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What ’80s Dress Are You?

Train of thought.

Listening to playlists built around travel themes – Texas, California, a Southern road trip – I realize I’ve never done an Australian music playlist. So many good bands I recall, popular, infamous and obscure. INXS, Paul Kelly, Divinyls, Eurogliders, Hoodoo Gurus, Models, The Church…

Now what was the name of the band that had the song in the cocktail party scene in Crocodile Dundee?

Hey there you with the sad face

Come up to my place

And live it up

I have to ask my husband, who answers immediately. Mental As Anything.

Remembrance of the party scene = recognition that the red dress Linda Koslowski (as journalist Sue Charlton) wore was so kick-ass*.Version 2

To have the confidence to wear that.

I did not, in the ‘80s. But if I had, that would be my ‘80s dress. Slinky and surprising.

What Google can do: ‘great dresses from 80s movies’.

7,290,000 results.

All those Pinterest Halloween costume ideas make me feel old. When my kids want to dress up like the ‘80s they usually go with the RUN-DMC look. My Adidas! Then, now, forever.

Brain works back to ‘80s dresses. A Top Five forms:

  1. The downtown dress, Crocodile Dundee (Linda Koslowski)
  2. DIY prom dress, Pretty in Pink (Molly Ringwald)
  3. Like-a-virgin prom dress, Footloose (Lori Singer)
  4. The backless, spaghetti-strap numbers, Scarface (Michelle Pfeiffer)
  5. A-whore-at-the-opera red formal, Pretty Woman (Julia Roberts)


If I wrote for BuzzFeed, I’d tell you what your favorite dress says about the self-image you desire:

  1. Self-assured but desperate for a little artistic cool cred. Attracted to Australians 😉
  2. Strong, crafty and rebellious though drawn to moony, spineless men. Go figure.
  3. You really, really want to be loved for your brain not your body. Good luck with that.
  4. You, however, don’t mind being eye candy and you really don’t mind doing nose candy.
  5. Purely aspirational. You believe in fairy tales and the transformative power of money.

I soundtrack my thoughts with Paul Kelly’s Greatest Hits and INXS’s The Swing.

And then I realize: Ah! I haven’t even gotten to Winona Ryder’s goth gown in Beetlejuice. Or Demi Moore’s trashy strapless pink postage stamp in St. Elmo’s Fire!!!

’80s Dresses!

(Demi wore those attitude glasses so well.)

I send a message

Hope it gets through


The train continues on the tracks…

*To something random and related. A man named Mark Kalan, who crewed on Crocodile Dundee, bought the red dress at auction and started a photography project. Calling it The Red Dress Project, Kalan aimed to photograph at least 100 women – of all ages, size 6-8 or under – in the dress for a gallery show and book.

Now where was I when this went down (and I was still a size 6)???


And then there was that moment…

When you heard it. Was it on the radio? Or in the middle of a mix tape? An album? A CD? Did you buy it yourself or borrow it from a friend? After you heard it, did you go out and get yourself a guitar or eyeliner or a preacher’s hat? Did you stick a safety pin in your ear and wear a dog collar to school the next day?

"Hey kid, rock and roll, rock on..." (photo by therockmom)

“Hey kid, rock & roll, rock on, oh my soul” (photo by therockmom)

Did you even know what was happening to you?

I’m talking about your Before & After Song: a song or album that defined your musical tastes from the first moment you heard it – something that most definitely wasn’t your parents’ music. As if: this was my life before song X and this was my life after, forever altered.

I had so much fun putting this blog post together. I contacted a bunch of people – flesh & blood friends, Twitter friends, my brother – and asked them for their B&A songs (It would’ve been MORE fun if I could have collected everyone’s answers in person over cocktails, but hey). Then as I was typing up their fantastic, thoughtful responses, I listened to everything on Spotify. The playlist went something like this:

Beastie Boys, Adrian Belew, Blondie, David Bowie, The Cars, Fleetwood Mac, The Jam, Led Zeppelin, Pulp, Lou Reed, R.E.M., RUN-DMC, The Slits, James Taylor & U2.

You can listen to it here:

Now read on for their replies and for those moments when a song can change your life…

Matthew Dunn, author of the Spycatcher novels, former spy, way cool


The first album I ever bought, in 1980 when I was age eleven, was David Bowie’s newly released Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). Though Bowie had been a super star in the early seventies, I knew little about him but by chance found a two-page spread on him in a discarded newspaper. His character fascinated me. So, I bought the above album, though remember feeling a little nervous before pressing play on my cheap cassette player. The opening track – “It’s No Game (Part 1)” – with its discordant heavy guitar riffs, Japanese female vocals, and Bowie’s primal scream voice, immediately hooked me. In Bowie, I’d found a very unusual and talented artist, and Scary Monsters was not only the album that defined my subsequent musical tastes but also remains one of my all time favorite collections of tracks.

