Essential Series - 2021 Hi-Tech AOR Vol 2

DaveTDaveT Buenos Aires, Argentina
edited August 4 in Essential Series

Hi-Tech AOR is the marriage between AOR and 1980s technology that produced some of the most treasured music for the genre during the mid 80s to early 90s period.

Hi- Tech AOR Vol 2
ARTICLE: The Essential Series - Hi-Tech AOR (Volume 2)
WRITTEN BY: Dtabachn
YEAR: 2021

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: image

Background

What is Hi-Tech AOR? To answer the question, we need to not only look back upon the music scene of the 1980s; but also take into account the political, social and technological matters of said period. The old saying 'a product of its time' is particularly relevant when discussing Hi-Tech, an AOR subgenre whose best years were around 1985 and 1991/2.

Significant affairs framed this period starting with the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan up to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The 1980s saw the end of the Cold War and ultimately the total disintegration of Soviet communism in late 1991.

Let's refresh some of the major events and circumstances of the era under analysis. The world faced a potential nuclear war until tensions between the USA and the now extinct USSR eased in the mid-to-late 1980s.

The Reagan and Thatcher presidencies in the USA and the UK, respectively, implemented Neoliberal policies to increase competitiveness and free-market efficiency, based on the ideals of the ‘self-regulating market’ founded on individual freedom, thus refraining from interfering with the economic activities of self-interested citizens.

Images of a consumerist, free-market world rose. Arguably, the symbol of the 1980s and early 1990s was the 'yuppie', a baby boomer with a college education, a well-paying job and expensive taste, more concerned about money and purchasing power than their parents and grandparents had been.

As utter free-market was very much the order of the day, people began to feel richer. The urge to change the world and the spirit of student idealism and adolescent rebellion that had dominated the 1960s, affected by the severe economic crises of the 1970s including the 1973 oil crisis, were replaced in the 1980s by the ideal of having a good, enjoyable life.

Meanwhile, indebtedness and increasing levels of poverty in a growing population hit many countries of the so-called Third World. This was also the era when the AIDS epidemic surfaced in the 1980s.

Video game consoles (Atari, Sega), video games (Super Mario Bros, Tetris, Pac-Man, Space Invaders), the first generation of personal computers and the very first steps of the Internet as we currently know it belong to this period's highlights.

This is the era of the blockbuster movies, the family sitcoms; and the rise of cable networks, with MTV being perhaps the most revolutionary especially for musicophiles, one that massively introduced the music video, influenced fashion (hairstyles in particular) and launched the careers of iconic artists. Did it also kill the Radio Star? Lol!

Let's just remember 'E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial', 'Cheers', 'Magnum, P.I.', 'Miami Vice', 'The Cosby Show' and the 'Thriller' music video which is actually a short film, as examples for the previous paragraph.

Two countries are of particular interest for the Hi-Tech AOR subgenre in this period. The former West Germany (before the reunification of both Germanies) experimented substantial economic growth during the 80s while Canada got its political independence from the UK in 1982 and signed a free-trade agreement with the USA in 1989.

This was in fact a time of awesome advancement in pop music, as groups started to explore with synthesizers and computers, modern advances that would forever alter the way music was made.

Some people might argue that the feeling of euphoria that signaled the 1980s didn't last. However, who cares if you were part of those glory days!

We already know, at least by perception, what AOR is. In the early 70s, it defined a radio format based on album tracks by rock artists that first addressed Prog Rock bands. In the late 70's, the term started to be applied to a rock subgenre characterized by highly crafted, radio-friendly melodies yet with punch; and became an adjective as well: AOR qualifies how melodic and hook-filled a rock song is.

Then, what is 'Hi-Tech AOR'? 'Hi-Tech' is defined as 'highly specialized, complex technology, involving the production or use of advanced or sophisticated devices especially in the fields of electronics and computers'. I would add music to that, and the launching of the Yamaha DX7 polyphonic synthesizer in 1983 is a crucial fact, a disruptive innovation.

'Hi-Tech AOR' is an AOR song or album with prominent keyboards that heavily features state-of-the-art 80s music technology in performance and production. It's the use of multiple keyboards within the AOR or West Coast sound.

