While 1984 was iconic, 1985 was an even bigger year for pop culture. When we think of a song or a movie that exemplifies “the '80s,” it’s very likely from 1985. If you made a mix tape of '80s songs, it would have a ton of stuff from 1985 (“Summer of ’69,” anybody? “Voices Carry,” perhaps? “Everybody Wants To Rule The World"? Anything on Tom Waits's Rain Dogs? Or how about Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More"?)
Without further ado, here are 30 things turning 30 in 2015. If you were born in 1985, you're in good company.
1. Back to the Future
The highest-grossing film of 1985 featured Michael J. Fox as a teenager traveling ... wait for it ... 30 years back in time. Now that it's 30 years later, the film holds up, though doing the math makes us feel extremely old (today's 1985 is as distant in the past as 1985's 1955).
Despite the feeling-old issue, we're huge fans of BTTF, having briefly interviewed co-writer Bob Gale, dug up the blooper reel, made a BTTF quiz, and written a list almost as long as this one about the movie. It's also worth noting that Back to the Future II took place in 2015, so we can check in on how the movie future compares with reality.
Bonus: Back to the Future included a cameo appearance by Huey Lewis, plus his new song "The Power of Love," written for the film. It became the #1 song on several Billboard charts in 1985.
2. New Coke
In the early 1980s, Pepsi ran a killer marketing blitz: The Pepsi Challenge. It was a simple blind taste-test of Pepsi versus Coke, and upstart Pepsi won more than half the time. (While opinions differ as to why Pepsi won so often, the simplest explanation may be that it tasted sweeter.) So Coke fired back by discontinuing its original formula and introducing "New Coke," a sweeter formulation. Everybody hated it, despite intense marketing.
New Coke was such a flop that "old Coke" was reintroduced three months later as "Coca-Cola Classic." Eventually "New Coke" turned into Coke II (no kidding), and remained on store shelves until 2002.
3. "We are the World"
Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie co-wrote "We Are the World" and, along with Harry Belafonte and Ken Kragen, recruited a mega-supergroup dubbed USA for Africa to record it. The purpose of the song was to raise money for famine relief in Africa—particularly in Ethiopia, where a devastating famine was raging. The song was a massive hit, reaching quadruple Platinum status, winning various Grammies, and raising tens of millions of dollars for the relief effort.
The supergroup performing the song included luminaries like Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Tina Turner, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Dan Aykroyd(!), Bette Midler, the Pointer Sisters, the Jacksons, Smokey Robinson, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Geldof, Huey Lewis, you name it.
Bonus: There were also two major charity concerts in 1985: Live Aid, again focused on aid for the famine in Ethiopia (with two concerts held—one in London and one in Philadelphia); and Farm Aid, helping American farmers. Here's Queen performing at Live Aid:
4. WrestleMania I
The first WrestleMania event was staged by the World Wrestling Federation on March 31, 1985 at Madison Square Garden. In the main event, wrestlers included Hulk Hogan and Mr. T versus "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and "Mr. Wonderful" (Paul Orndorff). WrestleMania set the template for American wrestling events for decades to come, and it's still running today. (Incidentally, Liberace made an appearance as a timekeeper and Muhammad Ali was a referee!)
That year, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling appeared as a Saturday morning cartoon on CBS. Here's a taste of that amazingness:
The party game Pictionary was designed by Robert Angel and released by Seattle Games in 1985. If you've been living under a rock for 30 years, the premise is simple: one player has to draw a picture, trying to get the other players to guess a common word, phrase, action, or personal/place/animal. It's a lot like charades, but with frenzied scribbling.
The game was later adapted into several TV game shows. Here's the pilot for the 1989 TV version of Pictionary:
6. Discovery of the RMS Titanic Wreck
On April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank; the wreck wouldn't be discovered until 1985, when Dr. Bob Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel led a massive expedition employing a high-tech remotely-operated deep-sea vehicle named Argo. The key tactic that enabled the 1985 expedition to succeed where previous efforts failed was the use of cameras rather than sonar; by watching images, scientists were able to see the debris field from the Titanic and eventually find the wreck (in several parts).
