Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd we’re back.
If you’ve been following our Decadepalooza series thus far, you already know the drill. If not, welcome!
Decadepalooza is a place of celebration and wonder and Simon and I tearing our hair out trying to pack all of our favorite artists into a limited number of fictional festival slots apiece while praying that our tops picks don’t get stolen by each other. The goal is to create an ideal, imaginary, four-band music event comprised entirely of artists from a single decade. In previous installments we’ve created festivals based on the ‘60s and ‘70s, so you particularly keen observers might have a sense of what’s coming this time around…
This installment was particularly brutal, featuring more than a few of our all-time favorites on the draft board (and even more left on the cutting room floor), so let’s recap the rules and dive in:
- Only artists who released music during the years 1980-1989 are eligible for this Decadepalooza draft, and only the music they produced during that era will be included.
- Each festival must have one (1) headliner, two (2) co-headliners, and one (1) opener.
- Each headliner must have at least one #1 hit within the decade in question.
- No artist selected as an opener can have a platinum album during the decade in question.
- At the conclusion of the draft, the festival promoters will select a venue and one additional variable to add to their festival.
For those hoping to get as close as possible to the true festival vibe, we’re each including a playlist of our dream sets by each act, which you can stream via the links in our festival titles; and for all you competition-junkies, draft results will be posted at the conclusion of the piece, below our individual festival breakdowns.
Without any further ado, welcome to Decadepalooza III: The ‘80s!
Nate’s Festival: The TAKE A NATION OF MILLIONS WITH YOU Tour
Opener: Public Enemy
To kick off the show, I’m be going with if not the greatest hip-hop group in history, certainly the most influential. While Public Enemy had only released two albums by the close of the ‘80s, their revolutionary approach to production (engined by the iconic Bomb Squad production team) and scathingly political lyricism had already altered the landscape of hip-hop to come. Between their innovations in musical cacophony, their high-octane performance style, and their full-throated willingness to take aim at the institutional racism pervading the music industry (direct shots at former Decadepalooza performer Elvis Prestly) and American society writ large, I couldn’t ask for a better act to set the tone for the Take A Nation Of Millions With You tour.
Co-Headliner #1: Cyndi Lauper
Obscenely overqualified for anything shy of the headlining slot, but too good to leave on the board. Put a playlist of pop in the 2010s on shuffle and it won’t take long to find somebody biting off Lauper’s brilliance. Her quirky combustive energy and left-of-center songwriting were at once emblematic of the ‘80s and light-years of her time. With two of the most iconic pop songs in the history of pop songs to her name (not to mention the single best moment on the star-studded 1985 Record of The Year “We Are The World”), Cyndi is guaranteed to blow the doors off the Take A Nation Of Millions With You tour like no other artist could.
Co-Headliner #2: Talking Heads
If there’s one band I can say with absolute certainty will kill it on the Take A Nation Of Millions With You tour, it’s the Talking Heads. Immortalized by Jonathan Demme in the greatest concert film of all time, Stop Making Sense (with apologies to my Where The Light Is stans), this was a group whose already fantastic catalog was elevated exponentially in a live show context, where their performance-art-adjacent sensibilities and ever-evolving cast of brilliant collaborators could really thrive. The ‘80s find the Talking Heads realizing their artistic potential on all-time classics Remain in Light and Speaking In Tongues, and provided us with one of the greatest live tours ever (the source material for the aforementioned Stop Making Sense). I can’t think of many artists who could hold a candle to my headliner, but Byrne, Weymouth, Harrison, and Frantz probably have a better shot than anyone.
Where else can I go with the headliner of my ‘80s Decadepalooza festival than my favorite artist of all time at the apex of his powers? Prince’s unparalleled 1980s run gave us (if I’m being conservative) three of the greatest albums of all time*, cemented him as the multi-threat, genius-level talent that we know and miss today, and introduced us to an entirely new way of understanding music, celebrity, and the color purple. I would’ve given anything to see Prince live while he was still with us, but I’ll have to settle for living vicariously through Decadepalooza.
