Can't Slow Down

How 1984 Became Pop's Blockbuster Year

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By Michaelangelo Matos

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A Rolling Stone-Kirkus Best Music Book of 2020

The definitive account of pop music in the mid-eighties, from Prince and Madonna to the underground hip-hop, indie rock, and club scenes
 
Everybody knows the hits of 1984 – pop music's greatest year. From "Thriller" to "Purple Rain," "Hello" to "Against All Odds," "What's Love Got to Do with It" to "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," these iconic songs continue to dominate advertising, karaoke nights, and the soundtracks for film classics (Boogie Nights) and TV hits (Stranger Things). But the story of that thrilling, turbulent time, an era when Top 40 radio was both the leading edge of popular culture and a moral battleground, has never been told with the full detail it deserves – until now. Can't Slow Down is the definitive portrait of the exploding world of mid-eighties pop and the time it defined, from Cold War anxiety to the home-computer revolution. Big acts like Michael Jackson (Thriller), Prince (Purple Rain), Madonna (Like a Virgin), Bruce Springsteen (Born in the U.S.A.), and George Michael (Wham!'s Make It Big) rubbed shoulders with the stars of the fermenting scenes of hip-hop, indie rock, and club music.
 
Rigorously researched, mapping the entire terrain of American pop, with crucial side trips to the UK and Jamaica, from the biz to the stars to the upstarts and beyond, Can't Slow Down is a vivid journey to the very moment when pop was remaking itself, and the culture at large – one hit at a time.
 

Excerpt

1

WPLJ-FM,

NEW YORK CITY

August 7, 1983

IT’S EIGHT O’CLOCK ON WPLJ, NEW YORK—TIME FOR A SPECIAL EDITION of Let’s Hear It, with our program director, Larry Berger.”

For six years, Let’s Hear It had aired on New York’s FM rock leader at 10:00 p.m. on Sundays, to help fulfill the station’s public affairs programming requirements and to bridge its music with an eleven o’clock talk block. It also helped “create the feeling of accessibility to the station,” says Berger. “There was always some kind of crank call.”

Berger had joined WPLJ in 1974, and under him it became an AOR (album-oriented rock) powerhouse. But it was also among the first stations in America to play Barry Manilow’s “Mandy,” a ballad as soft as a dead mango. “WPLJ was quite an unusual AOR station in the seventies in that it was pretty broad,” says Berger. “The main crux of the station was rock and roll.” Along with format staples—Led Zeppelin, the Who, Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd—he says, “We played everything from Simon and Garfunkel and John Denver to Earth, Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, even Barry White.”

Only a few years before Berger joined WPLJ, that would have been business as usual: Top 40 radio played everything popular. But by the mid-seventies, the Top 40 audience had begun to subdivide. AOR had begun the shift, early in the decade; by the middle, adult contemporary (A/C) had lured away adults who liked ballads by playing only ballads. In the summer of 1978, the New York Top 40 WKTU went all-disco and took away the audience of the city’s premiere black station, WBLS, helmed by the legendary Frankie Crocker. “It happened overnight,” says Berger. “They went from a one-point-something to an 11.2. It sucked audience from everywhere.”

That stratification meant that by 1979, WPLJ had to rock, or else. “We became more narrowly focused than we had been before,” says Berger. “That seemed like the right thing to do for a while.” On air, Berger said that in the late seventies, the station was “playing a lot of heavy metal. These were the years when WPLJ [had its] lowest ratings in at least recent history.” By 1980, he added, “We played only records by white people with long hair who played electric guitars.”

Rock and roll had once signified racial inclusion, but by 1980, Billboard would run a cover story that began, “Has AOR radio become lily-white?” Clearly, it had—and it was bad for business. “Within a year,” he says, “it became clear to me that this wasn’t going to work in the long term.” The baby boomers were growing up and taking their demographic skew with them. By 1982, Americans’ median age was thirty-one; sticking with a narrow young-male market, AOR had painted itself into a corner. “The twelve-to-twenty-four demos will shrink by about one-third in this decade,” noted a Seattle program director (PD) that year, predicting that rather than two or three AORs per market, by the end of the eighties there would be only one.