7. "We Built This City," Voted the Worst Song of All Time
I'm just gonna come right out and say that "We Built This City" has a great beat, it's easy to dance to, and it's great workout music. This opinion may be colored by the fact that I only owned three tapes in 1985, and Starship's Knee Deep in the Hoopla was one of them (the other two were Michael Jackson's Thriller and Weird Al's In 3-D). Released in August 1985, "We Built This City" was the kind of rock song that appealed to music lovers of the time, but almost immediately felt dated.
My personal opinion aside, "We Built This City" was voted the worst record ever in a poll of critics. Lambasted by Blender editor Craig Marks for "the sheer dumbness of the lyrics," the song made news for being a real stinker. (A similar Rolling Stone poll reached the same conclusion in 2011.) For the record, it was nominated for a Grammy in 1986.
Good song, bad song, or worst song of all time? Watch the video above and decide.
8. Guns N’ Roses, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Indigo Girls, Jane’s Addiction, Crowded House
A bunch of bands that would later become big deals (or at least moderate deals) formed in 1985. Probably the most notable is Guns N' Roses (yes, that's the official capitalization and punctuation), which formed in Los Angeles when the existing bands Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns merged. After several major lineup changes (including the addition of Duff McKagan and Slash), the band was signed by Geffen Records in 1986 and released Appetite for Destruction in 1987. Today, the only remaining member from the original lineup is Axl Rose.
9. The Nintendo Entertainment System (in the U.S.), Super Mario Bros., and Duck Hunt
Although the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) had existed in Japan as the Famicom since mid-1983, it only became available in the U.S. in late 1985 (and even then, it was only in New York City, the first of several test markets). The big innovations in the U.S. release were ROB (Robotic Operating Buddy), the Zapper light gun, and the release of Super Mario Bros., the game that made America fall in love with home video game consoles again. (In later U.S. releases, the famous SMB/Duck Hunt split cartridge gave us a second fun game, although that laughing dog was kind of a jerk.)
10. Mask (the Movie) and M.A.S.K. (the TV Show)
On March 8, 1985, Mask hit theaters, based on the true story of "Rocky" Dennis, who suffered from craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, causing his face to appear like a mask. Starring Cher, Sam Elliott, and Eric Stoltz, the movie won an Oscar for Best Makeup.
On September 16, 1985, the cartoon M.A.S.K. hit TV screens, based on the overuse of backronyms. (The title stood for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand—the good guys—who were battling V.E.N.O.M., the Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem.) The cartoon was mostly notable for being a mashup of G.I. Joe and Transformers, leading to endless toy merchandising opportunities.
11. Discovery of the Hole in the Ozone Layer
In May 1985, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey announced that there was a large "hole" in the ozone layer over Antarctica. Technically, it was more of a major thinning, but the term "ozone hole" stuck. Scientists reported that this hole had opened every spring since the 1970s, and suggested that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), used in refrigerants and propellants (hello hairspray!) were causing it. The hole was a problem because it let extra UV radiation through the atmosphere.
Alarmed by this news, the world reacted, heavily regulating CFCs which ultimately reduced the ozone hole. (Some estimates say it could be gone entirely 50 years from now.)
12. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
Brøderbund released the now-classic educational video game Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? in 1985. The game taught geography and basic research skills, while managing to actually be fun (see the play-through video above, while imagining you're a little kid in 1985). In the years following the initial 1985 release, the game was ported to tons of personal computer and game console platforms, including the NES, SNES, and various Sega consoles. It also continued the '80s trend of crazy backronyms, featuring the Villains' International League of Evil (V.I.L.E.).
13. Madonna's Big Year
After releasing the album Like a Virgin in 1984, Madonna proceeded to blow up in 1985. She starred in the movie Desperately Seeking Susan (and appeared in Vision Quest!), released the hits "Crazy for You," "Into the Groove," and "Dress You Up" (among others), married Sean Penn, and started her first North American tour with the Beastie Boys as her opening act.
14. Blockbuster Video
The first Blockbuster Video rental outlet opened in October 1985 in Dallas, Texas. The brand rapidly expanded, soon blanketing the U.S. and expanding its offerings to video games (including Nintendo cartridges) and eventually DVDs. At the height of its success, Blockbuster had over 9000 retail stores.
As home video offerings changed (hello, Netflix, cable, kiosks, and on-demand), Blockbuster declined. In 2010, it began the first of various bankruptcy filings. By January 2014, the last few hundred corporate-owned Blockbuster stores closed their doors, though a few franchises are still open.