It usually involves synths, music keyboard programming, programmed or huge (sometimes thunderclap-like) gated-reverb drums, strong compressed chorus effects on the guitars; and often times MIDI-programmed bass, keytars and assorted over the top bombastic moments.

On a practical basis, there's a fine line between Hi-Tech AOR and related genres such as Synth-pop, New Wave and even Post Punk. Most of the times, the only actual difference is that guitars are more prominent on Hi-Tech AOR than they are for the other genres. Moreover, bands labeled as Hard Rock, Prog Rock, Power Pop, and even Pop or Funk have created songs or full albums of Hi-Tech AOR. Yes and Canada's Saga are good examples.

Many of its artists either briefly touched upon the style or went somewhere else style-wise after delivering classics of the genre, that's the case for Robert Palmer, Richard Marx, Gino Vannelli, Glen Burtnik and Jean Beauvoir to name just a few.

You won't find any definitions of Hi-Tech AOR hardly elsewhere, so perhaps this is the first time we're trying to develop the full concept.

A few interesting facts with regard this subgenre:
-Artists have frequently contributed their songs to movie soundtracks, among them Corey Hart ('9½ Weeks'), Bounce The Ocean ('Some Girls'), Michael Sembello ('Flashdance'), Zappacosta ('Dirty Dancing'), Jean Beauvoir ('Cobra'), Go West ('Pretty Woman') and Tim Feehan (' The Wraith') as examples.
-Many artists that fit into the genre come from Canada and Germany.
-Boy and girl is a common lineup, such are the cases for Eye To Eye, Wolf & Wolf, Drama, Wild Blue, One 2 One and of course Boy Meets Girl.
-It leans more towards uptempo songs, while ballads are usually closer to the West Coast or Lite AOR sound.
-The golden age of Hi-Tech AOR was between 1985 and the early 1990's. However, there are earlier classics as well as current music in the style.

I have included a handful of compilation albums in the selection to achieve a better coverage of a few artists' output.

Now let's dive into the music introducing some recommended listening, shall we?

Five well-known artists doing Hi-Tech AOR:

Yes: 'Owner Of A Lonely Heart' (1983). Trevor Rabin brought the hooks to the '90125' and 'Big Generator' albums. Listen to that classic guitar solo that was harmonized adding the top 5th of each note.

Starship: 'We Built This City'(1985). Deemed as The Worst Song Ever by Blender Magazine in May 2004, it also topped the Rolling Stone magazine Reader’s Poll list of the 10 Worst Songs of the 80s in 2011. I could not disagree more; this is a great example of a fantastic song in my book.

Robert Palmer: 'Addicted To Love'(1986). Palmer was a brilliant musical chameleon that left his mark into the genre with this rocking song and its fantastic accompanying video (recently qualified as a brilliant stupidity, while Slade's Noddy Holder called it 'a perfect pop song'). Recorded as a duet with R&B icon Chaka Khan, the latter's vocal track was erased from the final mix. Robert hit another home run for Hi-Tech with 'Simply Irresistible’ in 1988.

Icehouse: 'Electric Blue'(1987). Co-written by John Oates, who also sings the falsetto backing vocals.

Cutting Crew: '(I Just) Died In Your Arms'(1986). A power ballad to die for, pun intended.


The Albums

Gino Vannelli ‎- 1984 Black Cars

Gino Vannelli ‎- 1984 Black Cars

From the mid 80s, Prog-meets-Jazz-meets-Pop Canadian artist Gino Vannelli released a trio of albums that fit into Hi-Tech AOR, starting with the genre-defining Black Cars. Helped by brothers Joe and Ross, songs like the title track, 'The Other Man', 'Total Stranger' and the fabulous hit ballad 'It Hurts To Be In Love' shine among a highly consistent album that has 80s written all over it.

Video

Black Cars

Corey Hart - 1992 The Singles

Corey Hart - 1992 The Singles

Some of us, starting with myself, made fun of Hart's looks during the mid 80s, but the guy can definitely write and perform great songs. Faced with decreasing commercial success after his first two albums, the Canadian singer-songwriter delivered over the years and this compilation proves it.