Meanwhile, Top 40 became inundated with mush, via either adult baby food like Air Supply or rockers scoring with “a soft mid-tempo ballad,” per Billboard in 1981, “as REO Speedwagon, Styx, and Journey have recently done.” Bands like those were dubbed “corporate rock”: Asia, Boston, Kansas, all wielding acres of echo to bitchin’ guitar leads and a soaring, soothing ocean of suboperatic power ballads. That, rather than the rockers, was what you heard on pop radio in the early eighties.

These new radio formats reflected an increasing reliance on consulting firms to tell stations what to play. One leading firm was Burkhart/Abrams/Michaels/Douglas, whose cofounder Lee Abrams had codified the AOR format in 1971. WPLJ did its own research and found, too, that listeners were far more comfortable with familiar music. By 1983, the percentage of new music WPLJ played had slid, over four years, from 70 percent to 30 percent. “It happened gradually,” says Berger. “By 1982, it was becoming very difficult to find enough current, appropriate songs that would appeal to the rock coalition.”

The very idea of a “rock coalition” seemed to be disappearing. “On the sixties’ Top 40 radio, it was possible to hear Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, the Beatles, the Four Tops, and Bob Dylan all in the space of an hour,” Time’s Jay Cocks wrote in 1982. Neil Bogart, who ran Boardwalk Records and had one of that year’s biggest number ones with Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll,” told Cocks, “They play music for the fourteen-to-eighteen audience, the thirty-to-thirty-five, the fifty-to-sixty, or for white, black, Chicano. And only two out of five stations are willing to play new records.”

RUMORS OF THE RECORD BUSINESS’S IMPENDING INSOLVENCY BEGAN BUZZING in the summer of 1979. “The sales of musical product are apparently way off from this time last year, and no improvement is expected in the foreseeable future,” reported Trouser Press that September. “On a rough guess, one executive used 20 percent as an estimate of how much the reduction amounts to.” In fact, record sales would fall 11 percent that year.

There was a general recession on in the United States at the time—but after World War II, record sales had kept rising even in bad times. Music, the prevailing wisdom went, was recession-proof. No longer. What made it worse was that the slump was directly preceded by the blockbuster sales of the Saturday Night Fever and Grease soundtracks, which, as one biz reporter noted, “shattered sales records to imply that commercial music would continue its sixties and seventies market expansion with redoubled momentum. Instead, time has caught up with the world of gold and platinum.… The glory days are over.”

Much of the blame for this was placed squarely on disco, whose popularity had inspired the major labels to issue a glut of dance twelve-inches that the public didn’t want. The sales returns, representing money lost on the label’s part, did a lot to feed the 1979 crisis. “We wanted to work with a white artist so people could stop tagging us as black producers or disco producers,” Nile Rodgers of Chic told Billboard in December 1979. “You can’t make any money with that label.” In the early eighties, fewer people would call it disco and they began instead to call it dance music.

A similar thing happened with Top 40 radio. That phrase had become so unfashionable that a new term emerged in the trade magazine Radio & Records: contemporary hits radio, or CHR.

Things became dire in 1981. That August, Paul McCartney, one of the few commercial sure bets left, finished Tug of War—his first album since John Lennon’s death, a highly awaited reunion with Beatles producer George Martin—but didn’t release it till the spring of 1982. “One of the reasons was the market,” Martin said. “The record business was at such a low ebb.” That November, Russ Solomon, president of the retail giant Tower Records, told BusinessWeek, “This is just not a growth industry now.”

Nineteen eighty-two was even worse. The major labels were hemorrhaging money; CBS Records was forced to lay off three hundred employees that August. “The number of albums certified platinum in 1982 was down 11 percent from ’81 totals, while gold albums were off an even more pronounced 20 percent,” Billboard reported.

