1980–the official end of the 1970s and the start of a brave new decade that would put its definite stamp on the late-20th century. 1980 was, in so many ways, a crossroads year. America was still being led by President Jimmy Carter, but the Republican revolution was about to begin as the nation elected Ronald Reagan. New wave music was already well into its dominance in some circles and, yet, disco was still not quite entirely “dead.” Though Calvin Klein jeans were becoming popular, flared pant cuffs could still be seen hanging off the knees of Americans. While some new American cars still measured rather close to twenty feet long bumper-to-bumper, compact foreign cars were increasingly making a presence on American roads as high fuel prices were pushing many drivers to downsize from the gas-guzzling tanks they had been driving to smaller, more fuel-efficient models.
In the News
In 1980, the hostage crisis in Iran continued to endure as 52 hostages held since 1979 by Iranian students at the American Embassy in Tehran were not yet freed. The hostage crisis weighed heavily upon President Carter, an effect that, in part, led to an overwhelming victory by Ronald Reagan and the Republicans during the 1980 general election. Former Beatles member John Lennon was assassinated, and Washington state’s Mount St. Helens erupted, killing 57 people and spreading ash over much of the northwestern United States. A major bridge collapse occurred in the waters of Tampa Bay, Florida, when Summit Venture collided into a Sunshine Skyway Bridge support during a storm, bringing down part of the bridge’s southbound span and killing 35 people.
Movies, Music, and Television…Oh My
If you were going to the movies, you would have likely bought tickets for such films as Urban Cowboy, Caddyshack, Raging Bull, Fame, 9 to 5, or the second installment of the original Star Wars trilogy entitled The Empire Strikes Back. Driving back home from the movie theaters, your radio likely filled the air with top hits such as “Please Don’t Go” (K.C. & The Sunshine Band) “Another Brick in the Wall” (Pink Floyd), “Funkytown” (Lipps, Inc.), “Sailing” (Christopher Cross), “Lady” (Kenny Rogers), and “It’s Still Rock And Roll To Me” (Billy Joel).
If, when you got home, you still wanted to see moving images play out on a screen, you probably would have viewed primetime hits like Three’s Company, CHiPs, The Dukes of Hazzard, Magnum P.I., or maybe the last few episodes Hawaii-Five-O or The Rockford Files. If you were in the mood to play along with your favorite T.V. game show, you may have done some “bidding” with The Price is Right or guessed at some clues on Password Plus. Maybe you were one of those early cable subscribers. If so, you probably would have been one of the few at the time to get your news from outside the “Big 3” networks (remember? ABC, CBS, and NBC) by watching Ted Turner’s brand-new CNN.
If you were a fan of big-league sports teams hailing from Pennsylvania, 1980 was either a banner year or one to simply forget. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the “Iron Curtain” posted one more Super Bowl win during their dynasty period after beating the Los Angeles Rams 31-19. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Phillies won after six games against the Kansas City Royals (4-2) in the World Series. However, the Los Angeles Lakers managed to beat the Philadelphia 76ers (4-2) during the NBA Championships, and the New York Islanders kept the Philadelphia Flyers from hoisting the Stanley Cup (4-2). Perhaps one of the most profound sports moments of 1980 (and among the most significant in all of sports history) was the USA hockey team’s stunning 4-3 defeat of the Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics.; the USA hockey team would go on to win gold that year.
Other Interesting Tidbits
The median American household income was $17,710 in 1980. Milk and eggs costed, on average, $2.16 and 91 cents respectively. Mailing a letter would have set you back 15 cents for postage and, if you had to drive to the post office, you were looking to pay about $1.25 for a gallon of gas. In 1980, the Dow-Jones managed to stay between 759 and 1000 points, and the average price for a house was about $76,400. Some of the economic issues of the 1970s were still nagging the country, with inflation at 13.5%; unemployment had once been worse, but in 1980 it was still ticking in at around 5.8%.
The End of the Year
This 1980s article series begins at the beginning–1980. However, 1980 was indeed just the beginning of this exciting decade that saw communism recede and computers spread. To read more about 1980s events, happenings, and trends, read the rest of this article series that will take you back to a time when music videos rocked and foreign cars rolled .
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Whitburn, Joel. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. 7th ed. New York: Watson-Guptill, 2000.