Loving the ’80s

Warming up the hits, teasing them, and even breaking new ground

Nostalgia for the music and fashion of the ‘80s is here, manifested in everything from skinny ties and checkered vans to shows like VH1’s “I Love the ‘80s.” From the innovators to the one-hit wonders, bands that hit it big 25 years ago are beginning to resurface to either peddle their old hits in new collections, or show fans that through the years, they have continued to grow. Recent releases by the Eurythmics, Simply Red, and Cyndi Lauper skirt the line.

When the Eurythmics hit the scene in the late ‘80s, fans gobbled up their mesmerizing new synth pop sound. Dave Stewart and gender-bending front woman Annie Lennox spoke to a generation seeking to distance themselves from the days of disco and sugary pop ballads. It was riveting to watch Lennox on MTV clad in a tailored, men’s suit with her trademark shock of bright red hair sing, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” There was something thrilling and slightly sinister in the lyrics, “Some of them want to use you/ some of them wanna get used by you.” It was a far cry from the breezy platitudes of the Bee Gees. The band had 20 hit singles, sold 75 million records, and opened the doors to a whole new world of electronic pop.

So when Stewart and Lennox recorded some old hits––and several new ones––for the “Eurythmics Ultimate Collection,” released this month from Arista Records, it was a sure sell. The album covers the best hits of the band’s career, including “Who’s That Girl?” “Missionary Man,” “Thorn in My Side,” and “Would I Lie to You?” Of the album’s 19 songs, only two are originals—the opener, “I’ve Got a Life,” and the closer, the previously unreleased “Was It Just Another Love Affair?” But this is hardly to say the Eurythmics are resting on their laurels.

Lennox has continued to release solo albums since the mid-‘90s, which sell respectably. And her new song, “I’ve Got A Life,” is lush, tender and fun. In its dance remixes, it sounds like techno when it first began—with loads of effects and a retro feel. A Steve Angello Bootleg remix version of “Sweet Dreams” is another testament to the endurance of the band’s popularity.

Also from the U.K., the band Simply Red rocked the ‘80s with sparse, sad landscapes. Manchester-born front man Mick Hucknall walked into our hearts as he walked through the countryside with crazy curls peeking from under a porkpie hat in his video for “Holding Back the Years.” In the band’s new album, “Simplified,” Hucknall gives this song an even more lounge-inspired vibe.

Although Simply Red could easily have gone on to be the topic of a VH1 “One-Hit Wonder” segment, Hucknall continued to move in new directions with his work. “Simplified” does feature covers of the band’s older songs, including “Something Got Me Started” and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” but new influences clearly emerge. Hucknall said his recent visit to Cuba inspired him to investigate Latin music, easy to spot when listening to “Simplified.” The opener, “Perfect Love” is a perfect cross-cultural hit, mixing Latin sound with his Anglo delivery. Cuban singer Danae makes a vocal cameo on this piece. The horns, sax and suave percussives add much to this tune.

Other cuts move in different directions. “Smile” captures the best of a Gershwin tune, pianos tinkling and harmony flowering. “Fairground” sounds like a familiar ‘70s hit, and “More” almost overdoes it, meshing a spoken word intro with Brazilian style rock, a piano break that recalls old Motown hits, and even a little reggae feel toward the end.

Taken as a whole, “Simplified” is an interesting mix of Simply Red classics, piano standards, and Latin rock. It is not entirely unified, and certainly not simple.

Brazen ‘80s pop singer Cyndi Lauper manages to find a middle ground between the re-recorded hits of the Eurythmics and the reinvented sound of Simply Red. In her new album, “The Body Acoustic,” Lauper takes the songs that made her a household name and records them acoustically, with help from today’s hit makers.

The tracks, most of which Lauper said were cut live, feature her singing and playing the dulcimer with a backup band on slide guitar and horns. This would have been interesting enough, but Lauper goes a step further by inviting other popular musicians who are her friends to join her. Sarah McLachlan is one of these friends, adding her dulcet tones to Lauper’s quirky sound in “Water’s Edge” and “Time After Time,” a song that was immortalized in the hilarious, complexly choreographed dance scene in the 1997 film “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.”

“All Through the Night” scrapes by with some breaks by inimitable rapper Shaggy of “It Wasn’t Me” fame, and Adam Lazzara sings on a slowed-down version of “Money Changes Everything.” Lauper’s ode to masturbation, “She Bop” is, no pun intended, a solo venture that is unusually seductive as an acoustic track. And relative newcomer Vivian Green adds her honeyed vocals to “I’ll Be Your River” and “Sisters of Avalon,” which also features hasbian rocker Ani DiFranco. Lauper, like Gwen Stefani, even seizes upon the Harajuku fad with a cameo by Japanese rockers Puffy AmiYumi in her closing track, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.”

All three albums have their own strengths, and fans of both the Eurythmics and Simply Red would be wise to snatch up these new releases. But surprisingly, it is Lauper who manages to find something truly new in reworking her old hits in “The Body Acoustic.”

“Ultimate Eurythmics Collection”

Arista Records

“The Body Acoustic”

Daylight/Epic Records

“Simplified”

Verve Forecast

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