Yet there were glimmers of optimism. Over Christmas of ’82, the 140-store chain Record Bar wound up 16 percent ahead of the previous holiday. It was hardly the only retailer that season to sell more cassettes than LPs. And despite revenues being down 12 percent and earnings per share having fallen nearly two dollars in a year, CBS Records’ fourth quarter of 1982 actually showed an 8 percent rise. Michael Jackson had done his job.

NORMALLY, QUINCY JONES RADIATED POSITIVITY, BUT EVEN HE WAS WORRIED. In the studio producing Michael Jackson’s second solo album for Epic, Jones said, “The record business is not what it was a couple of years ago, and if we get six million out of this, I’m gonna declare that a success.” Thriller was a success, all right—released at the end of November 1982, it was certified platinum the following January and ensconced at number one in February. No surprise: its predecessor, Off the Wall, released right as the 1979 record-biz recession was taking hold, had moved seven million. What you might not have expected was to see Thriller listed as the third-most-added title at AOR in the December 18 Billboard, below Sammy Hagar and Bob Seger.

Jackson and Jones had explicitly aimed to make Thriller an all-seasons blockbuster, full of surefire hits in all formats—and AOR was one of them. “I said at the time, ‘I need a song like [the Knack’s 1979 hit] “My Sharona”—we need a black version,’” Jones said. Michael went home and wrote “Beat It.” To ram the song home, Jones cold-called Eddie Van Halen, the premiere guitar shredder of the age, and asked if he’d play a solo. Van Halen thought he was being crank-called, then said yes and refused payment.

The song’s flat metallic boogie drew immediate notice. “‘Beat It’ is not just for kids, but for everybody,” a PD from Minneapolis reported. “It started out eighteen to twenty-four, then built into all demos. Gets stronger and stronger every week.” Rolling Stone reported that the song had been added to “about fifty AOR playlists.” “Beat It” would eventually reach number fourteen on Billboard’s Rock Tracks chart.

WPLJ was one of the AORs that programmed “Beat It”—on, says Berger, “a trial-balloon basis.” They’d done the same at the beginning of 1983 with another rock song by a black artist, Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.” But Prince was a known shredder; Michael Jackson rocking out was something else, especially to the AOR audience. “On our call-out research, first week, extreme negatives—people hated it,” says Berger. “We continued to play it. By the second week, it started to move into the middle. By the third week they loved it. I knew something was up if this was acceptable to our rock and roll sample base.”

In 1996, Berger described the initial audience response in a different way. “If there was a lawn at 1330 Avenue of the Americas,” he told Billboard, “they would have burned a cross.”

AFTER LAUNCHING ON AUGUST 1, 1981, MTV HAD PLAYED, DURING ITS first eighteen months, a whopping total of 24 videos by black artists, out of 750. MTV’s head, Bob Pittman, made the same kind of excuses as his radio peers. “I’m tired of all this ‘racist’ stuff,” he griped. “Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about the barriers we have broken down? Like between punk or new wave and mainstream rock?”

That mattered, because MTV sold records. One Tulsa retailer told Billboard, “I had fifteen copies of the Buggles LP sitting in a bin for eight months”; within weeks of the network’s launch—first video: the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”—they’d disappeared. “The average MTV viewer last year bought nine albums,” Les Garland, MTV’s executive vice president of programming, boasted in 1983. “The national average is about seven, but the MTV viewers bought nine. And of the nine they bought, four of them were purchased as a direct result of having been seen on MTV. That’s almost 50 percent.”

Michael Jackson wanted those numbers too. His managers Freddy DeMann and Ron Weisner delivered the clip for Thriller’s second single, “Billie Jean,” to the network by hand. This is the point where everybody stops agreeing. Weisner recalled that MTV declined it, then changed its mind after the intervention of CBS Records’ president, Walter Yetnikoff, and chairman, William S. Paley. Yetnikoff recalled it much the same way, as did MTV video jockeys (VJs) Mark Goodman and Martha Quinn; the latter recalled being told, with a chuckle, “Yeah, but we can’t play this.”

