Jasper Jams: Welcome to the ’80s

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Taylor Swift has once again taken the music industry by storm with the recent release of her new album, “1989.” The album of course features the addictive single that you haven’t been able to get out of your head for the past few months, “Shake It Off.” More importantly, the album also signals Swift’s final break from her country star roots, a transition several years in the making and a process that has brought Swift massive amounts of record sales.

Critics have given “1989” mostly favorable reviews. “Deeply weird, feverishly emotional, wildly enthusiastic, “1989” sounds exactly like Taylor Swift, even when it sounds like nothing she’s ever tried before,” Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone said.

Swift herself has cited the music of the ’80s as the main inspiration for her new sound. In an interesting review of the album, Jon Caramanica of The New York Times lauds Swift for smartly setting herself apart from the rest of mainstream pop music. Caramanica claims that most modern pop stars have recently achieved success by emulating the sounds of hip-hop and R&B. The new musical direction of “1989” allows Swift “to stake out popular turf without having to keep up with the latest microtrends” of pop music.

Whether you buy into Caramanica’s commentary (that also touches on the topics of race and cultural appropriation) or not, there is no doubt that the music of the ’80s influenced the production of the album. Synthesizers abound—reminiscent of the new wave, synthpop and electronic movements of the era. It is perhaps most recognizable on the tracks “Out of the Woods” and “Style.”

This week Jasper Jams has picked out some specific songs from the ’80s that could have influenced Swift in making her new album. She is not the first artist to treat the decade as her muse, but her enormous popularity and fan base could certainly spark another revival of interest in the time period.


1) “Something Good” by Paul Haig

On “Something Good,” Haig exemplifies the deep and heavy synthesizers that were a frequent feature of the new wave songs of the ’80s. The backing of Swift’s “Style” bears close resemblance to this track from the Scottish musician.

2) “Rush Hour” by Jane Wiedlin

Released in 1988, “Rush Hour” is a track that appears to be one of the most obvious songs that Swift modeled on “1989.” Wiedlin is a guitarist and vocalist of The Go-Go’s, the all-female ’80s band that had big hits with “We’ve Got the Beat” and “Vacation.” This song was one of her most successful solo efforts and has a breezy pop sound also seen on Swift’s album.

3) “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go” by Soft Cell

Technically two separate songs, both are in fact covers. “Tainted Love” was originally recorded by American singer Gloria Jones back in the ’60s. In 1981, British group Soft Cell slowed the tempo and used electronic instruments to craft their take on the tune. Soft Cell then paired their version with an electronic cover of Motown classic “Where Did Our Love Go” by The Supremes for a slick, seamless medley that just oozes synthesizers.

4) “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul

Rapper J. Cole borrowed the chorus from Abdul’s snappy hit for his song “Work Out” back in 2011. Before she was a judge for “American Idol” and other competition shows, Abdul had her own career in music and choreography. “Straight Up” was one of her biggest hits when released in 1988.

5) “Tell It to My Heart” by Taylor Dane

Now a dance mainstay, “Tell It to My Heart” was the breakthrough record for Dane back in 1987. While Swift’s vocals really don’t have the same punch as those of Dane, her more upbeat songs “I Wish You Would” and even “Shake It Off” call to mind late ’80s pop dance songs like this one.

6) “Wild Wild Life” by Talking Heads

It’s hard to summarize Talking Heads, as they were a band that constantly evolved during a career that stretched from the late ’70s throughout the ’80s. While this track may not seem that reflected in the music of “1989,” I included “Wild Wild Life” in this list because Talking Heads epitomize the diversity of the music of ’80s. It is easy to get tricked into thinking that the era was defined by one instrument or sound when trying to organize music and looking for connections between different artists.