29 Totally Tubular Things We Miss About the ’80s
There was a lot to love about the 1980s. A decade defined by big hair, outrageous fashions, movies like “E.T.” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” the “Brat Pack” and fanny packs, it was a totally tubular time.
Today, shows like “Stranger Things” and other ’80s throwbacks make us nostalgic for a time when everyone was wearing spandex and lace gloves, working out with Jane Fonda and wondering who shot J.R.
Here are the things we miss the most about the ’80s.
29. Epic Fundraising Events
These days, social media and crowdsourcing are amazing ways to raise money, but in the ’80s, the best way to get cash for charitable causes was through big events and songs that featured loads of pop stars. In 1984, the supergroup Band-Aid (which included Boy George, Bono and George Michael,) recorded“Do They Know It’s Christmas” in support of famine occurring in Ethiopia. It sold over 2 million copies worldwide and raised more than $24 million!
Not to be outdone, the U.S best’s pop stars got together and recorded“We Are The World.” The talented musicians included Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie (who performed and co-wrote the song), Stevie Wonder, Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner, Billy Joel, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper and more. The song sold over 20 million copies and raised over $63 million. Also in 1985, Freddie Mercury and Queen rocked Wembley Stadium at Live Aid, a fundraising concert held in London and Philadelphia at the same time. Madonna, Mick Jagger, the Who and 75 others performed, raising $127 million for famine relief.
Whatcha gonna do when the Hulkster runs wild on you? Pro wrestling soared to new heights in the ’80s, thanks to the inclusion of pop stars like Cyndi Lauper and larger-than-life characters like Hulk Hogan. The muscle-bound blonde with the “24-inch pythons'' reigned over the World Wrestling Federation champion as its most popular superstar (some would argue of all time) and world champion from 1984 to 1988.
Hogan would make several comebacks throughout his career and even turn heel (that’s wrestling speak for bad guys), but in the mid-eighties Hulkamania was pure magic.
27. Freezy Freakies
Freezy Freakies made it cool to be out in the cold. These high-tech gloves (made with thermochromic ink) looked like any other pair when inside your home, but once you braved the chilly outdoors, you were rewarded with bright colors and fun images like unicorns, skiers and hearts.
At the height of their popularity in the late ’80s, about 300,000 pairs of Freezy Freakies were sold every year!
26. Kind of Creepy Dolls
Teddy Ruxpin was one of the most popular toys in the ’80s, but looking back at his slow speaking voice (that you’d have to shove tapes in his back to make him do), blinky eyes and the way he’d turn his head from side to side made the bear look a bit off.
Cabbage Patch Kids looked all cute and cuddly, but people were so crazed for them, they rioted stores and spent thousands of dollars on the black market. Plus, they had a signature on their rear end, which is a bit odd, to say the least.
Then, there was My Buddy, who seemed perfectly innocent — until a knife-wielding lookalike named Chucky hit the big screen in “Child’s Play.” Kids across America were terrified that their My Buddy would come alive and try to murder them, which killed sales. Some of these products have been revamped, but softening them only made us feel nostalgic for the original, creepier versions.
25. Deliciously Sweet Drinks
Even better than another “Ghostbusters”movie is the return of one of our favorite ’80s drinks, Hi-C Ecto Cooler, a movie tie-in that’s a mix of orange and tangerine and features Slimer on the bottle.
But that also had us thinking about some other tasty drinks we miss from the ’80s, like Hubba Bubbasoda (it tasted like the bubble gum), 7-Up Gold, which unsuccessfully tried to add a little spice to the soda’s lemony flavor, and Squeezit, bright red juice with a jolt of sugar that you had to squeeze from plastic packaging.
24. Fun Phones
Once upon a time, phones had cords, but the trade-off was that they came in really cool shapes like a hamburger or banana. Some of the most fun phones were modeled after popular characters like Mickey Mouse and Kermit the Frog and, our favorite, the Garfield phone, where the lovable cat appeared as sleeping but opened his eyes whenever you picked up the receiver.
The decade also saw the release of big bricks that you can lug around you and talk from anywhere — an amazing new technology known as a mobile phone. Yet they were very expensive, so most people still relied on their home phones. Though we’ve made significant mobile strides over the years, it’s easy to miss a time when phone conversations took place at home and not on the train, in a restaurant, at a movie or anywhere else in public.
