A Look Back At Look-in: The 1982 Pop Scene

eighties music '80s

1982 was a big year in pop music. Madonna’s debut. The release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Ozzy munched a bat. But what was it really like?

In the UK the biggest selling single was Dexy’s Midnight RunnersCome On Eileen. The Human League had a huge hit with Don’t You Want Me. I particularly liked J. Geils Band’s Centerfold, Survivor’s Eye of The Tiger and a big hit at school was Musical Youth’s Pass The Dutchie. This was also the year Culture Club’s Boy George first appeared on Top of The Pops with Do You Really Want To Hurt Me prompting a hundred discussions about whether he was a girl or a boy…

Browsing through one of Leigh on Sea’s used bookstores a few weeks ago I stumbled across a rare piece of blogging treasure: The 1982 Look-in Pop Annual. Edited by none other than Neil Tennant (before he joined The Pet Shop Boys) the book is a fascinating (and frequently amusing) time-capsule of the early eighties pop scene. Let’s have a look:

Look in Annual 1982

Perhaps the single greatest thing here is the “Pop Picture Strip” of the life of Elvis Presley, just five years after his death. Whilst not really rivalling Peter Guralnik’s Last Train to Memphis for breadth of content it does beat it for sheer brevity and number of pictures – telling the story of the rise of Elvis in just eight pages. Brilliantly, the author manages to project the story onto an educational backdrop of the war in Korea and The Suez Crisis, an approach that recent issues of modern equivalent Top of the Pops Magazine have, I feel, neglected (sample recent TOTP Magazine headline: Rita Ora Exclusive – “I can just about make scrambled eggs”. I’m not joking).

The somewhat highbrow tone continues with an article on Electro Pop. “For many months now” states the article (months!) “the pop charts have been buzzing with synthesisers and thumping to computerised drums. Is this some kind of electronic revolution?”

It’s a serious piece, telling of the rise of the Moog in 1964, how The Monkees were pioneers in 1967, followed by Roxy Music and Kraftwerk. (Contrast with this recent Top of The Pops Magazine headline: “The Wanted – Number Twos and Blocked Loos: Eeeew!”).

More amusing are quotes from Gary Numan: “To be honest, I’m not that good a player at all” (insert your own joke here) and Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan: “I don’t think people who come to see us now think of us as a synthesiser band” (Sorry Dave: I’ll be honest – I still do). Even better is the comment that “Depeche Mode has allowed Synthesiser music to lose its doom and gloom tag” (Really? I have seen recently bereaved Norwegian Death Metal bands with happier songs and faces than Depeche Mode). Of course in 1982 Depeche Mode had just released Just Can’t Get Enough and the rather chirpier Vince Clarke had only recently departed…

Following my posts on old rock stars’ jobs it is sobering to see that I wasn’t the first to write an article on the subject: Look-in had beaten me to it by thirty years. In addition, they also had some great quotes. Who knew Paul Weller wanted to be a private detective?! Or that Suggs used to be a decorator? Or that Nick Heyward wanted to drive a tractor (give it time, Nick – you will one day).

Look in Annual 1982 Style Council

An article about old-timers was good. They haven’t changed. It’s still Cliff, Macca, Elton, Bowie and Quo. Interesting that Abba were considered old timers in 1982 though. That’s like calling The Killers old timers in 2012. “Who is to stop Sweden’s second biggest export?” asked the article (it isn’t clear if they were serious about finding a solution), without clarifying the bigger question: Exactly what is Sweden’s first biggest export? (Porn? meatballs? Ikea?). As it happens, Abba split months after publication of the article.

Cliff Richard, Paul McCartney, Elton John

The Old-timers piece also explained that Elton John’s career highlight so far was a duet with Miss Piggy:

Adam Ant meanwhile paid tribute to Paul McCartney calling him the “best bass player in the world” which is possibly damning McCartney with faint praise and slightly ignores the whole “best songwriter” title but we’ll let it go. “I had the first three solo McCartney albums and learned every single bass line off them” Ant trumpeted.

