memories of the ’80s – Heavy Metal

Fans of the music genre got to see their dreams transformed into a big screen fantasy with the animated film Heavy Metal.

Produced by Ivan Reitman and Heavy Metal Magazine publisher Leonard Mogel, the film is an anthology of several science fiction and fantasy stories, adapted for the screen by Len Blum and Daniel Goldberg.

Several animation companies worked together to create the film, which focused on the similar themes seen in the magazine: violence, sex, nudity and a fixation on a the little guy going up against the forces of evil and darkness.

Created in Canada, the production group used several Canadian actors to voice characters including John Candy, Eugene Levy, Harold Ramis, Jackie Burroughs and Marilyn Lightstone.

Eight linked stories made up the anthology – Soft Landing, Grimaldi, Harry Canyon, Den, Captain Sternn, B-17, So Beautiful and So Dangerous and Taarna.

Released in August 1981, the film was dismissed by critics as being an oddity, but the animation style and soundtrack were praised for its inventiveness and for its classic inclusions from artists such as Sammy Hagar, Nazareth, Black Sabbath, Stevie Nicks and Blue Oyster Cult.

With a budget of just over US$9 million, the film may not have been favoured with positive reviews, but fans came out in support, racking up $20 million at the box office.

Now considered a cult classic, Heavy Metal was re-released in consequent years and as its been released in different formats – VHS, Laser disc, Blu-ray – the fans are still buying it.

memories of the ’80s – Chic by H.I.S.

For those fashionistas who couldn’t afford Sasson or Calvin Klein denim, they turned to the mass market brand of Chic by H.I.S.

A company that originated in the 1920s under the name Henry I. Siegel, in the 1960s saw the change in women’s fashion and started producing pants and other garments traditionally associated with men for women.

In the late 1970s, under the direction of Jesse Siegel, the company stopped manufacturing denim for men and focused the on the women’s line. By the early 1980s, Chic was the third-largest manufacturer of jeans, after Levis Strauss and H.D. Lee.

Accessing more customers was the key – and Chic did it with introducing a wider range of sizing and relaxed, slim and classic fit. TV commercials showed customers the wide range of sizes, fit, colours and textures, for example here.

Chic also introduced gift with purchase – like in this commercial from 1986. The mass market appreciated the offers and the jeans were the affordable option for those who couldn’t go for the bigger brands.

In 1986, new CFO Burton Rosenberg changed the brand’s strategy to lower prices to go up against their rival Gitano, making their jeans $20.00 retail.

By 1988, H.I.S. posted profits of $233 million and by the early 1990s, posted profits of $304 million. And for the mass market, it was all about being chic in Chic.

memories of the ’80s – Ford Escort

After the gas shortages of the late 1970s and the more eco-minded influences that started out at the beginning of the 1980s, Ford Motor Company introduced the Ford Escort.

This small car debuted in 1981, the first front-wheeled compact car built in North America since the Ford Pinto in the 1970s.

Adapted from a European car built by Ford, the Escort was created to compete with the popular Volkswagen Rabbit and replace the imported Ford Fiesta. It was more squared than its European predecessor, and surprisingly, didn’t feature the oval Ford logo on the car.

Available as a hatchback and a four door, the Escort was a hot seller in the North American market, featuring more chrome and a globe logo, implying the car was created for the world. The starting price for this vehicle: $5,518.

By 1982, the Ford Escort was the bestselling car in the United States and was in the top five throughout the rest of the decade.

memories of the ’80s – Chariots of Fire by Vangelis

The 1980s saw the creation of a unique new sound of classical and electronica, which became a radio favourite, especially thanks to the work of Evangelos Odysseas Papathannassiou or better known by his stage name: Vangelis.

A collaborator with bands since the 1960s, Vangelis’ style evolved from the psychadelic rock of the 1960s into scores for films and documentaries in the 1970s.

Vangelis created unique combinations, such as the album Make your dream last longer than the night, which combined electronic musical passages with news snippets and protest songs from student riots of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

He also worked with Jon Anderson, frontman for Yes, and the two did several projects together as the duo Jon & Vangelis.

In 1979, Vangelis worked with French director Frederic Rossif, writing the score for his documentary, Opera sauvage. His notable work on this documentary led him to be hired to write the score for the film Chariots of Fire.

The film, based on the 1924 Summer Olympics, tells the story of two British track athletes competing at the games. Instead of a traditional classical score, Vangelis created a unique modern sound for the film  and it led to his winning the Academy Award for Best Original Musical Score for the film.