On the other hand, Les Garland said in 2015, “There was never any sort of a threat from anybody—from Walter or anybody else.… We really believed—unanimously—that it was groundbreaking, and probably the best video anyone in the room had ever seen to that date.” Of course MTV would play it: “There was never a question, ever.” A spokesperson for Warner Amex, MTV’s owners, told Billboard, “The only ‘Pressure’ they’ve ever given us is Billy Joel’s.”

Once the stylish blue noir of the “Billie Jean” clip made it to MTV, it never left. Jackson was breaking two color barriers at once, with two very different recordings: the disco pulse and chicken-pickin’ guitar break of “Billie Jean” were as “urban” (a radio-biz code word for “black”) as the stiff beats and Eddie Van Halen power-tool impersonations of “Beat It” were “rock.” While “Billie Jean” made it into MTV’s rotation, a producer at Bob Giraldi Productions, then working on Thriller’s second video, told Billboard, “We’ve been guaranteed that ‘Beat It’ will be shown on MTV.”

On March 25, 1983, the rest of Jackson’s stars aligned. He’d had to be convinced by Berry Gordy himself to participate in a Jackson 5 reunion at the Pasadena Civic Center for a show, filmed for prime-time TV, celebrating Motown Records’ twenty-fifth anniversary. Jackson’s condition was that he’d get to perform “Billie Jean” as well as a J5 medley—the only non-Motown song of the three-hour program.

Jackson often talked about being transformed during performance, but postmedley, when he announced, “But especially, I like… the new songs,” he accompanied it with a sneer that sent a shock wave through the 2,965-seat Civic Center. Wearing a single white rhinestone-studded glove that flashed in the spotlight—a moving, gesturing disco ball—Michael cocked his black fedora, thrust his hips and knees, and began miming to the record of “Billie Jean.” Weeks before anyone could see it on television, Rolling Stone reported, “He showed off moves that owed as much to street ‘break’ dancing as to traditional Motown choreography: stop-on-a-dime spins, some astonishing backward walks.” Michael had learned the move, which he dubbed the Moonwalk, from ex–Soul Train dancer and Shalamar member Jeffrey Daniel; he ended it here by hopping on his toes and freezing. This was a tough crowd of showbiz lifers, and they went berserk. Backstage, Richard Pryor went up to Jackson and said, “That was the greatest performance I’ve ever seen.”

Together, the Motown 25 special and MTV pushed Jackson’s album into the sun. “Thriller had already sold about three million copies before any of the videos got on MTV,” publicist Susan Blond said. “But after MTV, we were selling two hundred thousand copies of it a week, and we ended up selling six million more copies.” By summer’s end, Rolling Stone would predict, a little wide-eyed, that Thriller’s sales “may end up going as high as 12 million worldwide.”

ONE WAY LARRY BERGER DID RESEARCH WAS TO VISIT ANOTHER MARKET and “sit in a hotel and monitor other rock stations,” he says. In mid-1982, he did this in Philadelphia, intending to pay attention to a pair of AORs. “But I found myself gravitating to the Top 40 station there, WCAU-FM,” says Berger. “They were playing what was called the Hot Hits format, created by a consultant named Mike Joseph out of Connecticut. The music they were playing was just terrific. There was a song they were playing on hot rotation, every seventy minutes, called ‘Forget Me Nots’ by Patrice Rushen. I would tune back to them to hear it when it came on.”

Berger suddenly realized that something was changing: “The music was getting better. Top 40 had gone through the early eighties [playing] a lot of soft music, more Adult Contemporary than Top 40. But I knew it was out there.”

Rushen’s supple R&B groove—danceable and melodic but leaner than overblown late-seventies disco—and others like it, by Rick James, Prince, and the S.O.S. Band, weren’t the only exciting new things happening. “In 1981–82 there was an influx of very pop-sounding, mostly British artists: Joe Jackson, Men at Work from Australia, Elvis Costello,” says Berger. “There was less music like Supertramp and Asia. This music that was coming out was very poppy sounding; it lacked, in many cases, an upfront electric guitar.”

But new wave polarized the WPLJ audience too much. “The people who liked new wave hated Led Zeppelin and the Who,” says Berger. “People who liked heavy metal hated everything except heavy metal.”

