Like, Omigod! The '80s Pop Culture Box (Totally)

Various Artists

Rhino, 2002

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Back in 2004, Rhino released the excellent box set Left Of The Dial, a four-CD set that chronicled in detail the alternative movement of the 1980s. The underground bands, the "college rock" movement, post-punk and more were all explored in detail, and it is both a wonderful sampler and a great introduction to one facet of music in the 1980s.

In every way possible, the antithesis of that collection is Rhino's seven-disc box set Like, Omigod!, which offers up the new wave, pop and mainstream rock hits of that maligned decade. This is where all those goofy one-hit wonders, synthesized soundalike pap, overproduced big-hair dumbed-down songs have come to rest, and it is quite a treasure trove for those who love ’80s pop music.

If it sounds like I'm biased, it's true, but I will give this box set credit for trying. Because there were so many songs and artists that hit big - one aspect of this period of music was its disposability - there is a lot to contain, and the compilers get it mostly right. Those wishing to dig deeper may want to check out the massive Just Can't Get Enough set, which goes beyond the major hits; on here, each artist gets one major hit, even if they had more, which most of them did not.

Because this focuses on pop, there is no overlap with Left Of The Dial, so you won't find any R.E.M., Sonic Youth, Pixies, Depeche Mode, Fugazi, Elvis Costello or other alternative artists. Likewise, since the focus is mostly on pop and hair metal, there is nothing from Metallica, Megadeth, Stevie Ray Vaughan (brother Jimmy makes an appearance with "Tuff Enuff," at least), Slayer, Guns 'n' Roses, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Poison, latter-day Aerosmith or Bruce Springsteen. Major omissions are the big-name artists, probably due to licensing issues, so don't expect to hear anything from Michael or Janet Jackson, Madonna, U2, Prince, Public Enemy, Bon Jovi or Talking Heads either. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Much of those above artists were a big part of the fabric of ’80s music and MTV in particular, and their absence is noticeable, but not enough to cripple this set (which is what happened with the disaster of a ’90s box set, Whatever, which I should thoroughly trash in a future review when I'm in a bad mood). What is left is a huge wealth of pop hits, many of which have been played in countless movies, TV shows, pop culture references, other smaller compilations and so on. To break these up, some rock, soul and even hip-hop is sprinkled around.

The thing is, Like, Omigod! lends some credibility to this advent of new wave, most of which took place between 1980 and 1985, which is where most of the music is drawn from. Hearing all of these songs back to back and divorced from any sort of irony makes one appreciate what the artists and producers were attempting, and even if the results turned into fluff, it was catchy, danceable fluff. Besides, every decade has its periods of disposable pop music. Live with it.

The list of artists is too lengthy to name, but you know what to expect: Soft Cell, Devo, Tears for Fears, Eurythmics, the Bangles, the Buggles, Blondie, Kool & the Gang, a-ha, Simple Minds, Wang Chung, Air Supply, Gary Numan, Rick Springfield, Rick James, Tommy Tutone, Hall & Oates, Thompson Twins, Human League, Duran Duran, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Men At Work, Toto, Yes, Styx, Bonnie Tyler, Thomas Dolby, Madness, Cyndi Lauper and Culture Club, to name a few.

Rock songs come by way of Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, Scorpions, Robert Palmer, the Run-DMC/Aerosmith hybrid "Walk This Way," Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Alan Parsons Project's ballad "Time," .38 Special, J. Geils Band, Billy Squier, Billy Idol and Queen. Major points go for the selection of Golden Earring's excellent "Twilight Zone."

Aside from the lack of big-name stars, this collection has two minor problems: One, there is about a disc's worth of stuff that is just dull and uninspired and could have been left off. Two, the compilers felt the need to include whatever was popular, no matter how briefly, at the expense of some pretty good songs. So the listener is treated to stuff like Bob and Doug McKenzie (with Geddy Lee) on "Great White North," Billy Crystal's "You Look Mahvelous," Don Johnson's "Heartbeat," Frank Zappa's embarrassing "Valley Girl," the themes to the TV shows Miami Vice, Greatest American Hero and Hill Street Blues and Taco's "Puttin' on the Ritz." Because of this, songs that really should be here by A Flock of Seagulls, Adam Ant, Wham, Squeeze and Modern English are missing.

Still, if you are looking for the vast majority of these 80s hits in one place, whether out of curiosity or just to have them all in one place, you really can't do better than this. It may not change your mind about the quality of music or its transient nature, but Like, Omigod! does its best to lend credibility to these deathless songs.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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