Not that long since, I switched on the TV and BBC2 was showing a Dara O’Briain gig; it was only when the credits rolled at the end that I realised the programme was a repeat from five years previously. There was nothing visually on display to suggest it was that old; the appearance of the members of the audience and the star of the show himself implied it could have been recorded last week. I momentarily imagined it was 1981 and I was viewing a Jasper Carrott gig from 1976; the difference in the hairstyles and clothes would have been so glaring that it would have been instantly obvious this was five years old.

If we were to study photographs of street scenes taken over the last twenty years, I surmise it would probably be difficult to discern which images were oldest and which were most recent; the members of the public caught on camera wouldn’t look much different in any of them. Compare a street scene between, say, 1964 and 1974 or 1974 and 1984, however, and it would be instantly identifiable as to which decade the photos belonged in. Whenever ‘Starsky & Hutch’ was re-run in the mid-1980s, the dated dress-sense of the two lead characters marked it out from another era as much as the sleeve of the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ soundtrack LP did, yet both were from less than ten years before.

Anyone who lived through the 60s, 70s and 80s was given something of a false impression that popular culture was built on shifting sands, a fluid, ever-changing creature that existed in a permanent state of transition – or at least the impression given was that this would always be the case. It hadn’t been before, though. Compare (if you can) family photos from before and after the war; the men have regulation short-back-and-sides and are wearing suits on either side of the conflict; there’s little to distinguish the male figures in the images from the 30s and the 50s. With the women, there are subtle differences in their hairstyles and the height of their hemlines, but it’s not that dramatic. What would soon become ‘teenagers’ resemble Mini-Me versions of their parents; by the beginning of the 70s, it would be the parents looking to their children for tips on how to dress.

From the 60s onwards, the people mirrored the trend-setters in a way that was new. The death of haut-couture that was brought about by the likes of Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki took fashion from the exclusive houses of Paris and Rome and passed it down to the high-street – affordable for the masses because the masses had produced the trend-setters, whether Twiggy or Brian Jones. The growth of mass-media via television also brought this into living rooms and out of the pages of ‘Vogue’, no longer elite or expensive. It was social mobility’s sartorial incarnation and what had once been seen as the province of the ‘poofy’ and effeminate eventually reached defiantly masculine professions such as mining or football – all in the space of less than a decade.

From the dandified poseurs of 1968 to the scruffy hippie hobos of 1971, from the platform-heeled Glam wannabes of 1973 to the spiky-haired and safety-pinned Punks of 1977, and from the floppy-haired New Romantics of 1981 to the football hooligan sportswear chic of 1985’s Casuals, the pace of life as lived through its fashions was breathless. The soundtrack to this frenetic rummaging in the dressing-up-box was no less speedy. At the end of the 70s and into the 80s, it went from Punk, New Wave and Two-Tone to Synth-Pop in the space of around three years, with a figure such as Gary Numan acting as an effective bridge between the two decades, with one foot in both of them without really belonging to either as they have come to be retrospectively remembered. This wasn’t destined to last. It couldn’t.

The Acid House scene that went over-ground in 1988 was the grand finale of the era that had begun with the moral panic of Rock ‘n’ Roll thirty years previously. The whole Rave culture remained the cutting-edge until around 1992, when The Shamen’s chart-topping ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ signalled it was essentially over as a subversive sound, despite the controversy surrounding the single’s drug wordplay. Running parallel with the Dance dominance as the 80s gave way to the 90s was the mainstream breakthrough of Hip Hop, something that had slowly grown in influence throughout the decade. In a sartorial sense, the Hip Hop look proved to be the blueprint for the street-wear that has been the default style of youth for the last twenty-five years.

As their circulation figures plummeted in the face of online competition, the old music papers struggled to invent cults in the established traditions as the twenty-first century staggered into a cultural cul-de-sac. ‘Hoodies’ were not comparable to Mods and Rockers, as a hoodie is simply an item of clothing that can be worn by anyone under a certain age and is not tribally specific. Similarly, what is held up as an example of a contemporary cutting-edge sound such as Grime is not necessarily doing anything that the likes of So Solid Crew weren’t doing fifteen years ago. When a product-placement multi-millionaire showbiz businessman like Jay-Z is a role model (basically Victor Kiam with a break-beat) where be the Revolution?

Now that a quarter-of-a-century has passed since the last old-school youth-quake that was Acid House ended and the evidence that pop culture has entered an era of suspended animation is right there in the world outside your window with every passer-by, perhaps it’s time to admit an epoch is over and we are living in musical and sartorial stasis. The age of constant change that characterised the 50s up until the 90s now feels like an aberration in cultural terms; the world has reverted to type, a world in which every development is merely an exercise in recycling and therefore takes us round in ever-decreasing circles. For those of us who were either in the thick of it or caught the coat-tails of it, we should count ourselves lucky.

© The Editor

17 thoughts on “THE 25-YEAR ITCH

  1. Rubbish!

    The sands of time are still moving on. New dune is going to be Razor Sharp on de Block. And just look at that clobber!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I suspect the difference may be due to the numbers of ‘influence channels’ available. From the 60s through to the 90s, there were very few channels through which those social changes could be projected, so those that were promoted all had huge audiences, so the impacts of each change were substantial.
    Since 2000, we have seen an explosion in the number of channels of influence, principally on-line, so that the range of different novelties gaining projection is massively greater, meaning each change is at a lower level of detailed granularity. There are so many more changes, albeit individually minor ones, that we now never get the few, large step-changes of the past, so we don’t notice the accumulation. Basically, it’s now a grey-scale, rather than black & white.
    Well, it’s a theory anyhow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Quite reasonable. But the concept of the present development of a renewed coalescence of mass approval possibly leading to a mass of orange haired fatties is a bit frightening.

      (Should the advertisers of wine gums decide that, in dedication to the ideals of the PC, I should be fired, or beheaded, for emulating the excesses of our lovely partner nation’s, aggrieved, crocodile teared hypocrites, feel free to replace ‘fatties’ with ‘overly rotund grey people with long neckties or scarves which they used in times past to hang effigies of others.

      No, I’ve not lost my marbles. But you need to know about the latest Trumpite whinging hypocrisies to comprehend that 😊)

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  3. “The whole Rave culture remained the cutting-edge until around 1992, when The Shamen’s chart-topping ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ signalled it was essentially over as a subversive sound, despite the controversy surrounding the single’s drug wordplay.”

    Yep, true enough.

    What’s amazing in hindsight, though, is that ‘house’ music made the charts as long back as 1986 –

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  4. Is there a translation available for those of us brought up on Saturday morning’s Children’s Hour with Uncle Mac?

    What DID The Laughing Policeman wear? And did Larry the Lamb really wear a fleece?

    And why did we have to wear short trousers?

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    1. Well, Ho Hum, if you grew up in the time of Children’s Hour with Uncle Mac you also grew up in the time of Peter Paul and Mary’s ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’. A great song about a dragon, that one was! 🙂

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  5. Ahh yes, John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney made Disco seem like the absolute pinnacle of cool back in the day. The reality, for the rest of us, be it in Germany, the U.K. or even Finland, was sadly a little…. err…. different! 🙂

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  6. Quite. You didn’t mention rap where, given some adjustment for technological progress (HDTV, digital sound and the rest), it’s possible to show three videos from the last thirty years all looking like recent productions: same aggressive monotones, same arm-waving, same sort of backbeat.


    1. Yes, it’s often a case of ‘spot the difference’ with any Hip Hop video from the last 15 years – as predictable as US Metal promos (that all looked like they were shot on the same stage with the same band) in the 80s.


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