Meredith Spidel, writer, Mom of the Year, funny & honest as hell


I find it hard to pin down one song, but “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac always spoke to me. I remembered reading Stevie Nicks interviewed once.  She said that the song didn’t start to make complete sense to her until she turned 27, and wouldn’t you know?  When I hit 27, it was like I GOT IT.  All of a sudden, I would put the song on and it was like it was explaining me.  Does that sound crazy?  Probably, oh well!

Scott Murphy, writer, adventurer, musical omnivore


Wow…so many. But I’ll have to go with Led Zeppelin. The first time I heard the opening chords of “Good Times, Bad Times” I was hooked by their power. And then my musical bonanza really began…

Oh…and The Cars…mustn’t forget The Cars…

Tania Willis, artist, illustrator, kick-ass mom


Like most musically inclined British kids in the 80’s, all my self-identification took place from 10-12 at night with a radio under the covers, listening to John Peel. I lived in the countryside in a dull county in the Midlands. I didn’t like the music that my female friends at school liked, so I felt like a bit of a loner. The only place I felt I had some community was listening to John Peel. After my girl-crush on Siouxsie Sioux, Blondie, etc I listened to other girl bands like The Raincoats, Kleenex, X-Ray Specs, Mo-Dettes, etc. I was looking for females to identify with, so when The Slits came along with their home-made DIY sound, attitude, lyrics, music, words etc. I loved them. They were everything I’d waited for. Along with their Notting Hill reggae connections, I followed them devotedly through to their incarnations as New Age Steppers.

We were so lucky to live through this era. I wish my daughter could see how easy it was to be a creative & strong female without needing to compromise yourself sexually to sell music (this is a regular conversation amongst my female friends now). My husband & I were even considering piecing together old documentary footage to show our daughter the great female role models of the 80’s

Steve Beck, musician, writer, conduit to the best music videos ever


It was easy to find a common ground in music with my parents while growing up. The top artists at the time were Paul McCartney, Elton John, Paul Simon, David Bowie and more. Eventually I started seeking out my own music and trading tapes with friends. On the tail-end of one of these cassettes was Lou Reed’s “Wild Child” and although I didn’t know who the artist was at the time, it changed my perception of music. Here was someone whose lyrics were blunt, forthright, and undisguised and his voice cracked when he attempted to sing. This has guided my musical journey ever since.

Jennifer Parks, groovin’ mom, fellow Texan in Hong Kong, born in ‘76

woman of mystery

It’s so hard to answer! I had a few moments of mimicking my older brother and sister’s tastes – erasure, Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, etc.

But, my big break came with hip hop – Run DMC’s Raising Hell and the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill.

I still love those albums.

Iain Williamson, film & media teacher, Arsenal fan (!), father


My parents both had little interest in music so very little influence from them as I rejected Cliff Richard (my Mum’s fav) when I was about two.

In terms of defining albums, Eat to the Beat by Blondie was the first album I ever bought and “Atomic” by Blondie, the first single. However, Setting Sons by The Jam was the first album to have a really profound impact on me politically and socially.

RenZelen, sci-fi writer, reviewer, Pearl Jam/Jack White comrade-in-arms


I will have to go with Bowie, as he was a game-changer for a generation. He’d been around for quite a while before Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars of course, but not really registering on my rock radar. I remember watching Top of The Pops as a kid in the ’70s like everybody did. It usually featured the pop and glam rock bands that infested the charts at the time and, as I was born and raised in the Midlands, the birthplace of Heavy Metal, I heard plenty of heavy rock music around me. But this particular time on Top of the Pops a strange creature appeared wearing a one piece, multi-coloured jumpsuit and red patent boots. I remember the white nail polish that we noticed as he cheekily draped a languid arm over the shoulders of his guitarist Mick Ronson (a brilliant guitarist I may add) and who could miss the bright orange hair which looked like he’d had an electric shock? Best of all he was singing about a “Starman” and for a kid obsessed with science-fiction – what could be better?!

No-one had written songs about aliens and we’d certainly not seen anything like Bowie before! Ziggy was the first album I saved up my pocket money to buy and as for all the following albums, each one was different, as was his persona.

