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The Reagan Era Music

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Born In The U.S.A. (1984)

By far the best-selling record of Springsteen's long career, Born in the USA sold more than 15 million copies in the US after its release in the summer of 1984. The album knocked Michael Jackson's Thriller out of the Number 1 slot in the Billboard Top 100, and seven of its twelve tracks ultimately became Top 10 singles, making the record the ubiquitous soundtrack of the Reagan Era's heyday. The flag-draped cover art and anthemic chorus of the title track led many to hear Born in the USA as a straightforward, patriotic record, in tune with the sunny "Morning in America" message simultaneously being invoked by Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign. In fact, a close listen to the lyrics reveals that most of the album's songs—including hits "Glory Days," "My Hometown," "No Surrender," and "Downbound Train," as well as "Born in the USA" itself – actually tell heartbreaking stories of the long decline of heartland America and the betrayal of the American Dream for ordinary working folks. The small-town nostalgia of Reagan's "Morning in America" ads couldn't have differed more starkly from the imagery of Springsteen's "My Hometown": "now Main Street's whitewashed windows and vacant stores / seems like there ain't nobody wants to come down here no more / they're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks / foreman says these jobs are going, boys, and they ain't coming back / to your hometown / your hometown"

Run-DMC, Raising Hell (1986)

During the Reagan Era, hip-hop expanded beyond its origins in urban black culture to become a major force in American pop music. No artist played a more important role in making hip-hop a permanent fixture in mainstream American culture than Run-DMC, the Queens-based trio that taught millions of American youths how to rock the microphone. Raising Hell, Run-DMC's bestselling record, became the first rap album ever to break into the Billboard Top Ten shortly after its 1986 release, and ultimately sold more than 3 million copies. The album's most popular single, "Walk This Way," was a crossover hit in the most literal sense: The song featured Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry, and the memorable music video—which received huge airplay on MTV—depicted the white rockers and black rappers moving beyond an initial rivalry to thrill a concert audience with a devastating rap/rock hybrid. Raising Hell's other hit singles (including "It's Tricky," "You Be Illin'," and "My Adidas") helped to the define an enduring hip-hop style—flashy, materialistic, braggadocious, playful and fun. No one else could make an ode to sneakers ("My Adidas") sound so cool.

Michael Jackson, Thriller (1982)

The most popular record of the Reagan Era (and, indeed, the most popular record of any era), Thriller has sold, incredibly, more than 100 million copies around the world since its release in 1982. The album topped the charts for a record 37 weeks in 1983 and '84, and seven of its nine songs eventually became Top 10 singles. The album captured Jackson at the peak of his artistic powers, before the corrosive effect of money, fame, and way too much plastic surgery reduced the "King of Pop" to a faint shadow of his former glory. The title track, "Beat It," and "Billie Jean" all rank among the best pop songs of the 1980s.

Tina Turner, Private Dancer (1984)

A classic Reagan-era album, Private Dancer was Tina Turner’s most successful solo record. It was released after her very difficult divorce with husband Ike and propelled her into superstardom. No “Hits from the ‘80s” collection is complete without it.

Van Halen, 1984 (1984)

1984 was not only an important year in politics, but it was also an epic year for American music, with groundbreaking releases from Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Bon Jovi, Madonna, Prince and the Revolution, The Smiths, U2, and this hard rock band from Pasadena, California. Van Halen’s sixth album, and the last featuring frontman David Lee Roth, includes many of the group’s greatest hits––“Jump,” “Panama,” and “Hot For Teacher,” to name a few.

Various Artists, VH1: I Love the 80s (2004)

If you’re new to ‘80s pop music, this collection offers a taste of the best: everything from Cyndi Lauper to The Vapors. Grab your shoulder pads and hairspray and do the Molly Ringwald!

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