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Recall the good times with this '80s music

”The Big ’80s” and ”Live From the Masque” channel pop fluff and fledgling punk

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Recall the good times with this ’80s music

Not many Americans actually experienced the ’80s as the era of glitz and gold cards, and some who did only recently got paroled. Yet we’ve come to accept the rosy picture of the decade as the official one — as if our collective memory had been irreversibly tinted by the pink neon of a Galleria.

Of course, the colorful, disposable, delightedly dippy pop music of the time has reinforced that impression. Listening to VH1’s time-capsule compilation, The Big 80’s, one hears the musical equivalent of a fluff video — 15 songs that share the polished, electronic sheen of TV. That tinny drum-track abandon can provide a refreshing, lighthearted break from the current miasma of geeks with guitars. But the disc, with cuts selected according to the popularity of their videos, remembers too much: Half new wave and half copycat pop, it forces quirky gems (by Nena and Gary Numan) into an uneasy alliance with best-forgotten dreck (from A-Ha and Night Ranger).

What people commonly forget is the fledgling punk movement that also unfolded during the Reagan years, centered in the Gipper’s twin power bases of D.C. and L.A. Year 1, former X frontwoman Exene Cervenka’s new label, retrieves the latter’s roots in the three-disc series Live From the Masque — each containing about an hour of two-minute hardcore rants from the late ’70s that capture everything from throat-scraping fervor to energetic incompetence. Each disc pairs two influential, melodic groups with two historical footnotes. On one disc, the Weirdos and the Germs far outshine the Bags and the Skulls; on another, the Alleycats and X outplay the F-Word and the Zeroes. The set — which includes a wealth of previously unreleased material — is a valuable archival resource. But having a more selective memory isn’t always a bad thing.
The Big 80’s: B
Live at the Masque: B