Late in 1982, another company made overtures to hire Berger away from WPLJ to start a new Top 40 station in New York. (Berger declines to specify which company.) “It got pretty serious, but they could not get it approved by their corporate bigwigs, so they didn’t do it.” By then, he says, “Every broadcaster in New York knew there was an opening for a Top 40 on FM.”

FOR THE TIME BEING, WPLJ KEPT ON PLAYING OLD MUSIC. THAT’S WHAT AOR stations had been doing for half a decade by 1982, and the reason for that was Lee Abrams.

Growing up in Chicago, Abrams obsessively analyzed radio station playlists. He’d barely hit puberty when he decided he could program rock radio better than anyone else. The late sixties was the era of free-form FM radio—broadcasting in stereo, full of stoned-out DJs playing what, to Abrams, sounded like “bullshit”: “You’d hear twenty minutes of Ravi Shankar, some bluegrass, a little jazz, and I just wanted to hear some good Cream, Yes, and all that.” In 1971, Abrams designed the SuperStars format to eliminate such frippery—the true beginning of AOR.

In the late seventies, AOR—hence, much of America—had shown little taste for punk or new wave, with a handful of exceptions, such as Blondie and the Cars. (“Punks” killed each other with ice picks, like on Quincy. Didn’t they?) A few crucial stations embraced new wave, notably Los Angeles’s KROQ and WLIR in Long Island. (Abrams consulted for the latter, which utilized a new wavier format dubbed SuperStars II.) But the folks who preferred the old stuff, ad infinitum, outnumbered them.

The weather, though, was changing by the mid-eighties. As 1983 began, Abrams suddenly switched tack for the eighty SuperStars stations his firm consulted. “In 1977, I felt no regrets about our stations being oldies-oriented, but the music has changed, and so must we,” he told Radio & Records. “We have become our own worst enemy.… Now, finally, some of those great AOR standards seem to have burned out.… The final indicator that we were off-target was looking at the top ten of national sales charts and seeing bands like the Clash, Men at Work, Stray Cats, and Joe Jackson. A year ago, when these were new records, we were unconvinced they would work for us. But they are undeniably happening, and it’s time for us to reflect it.”

“We’re changing from an industrial base to a technological one, and such changes always bring about turmoil,” a PD in Baltimore said. “I think the new music reflects that.”

The term new music was fast entering the American radio lexicon. During Billboard’s Radio Programming Convention in Pasadena in January of ’83, a session called “State of Popular Music,” the magazine reported, “pointed to an emergence of post–new wave pop—the melding of electronic rock, disco, soul, and pop, often lumped together under a ‘new music’ tag—as a most prominent indicator of [the] change” that was beginning to occur.

Just days earlier, Abrams had delivered his edict. “We’re de-emphasizing the oldies,” he told a gathering of fifty AOR clients. Instead of playing up to 80 percent familiar hits and album tracks, Abrams now counseled a 70–30 mix of new hits and old favorites. In place of inactive seventies icons like Thin Lizzy and—gulp—Led Zeppelin, programmers were encouraged to emphasize new bands, most British, most tried and tested on MTV: Men at Work, Missing Persons, Thomas Dolby, Pretenders, Joe Jackson, Duran Duran, the Psychedelic Furs.

“In their hearts, I believe most of our programmers feel the same way we do: that it’s time for such a change,” Abrams said. “The only hurdle they must get over is the feeling of, ‘How can we drop [Aerosmith’s] “Dream On”?’ Well, it’s time to.”

Abrams’s new edict was the talk of Pasadena. For many of the five hundred programmers in attendance, it was a come-to-Jesus moment; Billboard compared it to “a group of sinners confessing together.” Dave Logan, the PD for KFOG-FM, San Francisco, spoke for many: “We were lulled into a false sense of security. We’ve got to change our way of thinking.”

John Gorman, PD of Cleveland AOR powerhouse WMMS-FM, was even more succinct. “There’s been a reversal,” he told Rolling Stone. “Top 40 has become the adventurous format.”

