Synths & Simmons: The sound of the 80s
There’s no mistaking the super-sized sheen of an 80s rock album – but what’s the story behind that sound, and does it deserve such criticism?
The popular perception of an 80s rock record goes something like this. A gated snare drum going off like a gunshot. Synths, samples and digital drums jostling for elbow room in an airtight multitracked mix. A production job as shiny as the compact disc sliding into a yuppie’s Bang & Olufsen. And, most of all, a sense of unsustainable size, like bubblegum blown up too far.
It’s a glib stereotype, of course – but only just. “Everything was pushed to the limit in the eighties,” Europe frontman Joey Tempest remembers. “It was a decade of flamboyance and pushing all the faders, a hundred per cent. But it was charming, too. A wonderful decade.”
Rewind just a little further, to the 70s, and rock’n’roll wasn’t rocket science. Back then a studio was a bare-bones, all-analogue world with a human heartbeat, where records lived or died on the skill of the musicians on the floor. “If you had a drummer that could keep time, life was good,” recalls veteran producer Keith Olsen, famed for his work with Fleetwood Mac, Ozzy Osbourne and Whitesnake. “If you had a great guitar player, it was wonderful. If the songs were there, it was even better. Y’know, it was songs, performance and sound, in that order.”