In 1982, the single, Chariots of Fire, was released in the United States, and within five months hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, among the pop, rock and dance songs of the era.

Continuing to work on film scores and unique collaborations, Vangelis established himself in a new category in music, which was a departure for the music populating the airwaves of the 1980s.

memories of the ’80s – Everlasting Love

The power of this song – Everlasting Love – has meant repeated versions in the past decades, with each time making it a one hit wonder and a Billboard chart hit every time.

Written by Buzz Cason and Mac Gayden, the song was written for Motown signer Robert Knight, who originally recorded the song in Nashville in 1967.

Hitting number 13 on the Billboard charts, this song was recorded and released again in 1968 by Love Affair and again in 1974 by Carl Carlton, whose version was the most successful, hitting top five on Billboard charts.

In 1981, CBS recording artists Rex Smith and Rebecca Sweet decided to record the song for a third time, hoping to get a Billboard hit. Smith had a previous Billboard chart hit in the late 1970s and was a Teen Beat hearthrob, while Sweet was just at the beginning of her singing career, and included the song on her debut album And He Kissed Me.

The duo’s version of Everlasting Love was a bit less Motown and soul and more pop, and came with a music video, perfect for MTV and MuchMusic to spin endlessly. Smith included the single on his album Everlasting Love.

The duo’s version hit #32 in August 1981, and climbed the charts in Europe to hit top 10, influencing the young teen generation with their 1980s pop styled version.

But they weren’t the only ones to record this song in the 1980s – German pop star Sandra, also recorded her version in 1987, hitting the top 10 charts in several European countries including Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, France and Italy.

This song is one that lives on in each decade, but in each time period became a one hit wonder.

memories of the ’80s – The Greatest American Hero

For tv viewers of the 1980s, being a superhero wasn’t all rescues and dangerous situations – sometimes it came with laughs like on The Greatest American Hero.

Produced by Stephen J. Cannell, the series launched with a two hour movie, introducing William Katt as Ralph Hinkley, a teacher who is given a red superhero suit by aliens after being in the desert.

FBI agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp) is saved by Hinkley and together the two discovers the suit has superhero powers. Hinkley loses the instruction booklet and has to figure out the powers on his own with the help of Maxwell, who were told by the aliens to save the world.

Pam Davidson (Connie Selleca) is Hinkley’s friend, then girlfriend, then wife, who also helps the two figure out how to save people, and aids in the comedy side of the weekly capers.

Debuting in March 1981 on ABC TV, the series did well, with its theme song, Believe it or Not by Mike Post landing on the Billboard Hot 100.

Due to the assassination attempt on US President Reagan by William Hinkley, the character’s name was changed to Hanley, and his students often referred to him as Mr. H to avoid any connection in the public’s mind.

For three seasons, the silliness of being a superhero was shown on the weekly series – but by 1983, the ratings weren’t as good and the series was cancelled.

I knew so many who watched this show – loving the mix of superhero power and comedy. And for the early 1980s, this series snuck into the schedule, allowing the satire to be the focus instead of the drama.

memories of the ’80s – Hi Infidelity by REO Speedwagon

Formed in the 1960s, under the influence of the 1970s, it was 1981 when this rock band from southern Illinois produced Hi Infidelity.

REO Speedwagon, named after a vintage flatbed truck, was Neil Doughty and Alan Gratzer, both students at the University of Illinois, and joined by fellow students.

During the 1970s, the lineup changed, but the sound kept consistent with a dedication to focus on hard rock, producing several studio albums and in 1977, produced their first live album.

In 1980, the band went into the studio and it was the writing results of Gary Richrath and Kevin Cronin that made Hi Infidelity popular.

The album was released in November 1981, with the lead single Don’t Let Him Go – which hit the charts and went high on the Billboard Hot 100. The pop  influences took this band to regular airplay and onto many mainstream radio stations .

The duo’s collaborations led to six charting singles from the album – including Take it on the run, Tough Guys, Out of Season and Keep on Loving You, the band’s first number one single.

Hi Infidelity would go on to be the bestselling album of 1981, and reach 10 million sales.

For this burgeoning teenager, this album was all the talk of the older kids, and it was a popular choice to be blared from the car stereo systems in the highschool parking lots.

For the band, this became their bestselling album ever, and went on to continued success in this decade, including a performance at the memorable Live Aid concert.

memories of the ’80s – Simon and Simon

Private detective shows never go out of style, and in this decade two brothers were the focus of finding out what really happened in the series Simon & Simon.