Michael Daley, screenwriter, dog rescuer, The Professor


James Taylor’s  “The Secret of Life”.  Really all of his music.  Before that, music was just something on the radio in the background. Now it’s something I can glean advice on life from – or inspire a story…  maybe even made me a writer…

Kate Farr, editor of Sassy Mama HK, blogger, expat extraordinaire


Being a British child of the 80’s (ok, ’79, but right at the very end!), my teen years were spent wholeheartedly embracing Britpop. “Blur or Oasis?” may have been the quickest way of identifying your musical tribe in ’95, but my heart was won by a tall, bespectacled, slightly morose wordsmith from Sheffield… the wonderful Jarvis Cocker.

I was – and am to this day – a huge fan of Pulp, and their 1994 breakthrough album His n’ Hers was on heavy rotation in my room in the mid-nineties. “Babies” is a beautifully-crafted exploration of teen angst, lust and heartbreak, and has a wonderfully catchy guitar hook to boot. A top tune that fills me with nostalgia and makes me want to don my purple DMs every time I hear it.

Robert Stephens, accountant, my oldest brother (he’s single, ladies…)

& he doesn’t tweet

It was the summer of ’82. I had my musical awakening working at a record store in San Antonio, where there was so much new music. We had a big import section filled with British punk and avant garde bands like King Crimson and Roxy Music. New Order was coming out of the ashes of Joy Division, Bowie had released Scary Monsters; it all completely turned my musical tastes on my ear. Before that I listened to classic rock. The one song I remember from this time was Adrian Belew’s “The Lone Rhinoceros”, about being alone in this zoo. There were some great lines in it – the lyrics and the guitar work were perfect.

Adrian worked with Bowie & Robert Fripp, and they in turn worked with Brian Eno. A group of musicians doing new, interesting work.

And then there’s me


We didn’t have cable TV when it first came out in the early/mid ‘80s, but I used to babysit for a family that did. After the little kids were asleep, I’d sit transfixed by MTV – my window in to the world of New Wave bands and their exotic videos: Duran Duran, INXS, Talk Talk, Blancmange, ABC, etc. The tectonic plates were shifting.

Then about a year later, Robert came home from college with two albums that changed my life forever: R.E.M.’s Reckoning and U2’s October. The second full-length LPs from each band. Their music sounded like nothing I’d heard before, there were no reference points – it was exciting and different and truly alternative to me. The tune that always reminds me of this time is R.E.M.’s “So. Central Rain,” which funnily enough did not have an accompanying video on MTV’s heavy rotation. I had to make up my own moving images about the band and its message: “These rivers of suggestion are driving me away…”

It was cosmically appropriate that when I first saw R.E.M. in concert (on the Life’s Rich Pageant tour in Austin), I was with Robert and our sister.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end!

Please share your B&A music – I want to hear your song stories!

You never know what's behind the door, so play on.

You never know what’s behind the door, so play on. (photo by therockmom)

UPDATED: Can it really be SUMMER without ’80s music?

It started with Haircut 100.

My search, that is, for summer songs to play in the car with the kids – on the way to the pool, beach, movies. I was looking for clean, happy songs. I thought first of The Go-Go’s, of course. Playful songs with a girl power streak – just what my seven and nine year old daughters need! But then I couldn’t believe it when I realized: I do not own a Go-Go’s CD. How can that be?

All I Ever Wanted…

So I pulled out Haircut 100 (Pelican West – see even the album name sounds fun!) along with The English Beat (Special Beat Service) and put them on heavy rotation in the car. Well, when I could get a break from Disney’s Girlz Rock 2 and Abba Gold – damn you Mamma Mia!

The next night, with my husband on a business trip, I went online to rectify that Go-Go’s omission…

See here’s the problem with iTunes and your husband being away.

FORTY-SIX song purchases later, it’s one a.m. and like a mad musicologist, I’m sitting before the glow of the computer screen creating for my children MY DEFINITIVE ’80s PLAYLISTS!

I’m putting that in all caps because when you’ve grown up in the ’80s it really deserves emphasis. And even though you might call it lame nostalgia I’m labeling it an Important Learning Experience, like the time my mom made us watch Easy Rider on Christmas Eve by explaining, “Kids, this is your history.”

So, now that you are intrigued, what is on these precious playlists?

Talented & oh so stylish

Talented & Oh So Stylish

I’ve created five playlists, each with 20 to 22 songs, each playlist with a different theme (okay wiseguys, go ahead and joke). If you listen to all five lists, you’re introduced to a glorious 100+ of pure ’80s pop and you basically become a diehard OMD, Yaz (aka Yazoo) and/or Talk Talk fan forever.