Though they were mostly associated with bachelor pads and certain types of adult entertainment, waterbeds enjoyed a wave of mainstream popularity in the ’80s. Kids and adults alike loved the sloshing, floating sensation and the idea of “sleeping on waves,” and more waterbeds made their way into suburban bedrooms than ever before.
By 1987, waterbeds became a 2 billion dollar industry and accounted for one out of every five mattresses sold in the United States. Though really fun, they were also very impractical. They weighed several hundred pounds, you had to fill them up by running a hose into your bedroom (nothing can go wrong there, right?), your bed could spring a leak, and they were banned in many apartments and dorm rooms.
22. Garbage Pail Kids
Parents and teachers hated them, but kids couldn’t get enough of these grotesque (but really well-drawn) trading cards that featured names like Adam Bomb and Nasty Nick (not to mention their twins Blasted Billy and Evil Eddie). First released by Topps in 1985 as a parody of the insanely popular Cabbage Patch Kids, Garbage Pail Kids quickly became the coolest thing around, with over 800 million cards making it into the hands of children everywhere.
The cards even inspired a live-action movie in 1987, which was so bad that it grossed-out critics and earned several Razzieawards.
21. The Commercials
Where’s the Beef?Time to Make the Donuts.Kiss a Little Longer. Commercials in the 1980s were filled with so many catchy jingles, memorable taglines and colorful characters that they’re hard to beat.
The best ones told a compelling story, like Apple’s 1984, a minute-long commercial directed by Ridley Scott that depicted the company and its Macintosh computer as rebels in the “big brother” style PC world. Folgers’ Peter Comes Home for Christmas, about a man who returns home from college and brews a pot of coffee for his lovingly excited family, was so popular it ran for 17 years.
20. The Original Clapper
Siri and Alexa are a great help sometimes, but in the ’80s, all you had to do was clap your hands to turn your lights or television on or off — without worrying that your device was always listening or out to steal your data.
The Clapper was first launched in 1985 and came with a jingle (Clap on, Clap off – The Clapper!) that got stuck in people’s heads for years. Since its inception, over 7 million Clappers have been sold. You can still buy modified, even smarter versions today, but we prefer the simplicity of the original. Clap on! Clap off!
19. Hair Bands
Before grunge and boy bands, there were men with giant hair (usually blond, often curly and sometimes with a mullet) screeching at the top of their lungs. While often criticized for not being “real music,” ’80s hair bands like Van Halen, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Warrant, Twister and Poison topped the charts with their power ballads and loud, rebellious rock.
It was best listening to it while driving down the highway (bonus points if you were in a Trans Am or Camaro) with the windows open and the speakers blasting.
18. Slap Bracelets
There wasn’t much to slap bracelets — you take a colorful band, slap it on your wrist (or nail your unsuspecting friend) and ooh at the sound. Still, young women were super into them, and they became the most popular fads of the ’80s.
The big question was: Should I get the neon zebra stripes, colorful hearts or both? Despite being nothing more than cheap pieces of steel covered in equally cheap fabric, they were fun fashion accessories and promoted individual expression.
Boomboxes were meant to listen to music with a group of friends: the bigger the boombox, the better (some could weigh almost 30 pounds and require 10 D batteries), and they should be loud enough so that everyone could hear your music from miles away.
Thanks to these music blasters, you could start a dance party anywhere you wanted and, like John Cusack in “Say Anything,” try to win back your love by holding up the machine and playing “In Your Eyes” outside of their window. The gesture probably wouldn’t be the same coming from your phone or even a Bluetooth speaker, would it?
16. Prime Time Soap Operas
They just don’t make villains like “Dallas’” J.R. Ewing and “Dynasty’s” Alexis Colby anymore. Though they’ve tried to reboot these popular prime soaps, the new versions just didn’t have the same amount of intrigue, drama and backstabbing as the originals.
But few things can live up to “Dallas’” famous “who shot J.R.” moment, in which 90 million people were on the edge of their seats to find out the answer, or the insane cliff hangers, clothes and the constant barbs between heroine Crystal Carrington and deliciously dastardly Alexis Colby on “Dynasty.” Both shows had lengthy runs and created event television that was not to be missed.
15. Out of this World Snacks
The ’80s weren’t lacking for tasty treats that we’d love to see again, like those fantastic McDonalds cookies that were shaped like Ronald McDonald and Grimace and the equally great “Star Wars”cookies. Made by Pepperidge Farm, they made kids around the world want to bite the head off of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Darth Vader — and not feel bad about it. Not even the force was strong enough to prevent people from eating an entire box.
