Jim DeRogatis has a list of ten things he hates about music of the 1980s. I agree with some of them (especially the over-production, drum machines and synthesizers - those have not aged well), but I feel I should post ten things I love (read, not in a cynical way) about the decade I grew up in:
1. Ground zero for modern-day Do-It-Yourself (DIY)
Just read Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life and realize that the "decade that didn't matter" did matter. If it weren't for bands/labels recording their own records and booking their own tours, there would be no Alternative Nation.
2. The advent of the CD
After music came out on compact disc, the problems with vinyl seemed to disappear. Thanks to CD, there were no pops or cackles. The true sonic clarity of CD didn't really come into its own until digital remastering in the 1990s.
Yes, image has always been a cornerstone of marketing music but having a TV channel devoted to running "music commercials" was new. MTV introduced a visual radio station and introduced a lot of kids into the power of music (whether the music was "meaningless" or not).
When I think of hip-hop, I often think of it as self-improvement through material rewards. Creating a false sense of reality is not something I can sink my teeth into, but hip-hop has done great things. Creating something out of recorded music and putting your own spin on it is unique. Granted, samplers, turntables and drum machines are not the same as guitars and drums, but they emit sounds and can manipulate sounds. A DJ or a rapper may not be 100% original with using somebody else's recorded material, but this is a form of inspiration.
5. Michael Jackson's Thriller
Funky, danceable rock with a wall of solid production translated into accessible pop songs. A record that still holds up.
6. Mindless dance music gave way to loud rock music
As years pass and things seem simpler to sum up, "brainless" mainstream music often gives way to "good" mainstream music. After years of dance music in the disco formula (repeat solid beats and simple keyboard melodies) and all the hair metal, grunge was a welcome alternative.
7. 120 Minutes
Starting in 1986, the visual radio station of MTV introduced ground-breaking artists/bands to the Sunday night specialty show audience. No matter how small the audience was, the kind of promotion made an impact.
8. Not all blockbuster bands/artists performed mindless songs
R.E.M. and U2 sold boatloads of records, yet had credibility, something so many pop acts bypassed for the supposed lasting power of fame. The morale to the story: not everything on the pop charts was "meaningless."
Using the energy and attitude of punk in songs with unorthodox rhythms helped inspire those stilted in the loud-fast-rules confines.
Debate all you want on when the band's quality went down (I don't believe it ever did - it evolved), but this metal band didn't abide by rules or trends and still don't. So many metal bands stay within their parameters and burn out.