Other notable businesses founded in 1985: Boston Market, Tommy Hilfiger, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, and Enron.
15. The First Smoking Ban in U.S. Restaurants
Settle in, children, as I tell you what used to happen when you entered a restaurant. You'd be asked, "Smoking or non?" and you'd choose the section of the room in which you'd like to sit. In other words, half of pretty much all restaurants were filled with cigarette smoke. This was entirely normal and common until the first U.S. restaurant smoking ban went into effect in Aspen, Colorado in late 1985. Part of this progressive move can be attributed to then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's Campaign for a Smoke-Free America; similar smoking bans were enacted throughout the '80s and '90s, becoming commonplace today.
And another historical tidbit: It wasn’t until 2000 that the government banned smoking on domestic flights.
16. Calvin and Hobbes
On November 18, 1985, Bill Watterson's comic strip Calvin and Hobbes debuted. It ran for 10 years, following the adventures of Calvin, an imaginative kid, and his stuffed tiger Hobbes. The comic strip was an instant hit, and spread rapidly to hundreds of newspapers.
Calvin and Hobbes is notable mainly for its brilliant writing, focusing on the imagination of a little boy and his semi-imaginary friend. But it's also remarkable for its lack of merchandising. Although many books of Calvin and Hobbes collected comics have been made and sold, almost no licensed merchandise was created.
17. Microsoft Windows 1.0
A year after Apple introduced the Macintosh, Microsoft shipped Windows 1.0, a graphical user interface that ran various DOS applications in crappy windows, alongside a handful of actual Windows-native applications (like Microsoft Paint, bundled with Windows 1.0). I actually ran Windows 1.0 on my PC, and it was painfully limited. On the bright side, it came with a game: Reversi. Steve Ballmer soon made a jokey promo video for Windows 1.0:
Also in 1985, Microsoft released its Excel spreadsheet package ... for the Mac. (Microsoft's Multiplan spreadsheet for PCs wasn't doing so well against competing spreadsheet software; eventually Excel took over, and made the leap to Windows.)
18. The First Dot Com
On March 15, 1985, the first "dot com" domain name was registered. Symbolics.com was the new online home of Symbolics Inc., a computer company based in Massachusetts. By comparison, it took IBM more than a year to get around to registering IBM.com, but that was typical—having an Internet domain name in the mid-'80s was not exactly mission-critical. The .com top-level domain joined a handful of other TLDs including .edu, .gov, .mil, .net, .org, and .arpa. Of course, in the years since, .com has pretty much dominated the domain name world.
19. Books: Contact, The Handmaid’s Tale, White Noise...
It was a good year for books: Carl Sagan's Contact was published, as was Don DeLillo's White Noise. Orson Scott Card released Ender's Game and Margaret Atwood gave us The Handmaid’s Tale. Other notables include Lonesome Dove, Blood Meridian, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, The Cider House Rules, Dogsong, The Polar Express, and Lake Wobegon Days. Many of 1985's biggest books were later (sometimes much later) adapted into movies.
20. The Brat Pack (First Seen in The Breakfast Club)
It's hard to pick a single movie that defined 1985 (and this list already devoted entries to Mask and Back to the Future, so you can tell we're not trying too hard to be exclusive). But among the '85 standouts is John Hughes's The Breakfast Club, which helped define the Brat Pack, a group of actors who appeared in tons of teen-centric films. The group included (at least) Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, and Ally Sheedy. A subset of these actors appeared in both The Breakfast Club (February 1985) and St. Elmo's Fire (June 1985).
Other notable movies from 1985: Brazil, The Black Cauldron, Clue, Fletch, The Goonies, The Color Purple, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Out of Africa, Weird Science, Witness, Ladyhawke, Return to Oz, and Cocoon. It was a pretty sweet year for Stallone sequels too, with Rambo First Blood Part II and Rocky IV.
21. Peak Levels of David Lee Roth in the Rockosphere
David Lee Roth left Van Halen on April Fool's Day in 1985, at the peak of the band's popularity (the previous year's album, 1984, had spawned the hits "Jump," "I'll Wait," "Panama," and "Hot for Teacher"). This moment marked Peak Roth, a cultural instant when David Lee Roth was as relevant and famous as he would ever be. He also released an EP of standards entitled Crazy from the Heat, including "California Girls" (complete with backing vocals by Beach Boy Carl Wilson!) and a medley of "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody," both of which were hits. These days, David Lee Roth is back with Van Halen.
