When I embarked on my deep dive of Google Books’ digital archive of Billboard, I picked 1975 as my starting date. That year offered the best intersection between my childhood nostalgia and my historical interests — enough faint memories to avoid abstraction while offering a solid vantage point for observing the ascendancy of disco, the emergence of punk, and the proliferation of numerous paradigm-shifting consumer technologies.
While there were plenty of painful slogs through the cocaine-sprinkled hellscape of the 1970s music industry, I kept on trucking because I knew each hype-saturated testament to Sturgeon’s Law would bring me another step closer to the rose-tinted Promised Land.
There were times when I despaired of ever getting there. Google’s Billboard archive sufferes from multiple gaps ranging from a single week to several years on end. In some cases, that actually dovetailed nicely with the narrative thrust of the project — for example, the six-month gap from late 1979 and mid-1980, when forced optimism about disco’s future made a jump-cut to hindsight-driven postmortems for the fallen Boogie Wonderland.
Mostly, it was just frustrating, especially once I started closing in on my anticipated target zone — so much so, in fact, that I ended up skipping ahead a few years to focus on the rise of 1980s home video and VHS rental boom instead. (The need for Halloween Countdown material also played a part as well.)
As luck would have it, American Radio History — the place where I found the fascinating set of Panorama scans — recently added a near-complete run of Billboard to its industry periodical archives. Not only does it contain the issues missing from Google’s collection, but its scans are also clearer, cleaner and much easier to read.
Re-energized by this discovery, I picked up where I’d left off half a year ago.
Yesterday, I finally arrived at my destination —
— the Elysian Fields of 1983.
In the finale of the US version of The Office, the otherwise clueless Andy Bernard points out you only tend to recognize the “the good times” in hindsight after they’ve gone.
That was not the case with 1983 and me, because my eleven year old self knew exactly how great things were in his little corner of the universe at that moment — with “great,” of course, being a relative term. I won’t deny nostalgia’s softening effect on my memories, but it was still a pretty fucking amazing year even after discounting for that psychic inflation.
When I started to write this, I figured that I’d bullet-point some the high points of my 1983. Having gotten this far, though, I realized that these memories would be better served by the multi-part feature format. Each individual subject can receive its proper due, I won’t have to worry about coming up with topics for the next couple of weeks, and you get to see more of my mental scarring present for public display.
Sounds like a plan to me.