Flashback Friday: The Great Synthesizer Showdown Of 1985


The 27th Annual Grammy Awards, held thirty years ago, on Feb 26, 1985, featured an all-synth performance by the epic lineup of Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Thomas Dolby, and relative newcomer Howard Jones.

The performance has been described as “The most ’80s thing that ever happened. Ever.”

Yahoo Music has an interview with Howard Jones that looks back at the performance. Jones notes:

The Grammys really wanted to mark the arrival of electronic instruments and sort of give it, I don’t know, a bit of credibility. And they wanted to use great legends, like obviously Stevie Wonder, and some new voices as well, like me and Thomas Dolby. It was a kind of celebration of keyboard players using new technology and making great music with it.

I think it was a great move, and I think it really did mark a sort of turning point for electronic music.

46 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: The Great Synthesizer Showdown Of 1985

  1. I really like how Stephen Hawking was the announcer to introduce them.

    I wonder what that little sample machine that Thomas Dolby is pretending to use? Not sure it’s even plugged in (or real).
    After watching it all the way through, this whole performance seems like “the Great Synthesizer Fakeout of 1985”. I especially love how the music for “America the Beautiful” starts going at the end, and they all start pretending to play THAT.
    At least they are enjoying themselves.

    1. Stephen Hawking didn’t lose his voice until the summer of 1985, when he required a tracheotomy following an illness. This is just a generic imitation of a synthesized voice.

    2. Allot of lipsync when on back in those days. it was rare to get full live until Arsenio Hall made a stage that was perfect for it

  2. Good to know men masturbated pointlessly long before the internet was around. Particularly like the Fairlight in its most useful mode – off…

    1. Yea, it doesn’t help that the vid & sound are a bit out of sync. It is possible he could trigger things with MIDI on that device, but since there aren’t any wires, it is far more likely to be some pantomime.

  3. I really am speechless, but can’t describe why exactly..
    is it Dolbys performance on his fake’O’fake, the obvious not used synth like the Fairchild,
    but nonetheless, my gearslut-mode went hysterically high! 😀
    Thx for this Flashback!

  4. Growing up in this era, wow, and all due respect to the talent and vision of the men on that stage, this video probably sent back the relevance of synthesizers by 20 years…. all the gimmick, none to little of the real promise…. wow again….

  5. I like the post-performance pan across the front row with a non-drag Boy George sitting next to time-traveling Effie Trinket (25 years before The Hunger Games!)

    “…it really did mark a sort of turning point for lip-syncing and air-keytaring.”

  6. Has anyone ever had a go at watching a higher definition version of this clip and identifying all the instruments in their setup? I saw a Fairlight CMI in the background, and something from Oberheim, but that’s about all I could spot.

      1. definitely a kurzweil k250, which Stevie Wonder worked with Ray Kurzweil in it’s development, saw an Oberheim Xpander in there…dx7, will have to watch it again, that’s just what I remember from yesterday…

  7. For the record, all the instruments are turned off. I remember when this happened, there was a report on MTV that the producers of the show refused to let them actually perform this live. They had to record the whole thing before hand and mime during the broadcast. I also remember John Denver’s intro, where he mentioned Robert Moog’s name, carefully giving the correct pronunciation, then adding “not Moooooog”.

  8. Interesting sidenote would be,,
    “Where are they now?” and “What are they doing?”
    I know Stevie still does his music.
    Herbie does more purer Jazz with an acoustic piano
    Thomas Dolby gaves us or ringtones

  9. Two Memorymoogs too. One under Herbie’s Matrix 12 and another on Howard’s Fairlight/Xpander stand. I like their taste just wish the synths were actually plugged in.

    Besides the goofy miming duties shared by everyone, Dolby definitely comes off as the biggest prancing putz of all up there.

  10. This godawful video caused almost as many limp dicks as Kenny Loggins. Each of those guys have had something of great value to offer, but together that way, for that purpose, was like seeing a rabbi wear a clown afro to a bris. That’s the Grammys for ya.

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