September 29, 2019

1984 songs were so awesome they dominated next year's chart

Everyone already knows the best years for music were 1983 and '84.

But here's an additional piece of evidence: the Billboard year-end chart for 1985 was mainly made up of songs that had been released before 1985.

There are always some songs released (as singles or on albums) in the end of the previous year whose success will take off during the current year. But for a majority of this year's hit songs to have been mined from earlier releases? Was this year so empty? Well, if it's 1985, then yes, let's try to keep the fun spirit going from '84.

Of all 100 songs on the '85 chart, only 40 were released in that year. A clear majority, 60, were released either as singles or on albums that were released before '85. Almost all of those were from '84, but there were also 3 songs that had been mined from albums released fully two years earlier in '83 ("Neutron Dance," "All Through the Night," and "Penny Lover").

It's not just that '84 was one of the single greatest years for music, it was also the final year of the early '80s manic phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle. The crash / refractory / vulnerable phase began in '85, and that would begin shifting the zeitgeist away from fun-loving new wave and toward emo soft rock and power ballads.

That set up one hell of a contrast between albums released in '84 vs. '85 -- and evidently the audience was still resonating with the earlier phase and rejecting, at least for the year, the new phase. Just have a look through the albums released in '85 -- the most notable ones are from indie bands (Psychocandy), not mainstream ones. That was the start of the college rock / modern rock bubble of the second half of the '80s.

I don't know whether this is part of a more general pattern, but I'll look into it. That is, looking at each of the three phase transitions during an entire cycle, is there a tendency for one of them to be resisted more than the others?

I know I still preferred the early 2010s music to that of 2015 and after -- that's what first drew my attention to the existence of the excitement cycle in the first place, how emo everything became all of a sudden. You'd think people would be most averse to giving up a good thing, like the manic phase, to plunge into a refractory period -- not leaving behind the emo victimization phase for a return to normalcy, or leaving normalcy behind for an excitement spike.

Then again, maybe this is unique to the '84-'85 transition. In any case, something highly unusual and worth noting for the pop culture historical record.


  1. I can think of two explanations.

    The first is that we just got the demarcation dates wrong. Manic phase went to '85-'86, but also started 1-2 years earlier than believed. Recent manic phase peaked in 2015-2016, which means the defractory phase we're in will go to 2021-2022.

    The second explanation is that the manic phase actually lasts longer - which means the other two phases are shorter. The whole cycle undoubtedly lasts 15 years, but are the three phases an even 5 years?

  2. Consecutive years within a phase don't tend to have 60% of their songs coming from the previous year.

    I haven't looked in detail, but if you look at '82-'83, or '83-'84 -- where it's unambiguous that they're both within the manic phase -- you aren't going to see 60% of songs coming from earlier years.

    I'd say 10-20% is more typical. I've been over these year-end charts time after time, and 1985 really jumps out as reflecting the previous year than the current one.

    And if it were simply getting the dates wrong, then 1985 would reflect 1985 -- only there would have been a bunch of new wave albums or one-hit-wonders being released into '85, showing that the new wave era lasted a year longer. But there weren't (again, check the list of albums released in that year).

    The new music from '85 was heading in the new emo direction, it just wasn't being accepted so easily by the public.


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