ON THURSDAY, JUNE 23, 1983, LARRY BERGER WENT TO THE OFFICE OF WPLJ’s general manager, Joe Parish, to deliver the bad news. It was time for the station’s quarterly budget meeting, and Berger had been projecting the station’s ratings for the next eighteen months so the sales department could figure out its revenues. Nothing he saw looked favorable. “I’m going to have to project downward,” Berger told his boss.

AOR numbers had been plummeting around the country, sometimes by a lot: in mid-1982, Boston’s WCOZ-FM fell from a 12.6 audience share to a 4.7 share; Detroit’s WLLZ-FM slipped from 9.2 to 4.7; San Jose’s KOME-FM, from 6.8 to 3.8. One PD said that women were “by and large a lost cause for AOR.” And women were what Berger was after—specifically, women aged twenty-five to forty-four—to go with WPLJ’s large audience of teens and eighteen-to-twenty-fours. Adult women were a prime demographic. “The amount you can charge for a spot, the national advertisers who would be interested, is far greater than what we had,” says Berger. And the “new music” they were slipping in was starting to work.

So Berger loosed his pitch to revamp WPLJ as “an adult-oriented Top 40 station: 80 percent adults—eighteen and older—and 20 percent teenagers.” The station’s general sales manager, says Berger, “nearly had a coronary. In the summertime—and this was mid-June—we had pre-booked a whole shitload of youth-oriented business: soft drinks, beer, concerts. He was a little bit disturbed.”

Nevertheless, they went with it. Most of the DJs had Top 40 experience and were ready to adjust their on-air styles. “I spent the weekend at home sketching out lists—music lists, rotations,” says Berger. “As a rock station, we were repeating the most popular songs every eight hours; as a Top 40 station we’d repeat them a lot more [often] than that.

“They were taking a risk here. Everybody knew that. It’s one thing to change the format of a station that’s in the toilet; there’s nothing to be lost. We were the top rock station in the market. In our final book as a rock station we had a 4.1 ratings share of audience. It was a very successful operation.”

WPLJ’s record library was still missing a large number of Top 40 titles—the album-oriented rock station had no 45s at all. “I had to buy the disc jockeys a lot of records,” says Berger. “An independent record promoter, Herb Rosen, went to one-stops and bought a bunch of records for me. We needed ‘Celebration’ by Kool & the Gang, a lot of stuff we didn’t have. Herbie must’ve bought fifty or more singles.” The A rotation that summer included the Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money,” Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy,” Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” and Michael Sembello’s “Maniac,” from the Flashdance soundtrack.

WPLJ’s new format debuted on June 30, 1983, at 4:00 a.m.—only the station hadn’t informed anyone they were doing it. “It was very half-assed, I must admit,” says Berger. “One of the compromises was to make a gradual transition. If you’re going to change the format of a radio station, you either blow it up, fire everybody, or read the telephone book for three days—do some kind of stunt thing. We just slid it in with most of the same disc jockeys and different music.” That morning, he says, “I remember sitting in my office listening to ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’’ by Michael Jackson on what had been a rock station—for many years, a successful rock station—and thinking to myself, ‘What the fuck am I doing? Have we lost our minds?’”

SOME OF THE LETTERS, FRANKLY, I CAN’T READ ON THE AIR BECAUSE they’re so wild.”

It had been five weeks since the changeover, and it had exercised a number of WPLJ’s listeners. A number had written in—that’s why Let’s Hear It with Larry Berger was on during prime time, so he could read and respond to some of their letters. He received between fifty and a hundred complaints in total.

“Some of them,” he said on-air, “have racial overtones.” Over and over, the letters mentioned “disco,” and the way some of them did it made it plain that they were using that word in place of an epithet. This night, he ignored the phones.