Pop on TV is given a retrospective with the Old Grey Whistle Test coming in for some severe stick from Neil Tennant’s viperish quill as he describes it as “Greyer than ever” and “it was pretty boring in 1971 and that hasn’t changed much either!”. Miaaoooww…

Look in Annual

Next up are 1982 rock star’s homes. Adam Ant (who later gets six pages to himself – a sign of star status) is described as living in a two room flat near Regents Park decorated by two designers from The Royal College of Art with “blue satin chairs and silvery green walls with matching velvet curtains”. Yum. Elton John lives in a country mansion which according to the article was built by King Henry VIII (by hand presumably) that he paid £380,000 for (bargain!) It stands in 37 acres and has six bedrooms and its own cinema.

Meanwhile Eddie Tudorpole lives in a squat, the three members of Bananarama share a council flat in Holborn and Buster Bloodvessel of Bad Manners lives in Stoke Newington. With his mum.

And what about an in-depth look at the industry and how a record becomes a hit? We follow Altered Images attempts to climb the charts with “See Those Eyes”. Singer and part time Gregory’s Girl Claire Grogan reveals she gets her lyrical inspiration from AA Milne’s Now We Are Six. Hmmm. I wonder why they never won an Ivor Novello award…. When “See Those Eyes” just misses out on the top ten, bass player Tony McDaid is quoted as saying “It got the most critical acclaim we’ve had but who wants that? We’d rather it sold more!” Good to see artistic integrity was alive and kicking…

Look in Annual

Finally there’s a Look-in Pop Panel where ten lucky readers get to ask Gary Numan and Cheryl Baker from Bucks Fizz what it is like to be a pop star. Gary reveals he likes a new band called Huang Chung (probably Wang Chung?) and that his nickname at school was Wally. Which shows that perhaps not every article was entirely highbrow….

Perhaps the best way to look at 1982, however is through that year’s chart sensations: Haircut 100. I’ll show you a picture – because every picture tells a story, don’t it?

Look in Annual 1982 Eighties Music '80s
Loving the trousers-tucked-into-the-socks thing…

Record #97: J Geils Band – Centerfold


12 responses to “A Look Back At Look-in: The 1982 Pop Scene”

  1. philliphelbig Avatar

    This summarizes most people’s impression of the 1980s in music. Also, most people who listened to this music then don’t listen to it now. That’s probably not true of those who listened to Iron Maiden then. At the same time, that is, in the 1980s, they were making some of their best, and certainly their most famous, albums. There isn’t a touch of 1980s in the sound. No exaggerated echo on the snare, no electronic drums, no Fairlights (even Joni Mitchell had a Fairlight in the 1980s).

    Also, people who dressed like Haircut 100 in the 1990s don’t dress like Haircut 100 today, including Haircut 100. Many fans of Iron Maiden do, and the band itself hasn’t changed in appearance much at all since then.

    Of course, they were 1980s in their own way at the time with spandex trousers, but they never went for permanent-wave hairdos like many less substantial metal bands.


  2. HipsterApproved.net Avatar

    Adam Ant performed here in Norfolk, Virginia last night. I wasn’t able to attend. I would have liked to, though. I think he was ahead of his time.

    I also am a big fan of Gary Numan. I got a Tweet from him recently saying he found his old ’80s Moog synthesizer in his garage. Here’s a picture -> https://twitter.com/numanofficial/status/246691622375546881/photo/1


  3. KamerTunesBlog (by Rich Kamerman) Avatar

    Great write-up. Much as it’s fun to laugh at the styles (music, fashion & otherwise) from that era, a lot of that music has held up well (even if sometimes it’s just nostalgia that makes the music enjoyable). If you were living in the US at the time, radio (and the Grammy’s) were dominated by Toto’s “IV,” and a lot of people felt like that was the death-knell for the music industry. As a musician myself (well, a drummer, so close enough), I’ve always loved Toto, even though I completely understand why they were never considered cool by the music industry tastemakers. For me it’s all about the songs, and they had some great ones. Plus, their instrumental prowess was as good as it gets.

    As for J. Geils, they were once a much better band, but it was still nice to see them finally having a huge hit so deep into their career. How often does that happen these days (probably never)?

    1983 was a much better year, in my opinion, with the rise of U2 as a major band, and debuts by Big Country,The Alarm & REM. Guitar rock was back.


  4. mskatykins Avatar

    Love Depeche Mode…
    Ah, “Pass the Dutchie” always makes me chuckle. Great post, as always! 🙂
    Interesting to think about whether Adam would still call Sir Paul the greatest bass player…


  5. philliphelbig Avatar

    “As for J. Geils, they were once a much better band, but it was still nice to see them finally having a huge hit so deep into their career.”

