I seem to be surrounded by 1980s music as of late.
My 14-year-old daughter and her bestie are currently “into” the decade’s musical offerings. They’ve been belting out A-Ha and Bonnie Tyler from the backseat of the car everywhere we go, and much to their delight, an eighties-centric band headlined a local summer concert series we attended last week. The band played several songs we expected, excluded some we hoped for, and performed a few forgotten gems. This sudden onslaught of music from my youth—coupled with the fact that next month, RiffTrax will be taking on Krull, one of my favorite 1980s fantasy romps—has conjured feelings of nostalgia for a very specific time in my life: those tender, formative years when I developed a lifelong devotion for all things speculative: science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, horror, and all the various related subgenres of the fantastical.
These are also the years I discovered, embraced and developed my love for storytelling and writing. A vibrant and limitless imagination is vital for any author, but especially so for an author of speculative fiction. I spent my youth hiding out* in my bedroom, reading all the science fiction, fantasy, and supernatural books I could get my hands on. A McCaffrey or Boyett novel was never far from my hands. My mix-tape mojo was strong and my trusty radio/cassette deck was always on. When you blend those elements together—inspiring fiction, spare time, and music that nourishes without judgment for what your imagination makes of it—the end result is a mind that is fertile with stories to tell.
(* Yes . . . literally hiding, so I wouldn’t have to do boring stuff like mow the lawn, dust banisters, or help care for my younger siblings.)
In honor of the 1980s revival that is taking place in my household, and in acknowledgement for what that decade has made me, I’ve come up with a list of ten so-very-eighties songs that provided particular inspiration to me as a speculative fiction writer. Now, let’s get to it:
“Doctor Doctor” by Thompson Twins
This was, and always will be, my absolute favorite Thompson Twins song. The track is saturated in amazing synthesizer work by keyboardist and lead vocalist Tom Bailey that sounds undeniably futuristic. With “Doctor, Doctor” as my soundtrack, I often envisioned trips across the cosmos with a steadfast companion by my side, braving the unknown to discover fantastic new worlds and forge alliances with advanced alien civilizations—all from the comfort of my own cozy bedroom. I found it easy to “travel to eternity” with the aid of a song that fed my boundless imagination.
“Fortress Around Your Heart” by Sting
The sword and stone vibe is strong with this song. The Dream of the Blue Turtles was one of the first cassettes I bought with my own money, and I wore that thing down to static. The lyrics are poetry (as most from Mr. Sumner tend to be), and generally lend themselves to imagery of a vast medieval castle under siege. When I hit play on this song, I was instantly transported to the tallest tower of that castle, standing defiant in a brocade gown, wind blowing through my hair, as I watched my knight come tearing across the plains on horseback to rescue me. These days, I’d likely trade that gown for a crossbow to save myself, but let’s be honest: I still want my knight, too. Especially when he brings me coffee in bed.
“Rockit” by Herbie Hancock
Admit it—you would have been disappointed if this weren’t on the list. Not only is the original video a twitchy, glitchy, mesmerizing cornucopia of early eighties animatronic weirdness, but the music itself speaks to the vanguard of everything robotic and echoed the collective societal aspirations of our computer-based destiny. The electro-jazzy sounds of “Rockit” evoke an era of Max Headroom, Tron, and IBM and seeded my open-book imagination with primitive versions of cyberpunk stories and funky android futures.
“We Don’t Need Another Hero” by Tina Turner
“We Don’t Need Another Hero” is inherently tied to its movie, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. You can’t hear the song and not see (a pre-disgraced) Mel Gibson square off against Blaster in the Thunderdome, but even without the strong visuals of that movie or its associated music video, the music and lyrics paint a stark picture of a post-apocalyptic future. The melody is atmospheric, the children’s chorus is haunting, and the lyrics are filled with fear and yearning. Turner’s ballad helped add bleak dystopian to the selection of my internal story-telling genres.