I consider these tunes quality ’80s music – some were big hits, some more obscure. I like to think of my taste as a bit left of field, so instead of Huey Lewis and The News, you get Colourfield. No Wang Chung or Cyndi Lauper but plenty of The Smithereens and Scritti Politti. And when I do pick the mega stars I like the lesser known tunes like Spandau Ballet’s “Only When You Leave” or “Hazy Shade of Winter,” which is an absolute underrated gem from The Bangles (on the Less Than Zero soundtrack, written by Paul Simon btw).

Theme One – Favs

These are my top picks. Here I’ve got a cross-section of favorite tunes from around the globe, heavy on the British contingent however: Bananarama, ABC, Haircut 100, Human League, Tears for Fears, Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Wham, Spandau Ballet, Talk Talk, The Smiths and rounding out with the classic “Blue Monday” from New Order. To represent the Yanks, I’ve included Madonna and Michael Jackson (“P.Y.T.” not “Beat It!”) as well as Prince and The Revolution and Nenah Cherry (remember her? She’s half-American, I think). And last but not least a couple of Australian bands (no, no, not Men At Work, get serious), namely INXS and The Divinyls. Listen to it again and again – “Pleasure and Pain” is divine.

Theme Two – Brits & a Kiwi

Let’s go deeper in to Brit pop, which had such a strong influence on me. Heck, I was a Texas kid in the suburbs – crazy hair bands from the UK were the exotic and sexy lead characters in my Eurorail-pass escapist dreams.

Here we have more contributions from the bands I listed above as well as Echo and the Bunnymen x 2 (“Rescue” and “The Cutter” kill me), Love and Rockets, Elvis Costello, A Flock of Seagulls, The Cure, Yaz, Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark (“Women III” – check it out!), The Psychedelic Furs, The Style Council and The Colourfield. I sneak in a quirky contribution from Kiwi band Split Enz – “Dirty Creatures” and top off the list with two definitive New Wave tracks: The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” and The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” Now we can all do that head-down, asymmetrical hair, mope-y dance.

Unfortunately I couldn’t include the sitar-bop of Blancmange’s “Living on the Ceiling” because it’s unavailable on iTunes! Any thoughts/suggestions on that would be most appreciated.

*UPDATE: since I wrote this, Blancmange has appeared on Spotify – yeah! So we can all now enjoy their exotic cool.

And can I just make a career suggestion here – one of you Mileys-Britneys-Demi’s-Selena’s-Ashley’s could kick so much pop ass if you did a Pharrell Williams-produced remake of “Situation” or “Don’t Go”. Think about it. (Katy P and Ke$ha, please don’t bother because we’re just counting the days til you go away.)

So at the risk of this turning in to my senior thesis (we don’t need that much nostalgia), I’ll wrap things up and run through the rest of the lists.

Theme Three – Dance

Think more Prince, Michael Jackson and Madonna, Sheila E, George Michael, Rob Base and Eazy E and again with the techno-booty-shaking Yaz.

*UPDATE: I would have preferred to include Scritti Politti’s “Lover to Fall” but alas not on Spotify so we’ll have to enjoy “Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin”. Hope you’re all okay with that.

Theme Four – Rock & Pop

This list is reserved for all those pop-rock artists who weren’t necessarily groundbreaking but made some great music in the ’80s: The Police, The Pretenders, The Cars, Midnight Oil, Talking Heads, U2, Lone Justice, The Reivers (Texas band alert!), Paul Kelly (covering Crowded House), etc. plus my beloved R.E.M. and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

*UPDATE: Very limited selection of Lone Justice, Paul Kelly and The Reivers on Spotify, so I’ve had to improvise. But I added some Marshall Crenshaw for good measure.

Theme Five – A Little Edge

These songs close out the education with a slightly edgier look at ’80s rock plus a peek at rap beginnings: early Jane’s Addiction and Guns N’ Roses, Living Colour, Fishbone, The Replacements, Sonic Youth, The Plimsouls, The Sugarcubes (Bjork’s original band), Run DMC and LL Cool J (“Going Back to Cali” makes me think I’m cool), more R.E.M., a little Bowie and one of the GREAT college bands of all time: Guadalcanal Diary.

Oh, and a little Concrete Blonde.


Once when I was with my mom, “California Dreaming” by The Mamas and the Papas came on the radio and I sang along. My mom was surprised I knew the words and said, “You must have heard that in the womb!”

Now do I expect my girls to jump up and say, “Mommy this ’80s music is just so awesome, what IS it?”


But the hours I spent buying and organizing, rearranging and previewing were immensely enjoyable. Yes, I am the musical equivalent of a policy wonk. Yes, I indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Who doesn’t?

And maybe one day, I’ll catch my daughter singing, “We are young despite the years, we are concerned, we are hope despite the times.”

Long live the ’80s.