It's a cliche now to even note that the 1980s was a grand repository of bad hair and great songs. But it's a beloved cliche (and something quite truthful, too). The thing is, nobody makes songs like they did in the 1980s anymore: there was just something about that decade that was magical, and raunchy, and innocent -- and sometimes all at the same time. Perhaps it was the optimism of the Reagan years, the resurgence of affluence everywhere, the hopefulness of the first EDSA... That bright hopefulness, charged with a subterfuge of greed, bled into the popular culture, and became our favorite songs and movies.
Indeed, like the songs of the era, the movies, too, had a tint to them (like vaseline on the camera lens) that I can't quite explain. Consider the color, the lights, and the almost childlike delight of E.T. The ExtraTerrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Consider the cosmopolitan sweet vengeance of Working Girl and The Secret of My Succe$s. Consider the unalloyed joy of adventure of the Indiana Jones and Back to the Future series. Consider the panoramic vistas of Out of Africa, Gandhi, and Chariots of Fire. Consider the sweet angst-ridden explorations of Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Consider the stylish madness of Carrie, Fatal Attraction, and Dressed to Kill. Consider the unapologetic romps and comedic chops of Porky's, National Lampoon's Animal House, Coming to America, and Trading Places. Irony and pastiche in films were still a decade away, and so they were earnest and truthful. Sometimes, watching these films again, I am amazed by the depth of their intelligence. E.T., for example, was a runaway hit when it was released early in the decade: watching it now, I actually found it surprisingly contemplative. Steven Spielberg had faith that young people would grow to the story: he believed in the intelligence of the mass audience. Look at it again, it takes its time to bring us around to the grand (grand!) finish. I'm not sure audiences today -- on a steady diet of instant things -- will have the patience to enjoy such a film.
I mention these movies because one of the landmark films to come out during this time was Sidney Pollack's Tootsie (also here), which starred Dustin Hoffman as a difficult, out-of-work New York actor who finds salvation (and love) when he tries out successfully for a TV soap -- as a female actor. I love that film. It went on to gain many Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), and won a supporting trophy for Jessica Lange.
One of its nominations was for its theme song "It Might Be You" composed and written by Dave Grusin, Alan Bergman, and Marilyn Bergman, and sung by the incomparable Stephen Bishop. It was a perfect fit for the movie, and I love this song because it is in turns reflective, hopeful, and sad.
Here's the song for you to sing along...
Time, I've been passing time Watching trains go by All of my life Lying on the sand Watching seabirds fly Wishing there could be someone Waiting home for me
Something's telling me it might be you It's telling me it might be you All of my life...
Looking back as lovers go walking past All of my life Wondering how they met and what makes it last If I found the place would I recognize the face
Something's telling me it might be you It's telling me it might be you So many quiet walks to take So many dreams to wake And there's so much love to make
I think we’re gonna need some time Maybe all we need is time And it's telling me it might be you All of my life
I've been saving love songs and lullabies And there's so much more No one's ever heard before Something's telling me it might be you Yeah, it's telling me it must be you and I'm feeling it'll just be you All of my life It's you, it's you I've been waiting for all of my life Maybe it's you Maybe it's you I've been waiting for all of my life.
Listen to that earnest melody, that tone of hopefulness, that sweeping statement about waiting for love. What contemporary song comes close? Today, everybody's too busy singing, "To the left... to the left..."