'Sunglasses At Night' (where he sounds a bit like Jon Bon Jovi on the high register), the classic 'Never Surrender', 'Eurasian Eyes' and his cover version of Elvis' 'Can't Help Falling in Love' are just the tip of the iceberg.

Video

Sunglasses At Night

Bounce The Ocean - 1991 Bounce The Ocean

Bounce The Ocean - 1991 Bounce The Ocean

A fantastic album that went seemingly unnoticed in the middle of the Seattle Grunge explosion, the duo of Swedish-born Hawk Bjorn and American John Utter (also of Scandinavian origins) recorded a velvety set that gathers the best of Pop melodies with countless hooks and a pristine production.

Ten of the nicest songs you've likely never heard of. It's time to discover the beauties of 'Wasting My Time', 'So We Collide', 'Crooked Heart', 'Gloria' and the opening hymn 'Throw It All Away'.

Video

Wasting My Time

Glass Tiger - 1993 Air Time: The Best Of Glass Tiger

Glass Tiger - 1993 Air Time: The Best Of Glass Tiger

From yet another Canadian band that recorded some of the most vital and energetic AOR songs ever, this collection compiles all of the charting singles from their first three studio albums. It'd be hard to forget the bombast of 'Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone)', 'I Will Be There' (both with Bryan Adams on backing vocals), 'Someday' or 'My Town', the latter featuring Rod Stewart. A real time capsule that even some of the most rad headbangers surely liked back then.

Video

Don't Forget Me When I'm Gone

Go West - 1998 The Best Of Go West

Go West - 1998 The Best Of Go West

The English duo of Peter Cox and Richard Drummie, influenced by the second British invasion, Pop, Synth-pop, New Wave and West Coast; recorded a 1985 eponymous debut that's ideal to listen on vinyl. Two more albums followed in 1987 and 1992, packed with synths, horn sections, clean guitars and melodies above all.

Not a single misstep on this 16-track best of off which 'We Close Our Eyes' (their first single ever), 'Call Me', 'I Want to Hear It from You', 'Don't Look Down' and 'The King Of Wishful Thinking' go recommended for starters. The band released a couple more albums in 2008 and 2013.

Video

The King Of Wishful Thinking

Jack Wagner - 1984 All I Need

Jack Wagner - 1984 All I Need

American actor Jack Wagner was not only Frisco Jones on the ABC soap opera 'General Hospital', but also a singer in his own right. This debut was much more than the titular ballad co-written by David Pack that reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in early 1985.

With the help of people the likes of Jay Graydon, David Foster and Glen Ballard, this is a first-class Hi-Tech release ranging from the synth-pop of 'Premonition' to the harder, guitar-heavy stuff like the superb 'Fighting The Nights', or the bombast of 'Sneak Attack', to name just a few.

By the way, kudos to Alun (Dangerzone) for uploading the 'Fighting The Nights' audio on YouTube. You can also read his review of the album by clicking on the Jack Wagner tag at the bottom of the article.

Video

Fighting The Nights

Zappacosta ‎– 1984 Zappacosta

Zappacosta ‎– 1984 Zappacosta

Italian-born Canadian singer/songwriter Alfie Zappacosta started his career as part of the band Surrender, that morphed into the band Zappacosta. This was his first solo release that featured the ballad 'We Should Be Lovers'.

Just listen to the bombast not only upon the sound, but on the lyrics to 'Passion' as well, a song co-written by Bob Ezrin : 'I'm a stick of dynamite ready to ignite because of you'. Superb stuff, as the whole album is.

Most of Alfie's first two solo albums are on the 'Over 60 Minutes With... Zappacosta' compilation. Check also his 'Overload' song included on the Dirty Dancing movie soundtrack, where he does his best Robert Palmer-inspired performance.

Video

Passion

Go For It - 1991 Go For It

Go For It - 1991 Go For It

Obscure Swedish/Norwegian studio project Go For It is a recent discovery that instantly hooked me with the powerful song 'Got To Give It', a guitar-packed AOR track with a solo reminiscent of 'Owner Of A Lonely Heart'. Led by Geir Olav Bøkestad of the early 80s Norwegian teen idol band Drama (not to be confused with the American Hi-Tech one), session musicians took over the rest of the studio duties.

