1984. We were still scared of the Soviets. We played Ms. Pac Man at the video game room at the mall. The mall, where we went at least once a week. If you were cool, you had cable T.V. and a VCR. You listened to your music on cassette tape.
In 1984, I was in 11th grade: I started 7th grade in 1979 and graduated from college in 1989. So this was my time.
1984 was memorable to me because that was the year we finally managed to convince our mom to subscribe to cable TV, meaning that we finally had MTV. That was exciting enough, because MTV played artists our local radio stations didn’t. Yeah, I know now that they were still omitting a lot of artists, especially Black ones (we had BET to cover that anyway, and yeah, we watched), but it was still a new world.
I had no idea that 1984 was an especially stellar year in music, but I have to say, I enjoyed reading about it! Especially because I could pretty much play every music in my head.
Can’t Slow Down is that story of that year through music. For me, this book brought up a lot of great memories…but it was also interesting to read about genres I knew nothing about at the time, such as country and reggae.
The Things We Missed At the Time
What Matos does not do, that is kind of a disappointment, is tell us what he thinks it all meant. This book is arranged in a series of vignettes based on different events, but the chapter titles are so vague that unless you are a REAL music nerd, you will have no idea, for the most part, what you can expect from each chapter. This arrangement is both a blessing and a curse: the vagueness caused me to read chapters I might have skipped, and some of them were illuminating.
And also, I’m going to throw this out there: I’m grossed out by the photo featuring Madonna’s armpit on the cover. I mean seriously: covering up Prince’s shoulder with that nasty thing (not Madona’s particularly but armpits in general) ? Ugh. But then again, which I owned some of her tapes (True Blue & Like a Prayer) and a CD (Ray of Light), I was never a huge Madonna fan. Michael Jackson (d’uh, everyone liked Michael Jackson) and Prince, YEAH! So I hope they do a better cover for the paperback. Just saying.
I had no idea what was going on in certain areas of the music world in 1984, including country music and reggae, but in 2021 I have a slightly bigger clue. Funny thing is, I didn’t know that some of that music CAME from 1984.
The biggest insight that comes from this book is that 1984 is the first year that the Top Ten was dominated by African Americans. That’s true. And the funny think is, we barely noticed it.
I realize that the performers were carefully marketed for us NOT to notice it, but even so, it was quite an accomplishment that I like to think paved the way for all of us to feel more comfortable opening up to all kinds of music. I would argue that Lionel Ritchie, Prince, and Michael Jackson paved the way for performers with more visible cultural ties.
But then again, a point that Matos misses, is that those of us who were teenagers and young adults in the 1980’s were the first generation to grow up in a fully integrated schools. I lived in Southeastern Virginia (the setting for the movie Hidden Figures), where desegregation started in 1959 and ended in the early 70’s, before I was born. I went to a school that had been a Black school (and yup, it wasn’t as nice), and I remember my Black teachers showing us yearbooks from when they taught at the Black high school, but I don’t remember it.
That’s something I’ve actually never heard anything about, but there it is in our music.
In Ambivalent Defense of the Mullet
Of course, the fun thing about reading about music in 2021 is that anytime you DON’T know the music, youtube is right there. Most of the time I did, but by the end of the book I was watching U2 and Queen perform at Live Aid while I read about it in the book.
And yes, Matos does eventually get to U2, which was my complaint halfway through. I was thinking it was because U2 wasn’t that big yet, in 1984, as compared to later, but my 20 something daughter called it. Even with luminaries such as Prince and Michael Jackson, U2 is still my favorite.
I had to look at Youtube because Matos was dissing Bono and The Edge’s mid 80’s teased up mullets, but you know, I’m an eighties woman. The mullet didn’t bother me. I actually didn’t remember how hot Bono was in his early years. Like practically every other Gen-Xer, I’ve loved U2 for decades, but I never before thought Bono was especially hot. I would have crawled up on that stage too (see the clip of “Bad”).
So if you are a Gen Xer who wants to revisit the 80’s, not to mention find out what you missed…or if you came later (I’m sorry) and want to see how we got such good music, this is the book for you.
Also read up on how we bought our music affected the music itself. I know there are songs I didn’t like nearly as much before I saw the video, which was a new thing in the 80’s. You remember, when MTV was basically radio with video!