Genre:

  • A Rolling Stone-Kirkus Best Music Book of 2020

    Pitchfork, Best Music Books of 2020


    Variety, Best Music Books of 2020

    Amazon, Best Books of December 2020 (Biographies & Memoir)

    Chicago Review of Books, "10 Must Read Books of December (2020)"

    Inside Hook, "9 Books You Should Be Reading This December"

    Boston Globe, "Fall Music Books Roundup"

    Forbes, "2020 Music Book Roundup"
  • "Imagine a time when people bought millions of CDs, pop musicians had the larger-than-life allure of movie stars, and nearly every genre, from Top 40 to hip-hop to indie, was thriving. That year was 1984, and Michaelangelo Matos' rollicking and deeply researched Can't Slow Down hurls you back to a time when pop music wasn't just thriving; it welcomed anyone and everyone to revel in its crossover dreams."—David Browne, author of Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon& Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY and the Lost Story of 1970
  • "Can't Slow Down reads like a "We Are the World"-style celebrity mega-single in book form. It is a delightfully jam-packed group bio that brings together characters from Morrissey to Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson to Sade. All jostle for their star turns in this ingeniously structured account of pop music's watershed year. Wearing a massive amount of research lightly and displaying his gift for both the industry "big picture" and the (at times hilarious) artist thumbnail sketch, Matos proves himself to be among the most entertaining and erudite chroniclers of contemporary American popular music."—Emily J. Lordi, author of The Meaning of Soul
  • "Through rigorous research and engaging storytelling, Michaelangelo Matos offers a comprehensive look at a breakthrough year in pop music. By giving equal weight to major and lesser-known cultural signposts, Can't Slow Down is an insightful read for even the staunchest music fan."—Marcus J. Moore, author of The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick LamarIgnited the Soul of Black America
  • "At last-the whole glorious saga of the 1984 pop explosion. Can't Slow Down has the full untold story of how rockers and rappers and dance-floor rebels came together to invent the future, changing how music has sounded ever since. Michaelangelo Matos tells this epic tale in all its detail-it's a definitive scholarly history, but he also turns it into a thriller and a love story, with an infectious joy that practically dances off the page. A pure delight."—Rob Sheffield, author of Dreaming theBeatles
  • "[A] savvy, effervescent, and definitive document of a pivotal time in pop."—Kirkus Reviews
  • “Pop fans with an appetite for nostalgia will find much to like.”—Library Journal
  • "Drawn from a wealth of archival material, including oral history transcripts, books, and magazines, Matos’ in-depth look encompasses that landmark year’s hits, stars, and trends and the cultural, social, and financial conditions that helped change the face of popular music. This robust volume provides an abundance of material here for music fans, especially those fascinated by 1980s pop culture, to savor."—Booklist
  • "[A] carefully researched and remarkably ambitious work that immediately takes a place on the shelf of indispensable books about music in the 1980s.”  —Slate
  • “[A] warm trip down musical memory lane.” —Houston Press
  • "The book feels like an ensemble television show, prioritizing shifting perspectives over a tightly-organized narrative. It’s informative, entertaining, and fully immersive."—Pitchfork
  • "Informed and witty... [with] volumes of information and perspectives even for those of us who were there."—Variety
  • "Compared to other music periods, the 1980s have been short-shrifted when it comes to critical studies. But with Matos' book... that period's exciting music and times have been now depicted in an important and accurate historical light."—Forbes
  • “[This book is] suffused with such entertaining and illuminating vignettes, and unlike a lot of music books, it doesn’t trade gossip or legends... it sets an awfully high bar for future books on ‘80s music that will hopefully follow.”—Washington Examiner
  • “Phenomenal... [and] detail-rich."—Mother Jones
  • "[The] definitive account of pop music in the mid-1980s.”—The HYPE Magazine
  • “Music fans who miss, or missed, the long party that was mainstream music in the mid-’80s will be skillfully taken back to fast times.”—Arts Fuse
  • “A phenomenal piece of research.”—And It Don't Stop

On Sale
Dec 8, 2020
Page Count
480 pages
Publisher
Hachette Books
ISBN-13
9780306903373

Michaelangelo Matos

About the Author

MICHAELANGELO MATOS is the author of The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America (Dey Street, 2015) and Sign ‘O’ the Times (Bloomsbury, 2004). He contributes regularly to Mix-mag and the New Yorker and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Learn more about this author