The brothers were portrayed by Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker and were polar opposite. Rick was a Marine, a Vietnam War veteran, and was laid-back make your own rules kind of guy. AJ was the college educated, flashy, gentleman, who liked order.

AJ lives in a small house that is also their office for the private investigation company, while Rick lives on a boat in the front yard. Mary Carver played Cecelia their secretary, while Tim Reid played their police buddy Lt. Brown.

Created by Philip DeGuere, the series debuted on CBS in November 1981, loosely based on the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But the first year had very low ratings and was in danger of being cancelled by the network.

The producers asked for a reprieve and the network moved the series to Thursday nights, after their successful show Magnum PI, and the series took off, finding viewers and fans.

Although the pilot was set in Florida, the series was moved to San Diego, where the brothers took on cases, although they had very differing styles and were often clashing over their methods of finding out information.

Each episode showed the different traits of each brother, figured out a case and threw in some humour as well as action scenes for good measure.

The series did a crossover episode with Magnum PI to drive ratings for both shows, and until 1988 kept pace. In 1989, the series was moved to Saturday nights, and with low ratings, was cancelled at the end of its eighth season.

The buddy genre is a popular theme in television and toss in the private detectives, crazy clients, a brotherly affection and regular disputes, this series was an easy to watch one hour of drama each week.

memories of the ’80s – Donkey Kong

An animated ape made us all want to become more competitive with the game Donkey Kong.

The game was the result of the failure of Radar Scope – a game tested that didn’t meet expectations of gamers. Nintendo hired designer Shigeru Miyamoto to redesign the game to make it more appealing.

The basic premise of the game is Mario’s rescue of Pauline from Donkey Kong through a construction site (Mario appeared four years later in his own game, Super Mario Brothers).

For all those gamers, it was a wildfire response to the rescue game and avoiding the Donkey’s barrels, which were used as weapons and transport.

The game was available for many platforms including arcade, Atari, Apple and Commodore in 1981 and in 1983 was launched via Family Computer as one of its three lead titles.

The success of the game spawned many sequels including Donkey Kong 2, Donkey Kong Jr.,  and Donkey Kong Country. The success also spawned a lawsuit from Universal Studios, who claimed the game was an infringement of their copyright of the film King Kong.

The court found Universal Studios claim was not valid and that the public would never confuse an animated video game with a black and white screen classic.

For Nintendo, Donkey Kong was a major success for this company, which in the early 1980s was in its infancy in its presence in North America.

For this occasional arcade visitor, I could never get close enough to the machine, as the obsessed gamers dominated the lineup for Donkey Kong – only the hardcore seemed to want to spend hours just playing that game.

One of the first games that created a family of games and merchandise, Donkey Kong was awarded seven Guinness Book of World Records for their achievements in video gaming. To date, the franchise has sold 40 million units worldwide.

memories of the ’80s – Bow Wow Wow

In the early 1980s, video and radio combined to make  Brit punk/new wave group Bow Wow Wow a pop sensation with their top hit: I Want Candy.

Created by Malcolm McLaren, the band was made from musicians who had played with Adam Ant: Matthew Ashman, Leigh Gorman and David Barbe.

Fusing pop melodies and African drum beats, the band took six months to find a singer – which ended up being 14 year old Annabella Lwin.

McLaren encouraged Lwin to switch schools so she would have more time to work with the band. At early gigs in London, Boy George (then known as Lieutenant Lush) was considered as another singer for Bow Wow Wow, but was considered too wild.

First signing with EMI in 1981, the band then moved to RCA and had a hit single with Go Wild in the Country in 1982.

It was followed up with cover of The Strangeloves I Want Candy, which went to number one in the UK and North America.

McLaren put the band on tour, with an extensive number of dates in the US, which helped push the song on radio playlists and on MTV and MuchMusic.

Although the band did well in this time period, it was common knowledge the band was a vehicle to promote McLaren’s partner Vivienne Westwood’s clothing line and their vision of popular culture.

Even as an avid fan of new wave from this time period, I suspected this band was as real as Boy George’s extensions.

After the release of the third album in 1983, tensions among band members caused Lwin to be pushed out as the lead singer and Ashman becoming the front man of the newly formed Chiefs of Relief.

Bow Wow Wow faded out as fast as it had developed on the charts – a one hit wonder of the early 1980s.