Tucson Symphony Orchestra is taking us on a trip through the 1980s on Friday in the finale of its short-lived TSO Rocks the Fox series.
Under the baton of Conductor Keitaro Harada, the orchestra and a band with four vocalists from the Canadian Jeans ‘n Classics troupe will remind us why the 1980s was such a complicated decade for pop music.
“People like (the ’80s), but there’s no passion for it,” says Alan Michaels, the longtime Tucson DJ who spent nearly 30 years spinning tunes from the bygone eras of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. “There is passion for some of the artists, yes, but nobody loved the ’80s.”
Michaels has a point: Of all the pop music decades, the 1980s had no clear soundscape. The 1970s, he reminds us, started off with soft rock, then segued into disco with some R&B/dance music to spice it up.
But along came the 1980s and we were all over the map, trying to play to the cameras feeding the MTV generation. There were tons of songs, but no one thread tied any of it together. We cruised to Prince’s R&B signature “Little Red Corvette” when we couldn’t “Walk Like an Egyptian” with the new wave pop princesses the Bangles.
We crossed the pond to the Emerald Isle with U2 to a place “Where the Streets Have No Name” just north of B52s’ infectiously goofy “Love Shack.”
“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” was Tears for Fears’ notable contribution to the second wave of the British invasion, and Chaka Khan was coyly professing “I Feel For You” on this side of the Atlantic. Elton John, who survived and thrived over his five-decade career, summed the decade up best: “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues.”
There was little in the 1980s that we could plant a flag in and define as “The ’80s.” But that’s what also made the decade musically exciting. Flip on Top 40 radio and you heard Cyndi Lauper’s sobering “Time After Time.” Two songs later we were grooving along to Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Fantasy” followed up by Oslo import A-Ha’s “Take On Me.”
Ironically, Friday’s concert will dip back into the 1970s in the final song: Fleetwood Mac’s enduring anthem “Don’t Stop.” It makes sense; the song was released in 1977, but its shelf extended well into the 1980s and was resurrected in the 1990s as President Bill Clinton’s theme song.
This is the final concert for TSO Rocks the Fox, the pop-rock series the orchestra launched last season. The idea was to bring new audiences to orchestra concerts. The series was not part of the 2014-15 season the orchestra announced last month.