereby submit two sides to play off in the 1984 Footy Almanac Hemisphere of Origin Music Jamboree.


    1. Message to My Girl Split Enz
    2. Original Sin INXS
    3. Flame Trees Cold Chisel
    4. Burn for You INXS
    5. Bitter Desire – Kids in the Kitchen
    6. Saturday Night Cold Chisel
    7. Come Said the Boy – Mondo Rock
    8. I Hear MotionModels
    9. When the Generals Talk – Midnight Oil
    10. Rain – Dragon
    11. Soul Kind of Feeling Dynamic Hepnotics
    12. Kosciusko – Midnight Oil
    13. I Send a Message INXS
    14. Listening – Pseudo Echo
    15. Playing to Win – Little River Band
    16. No Say in It – Machinations
    17. Heaven (Must Be There) Eurogliders
    18. Change in Mood – Kids in the Kitchen
    19. Don’t Believe Anymore – Icehouse
    20. I Want You Back – Hoodoo Gurus
    21. Catch Me I’m Falling – Real Life
    22. In a Minor Key – Tim Finn


  1. How Soon is NowThe Smiths
  2. RelaxFrankie Goes to Hollywood
  3. Radio GagaQueen
  4. Pride (In the Name of Love)U2
  5. I Want to Break FreeQueen
  6. Hold Me NowThompson Twins
  7. When Doves CryPrince
  8. Shout to the TopThe Style Council
  9. We BelongPat Benatar
  10. Cover MeBruce Springsteen
  11. This Charming ManThe Smiths
  12. Two TribesFrankie Goes to Hollywood
  13. People Are PeopleDepeche Mode
  14. Thieves Like UsNew Order
  15. Take on MeA-ha
  16. Oh SherrieSteve Perry
  17. Blue JeanDavid Bowie
  18. Smooth Operator Sade
  19. Eyes Without a FaceBilly Idol
  20. StrutSheena Easton
  21. DriveThe Cars
  22. Big CountryBig Country


* Elton John changed teams to marry Renate Blauel in February 1984 while Billy Joel played out of his division snagging the delectable Christie Brinkley.



About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Jeff, I’ve been over this post with a fine-toothed comb and the bit where you mention Like a Virgin by Madonna (Nov 12, 1984) and Don Henley’s Boys of Summer (Oct 29, 1984) keep showing up as Eyes Without a Face by Billy Idol and Oh Sherry! by Steve Perry.

    I’ve done everything to try and fix this, but Billy and Steve keep coming up. Apologies ;-)

  2. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Comprehensive coverage of arguably one of the most influential years in pop music, JD.

    Such a great variety of acts. First time I heard ‘This Charming Man’ and ‘People are People’ I was hooked on The Smiths and Depeche Mode. Like Bakes, Boys of Summer stayed with me, clip and song. Oh Sherry…quickly forgotten, but Rebel Yell from Billy Idol still gets a workout occasionally.

    Marilyn was also a player in the gender-bender wars with ‘Calling Your Name’ and after Essendon annihilated Collingwood in the Preliminary Final I found myself listening to this gem by Twisted Sister, a lot!
    “What are you gunna do with your life !!! ?” (The Maestro from Seinfeld)

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Jeff, Who could ask for more ?

    There’s a club if you’d like to go
    you could meet somebody who really loves you – could this be referring to the Almanac?

    I could quibble about some of the omissions (Go-Betweens, Triffids, R.EM., Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, Echo & The Bunnymen or even WHAM!) but who would you leave out? (LRB – that’s who)

    Choose Life !!!

    Well done JD – too much perspective.

  4. Thanks Phil,

    Yes, even Billy Idol had a breakout year in ’84. I do recall Marilyn as one of the several Boy George imitators – Dead or Alive (Spin me Round a huge hit in 84) was another.

    I encourage all ‘nackers to give Farnsey’s Playing to Win a view (the Seven Big League version). Thirty years on and this is still my favourite Aussie Rules montage. He copped a lot of flack for his LRB stint but scored full points for that one.


  5. Great stuff. My final year of school, excellent music and great memories from this piece Jeff.

    1984 went to see the Police at the Melb Showgrounds, supported by the Sunnboys, Kids in the Kitchen, Australian Crawl and Bryan Adams. Very large day

    Models, Machinations, Thompson Twins and the Style Council, been too long


  6. One of the best years of my life…but the music?!
    Talking Heads please

  7. Swish, I was responding to Phil while your comment was being posted but through some freaky psychosis I answered one of your points anyway (re LRB).