22. The First Commercial AIDS Blood Test
In early 1985, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensed the first commercial blood test to detect HIV antibodies in blood. Blood banks immediately began screening blood donations using the test, at a cost of about $6 per test. That year also marked a series of major moments in the early story of AIDS: Larry Kramer's play The Normal Heart debuted Off-Broadway; Indiana teen Ryan White was barred from his middle school after contracting the disease from a blood transfusion; GLAAD was formed; and Rock Hudson died aged 59 from AIDS-related illnesses, bringing a very mainstream face to the disease.
23. Anna Kendrick, Michael Phelps, Raven-Symoné...
Lots of actors, entertainers, and sports stars were born in 1985. Doing this research, I found it surprising that all these people are the same age. See if you're similarly baffled. Here's a list:
Lana Del Rey
Zac Hanson (of the band Hanson)
Carly Rae Jepsen
See? Isn't it weird that Keira Knightley, Bruno Mars, Raven-Symoné, and Jack Osbourne are the same age?
24. Thundercats! Jem! The Golden Girls!
OK, so 1985 was the wellspring of awesome kids' TV, plus some grownup TV too. Here's a grab bag of shows that debuted in 1985:
Alfred Hitchcock Presents (The Reboot)
The Care Bears
G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
The Golden Girls
It's Punky Brewster (not to be confused with the live-action Punky Brewster)
Larry King Live
National Geographic Explorer
She-Ra: Princess of Power
Star Wars: Droids
Star Wars: Ewoks
The Twilight Zone (the reboot)
We should also pour one (or two) out for The Dukes of Hazzard and The Jeffersons, both of which ended their runs in 1985.
25. VH1, Nick at Nite, Elmo, and the First Letterman "Top 10 List"
VH1 premiered on New Year's Day, offering a slightly smoother/grown-up alternative to MTV (its first video was Marvin Gaye's awesome 1983 performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner," shown above). Nick at Nite debuted in July, showing reruns starting at 8pm, sharing the same station as Nickelodeon (the logic being that kids should be in bed by then, or at least not watching TV). Nick at Nite's plan was to create the first "oldies TV network" in the same vein as oldies radio. After years of trying to find a character (including talking with a hilariously gruff voice), in 1985 Elmo became the high pitched, hyper friendly red monster we know and love. And David Letterman aired his first "Top 10 List," with the subject: "Top Ten Words That Almost Rhyme With Peas," which you can watch below:
26. Portlandia (Statue)
In Portland, Oregon, the statue Portlandia was installed on October 6, 1985, after being floated up the Willamette River on a barge. Sculpted by Raymond Kaskey, Portlandia is a 34-plus-foot copper statue of a woman holding a trident. Although it was obviously famous to Portland residents at the time, it became nationally notable when the TV show Portlandia borrowed its name and likeness (after negotiations with Kaskey).
27. The WELL
The WELL (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link—another backronym) is one of the original online communities. Founded by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant, it began as a BBS (Bulletin Board System) accessible via dialup modem, and evolved over the years as online services did. The WELL set the template for how people could interact online. There's a good summary above, and here's a much longer panel discussion covering topics including the WELL:
28. Phil Collins, No Jacket Required
In 1985, Phil Collins released his most successful solo album, No Jacket Required. It became a Diamond record (more than 10 times Platinum) and won three Grammys, including Album of the Year. He performed tracks from the album at Live Aid that year. Here he is performing "Long Long Way to Go" with Sting at London's Live Aid:
29. The First Million-Selling CD
Compact Discs became available in the early 1980s, but it took until 1985 for them to go mainstream. Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms sold a million copies on CD, outselling its vinyl release. This was likely due to it being an early DDD (all-digital) recording, intended for the relatively new CD format. My favorite song from the record? "Money for Nothing," of course:
30. Studio Ghibli
Studio Ghibli was founded in June 1985 by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki. It has created animated classic movies including Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle, Ponyo, and lots more. If you haven't seen a Studio Ghibli film, you're missing out; here's the trailer for My Neighbor Totoro, my favorite of theirs: