Armagideon Time

The enemy of the good

November 19th, 2015

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.

5 Responses to “The enemy of the good”

  1. Chelsea

    I confused this with Heavenly Bodies, which I find on vinyl whenever I go looking for Sparks LPs.

  2. Kris

    Does everybody still continuously talk over each other on How Did This Get Made?

  3. Chris Wuchte

    I would have been around 14 when this came out, and it must have been hyped a lot, because for something of zero interest to me, I was very well aware of its existence. I also remember being confused as to why that was so, and assumed I just wasn’t old enough to understand why it mattered. Ah, the days before one was aware of such things as marketing and promotion.

  4. Frank

    I remember Jermaine Jackson’s “Perfect” only because I got rooked by one of those “hits from the movies” cheapo cassettes without realizing they were all re-recordings performed by studio musicians and unknowns. Ultimately I didn’t mind, because I was still transitioning from the oldies & country I’d grown up on to straight pop and other genres. There’s obvious duds like “This Is Not America,” which wasn’t one of David Bowie’s best anyway, but even a slightly down-tempo cover of “Invincible” was boss to my virginal ears. I also recall scoring a re-dub of some otaku’s greatest clips of late ’80s untranslated anime VHS with tracks from that cassette around 1992 to make the cool visuals with inane storytelling palatable, before I gave up on that whole scene. I had no idea that I was a frontiersman of rubbish fan edits with my two VCRs, fistful of wires, and a boombox tapedeck.

  5. Posy-Punk Monk

    I have always maintained that the sweet spot in the 80s, musically, was nothing more than the decaying embers of the holy late 70s. By 1983, the full oppressive character of the 80s [ a.k.a. Reagan’s and Thatcher’s boots in our faces] began to eradicate any remaining late 70s traits still remaining, and by 1985 we were in the midst of a full hell-on-earth period of wide shoulder pads, digital synths and yes, Howard Jones by that time, was what passed for idiosyncratic expression! Dark times, indeed!

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