    I did check out the Go-Betweens and Triffids output in ’84 but couldn’t quite squeeze them in. Fwiw I did at least place REM’s album cover into the header montage.

    I know you’re a big Smiths fan Swish – they could have fielded a team of their own in ’84. But Wham!? They were like the anti-Smiths weren’t they?

  8. I’m with you on Talking Heads crio but they had a quiet one in ’84. Their best two albums (imo) were released in ’83 and ’85.

  9. Great stuff, Jeff.
    The 80’s was a great decade for music.
    One ’84 Australian album I occasionally return to is “Frontline” by Redgum.
    And yep, “Reckoning” by the great REM – a brilliant disc.

  10. Dave Brown says

    Yep, reckon I could handle 1984 again. I reckon I have listened to 7 Chinese Brothers from REM’s Reckoning more than almost all of the songs listed above. Besides, my favourite hits from 1984 were put on Tim Evans by Craig Balme during the national anthem before the SANFL GF.

  11. The People's Elbow says

    You’re never gonna reach a consensus on music, but Van Halen, The Replacements (‘Let It Be’) and Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” aside, my take on 1984 is largely ‘meh’… and it is so fking WHITE!

    I’d make a case that 1988 was not only better, but musically more significant — a seminal year for hip-hop with N.W.A‘s ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and Public Enemy; Sonic Youth‘s ‘Daydream Nation’ and Pixies ‘Surfer Rosa’ laying the groundwork for Nirvana and all that followed. And the emergence of shoegaze with My Bloody Valentine‘s full-length debut.

  12. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Ray Parker Jnr was serenading a white chick in the Ghostbusters video in 1984. Lionel Ritchie was the voice of the 1984 Olympics.

    RUN DMC, Prince, Jacko, Denise Williams, Sade, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, and dare I say Rockwell. Not exactly white chocolate.

  13. Rick Kane says

    Ed Kuepper’s Laughing Clowns, Billy Bragg, Husker Du … I’m just warming up JD!

  14. True Jeff but they were getting airplay in 84 in London…as for most of the rest, I thought you were taking the proverbial.

  15. Couldn’t name check every band getting airplay Crio – essentially my parameters were songs either released or high charting in ’84.

    As the resident rock wiz I’m sure you could see me and raise me about 100 Rick!

    Litza, I thought name checking a Hall & Oates hit in my first line might have got you onside but alas no!

  16. Freddie Mercury’s virtuoso performance of Radio Gaga at 1985 Live Aid was amazing.
    The definitive example of having the audience eating out of his hands.
    One of the truly great performers of all time!
    Do yourself a favour

  17. Luke Reynolds says

    Reckon the Southern Hemisphere beats the Northern Hemisphere in 1984 going by your selected tracks Jeff. ’84 was a good year. 1991 and 1986 are my personal favourites…

  18. The People's Elbow says


    I’m not ‘not on side’, more so that I find the output from ’84 for the most part disposable (and as much as I appreciate the canon of Hall and Oates, it too is largely disposable)… but then again, I guess that’s pop music’s function.

    For me ’84 is notable for a) launching Madonna at the 1984 MTV music awards (ref below), whose peak was still two years away with the release of ‘True Blue’, and for b) the epoch of stadium-cock-rock with the release of Van Halen’s ‘1984’.

    But if the history of popular music was an album, 1984 would be the filler in between punk and grunge.

  19. Have to agree to disagree Litza.

    Being an advocate for discernible lyrics I found the ‘filler’ between punk and grunge a blessed relief.

    That’s not to say I hated all of it, just that much of it was overrated – in my opinion of course.

    But I guess that is to varying degrees true of most genres/eras.

  20. Budge, Queen’s Live Aid performance was a masterclass I can’t imagine ever being matched. It was to music what the Ablett v Salmon game was to footy.

  21. DBalassone says

    Great stuff Jeff. These tunes bring back fond memories of an enthusiastic grade sixer trying to get his first piece of the action. A couple of random points:
    1) It isn’t till now I realise how similar Electric Dreams and Never Ending Story sound.
    2) I could be wrong but I seem to remember Take On Me as late ’85.
    3) Is Break My Stride worth a mention?
    4) Flame Trees seems to be out of place with this lot. All the others songs take you back to that tacky mid-80s fashion period, but Flame Trees seems to be a song for a whole generation rather than for just 1984. Powerful, emotive song.

