This is the eighth entry in a “soundtrack of my life” project — one song that is representative of each year of my life since about 1977, when I was five years old and was approximately the time when I have specific memories of music.
1984: “Rock Box” by Run D.M.C.
Check out the list of the top 100 singles for 1984 sometime. Then go take a look at 1984’s top-grossing movies at the box office. Finally, take a look at the great stuff we were watching on TV in 1984. You can make an incredibly compelling argument that 1984 was the best year of all time. Berlin Wall comes down? Not with Knight Rider on Sunday nights. Man landing on the moon? Come on – on Friday night in 1984, NBC was showing “V” and “Miami Vice.”
1984 was amazing.
There’s something conspicuously missing from the three lists of 1984’s awesomeness above – a self-titled tape from a trio of guys dressed from head-to-toe in black Adidas sweat suits and Kangols, huge gold chains and white sneakers who called themselves Run-DMC Those three guys — Run, DMC and Jam Master Jay — changed the world. On the band’s website, they are called “the progenitors of hip-hop.” The Sugar Hill Gang get credit for bringing rap into the forefront of the music scene, but it wasn’t until Run-DMC came along a few years later, in nearly perfect lock-step timing with the explosion of breakdancing, that rap started to spread everywhere.
Rap was what we listened to, for years, almost exclusively. We listened to Whodini, we took sides in the rap battles that waged between L.L. Cool J and Kool Moe Dee (which, in my opinion, Moe Dee won in triumphant fashion with “Let’s Go,” a decimation of L.L. that was, of all things, part of the soundtrack for “A Nightmare on Elm Street 5.”). We bought all of the Fat Boys tapes and we watched “Krush Groove” and any other movie featuring rapping, breakdancing or some combination of the two. We even watched “Disorderlies,” and “Tougher Than Leather,” the movie that Hollywood tried to turn Run-DMC into actors with, and we totally loved them. We even had to make crazy playground and lunchroom deals to get copies of mix tapes when somebody would come back from a visit to the U.S. with new stuff, like Man Parrish’s “Boogie Down Bronx.”
I could make a list of the ’80s rappers I listened to that would be dozens and dozens of artists long, but any list I make always starts with Run-DMC. They weren’t only my introduction to rap, they were my favorite band in the world for a long, long time. Their new albums were day one purchases for me, or as near to day one purchases as I could manage.
Late-’80s rap music was great, and most of all it was fun. It’s still fun today; completely harmless music that for the most part was about the people singing it being famous and rich and awesome. My brothers followed along with rap when NWA kicked its doors in and threatened to kill everyone with AK-47s and ushered in the Gangsta Rap era; I didn’t go with them. That music never really appealed to me, and really still doesn’t. I bought Eazy-E’s “Eazy Duz It” in 1988, but by that time I had, for the most part, moved on to metal (with a notable exception: the piles of Public Enemy tapes I bought in the late 1980s and early ’90s).
Run-DMC is one of those groups that I can still listen to today, and on occasion will even still buy. I’ve picked up greatest hits collections off iTunes just to have their music available to me at work, since all of their music that I bought is on cassette tapes in my parents’ basement. There’s really no way to overstate just how fantastic Run-DMC was.
The Soundtrack of My Life
1977: “Yesterday When I Was Young,” by Roy Clark
1978: “Main Title” by John Williams (“Star Wars” theme)
1979: “The Gambler,” by Kenny Rogers
1980: “The Imperial March,” by John Williams
1981: “I Love a Rainy Night,” by Eddie Rabbit
1982: “The Number of the Beast,” by Iron Maiden
1983: “Beat It,” by Michael Jackson
1984: “Rock Box,” by Run D.M.C.