The songs are highly polished with lush arrangements and a top-notch production in the West Coast, Euro/Latin Pop and Hi-Tech AOR styles, even with a certain City Pop feel to it at times. This hard to find album goes strongly recommended.

Video

Go For It (full album. 'Got To Give It' song from 32:13 to 35:45)

Modesty - 1989 Pieces Of Modesty

Modesty - 1989 Pieces Of Modesty

The sole album by this Swedish band is the definition of smooth and classy in my book. Singer Peter Ericson does actually sound a bit like the great Eric Tagg at times, at others he also resembles George Michael, while the drums seem to have been performed into a Synclavier digital synthesizer, such is the clarity of the recording. Fans of finesse and subtlety with pop sensibilities into their Hi-Tech, check it out for your listening pleasure.

Video

I Call For You

Robert Hart - 2020 Pure

Robert Hart - 2020 Pure

A release that captured the essence of the subgenre as recently as in 2020. Produced by guitarist Tommy Denander and Steve Overland (FM) with the latter providing backing vocals, Pure succeeds at recreating the sound of the glory days through seriously good songs, among them the opening track 'Making Magic' and the terrific homage to Robert Palmer that is 'Mysterious'. An unexpected nice surprise that made it into my top three albums of 2020.

Video

Making Magic


Podcast

Episode 3 of the AOR Melodic Rock podcast I recorded back in September 2020 was dedicated to Hi-Tech AOR.

That episode inspired this volume of the Essential Series, while the episode itself was inspired by all the knowledge I acquired through the years at GloryDazeMusic and my own experience as a staff writer for this very site.

Here's the link to listen to it:
Google Podcasts


In Summary

For this second volume on the heels of George's (gdazegod) first one, the goal was to immerse deeper into the concept of the subgenre, introduce more artists and mention a handful of well-known ones that contributed to it.

Hi-Tech AOR is a gold mine where many of the greatest hits of the mid to late 1980s are to be digged in and rediscovered.

It's a seriously addictive AOR subgenre that produced some of the most gorgeous music created in the marvelous decade of the 80s for Rock and Pop. A marriage between creativity and technology that includes top production, performances and musicianship.

Once again, as it is usually the case for the Essential Series, we've just touched upon the surface of the subject.

Other artists that deserve a mention too are Richard Marx, The Outfield, Michael Sembello, Howard Jones, Steve Winwood and Dan Hartman among the most well-known, as well as more obscure ones the likes of Device, LaMarca, Lodgic, Chris Eaton, Cannata, Agent, Animotion, Haywire, Michael Learns To Rock, Stabilizers, Body Electric, Marc Jordan, Time Gallery, New Regime, Balanx, Eight Seconds, Shell And The Ocean and a large etcetera.

I would like to wrap up with yet another snapshot of the 80s. This is Jean Beauvoir off his 1986's album Drums Along the Mohawk, also included on the 'Cobra' movie soundtrack starring Sylvester Stallone.

Feel The Heat


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Comments

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    gdazegodgdazegod Lostralia

    A very comprehensive wrap Dave. Super work!

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    Wow, what an overview. Thanks for the detailed read.

    It also raises a question for me: do you think there is such a thing as hi-tech melodic hard rock? Like Def Leppard circa Mutt Lange, Autograph, maybe Europe circa 1986-1992, etc.

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    edited August 4

    Always enjoy reading your entries into the ‘essential series’ canon, dtabachn! This one has good discussions of bands I’ve known for years as well as some unfamiliar artists to seek out.

    If you’ll allow a little ranting, I want to share your opinion of ‘We built this city’. Hardly a contender for worst song ever. I WISH I could compose a song this melodic and catchy! I’m CONVINCED that many younger people read online and accept that it’s a terrible song, likely before even hearing
    it. An early example of ‘cancel culture’?!!? (just kidding there..)

    As for schlock’s question about ‘hard rock hi tech’, the 85-87 period seems like it was rife with examples, no? ‘Interstate love affair’ by night ranger maybe? More should come to me….

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    ExplorerExplorer England

    A thoroughly absorbing read…nice one David.

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    DaveTDaveT Buenos Aires, Argentina

    Thanks for the insightful comments, really thought-provoking.