    Freeze Frame with the hit “Centerfold” was the J. Geils Band’s ninth album. Rumours was Fleetwood Mac’s 15th or 16th. Talk about coincidence: Mick Fleetwood was checking out a studio and the engineer by chance put on a tape of Buckingham Nicks to demonstrate the equipment. And of course you know the rest of the story.

    While I like the British blues (interestingly, this is Joe Bonamassa’s main influence, even though he and the blues are mainly American), I was never a fan of the bluesy Fleetwood Mac, though I’m sure that in part that’s down to not having heard everything. I like Rumours but Fleetwood Mac became too “pop” for me after that. And Lindsey Buckingham solo stuff in the 1980s (“I go Insane” and similar stuff) was to me all that was bad about 1980s pop music. But maybe there are some good songs hiding beneath the over-production of the 1980s. Here is Lindsey Buckingham giving an old song a new spin. Is this guy even more underrated as a guitarist than Richard Thompson or what?


    1. KamerTunesBlog (by Rich Kamerman) Avatar

      Phillip, that’s an interesting (and accurate) comparison between the careers of J. Geils & Fleetwood Mac, whose music changed drastically from their early days through their hit-making years. The main difference would be that the lineup for J. Geils remained the same (I believe…it’s possible that one band member may have changed), while the Mac went through various lineups. I’m a huge fan of the blues era of Fleetwood Mac, mostly for the amazing guitar playing of Peter Green. Talk about an underrated player. He had to live in the shadow of Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, but for my money Green’s contributions to that group were far more impressive than Clapton’s.

      As for Lindsey Buckingham, he’s absolutely one of the most underrated guitar players in rock history, mostly because so many people don’t think of him as a guitar player. His style is so unique (I always loved his acoustic performances of “Big Love” like the one you posted here). I think you might be surprised if you revisit his ’80s work now, as the songwriting is as good as anything he’s ever done. It’s just slightly undermined by the production sounds of the day. I can’t fault him for trying out the modern technology, as long as the songwriting & musicianship are still there.

      And then there’s Richard Thompson, a true genius. I’m not sure he can be considered underrated, since he has a great reputation amongst critics and fans. To me he’s more of an undiscovered guitar great. And even he succumbed to some of the unfortunate production choices in the ’80s.


  6. philliphelbig Avatar

    As I said, I need to investigate some early Fleetwood Mac. Of course I have Peter Green’s solo album In the Skies, but that is something different. I only have the Beano album from the Bluesbreakers, but will probably get some more in the future. I’ve seen Mayall and the Bluesbreakers a few times live in the last 30 years, and will see him again in a few weeks. Best of these was probably when he had both Walter Trout and Coco Montoya in the band.

    I have seen Thompson only at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy festival (I’ve been most years since 1988), so I know many of his songs even though I don’t have any albums by him (except old Fairport Convention albums from the time when he was in the band and later live albums where he guests). There was a good interview in Mojo a few months ago. He lives in California now (“It’s easy to ignore California culture because there isn’t any. Do you hear any Jan and Dean influence in my songs?”) and said that he automatically became the coach of his son’s soccer team because he had a foreign accent, a foreign accent of any type being a sufficient qualification for being the coach. One of the kids on the team is the son of a professional athlete (though not a soccer player), a famous guy, but he’s not the coach—Richard Thompson is. (I think Schwarzenegger’s son is also on the team: Maria Shriver as a soccer mom.)


  7. Linda Meijer Avatar
    Linda Meijer

    I suppose you’re not gonna scan this magazine… 😛 It is mostly the Depeche Mode article that I’m interested in. 🙂


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar
      Every Record Tells A Story
  8. […] Tory seat, you were just wasting your vote. What I didn’t know (but was pointed out by the Look-in Annual 1982) was that they rotated the shops used, so out of 750 shops, only 250 were canvassed each […]


  9. […] A look back at The Look-In Annual 1982 […]


  10. KG Avatar

    Gary Numan. The man did himself no favours with his immature comments.
    If I’m not mistaken it was around 1982 his music was boycotted by BBC Radio 1. I won’t even go down the road of emergency crash landings and wigs. He was a laughing stock. Wally of the year award.


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