There were the “Eighties” that gave the world bleak post-punk minimalism and coldly romantic synthpop ballads under the any-second-now promise of thermonuclear annihilation….and then there were the “Eighties” which gave us this:
Perfect was a 1985 attempt to parlay a 1970s Rolling Stone feature about the health club scene (hence the title font) into a cinematic feature aimed at cashing in on the Fonda-fueled fitness boom. It died an ignoble death at the box office, leaving a crater so deep that neither myself nor my wife could remember anything about it but the title and leads. (It was also the subject of a recent episode of the How Did This Get Made podcast, which I only discovered this morning after doing a little internet research about the film.)
The film isn’t really relevant for my purposes as much as the soundtrack is. The selection of killer (as in “they will brutally take away your will to live”) cuts was heavily promoted in Billboard as the next big thing in soundtracks, seen as a growth market following the success of Beverly Hills Cop and Breakfast Club LPs. No lie, this was a moment in time where retailers were sincerely encouraged to go long on copies of this crime against vinyl.
It’s impossible to pin down the exact moment when the seedy, apocalyptic transitional phase of the “Low 1980s” passed into the plastic, pastel effervescence of the “High 80s,” because cultural history is a tangled mass of overlapping trends which defy any effort to establish arbitrary boundary lines. Even the most conscientious attempts to do rely on comparative hindsight.
“This was, and no longer is. This was not, and now is.”
That said, the Perfect soundtrack does prove that whenever the “Big 80s” might have began, they were in full swing by the middle of 1985. The tracklist reads like testimonial to the power of demographic data points, each selection chosen with mathematical precision for maximum returns. There’s a lesser Jackson (fronting the “breakout single” no one remembers) solo and paired with a new pap-pop sensation, a wannabe Jackson, and some danceable R&B noteworthies thrown in for good measure.
To keep things integrated in the most profitable manner, you’ve got the MOR tailings of a once-promising new wave act and the saccharine poster children for Big Pop’s most unforgivable sins. They even managed to reel Lou Reed in, buying some authentic rock cred at the expense of whatever remained of Lou’s.
“Masquerade” is a pretty great song but even Berlin would succumb to the toxic zeitgeist before long, abandoning the Metro for a ride on the most conspicuous symbol of power projected triumphalism.
Aside for that bittersweet note, the only positive thing I can say about the Perfect soundtrack is that it does not include any material by Howard Jones.
That counts for a lot more than you’d think, actually.