Eat it, George Orwell; or Why 1984 was the Greatest Year Ever

When it comes to 1984, I’m less Orwellian than I am David Lee Rothian.

While George preached about the horrors of Big Brother, Diamond Dave sang hosannas in honor of the time-honored tradition of s-e-x. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what he meant when, following Eddie Van Halen’s blistering solo, he said he would “reach down between my legs n’ ease the seat back.” I could be wrong, though; perhaps the car lacked ample leg space for a comfortable ride. Dammit, that sounds dirty, too. Thanks a lot, David Lee Roth.

1984 (the year, not the book or the album) had many great things going for it:

Ronald Reagan vs. Walter Mondale: It was the first election I remember, and it was the one that got me interested in politics. I didn’t know much (or anything) about either candidate, but I thought Reagan looked like a grandfather and Mondale looked kind of like Mikhail Gorbachev. The rest of the country eventually agreed.

The Summer Olympics in Los Angeles: The country found itself riveted to these games, watching as Carl Lewis looked to get four gold medals while the Soviet team stayed home in a boycott, paying us back for sitting out the 1980 Olympics. This was the Cold War at its finest; two countries, particularly the big, faceless entity of the U.S.S.R. teetering on the possible bring of nuclear annihilation, yet choosing to get into pissing contests concerning sporting events. If the 1980s were about forgetting the big picture and focusing on glitz and glamour, the 1984 games personify it.

Along those lines, we also have the Soviet Union: Kids today cannot grasp how totally terrifying Russia was, from the threat of Siberia to that red flag with a yellow hammer and sickle. As a kid of that time, we told adults were scared of the Soviets because of their nuclear power, but in reality, we were scared of Nikolai Volkoff taking over the World Wrestling Federation.

Fortunately, we had the Birth of Hulkamania: Hulk Hogan wouldn’t reach his shirt-tearin’, vitamin-endorsin’, prayer-sayin’ ways for another year or two, but the seeds were sown in 1984, as little Hulkamaniacs became enamored with the 6’8” giant with the mammoth biceps (or pythons as he called them), particularly as he battled with the aforementioned Russians. I cannot stress enough how much the Soviets factored into almost everything that year.

Except for, maybe, hit movies, four of which spring to mind right off the bat: The Karate Kid, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins and Ghostbusters. I can still remember watching each of these for the first time, and in the case of the first two, replaying them over and over in my head and neighborhood yards. We crane-kicked, we pretended to pull hearts out of chests, we mastered the fine art of a bullwhip (actually a jump rope). It was, as Cory Graham recently put it, one of the last summers when movies were true events without being computer-generated sequels or remakes. As kids, we looked at these movies as near-holy pieces of work, learning many important rules, mainly not to feed mogwais after midnight.

The key to 1984, though, especially as a Rothian, comes in the form of music. Pop radio was still home to mainstream artists who were both mainstream AND artistic. In 1984, you couldn’t escape the brilliant, era-defining music of Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Prince, and for good reason. “When Doves Cry” still sounds futuristic, 26 years after its release, “Billie Jean” has one of the best rhythm lines of all time and “Born in the USA” has a message that rings as true about Iraq/Afghanistan as it did Vietnam.

In Powell County, the summer of 1984 came down to one image that seemed to repeat itself day after day after day: splashing around in the Stanton City Pool while the lifeguards blasted the radio. One song ruled them all: “Cum on Feel the Noize” by Quiet Riot. It might have been a big hit in other places, but in the heart of Powell County, it was perhaps the biggest song ever, like Elvis and the Beatles rolled into one. Every time I eat Doritos (the snack of choice at the pool), I think of that song.

The music of that year is simply amazing. Take a look at Billboard’s Top 100 songs from 1984:

1. When Doves Cry , Prince
2. What’s Love Got to Do With It , Tina Turner
3. Say Say Say , Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson
4. Footloose , Kenny Loggins
5. Against All Odds (Take a Look At Me Now) , Phil Collins
6. Jump , Van Halen
7. Hello , Lionel Richie
8. Owner of a Lonely Heart , Yes
9. Ghostbusters , Ray Parker Jr.
10. Karma Chameleon , Culture Club
11. Missing You , John Waite
12. All Night Long (All Night) , Lionel Richie
13. Let’s Hear It for the Boy , Deniece Williams
14. Dancing In the Dark , Bruce Springsteen
15. Girls Just Want to Have Fun , Cyndi Lauper
16. The Reflex , Duran Duran
17. Time After Time , Cyndi Lauper
18. Jump (For My Love) , Pointer Sisters
19. Talking In Your Sleep , Romantics
20. Self Control , Laura Branigan
21. Let’s Go Crazy , Prince and The Revolution
22. Say It Isn’t So , Daryl Hall and John Oates
23. Hold Me Now , Thompson Twins
24. Joanna , Kool and The Gang
25. I Just Called to Say I Love You , Stevie Wonder
26. Somebody’s Watching Me, Rockwell
27. Break My Stride , Matthew Wilder
28. 99 Luftballons , Nena
29. I Can Dream About You , Dan Hartman
30. The Glamorous Life , Sheila E.
31. Oh Sherrie , Steve Perry
32. Stuck On You , Lionel Richie
33. I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues , Elton John
34. She Bop , Cyndi Lauper
35. Borderline , Madonna
36. Sunglasses At Night , Corey Hart
37. Eyes Without a Face , Billy Idol
38. Here Comes the Rain Again , Eurythmics
39. Uptown Girl , Billy Joel
40. Sister Christian , Night Ranger
41. Drive , Cars
42. Twist of Fate , Olivia Newton-John
43. Union of the Snake , Duran Duran
44. The Heart Of Rock ‘N’ Roll, Huey Lewis and The News
45. Hard Habit to Break , Chicago
46. The Warrior , Scandal
47. If Ever You’re In My Arms Again , Peabo Bryson
48. Automatic , Pointer Sisters
49. Let the Music Play, Shannon
50. To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before, Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson
51. Caribbean Queen, Billy Ocean
52. That’s All , Genesis
53. Running With the Night , Lionel Richie
54. Sad Songs (Say So Much) , Elton John
55. I Want a New Drug , Huey Lewis and The News
56. Islands in the Stream , Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton
57. Love Is a Battlefield , Pat Benatar
58. Infatuation , Rod Stewart
59. Almost Paradise, Mike Reno and Ann Wilson
60. Legs , ZZ Top
61. State of Shock , Jacksons
62. Love Somebody , Rick Springfield
63. Miss Me Blind , Culture Club
64. If This Is It , Huey Lewis and The News
65. You Might Think , Cars
66. Lucky Star , Madonna
67. Cover Me , Bruce Springsteen
68. Cum On Feel the Noize , Quiet Riot
69. Breakdance , Irene Cara
70. Adult Education , Daryl Hall and John Oates
71. They Don’t Know , Tracy Ullman
72. An Innocent Man , Billy Joel
73. Cruel Summer , Bananarama
74. Dance Hall Days , Wang Chung
75. Give It Up , K.C.
76. I’m So Excited , Pointer Sisters
77. I Still Can’t Get Over Loving You , Ray Parker Jr.
78. Thriller , Michael Jackson
79. Holiday , Madonna
80. Breakin’…There’s No Stopping Us , Ollie And Jerry
81. Nobody Told Me , John Lennon
82. Church of the Poison Mind , Culture Club
83. Think of Laura , Christopher Cross
84. Time Will Reveal , Debarge
85. Wrapped Around Your Finger , Police
86. Pink Houses , John Cougar Mellencamp
87. Round and Round , Ratt
88. Head Over Heels , Go-Go’s
89. The Longest Time , Billy Joel
90. Tonight , Kool and The Gang
91. Got a Hold on Me , Christine McVie
92. Dancing In the Sheets , Shalamar
93. Undercover (Of the Night) , Rolling Stones
94. On the Dark Side , John Cafferty and The Beaver Brown Band
95. New Moon On Monday , Duran Duran
96. Major Tom (Coming Home), Peter Schilling
97. Magic , Cars
98. When You Close Your Eyes , Night Ranger
99. Rock Me Tonite , Billy Squier
100. Yah Mo B There, James Ingram and Michael McDonald

When “I’m So Excited” sits at number 76 on your list (“Thriller” is at 78!), you know you have an amazing list.

Great music, classic movies, Russians and wrestling — yeah, 1984 might very well be the greatest year of all time. I really feel like I wasted it by being 8 years old.