  22. Thank Damian.

    Take on Me had an initial release in late ’84 before later ones that gained more traction. It was a bit of a sneaky inclusion I must admit.

    I thought the same about Flame Trees – timeless.

    If you click the link to Matthew Wilder you’ll find Break my Stride. Weird looking dude, dated video.

  23. Where’s Twisted Sister? Robbed!

    JD, however rose tinted our glasses may be, Queen should never be compared to the likes of Ablett vs Salmon. They would barely be Brad Hardie.

    This is a ripper of a nostalgic piece and you (and others) are right, 1984, producing Springsteen, Prince (along with hits for his back band The Time and his drummer, Sheila E), Madonna, U2 and Michael Jackson classics pretty much sums up the year. Once we start delving into the music of the year, it is at best a confused bunch of the best and worst of a period that was, as you and others have remarked, transitional.

    For my money, you can raffle The Smiths. A singles band if ever there was. The Cure (who I’m not sure get a mention here) were a better teenage angst band. Better beats, melodies and lyrics. Someone forgot to tell Morrissey that the woes he ever so melodramatically whines on about have been captured so much better so many times over so many years (Summertime Blues anyone) before he started to pound his boofhead against his mirror (not so hard as to break that valuable real estate but just enough to have someone notice).

    The Top 40 (singles and albums) is always only guide to the best music produced. So, here are a few more that were going off back in 84 (the year I turned 22):

    Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, The Pretenders, This Mortal Coil, Minutemen, Nick Cave, Meat Puppets, XTC, The Pogues, Cabaret Voltaire, The dB’s, Guadalcanal Diary, The Butthole Surfers, Soft Cell, The Dream Syndicate, The Go-Betweens … oh, and Dead or Alive released You Spin Me Round

    Special rose coloured glasses shout out to The Del Fuegos and The Long Ryders and others who came up in ’85, setting the foundations for Alt-country and the journey back into the best of country and folk sounds


  24. Agree on The Cure and XTC Rick, love them both. I did mention the former and in the latter’s case I though their ’84 release The Big Express was probably one of their weakest.

    The Smiths a singles band? Might have a few who’d beg to disagree. Can’t remember if it was NME but The Queen is Dead was recently ranked the #1 album of all time. And whilst Morrissey can be a painful bore at times, I thought lyrically he was a genius – and for a misery guts wrote many witty and funny lines, backed of course by Johnny Marr’s guitar shedding further light on some pretty bizarre topics!

    I probably wasn’t old enough to appreciate some of the others you mention Rick that are a bit more off the grid, but I’ll try and find the time to check ’em out.

  25. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    I can see what you mean about ‘The Smiths’ Rick and sans ‘The Queen is Dead’ I tend to agree. However, ‘The Smiths’ was not just Morrissey. I struggle to listen to Morrissey without the guitar of Johnny Marr providing the contrast of heart, hope and humour to Morrissey’s whining. ‘Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now’ is a case in point.

  26. Rick’s got a big blind spot where The Smiths are concerned, JD, and it aint the first time he’s had a Morrissey-like whinge about them on this site.

    I would argue that woes had never been so eloquently (or, admittedly, self-indulgently) captured as when he wailed:

    “And now I know how Joan of Arc felt”

    But as the Elbow says, you’ll never get consensus on music.

    “As the flames rose to her Roman nose, and her hearing-aid started to melt”

  27. The People's Elbow says

    Rick, I got your “The Smiths are awful” back…

  28. But don’t forget the songs
    That made you smile
    And the songs that made you cry
    When you lay in awe
    On the bedroom floor
    And said “Oh, oh, smother me mother”

  29. Careful Rick.

    He said that to Malthouse a couple of years ago.

  30. Rick Kane says

    They had a good guitarist. He did a good job on Billy Bragg’s Taxman record.

    Thanks MOC, like that you remember.

    And don’t start me on Radiohead! Here’s an imagine of whiny hell – Bono, Morrissey and Mr Yorke banging on about nothing. Now I’m off to listen to a lot of country music where whining in almost an instrument in the band!


  31. Rick,
    I agree Ablett & Salmon don’t stand up on the world stage as comparable to Freddie but a fair comparison in terms of the quality of show each provided at that point in time. I was lucky enough to be at both. Cox Plate day 1982 makes up my holy trinity.

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