    Don (@schlockmania ): interesting question. I think your examples fit into the definition of Hi-Tech AOR, which is AOR songs that prominently include 80s technology.

    I don't wan't to lose sight of the playful character/factor or fun approach for all these genres and subgenres definitions. I mean, in the end all is music, or more specifically Rock, but we as music fans try to come up with categories, genres, etc. to acquire a better understanding or just for the fun of discussing our favorite music styles.

    I think Def Leppard's 'Hysteria' is clearly Hi-Tech Melodic Hard Rock, which in the end is equal to saying it is indeed Hi-Tech AOR in the way it is defined as per the article. Same goes for Autograph. Europe sounds a bit more classic rock or pompy if you will with regard the keyboards to my ears, but clearly is open for discussion. Others might have a different opinion according to their own definitions, and those opinions are as valuable as what's stated in the article.

    Other examples of Hi-Tech Melodic Rock/Hard Rock off the top of my head are early Shy and Airrace plus the obscure Spanish/Argentine band Tarzen on their sophomore album 'Madrid/Es Una Selva Ahi Fuera' from 1989. And maybe German band Zeno on their 1986 debut.

    When I started the AOR Melodic Rock podcast last year, in order to organize my thoughts, I drew a line that tried to include the AOR subgenres I could think of from lighter to heavier. I came up with something like this, where the center or focal point, kind of purist AOR in George's words, are the four bands I consider as quintessential AOR. Whenever you move off center either to the left or to the right, you are getting far from purist AOR and closer to the AOR boundaries. I called it 'AOR spectrum by heaviness':

    image

    The words to the right of the chart are 'Heavier' and 'Heavy Metal', they are not clear on the picture.

    Bill (@bpdp3 ): I hadn't listened to that Night Ranger song in a while, and I think you are spot on, sounds like Hi-Tech Melodic Hard Rock to these ears as well.

    I couldn't have described how I felt about 'We Built This City' better with my own words, agree a hundred percent with your words. Thanks for your support and kind words.

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    Thanks for the clarification. I really like that spectrum illustration because it connects a lot of dots that have been floating around in my mind for years.

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    PatrickHemmingPatrickHemming Tampa Florida

    Well done my friend, well done. I enjoy this elastic genre quite a bit. You’ve done yeoman's work articulating the various touchstones & nuances of Hi-Tech. Now I need to read George’s Volume I.

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    DaveTDaveT Buenos Aires, Argentina

    A few acknowledgments:

    Malc, I vividly remember one of our chats last year when you brought up to my attention the likes of Animotion, Life In Digital and Berlin while discussing Hi-Tech AOR. Thank you for your support.

    Patrick, thank you so much for your words, I have you as one of the biggest sponsors of Hi-Tech through the episodes of your great, enjoyable Deep Dives radio show.

    George, I think I told you before, GloryDazeMusic is the go-to site or Bible for Hi-Tech AOR. While doing my research on the style, almost every other webpage, blog and FB page brought me back to your reviews here, as well as Eric's and Alun's.

    Don, I believe your description of AOR as 'Melody plus Muscle' is one of the most accurate ever. I really enjoyed your 'Melody Plus Muscle: What Exactly Is AOR Music?' concise, brief article over at Schlockmania.

    Bill, you're always posting encouraging comments for the writers, yet conveying your own thoughts. That's what I like about the GDM community, we can freely have our discussions and express different opinions, but in a respectful manner. More Essential Series are on the way, hope you enjoy them as well.

    Going back to 'We Built This City', it's funny how co-writers Bernie Taupin and Martin Page both blame German producer Peter Wolf (who led the band Wolf & Wolf along with wife Ina Wolf) for ruining the song, changing it from its dark vibe on the original demo into a pop hit. I think Wolf did a great job.

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    Thanks for the tip of the hat, dtabachn. My little essay was a thumbnail sketch compared to the work you and other writers are doing here with these Essential guides.

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    PatrickHemmingPatrickHemming Tampa Florida

    I’ve come back around on We Built This City. I thought it was terrific at first but it was so overplayed I typically skipped it when it would come on. About fifteen or so years ago I again realized what a great production it is. Certainly a product of it’s times & thats a good thing.

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