There are few moments in current popular culture as delicious as watching a washed-up Martha Quinn shilling on a late-night infomercial for Time-Life's Sounds of the '80s collection. When asked what it was like to be an MTV VJ back in the day, the former party animal sniffs unconsciously, rubbing a finger along the bottom of her nose. “Y'know,” she says, “we really had a lot of fun!” Well, duh.
Like its only-sold-on-TV counterpart, Rhino's new seven-CD orgy Like, Omigod! The '80$ Pop Culture Box (Totally) concentrates on the kitschiest examples of the Reagan era: the pretentious synth bands, goofy novelty hits, and cheesy power ballads that dominated the early years of MTV. Explosive undercurrents such as rap and heavy metal are mentioned only in passing, while punk, grunge, and college rock artists are left out in the cold altogether. Inevitably, fingers will point and eyes will roll. “Alternative” fans should probably just leave the room right now — these are the prefab hits that hip hop and indie rock were created to combat. Mainstream fans may also moan, asking where Wham! or Madonna are, not to mention Michael Jackson, the Police, and, um, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. But just like the '80s, this retrospective has to be taken on its own terms — you either resist it entirely or just give in and get, like, psyched to party.
For those who make the leap, Omigod! is both satisfying and painfully Pavlovian. Even the most dismissive hipster will be surprised to find out how much of his brain space is taken up with the lyrics to Grover Washington's “Just the Two of Us,” Bonnie Tyler's “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” or any of the 140 other tunes long since burned into our skulls. However, Top 40 listeners who probably bought this stuff on cassette or vinyl the first time around should be pleased with the digital update, and for the opportunity to hear “Take On Me” again, without having to buy the A-Ha greatest-hit collection (singular intended).
Still, going back to that late-night infomercial, in which Quinn sets up one goofy, glitzy clip after another, the true shortcoming of Omigod! comes into focus. How is it that, in this age of postmodern, multimedia superluxury, Rhino could compile an '80s “pop culture box” with so many of the hits and so much of the garish memorabilia, yet none of the actual videos? In addition to subjecting us to Gary Numan, Moon Unit Zappa, Billy Crystal, and all the others, couldn't they have rounded up a couple of DVDs' worth of big-hair videos and Miami Vice blooper reels? Now that would be, like, totally awesome!