There were also Keebler’s Magic Middles, shortbread cookies filled with ridiculously yummy fudge, and Hostess Pudding Pies, little pies that were filled with chocolate or vanilla pudding and meant to be eaten with your hands — super messy but so worth it.
14. Jane Fonda Workout Videos
Before she was the foul-mouthed, martini-guzzling Grace Hanson on Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie,”“Jane Fonda’s Workout”videos made her the at-home fitness queen of the 1980s. Over 17 million people around the world bought her VHS tapes, which featured big hair, synthesized music, shiny spandex and Jane herself (complete with belted leotard) guiding viewers through a jazzy exercise routine.
Easy to follow and suited to all exercise levels, the videos are still praised as one of the best exercise videos around.
13. After-School Specials
ABC’s “Cautionary Tales” ran for 25 years between 1972 and 1997, but the ’80s featured some of the best (in a so bad they’re good kind of way). Before they made it big, Val Kilmer and Michelle Pfeiffer starred in “One Too Many” about the dangers of drunk driving, while “Desperate Lives”has one of the most infamous scenes in After School Special history: A straight-A student (a young Helen Hunt) smokes PCP with her boyfriend and then jumps out of a window.
And let’s not forget about “The Day My Kid Went Punk,” where an “ordinary” family is turned upside down when a teenager ditches his classic violin in favor of a mohawk and (gasp!) eyeliner. These movies were melodramatic, hokey and often missed the mark, but they were highly entertaining nonetheless.
12. The Breakfast Cereals
Most ’80s breakfast cereals were pure sugar and a hodgepodge of odd flavors mixed together. Throw in a free toy, celebrity athlete on the box cover and a whole day’s worth of mazes, word scramble and other games on the back, and kids everywhere demanded their bowls be filled with this sweet stuff.
A lot of the cereals, like Trix and Frosted Flakes, are still around, but sadly Banana Frosted Flakes are no longer a thing. Neither are C3P0’s, Smurf Berry Crunch, E.T Cereal, Marshmallow Krispies, Pro Stars and, our personal favorite, Ice Cream Cones Cereal. Is it any wonder parents gave their kids these foods before telling them to do their chores?
11. Lite Brite
In the ’80s, screen time meant spending hours in front of a Lite Brite, where you used colorful light-up pegs to build your own creation or let premade templates do the designing for you. The learning toy helped millions of children express their creativity and imagination.
Even though it was released by Hasbro in the late 1960s, the Lite Brite’s popularity lit up in the ’80s when the company paired it with templates from “Star Wars,” “My Little Pony” and other favorite movies and television shows.
10. Video Stores
Streaming platforms make finding a movie super convenient, but strolling through options on your TV screen isn’t as fun as scanning little boxes at Blockbuster or your local video store. Though running down the aisles with your friends and family in search of the perfect movie sometimes felt like it took years, it was always worth it for the excitement and giddiness of popping that tape into the VCR.
Since not every house had one of those machines, renting a movie and heading to a friend’s house was way more of an event than Netflix and chill — and almost worth the fines for returning the movie late or, gasp, forgetting to rewind.
9. The Awesome Cartoons
It was easy to fill your days with cartoons in the ’80s. Saturdays mornings were a marathon of hits like “The Care Bears,” “The Smurfs” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” while can’t-miss afterschool shows included “He-Man” and the “Masters of the Universe,” “She-Ra: Princess of Power,” “Ducktales,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and more.
For families lucky enough to have cable, the USA Network’s Cartoon Express featured hours of favorites animated shows, like “Captain Caveman,” “Josie and the Pussycats” and “Johnny Quest.”
8. The Ridiculous ’80s Clothes
The ’80s were filled with, um, interesting fashion choices. There was an acid wash jeans movement, parachute pants, puffy windbreaker suits (that weren’t just for skiing),
giant scrunchies, fingerless lace gloves and neon headbands (OK, neon everything). And spandex and shoulder pads, anyone?
Though some of these things are making a comeback, we miss the days when jellies, leggings and chunky plastic jewelry weren’t considered throwbacks and were worn with pride, not irony.
