Killing Joke’s “Eighties” as the Sound of a Generation

“Eighties”, with its fusion of intense sound and spirited defiance, captured the essence of its era. The song’s blend of pulsating basslines, gripping guitar riffs, and Jaz Coleman’s stirring vocals did more than fill the airwaves; it voiced the spirit and energy of the 1980s.

Key Takeaways
  • “Eighties” by Killing Joke, featured on their 1985 album “Night Time”, reflects the energy and spirit of the 1980s with its intense sound and defiant attitude.
  • The song sparked controversy due to its similarity to Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”, with debates about potential plagiarism, though no formal lawsuit was filed, and the conflict ended with Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994.
  • “Eighties” shares musical elements with other tracks like The Damned’s “Life Goes On”, highlighting a pattern of shared motifs in the punk, goth, and new wave scenes of the time.

Killing Joke’s Unforgettable Echo of an Era

Killing Joke’s fifth studio album “Night Time”, released in 1985, brought forth a track that would become an anthem for an entire generation. “Eighties”, a song steeped in the band’s signature style, was not just a musical piece but a cultural phenomenon. The song’s production, helmed by Chris Kimsey, renowned for his work with The Rolling Stones, added a layer of polished intensity to its composition.

The song’s debut was as memorable as its melody. Premiering in a live performance on the UK TV show “The Tube” in December 1983, “Eighties” showcased Killing Joke’s electrifying presence, captivating an audience far beyond the regular viewers of the show. Its official release saw it climb to No. 60 on the UK Singles Chart.

With “Eighties”, Killing Joke didn’t just capture an era’s sound; they encapsulated its very spirit and rebellion.

“Eighties” resonates as a powerful narrative of its time, driven by a pulsating bassline and infectious guitar riffs. Jaz Coleman’s vocals are more than just a layer of sound; they are the voice of a generation, echoing the tumultuous spirit and the vibrant energy of the 1980s. The song is a vivid portrayal of the era’s social and political landscape, encapsulating the essence of a decade in its rhythm and lyrics.

Decoding the Zeitgeist in “Eighties”

Killing Joke’s “Eighties” effectively captures the essence of the 1980s, reflecting the decade’s distinct atmosphere and challenges. The chorus, “Eighties – I’m living in the eighties”, serves as a recurring anthem, emphasizing the immediacy and presence of that era. This refrain, along with lines like “I have to push, I have to struggle”, highlights the competitive and demanding nature of the decade. It portrays a generation navigating and adapting to the rapid societal changes that were characteristic of the 1980s.

The song’s repetitive structure and engaging lyrics resonate with a sense of determination and resilience, making it an emblematic anthem for those experiencing the complexities of the time. “Eighties” stands as more than just a musical piece; it is a cultural representation of its time, encapsulating the spirit and mood of the 1980s and echoing the sentiments and experiences of a generation.

Killing Joke’s “Eighties” transcends music, becoming a bold statement against the era’s perceived decay.

The song’s musical composition—a mix of driving, pulsating beat, loud, distorted guitars, and deep bass—contributes to its urgent and aggressive tone. The inclusion of synthesizers adds a futuristic feel, reflecting the shift in post-punk music towards a more polished production and aligning with the broader new wave movement.

The music video for “Eighties” further reinforced the song’s connection to its time, featuring iconic visuals and fashion of the 1980s. It serves as a visual embodiment of the song’s thematic elements, anchoring it firmly in the cultural lexicon of the decade.

Despite being penned over three decades ago, “Eighties” remains relevant today. Its themes of urgency, desperation, and a call for change echo in contemporary issues such as global warming, political instability, and inequality, proving the song’s timeless appeal and its role as a rallying cry for change.

“Eighties” and Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”

The song “Eighties” by Killing Joke has long been a subject of intense discussion, primarily due to its striking similarity to Nirvana’s 1991 hit “Come As You Are”. The main guitar riff of “Eighties” bears a remarkable resemblance to the iconic riff in Nirvana’s song, sparking widespread speculation and debate about the possibility of plagiarism.

This controversy was not lost on Nirvana and their management company, Gold Mountain. There was initial hesitance to release “Come As You Are” as a single from their groundbreaking album “Nevermind”. Kurt Cobain himself was reportedly nervous about the song’s similarity to “Eighties”, although the decision was eventually made in favor of its commercial potential.

Post the release of “Come As You Are”, members of Killing Joke alleged that the main guitar riff plagiarized their song “Eighties”. Despite these strong claims, a formal copyright infringement lawsuit was not filed, reportedly due to personal and financial reasons. There were, however, conflicting reports about the actual reasons behind this decision.

The untimely death of Kurt Cobain in 1994 effectively put an end to the conflict between Nirvana and Killing Joke. Any potential lawsuit, as speculated by some sources, was either dismissed or dropped. There remains a shroud of uncertainty regarding whether Killing Joke ever formally pursued legal action against Nirvana.

Beyond the rift of riffs: The story of “Eighties” and “Come As You Are” intertwines controversy and reconciliation.

In a surprising twist, Dave Grohl, Nirvana’s drummer and later the frontman of Foo Fighters, bridged the gap between the past and present. In 2003, he took a leave of absence from the Foo Fighters to record drums for Killing Joke’s second self-titled album. This collaboration, despite the previous discord, symbolized a reconciliation between the two bands, transcending past grievances.

The Shared DNA of “Eighties” and Its Counterparts

The intrigue surrounding Killing Joke’s “Eighties” extends beyond its resemblance to Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”. The song shares musical elements with several other tracks, including “Life Goes On” by The Damned, “22 Faces” by Garden of Delight, and “Baby Come Back” by The Equals. This pattern of shared musical motifs across these songs raises intriguing questions about the origins and influences of these iconic riffs.

The timeline of these releases is particularly noteworthy. “Eighties” was released in 1984, two years after The Damned’s “Life Goes On”. This close succession suggests a possible subconscious musical interchange within the vibrant punk, goth, and new wave scenes of the time. However, unlike the situation with Nirvana, The Damned did not pursue legal action against Killing Joke, indicating a more nuanced understanding of musical influences and similarities within these genres.

Despite these parallels, “Eighties” unmistakably stands out in Killing Joke’s repertoire. Its distinctive blend of elements – from the lyrics and music video to its unique fusion of goth and punk, while steering clear of glam – cements its unique identity. It’s this very blend that not only distinguishes “Eighties” but also reinforces its status as an iconic Killing Joke song.