To keep this blog alive while I have no concert reports to turn in, I'm introducing a new series: close readings of Star Hits magazine, canonized earlier in this very blog. You'll first need to download the PDF, then--after poring over the pages for several hours, reminiscing about your nascent musical obsession, digging out your old yearbooks, memorializing your favorite Esprit black cardigan that your mom threw away, even though it only had, like, eight holes, and determining if you can still do the '80s dance--follow along.
Download file: Star Hits, February 1984 [PDF]
Before I start, though, let me apologize for the 10 missing pages; I didn't realize they were gone until I started scanning. I know they went to a Culture Club fan, but I can't tell you where they are today.
My second caveat: As much as I love and treasure Star Hits, I don't know how representative it was or wasn't of its time. Sure, you could find it on the shelves of B. Dalton, Payless, and various newsstands, so it wasn't exactly a specialty title. At the same time, in my junior high school, it was far from a best-seller. A small group of us passed the issues around between ourselves, but you were much more likely to find Seventeen, Jet, or Teen Beat lining the locker walls. If, however, you don't mind those trifling details, read on!
Let's offer some context. The date was February 1984. Ronald Reagan occupied the White House, while Konstantin Chernenko presided over the Soviet Union; the Winter Olympics opened in Sarajevo; and the top songs on the U.S. charts for the month were "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club and "Jump" by Van Halen.
On first perusal, you'll likely be struck by the big-ticket items: Get a load of Madonna's eyebrows! Shield your eyes against Annie Lennox's bright-orange crew cut! Man, that Style Council song sure has a lot of words. And I would've killed to win a Walkman. I'm certain that the hard-hitting interviews with Duran Duran and the Alarm (as well as the words of wisdom from Cy Curnin and Tom Bailey) originally drew me in, but oddly, they're less arresting 25 (!) years on.
Instead, what I love now are the overlooked details and the incongruous elements. Let's start with, errrr, Start!, the repository for the odds and ends. Here, you'll find birthday wishes going out to two members of Madness (can anyone even name two members of Madness?), Dolly Parton, Carole King, and Peter Gabriel, among others.
Joe Strummer turns up in what the tabloids would now term "baby bump" news, and two Graces (Jones and Slick), errrr, grace these pages too. For the Where Are They Now files, look to the paragraph on Shrapnel--who appear to claim little more than a tenuous link to Norman Mailer--and the intro to Simon Townsend, who happens to be Pete Townsend's brother and whom I've never heard of since. And really, that picture of Grandmixer DST, Laurie Anderson, Billy Gibbons, and Bill Laswell may be the single greatest item in the whole magazine.
Moving on, the next section to catch my eye is Get Smart, anchored by the sage known as Jackie. I suspect Get Smart influenced me more than I realize, nurturing that combination of geeky bookishness and musical obsession we take for granted in the age of Wikipedia, message boards, mailing lists, and VH1 retrospectives.
I stopped reading reviews sometime around 11th grade, but I'm unexpectedly drawn to Short Cuts. Of course I zeroed in on the review of Duran Duran's Seven and the Ragged Tiger, mainly because I remember the barrage of outraged mail that followed this rather noncommittal appraisal. Then again, I was a pretty dedicated letter writer as a teenager too.
I chuckle at the inclusion of the Suburbs (if you remember them, your '80s knowledge is even better than mine) and Let's Active; the latter was championed so unfailingly by so many rock journalists back in the day--alas, to no avail. Overall, the featured reviews seem to offer a fairly representative overview of the hits of the day, though a couple of them (Paul Rodgers? .38 Special?) leave me baffled.
You know how every generation thinks they invented the wheel (sex, drugs, rebellion) when, in fact, they're all as old as time? Well, I'm pretty sure my generation had something to do with the invention of hip-hop--or at least its mainstream acceptance. I clearly recall the breakdancing contests in my junior high, so the (truncated) section on B-boys, head spins, and popping puts a smile on my face--even if I spent the '80s trying to distance myself from much of it, opting instead for asymmetrical haircuts, British accents, and frilly shirts, preferably on guys.
So far, I've probably seemed more amused by this magazine than in love with it--blame it on my Gen X sense of detachment, even from the things I really love. But as with Start!, I'm mad for "Ten for '84." Look at that list: Paul Young, INXS, New Order, Aztec Camera, JoBoxers, Cyndi Lauper, and motherfucking REM, years before the stadium tours! (I'll pretend not to notice Queensryche, and who the hell are the other two?) I don't care what you think of any of those musicians now, but I harbor strong memories connected to each and every one of those artists--well, maybe not JoBoxers, but I remember seeing their video on TV, and I can still sing the chorus of their hit song.
I've commented on the trinity of live reviews before, but fleshed out, they appear even odder. A German art group, an American R&B mainstay, and preeminent L.A. punk rockers--only one of which could claim anything approaching a following--share the same amount of column inches. Who'd have thunk it?
Though I mostly remember Star Hits as my British music bible, I'm not surprised to see non-New Wave names as the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, and Hall & Oates within the pages. Even Mike Reno's ode to Journey, though eminently mockable, makes sense. I mean, they were popular, on the charts, and all over MTV.
The one article that baffles me is the Doors story. Yes, Jim Morrison has always been an icon for young would-be poets and dreamers, and I'm sure college dorm rooms are still plastered with his image. I don't doubt the Doors' continuing appeal, but I don't see their place in Star Hits. Maybe the editors wanted to educate their young readers; maybe one of the writers really loved the group; maybe someone owed Ray Manzarek a favor. All I know is that it puts Star Hits a little too close to Rolling Stone territory--and that's definitely not what I wanted from the magazine.
On that sour note, our first close reading of Star Hits comes to an end. Enjoy these vintage pages, and peruse the covers gallery on Flickr. Hopefully we'll do this again.
» Download file: Star Hits, February 1984 [PDF]
» Star Hits: A tribute
» Star Hits magazine cover gallery [Flickr]