Introducing My Kids to Music from the 1980s
We don’t want them to copy us in our teenage fashion trends or hairstyles or our 80s and 90s eating habits. We want them to surpass us and move beyond us. Except when it comes to music.
My twins turned fifteen recently and I decided it was time for them to listen to some good music. By good music of course, I meant music that I liked and music that was not from this century.
When I was a kid, in the 1980s, the music options available to my generation were what was on the radio or what was available in music stores, mostly whatever was currently popular. We didn’t have the entire spectrum easily accessible. Now because of iTunes and Pandora and Spotify, people can design their own listening experiences, access music from any decade, and ignore what they don’t like.
For my twins’ fifteenth birthday, I decided it was time to broaden their musical horizons, to introduce them to whole new genres and bands. I asked on Facebook: What older songs and artists are important for teenagers to know? I searched online and through my memory. I stirred up hours of nostalgia and musty memories of high school dances and sweaty palms and raucous bus rides and of my mom singing in the kitchen.
Some music should die, this is good and right. But some music should live on and be re-enjoyed by fresh generations. That’s the music I was looking for, along with a Bonnie Tyler song my husband sang at our wedding even though it, too, probably should have died.
I was pretty sure my kids wouldn’t like all the songs I picked but my hope was that by introducing them to some new artists and sounds and possibilities, they would choose a few highlights.
Because we live in east Africa and are far from the world where streaming songs is a regular activity, I purchased the songs on iTunes, loaded up their iPods while they slept, and gave them a printout of my chosen music. I titled the playlist, “Mom’s Music.”
The kids laughed when they opened their gift and saw a list of songs they didn’t recognize, artists they’d never heard of. One of them may or may not have rolled their eyes. I told them I stole the idea from Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy but not to worry, there were no intergalactic travelers in our family and I wasn’t planning to die any time soon. I wasn’t sure I would ever hear them play the songs.
There was the song that led to a vicious argument between my husband and I about whether or not current musicians could ever be as mind-blowingly awesome as musicians from the 1980’s.
There was the one that no one really understood but everyone screamed the words to at school dances.
There was the one that makes me cry every time I listen to it and the one that makes me laugh.
There was the one that meant I will love you forever and the one that meant I know we have lived in several countries but you can always call me and our family ‘home.’
In many ways parenting is about launching children into the big, wide world to experience fascinating and wonderful new things. We don’t want them to copy us in our teenage fashion trends or hairstyles or our 80s and 90s eating habits. We want them to surpass us and move beyond us.
Except when it comes to music.
I would dare to venture that most parents are pretty convinced that music was better before. The specific years of the present and the before aren’t exactly relevant, only the fact that music was better before.
So while we don’t want them to roll their pants like we did or use as much hairspray as we did, we do want them to sing like we did. Or at the very least we want them to know who we are channeling when we respond in certain ways.
Like: when they say, “Mom, can we leave (this boring party) yet?” And we respond with, “Should we stay or should we go now?” Or they say, “I’m going to soccer practice at 7:00 on the bike tomorrow.” And we say, “Wake me up before you go go.” Or when they are moving into their freshman dorm and we say, “Don’t you forget about me.”
I admittedly know very little about music but here are 20 songs from the 1980s that I listened to on the school bus or on mixed cassette tapes from friends or in the basement while wearing legwarmers and making up dances. These are songs that creep into conversation every now and then and they are songs that parents, if they are at all like me, raised in the 80s want their kids to know.
(In all honesty, my list included songs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s so this isn’t the exact list I gave my kids. I marked ones I included.)
- Eye of the Tiger, by Survivor, 1986*
- Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey, 1981*
- Total Eclipse of the Heart, Bonnie Tyler 1983*
- Every Breath You Take, The Police, 1983
- Should I Stay or Should I Go, The Clash, 1982*
- Livin’ On a Prayer, Bon Jovi, 1986*
- Billie Jean, Michael Jackson, 1982
- Straight Up Now, Paula Abdul, 1988
- Walk like an Egyptian, The Bangles, 1985
- Material Girl, Madonna, 1984
- Don’t Worry, Be Happy, Bobby McFerrin, 1988
- Now I’ve Had the Time of My Life, Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, 1987
- You Got It (The Right Stuff), New Kids on the Block, 1988
- Free Fallin’, Tom Petty, 1989*
- It’s the End of the World As We Know It, R.E.M., 1987*
- What’s Love Got To Do With It, Tina Turner, 1984
- I Think We’re Alone Now, Tiffany, 1987
- She Works Hard For the Money, Donna Summer, 1983
- Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Cyndi Lauper, 1983*
- Don’t You Forget About Me, Simple Minds, 1987*
Rachel Pieh Jones lives in Djibouti with her husband and three children: 14-year old twins and a 9-year old who feel most at home when they are in Africa. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, FamilyFun, Babble, and Running Times. Visit her at: Djibouti Jones, her Facebook page or on Twitter @rachelpiehjones.