In order to find success in the video-friendly '80s, some established artists of the '70s (and in some cases even the '60s) reinvented themselves, with varying results. The best of these evolved without selling out, taking advantage of both the new era and their unique talents.
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A quintessential case of career and life reinvention, former R&B songstress Tina Turner
re-emerged in 1984 from an abusive marriage (to former musical partner Ike Turner
) with a fresh image and approach to music. With her smash album Private Dancer
, the new Tina Turner unleashed highly accessible pop/rock that for all its commercial viability never seemed like a sanitized gloss of her previously raw soul style. "Better Be Good to Me"
in particular seemed to merge Turner's fiery delivery with her hard-fought maturity.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Columbia/Legacy
Journey's rise to superstardom stemmed directly from the ascension of Steve Perry as lead singer and band catalyst. In the '70s the Bay Area band offered up somewhat puzzling progressive rock
that just couldn't muster any hooks. After Perry took the helm, the band cranked out hit after hit on Escape
, perfecting the bombastic art of the '80s power ballad
through a buoyant dual approach of keyboards and backing guitar. But there's no question Perry's soaring vocals are the real attraction.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino Atlantic
Foreigner was once a hard rock band, and main songwriter Mick Jones used to play some guitar. But you wouldn't have known that in the '80s, as lead singer Lou Gramm took center stage with his curly locks and passionate vocal style. Monster hits "Waiting for a Girl Like You"
and "I Want to Know What Love Is"
may have reeked of synthesizer, but they proved Jones could still deliver the goods, because Foreigner's song quality, especially on 4
, did not diminish even if Jones' fretwork surely did.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.
One of the classic rock holdovers most adept at adapting to MTV, this Texas blues rock trio practically trademarked the flowing beard on its way to the top of the charts. Unabashedly pop but far from guitarless, ZZ Top's '80s output embraced the video form and found its way into the good graces of young audiences seemingly without effort. The boys weren't afraid to get goofy, but they were smart enough to build their new sound around an old strength, turning 1983's Eliminator into a huge hit.
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While Rod Stewart may yet have a few versions of himself up his sleeve, his most dramatic makeover certainly took place in the '80s. Utilizing disco
, the decade's keyboard explosion, and a nose for pop hooks, the former '70s rocker and sensitive singer-songwriter came up with a succulent stew (I apologize) of accessible pop-rock. On that path, he released a number of emblematic '80s tunes, perhaps none more against-your-will compelling than the sublime "Some Guys Have All the Luck."
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino/Elektra
Without Rick Wakeman, who knew that the frustrating '70s prog masters would morph into a mainstream rock, guitar-based hit machine? But that's exactly what happened with 1983's 90125
. That album's title was the only perplexing thing about a record packed with highly accessible pop/rock. "Owner of a Lonely Heart"
didn't dawdle in delivering its monster power chord riffs, while "Changes"
and "It Can Happen"
likewise pushed orchestral impulses to the shadows.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Island
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino/Warner Bros.
It wasn't much fun to watch the jazz-rock fusion genius of this band go on the wane as the '70s wore on. So imagine Terry Kath's beyond-the-grave cringing when "You're the Inspiration"
ruled the charts. Nonetheless, frontman Peter Cetera knew how to craft a hit song, and he was right that downplaying the band's legendary brass sound would bring his pop sense to the foreground. It was unfortunate that Cetera's departure didn't bring about a return to the band's roots, but success is addictive, I guess.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol
This funky bar band represented another rare example of '80s commercial viability failing to adversely affect music quality. But Seth Justman hit his songwriting stride just in time for the smash album Freeze-Frame
, and that's just the way it had to happen. The sardonic "Love Stinks"
from an earlier album fit Peter Wolf's flamboyant frontman perfectly, but "Centerfold"
and "Angel in Blue"
remain wonderfully timeless treasures of the era.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of RCA/BMG Heritage
While one could dispute this selection, it must be noted that the bottom-feeder position is at least appropriate. The venerable '60s hippie band Jefferson Airplane
had previously molted into soft rock
hitmakers Jefferson Starship, but its transformation entering its third decade was even more stunning. Grace Slick & Co. cast off the "Jefferson" portion of their name as well as early hard rock leanings for movie soundtrack schlock like "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now,"
but even that couldn't prepare the world for "We Built This City,"
perhaps the decade's most shameful moment.