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6 thoughts on “Eat it, George Orwell; or Why 1984 was the Greatest Year Ever

  1. 1984 really was an incredible year. It’s the first year of my life where the memories are really clear, not the kind of fuzzy memories of our youth that translate more into a feeling than a real memory. I can picture riding through Stanton in my aunt’s car, rocking out to Born in the U.S.A. before I was anywhere close to old enough to understand what was going on. The world was right and I was just getting to experience it. But I think the time can be summed up by one guy:

    My neighbor, in 1984, was named Tony. And let me tell you something, Tony was cool. It was back when guys were actually named Tony, well before the Hunters, Dakotas, Jaydens and Kadens began to take over the world. Tony was as 1984 as it got, and as much of a “Tony” as one man could be.

    He had long hair, which was cool. He drank beer from a cooler, which was really cool. He drove a muscle car that he spent hours detailing off to pick up his girl of the night while blasting Springsteen through the T-tops… which was more cool than I could handle. Tony worked a regular job, lived for the weekend, loved rock and roll, chased women with big hair and was probably the closest thing to a poster-child for that era that you’d be likely to find. As a kid living just down the street from the epicenter of 80’s cool, I took notes.

    Today, Tony is probably in his late 40’s. In his place, we find the kids at the mall. They’re mopey, they’ve been diagnosed with half a dozen fake diseases, they listen to whiny music, paint their fingernails and spend the entire day on Twitter… and those are the guys. I don’t care if it makes me sound like Wink Martindale pining for the days of Eisenhower and Perry Como, I’ll have a beer with Tony behind Southern Treet. Let somebody else do Dakota’s nails at the Food Court.

  2. For me, the year of “waking up” and knowing what was around me culturally was 1976 (7/8 years old). 1976-1983 are still magical for me – the music, the movies, everything. I mean, I can look at a top 40 list from 1975 and I’m maybe familiar with a third of the songs, but 1976 – every single one – and I love almost all of them. 1976 Rocky, 1977 Star Wars, 1978 Close Encounters, 1980 Empire. Unfortunately, by 1983, I had turned into an awkward teenager (still am, I guess). For me, 1983/84 was the point when everything seemed to go wrong culturally – from my point of view, the world had jumped the shark. All of my favorite rock bands had either split up or suddenly really sucked. The Doobie Brothers, The Eagles, The Police split up – and ones that became sucky, Kansas, Styx, Foreigner, Stevie Wonder. I’ll think of more. Hated the new pop music. Michael Jackson, Bruce, Prince, Madonna. Since then, I have become a huge Prince fan (not so much his most recent stuff), and I do appreciate Bruce and MJ more now, but the hair bands did it for me (still can’t listen to them). I was done with rock. That’s when I found rap – Run DMC, Whodini, Fat Boys, Boogie Boys, LL Cool J, Eric B, Beasties. That, for me was a very good thing about the early to mid-80’s. Also 1983, Return of the Jedi. As you know, I am a bit of a Star Wars fan, but when ROTJ came out, it just felt like such a huge let down. Now, I still cry every time I see the part just before Vader throws Palpatine over the side, and there are many great things about ROTJ, but Ewoks and Jabba’s Palace (much of the movie) didn’t work for me. Just a preview of Lucas’ next SW creation, Jar Jar.

    I guess my whole point is that the actual “stuff” that came out in 1984 doesn’t seem to be the important part. It seems to have more to do with how old you were in 1984. Age 7/8-13/14 or so seems to be just about right. Just curious what you all think of music and movies from the early 90’s. Just wondering if you had the same experience as my 1984 experience.

  3. Hi,

    I think you missed the point of the novel 1984. George orwell was not literally saying that 1984 would be the darkest year of humanity. this was not a prophetic book. He was speaking about the experience of living in a future totalitarian state. He just chose the year 1984 because it probably sounded like a long way off when he wrote it.

  4. Melanie,
    The point was not to compare the actual year of 1984 with the book. The point was that 1984 happened to be the best year ever. And since it was also the year of a book that was about a dystopian future, it worked to play the two off each other.

    I think you missed the point of the blog.

  5. Yes, and also, Indiana Jones sucked, and wasn’t very well-liked at the time by most people, as far as I remember (maybe except for the start). The 80s were all about materialism and the shallowness of popular culture. Those movies and songs may have been fun, but it was not an era of musical and cultural renaissance.

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