7. The Arcade
They were dark, noisy and who knows if those neon-circled carpets were ever actually cleaned, but there were few places in the world that an ’80s kid would rather be than the arcade. Friday nights meant scrounging for quarters and joining your friends in a place filled with pinball machines and video games, where your only care in the world was to become the high scorer in “Pac-Man,” “Donkey Kong” or “Rampage.”
Today, there are places like Dave and Busters and retro arcades aimed at adults, but having to use tokens instead of quarters to play “Asteroids” just isn’t the same.
6. Music Television
Yes, we know MTVis still on the air, but we long for the days when it was actually music television. When the network hit the airwaves in 1981 with its first music video,
(The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”), the music industry was forever changed. Teenagers went rabid for music videos from Madonna, Duran Duran, Prince and other artists, but like other networks, MTV would eventually become more focused on reality television.
In addition to missing MTV, we long for music videos, too. Sure, you can get your fix on YouTube, but that doesn’t match gathering around a tube television, where you can sing and dance along to your favorite videos for hours upon hours.
5. Eight-Bit Video Games
Though arcades were the “in” thing in the ’80s, they weren’t accessible to everyone, or some preferred to play their video games at home. In the very early ’80s, Atari and the Commodore 64 were the big game machines, but players quickly got tired of a lack of a selection and downright bad games. As the at-home video game market tanked, a Japanese gaming console named Nintendo hit the scene. With more fun games like Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo became the best-selling gaming system of its time.
Others, such as Sega Genesis came along and raised the bar (and the bits, going from Nintendo’s 8 bits to 16 bits) and a slew of others would soon follow, forever changing the way we play video games at home. There’s no denying that Playstation and Xbox have amazing graphics, but we prefer the simpler times when our games had eight bits, and the gaming controls had just a few buttons.
4. The Dance Moves
You knew you were the best dancer at your ’80s prom when you slid across the floor in perfect Moonwalkformation or, better yet, hit the floor to breakdance. One of the decade’s biggest dance crazes, breakdancing featured thrilling headspins and backspins and crews often competed in breakdance battles.
The dance form was so popular that it got its own movie, “Breakin’,” followed by “Breakin’ 2: Eclectic Electric Boogaloo.” In addition to breakdancing, the ’80s featured some other amazing dance moves like The Prep, The Wop, The Robocop and The Cabbage Patch. How many can you do?
Before Spotify and Apple Music, there was the good ol’ mixtape. Making one was a process that involved sitting by the radio, eagerly waiting for your favorite song to come on, then jumping to press the record button. You had to be very careful not to cut off part of the tune, get the DJs talking or run out of room on the cassette tape.
Though a lot more difficult than setting up a playlist on your phone, making a mixtape came with a real sense of accomplishment and made a great gift, especially when you wanted to tell your best friend or school crush how you felt about them through songs rather than words.
2. Must-See Sitcoms
Must See-TV. TGIF. NBC Saturday Night. In the ’80s, it often seemed like all anyone did was sit home and watch sitcoms. Not that we can blame them since there were so many good ones. NBC had “Different Strokes,” “The Cosby Show,” “Alf,” “The Golden Girls,’ “Facts of Life,” “Family Ties,” “Night Court” and “Cheers,” while ABC countered with hits such as “Roseanne,” “Growing Pains,” “Full House,” “Perfect Strangers’ and ‘The Wonder Years.” And let’s not forget about “Married With Children,” which helped put Fox on the map and CBS’ top comedies that included “Kate & Allie,” “Designing Women,” “Murphy Brown” and “Newhart.”
While many of these shows are now available to stream, there was nothing like setting aside a night to watch the best comedies, growing up with The Keatons, the Seavers and the Facts of Life girls, or hearing a St. Olaf story or Dorothy Zbornak zinger in real time.
1. The Walkman
Sony’s Walkman revolutionized the way we listened to music, giving us the power to play our favorite cassettes (like those mixtapes) on the go. Though portable radios and cassette players had been around for years, they were big and bulky. Sometimes, it was hard to get a signal and all you heard was static. Or worse, yet — the same song over and over. With the Walkman, however, you could choose to play the same song over and over or fast forward or change the cassette whenever you wanted. They were essential to have on long family road trips, walking to school or just about anywhere.
The Walkman also became a fashion statement, with people loving to sport the cool yellow cases and headphones. When Sony first launched the Walkman, the company expected a modest success, thinking they’d sell about 5,000 in a month. Instead, they sold 50,000 in two months!