George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 has long resonated with artists, notably musicians. Musicians often challenge the status quo through their art and 1984’s theme of fighting against totalitarianism hits a chord (pun intended). The novel has directly inspired many albums and songs over the years, one of the most well-known being David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs.
But how many musicians were savvy and timely enough to release 1984-themed work in the year 1984 itself? Surprisingly, only a handful.
Leave it to the prog rockers to be a bit early to the party. Yes’s Rick Wakeman and Genesis’ original guitarist Anthony Phillips both issued “1984” titled albums in 1981 that were inspired by the book. Supertramp, on the other hand, was a bit late. They returned to their prog roots in 1985 with Brother Where You Bound, featuring readings from Orwell’s novel, which might have been more effective a year earlier.
For those who were afraid of oversleeping and missing the year entirely, Oingo Boingo put out “(Wake Up) It’s 1984”…in the summer of ’83. Boingo was apparently eager to hang up their new calendars.
When 1984 finally did arrive, it was Van Halen who ushered in the year, releasing their 1984 album in early January. Yet, it wasn’t a concept album misstep a la Kiss’ The Elder. As much as I like Van Halen, it wasn’t like they were going to be making a literary or social commentary with their 1984 album (lucky for us). No, their idea of relevance was to put a baby New Year/angel holding a cigarette on the cover. And spelling out the album title in roman numerals to make it look all important-like. Had they even heard of the book or was it a statement that they knew what year it was?
The Eurythmics were commissioned to provide a soundtrack for a film adaptation of Orwell’s book in 1984. Even though they had a recent huge hit with 1983’s “Here Comes the Rain Again”, their 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) soundtrack bombed. Even the director didn’t like it and substituted an alternate orchestral soundtrack for most of the film.
Which brings us to Billy Squier, of all people, being practically the only artist to release relevant 1984 music in the year itself. Squier’s now a largely forgotten artist, even though he was big in the early 80’s with “The Stroke” and “Emotions in Motion”. “(Another) 1984” was on the album Signs of Life and is fairly insightful and even prophetic at times. It was prescient about state control through technology well before our present age of government and intelligence agencies monitoring internet and phone use, data collection and profiling, cellphone global positioning, and CCTV cameras. “Machine is the mind, it will rule by design / So you’re never alone / We store information without confirmation / Accept the unknown”, he sings.
Elsewhere, lines like “Polite conversation ain’t no consolation / For blanks in your eyes” can be read to foreshadow social media.
An unintentionally funny part of the song, however, is the background singer during the chorus who echoes Squier’s alarm at the situation. “Oh no, not 1980!” she sings, because “Oh no, not 1984!” doesn’t fit the meter of the song.
In the coincidence department, Queen’s Brian May guests on guitar and May’s first band was called 1984.
In the end, if we think it’s bad in 1984, Squier warns it’ll be worse later – “can you live with the reality of 1985?”…or 2014 for that matter?