*Dirty Mind (1980), Purple Rain (1984), Sign O the Times (1987), honorable mention to Controversy (1981)
For a bit more about Nate’s obsession with The Purple One, check out his NPA Awards article (ranking the top fifteen Prince songs, NBA Awards style)
Venue: First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN
If you’ve got Prince, it feels sacrilegious to pick any other venue. Brought to life in vibrant fashion on screen by the famous Purple Rain concert scenes, First Avenue is the longtime heart of the all-too-often-overlooked Twin Cities music scene, and a perfect venue to balance the raucous energy of our festival with the intimacy of a club setting.
Variable: Filmed and released as a concert doc by Jonathan Demme
Simon’s Festival: THE KING AND I Tour
After three decades of fictional concert promotion, I’ve learned that capturing the decade’s essence is the single most important aspect to putting on of these shows. The 1980s were defined by iconic fashion, cocaine, and one-hit wonders. The decade gave Americans their first taste of modern consumerism and pop culture trends. Whether it was leg warmers, fanny packs, or head-to-toe neon outfits, each month boasted a new craze, and Americans took right to it.
In a conjectural sense, Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” is the neon fanny pack of pop music. The song was both understandably timely and mildly lame in the process. Just like fanny packs, Rockwall’s singular hit has experienced somewhat of a resurgence in recent years with its paranoid lyrics.
Am I picking Rockwell for just one song? Absolutely. What is the essence of the ‘80s if not one-hit-wonders? ‘“Somebody’s Watching Me” is the unassailable second greatest ‘80s one-hit wonder of all time, right behind Soft Cell’s cover of “Tainted Love.” I don’t even know if Rockwell made other music, and I couldn’t care less.
Co-Headliner #1: Lionel Richie
Few men are smoother than Lionel Richie. The pop sensation’s three albums in the decade total nearly all of his commercial hits. Combining ballads like “Hello” with the post-disco sounds of “All Night Long” and “Dancing on the Ceiling,” Richie was a rare constant in an ever-changing industry. Putting him on second in the show feels disrespectful, but it should speak more to the volume of the decade.
Co-Headliner #2: Van Halen
Van Halen is arguably the best hair metal band ever. The genre reached its popularity apex just as Van Halen did theirs. The band owned the ‘80s, despite somehow managing to seamlessly transition lead singers from David Lee Roth to Sammy Hagar halfway through. Both frontmen brought a unique tone to the project while maintaining the original essence.
Teens loved Van Halen because they represented the top-tier of the most popular genre in the world. Musicians and adults equally loved Van Halen’s outstanding instrumentation. The late Eddie Van Halen will always be remembered as one of the most iconic guitarists ever seen, just as his band will be forever regarded as an all-time great.
Headliner: Michael Jackson
The King of Pop gets his due, headlining my 80s installment of Decadepalooza. As a fictional concert promoter, I’ve adopted a “king of ___” policy. Any artist that’s been given the royal title has to be picked for my show. MJ is no different.
Thriller is far and away the greatest album ever made. Each of the nine tracks would be any other artist’s greatest hit. All of them together create the single most iconic record ever.
Like all of my festivals, this lineup has some continuity to it, rather than just four artists. I’d envision a fluid 3-4 hour concert with artists performing with each other on their respective tracks. MJ famously sings the chorus for “Somebody’s Watching Me”, and Eddie Van Halen takes lead guitar duties on “Beat It”. The foursome couldn’t be better suited for each other.
Venue: The Forum
Where else should the greatest showmen in music perform than the home of the Showtime Lakers?
Variable: Becomes Van Halen’s Final Show
I love Sammy Hagar as much as the next guy, but the latter years with him combined with the ugly reunion with David Lee Roth seriously tainted the band’s legacy. We’d all be better off if Van Halen rode into the sunset with Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie.
The Draft, in review:
Pick 1 (Nate): Prince
Pick 2 (Simon): Michael Jackson
Pick 3 (Nate): Talking Heads
Pick 4 (Simon): Van Halen
Pick 5 (Nate): Public Enemy
Pick 6 (Simon): Lionel Richie
Pick 7 (Nate): Cyndi Lauper
Pick 8 (Simon): Rockwell