“These Dreams” by Heart
Oh, this song. It’s full of magic and mist and potions and perfume and moons and candles and all the things. Things that weave themselves into a tapestry of gentle spellcasting and the softest side of fantasy that floats in the clouds. This song wasn’t so much the bomb as it was a balm (see what I did there?) for those times when I needed to self-soothe my doubts and insecurities with the perfection of make-believe. “These Dreams” built forests in my mind and populated them with white unicorns, incense, and soft-lipped princes who loved me for the awkward, imperfect and gawky girl I was.
“She Blinded Me With Science” by Thomas Dolby
This one is admittedly a bit on the nose, but it invokes a very specific mad scientist/evil doctor vibe. “She Blinded Me With Science” painted the canvas of my young mind with neon-bright, atomic-age imagery: test tubes and beakers, lab coats and Bunsen burners, experiments gone awry. The sheer sciencey weirdness of the song paved the way for an appreciation of 1950s monster movies, campy sci-fi books, and broadcasts of the Dr. Demento show. (On a side note, geometry was my best math subject. Look up the lyrics if you don’t understand . . .)
“Rapture” by Blondie
“Rapture” opens with eerie church bells and Debbie Harry’s sultry siren call to join her in this sexy bloodbath of a song, before it turns into a funkadelic romp that talks about men from Mars and eating cars and guitars. I’ve come to realize in my wise adult years that the song is about drug-induced raves, but the naïve D.M. Domosea imagined intoxicating werewolves and beckoning vampires who seduced me into their smoky, dark, club-hopping underworld. Or maybe I just watched “An American Werewolf in London” too many times. Either way, I admit I balanced a socially-repressed and strict upbringing by romanticizing horror tropes, and “Rapture” was part of that soundtrack.
“Wrapped Around Your Finger” by The Police
No self-respecting fantasy geek child of the 80s would compile this type of list without putting “Wrapped Around Your Finger” on it. It’s impossible. Impossible, I say! Songwriter Sting knew exactly what mood he wanted to set with this track—the words make it clear you are to envision dark magic and cauldrons and master magicians. No one cares what the song is really talking about, because it gets to its topic (schoolboy obsession and extra-marital desire) by way of a haunting melody and bewitching metaphors. Who didn’t listen to this song in the dew of youth and fancy themselves the enchantress of some magical portal world? Just me? I’m fine with that.
“Major Tom (Coming Home)” by Peter Schilling
Let me start by saying I understand this song is essentially an expansion on David Bowie’s wonderful “Space Oddity,” but I wasn’t familiar with “Space Oddity” when “Major Tom” became an obsession of mine. For me, it was a summary in musical format of everything that made 2001: A Space Odyssey the pinnacle of sci-fidom. The eerie prescience of the song in light of the Challenger disaster further cemented it as a tribute to the beauty, danger and aspiration of the great space race, and further endeared science fiction to my fledgling inner author.
“Never Ending Story” by Limahl
Every true-blue child of the 80s harbors a secret affinity for this song and the movie for which it was created. Sure, the special effects, the acting and the syrupy ballad itself, performed by a former Kajagoogoo band member (KajaWHOgoo?) don’t hold up particularly well in today’s fast-paced, hardnosed environment. Too much fluff. Too much whimsy. But to a young and impressionable writer, whimsy is pure oxygen to the brain. The “Never Ending Story” theme song conjures fairytales of the highest degree that are tantamount to freebasing luck dragons. The message of both movie and music dared this sensitive universe creator to translate the most fantastical of her dreams into words.
And there you have it—D.M. Domosea’s ultimate mix tape of awesome 1980s SFF authoring music. Just like the band at our summer concert series, I’m sure I listed some songs you expected, excluded others you had in mind, and maybe included a few forgotten gems. On that note, I’d love to hear what songs—from any decade—feed your inner speculative fiction geek! Let me know in the comment section below!