Remember the early ’80s, those wacky days with the former host of Death Valley Days in the White House, Family Ties on the tube, and Pac-Man on the minds of everyone under 20? Such quaint memories come flooding back with these five separate volumes chronicling the dawn of pop’s MTV era. More than just the latest in a series, Billboard’s Top Hits 1980-84 may also be the flash point of, yes, ’80s nostalgia. To today’s college students, after all, Diana Ross’ ”Upside Down” and Journey’s ”Open Arms” are beloved golden oldies — and as the series demonstrates, they needn’t be ashamed. The bargain-priced volumes are sprinkled with Top 40 power pop (Rick Springfield’s ”Jessie’s Girl,” the J. Geils Band’s ”Centerfold”), respectable white middlebrow soul (Daryl Hall & John Oates’ ”Maneater,” Culture Club’s ”Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”), and bouncy trifles (Ray Parker Jr.’s ”Ghostbusters,” Deniece Williams’ ”Let’s Hear It for the Boy”) — all of which proved that a mass-appeal hit was not necessarily the musical equivalent of the Antichrist.
In the long run, that may be the most important lesson of the ’80s: Pop can, and should, be taken seriously. Before then the lines were clearly drawn between ”rock” (serious, guitar-driven, found on FM radio) and ”pop” (fluffy, superficial, relegated to AM). Today those walls have long since been torn down — a great Madonna single can be more vital, can say more about us, than anything by an ersatz artiste like Chris Whitley. For that lesson we can thank the early ’80s. We never thought we’d owe Boy George or MTV’s Mark Goodman that much, but sometimes messages come in the strangest packages. Each volume: B