Every so often, it’s important to stop, take a look around, stare out the window for a while, change the channel, get up and stretch your legs. The last four years in popular music have witnessed a series of sea changes, which ultimately sank a bunch of ships.
The disco backlash has reached critical mass, and the genre is now relegated to the adult contemporary and gay hemispheres, respectively; disco belonged to your parents and real-life Village People, or Village Dudes. People still wanted to dance, just in a different way. Less John Travolta and more Jello Biafra, I reckon. Now we’re talking the Pogo vs. the Hustle. Spoiler alert: Pogo wins!
In 1981, glam, folk, psychedelic, jazz-fusion and art rock are now relatively passé. Hard rock and metal have been forced to re-think their strategies. Southern rock is literally dead. Punk and new wave have (or soon will have) spawned a series of sub-genres including synth-pop, electronic, ambient, industrial, and hardcore, pop, and post-punk; all of which will at some time be considered alternative rock. And look out, people! Hip-hop and rap are on the loose, and they’re headed for radio stations and dance clubs near you.
Most of all, everybody is sporting an updated look; no more bell bottom jeans. Dudes cut their hair, started using gels and sprays to make weird shapes; suddenly, eyeliner on a dude is not just tolerated, it’s expected on some scenes; album covers start to look like they were designed by some kid in high school who just discovered Dadaist art. It was called “modern” at the time. Perhaps the story of popular music in the early 80s is a tale better told by the dry fart of synthesizer.
1980 ended in the worst way possible with the senseless murder of John Lennon. For a lot of kids at the time, this was our JFK moment. This is the one time I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard that Lennon had been killed.
With the earlier deaths of Keith Moon and John Bonham, I personally felt like a certain part of rock music was dead – forever. Now, it’s important to consider that the vast majority of popular musicians at the time were also fans of John Lennon; thus, they too felt the impact. More and more, we are going to see extraordinary social situations and circumstances become part of the popular lexicon, which essentially started with the Vietnam War.
Anyway, it’s important to look beyond the charts and radio station play lists. What was really happening in 1981? What were the movers and shakers up to?
Here’s a sample of music headlines from the first quarter of 1981.
January 10 – A revival of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance opens at Broadway’s Uris Theatre, starring Linda Ronstadt and Rex Smith.
Some years back, I was jawboning with an old friend and somehow we got on the subject of Keith Richards, which led to Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp, and I mentioned that I remember seeing my sister perform in a high school theater department production of The Pirates of the Carribean, and my friend said “that’s impossible” because The Pirates of the Carribean wasn’t even a movie in the early 1980s. In fact, it was a theme park ride attraction at Disneyland from 1967 to 1983. “You’re thinking of The Pirates of Penzance.”
January 18 – Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics is arrested in Milwaukee for simulating masturbation with a sledgehammer on stage. In a scuffle with the police, Williams was wrestled and pinned to the ground, receiving a cut above the eye requiring twelve stitches.
Sounds about right. Wendy O was my kind of front woman, tell you what. Meanwhile, it was pretty hard for a white woman of any persuasion to get arrested in Milwaukee in 1981, unless you were masturbating with a sledgehammer in public.
January 24 – Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler is injured in a motorcycle crash that leaves him hospitalized for two months.
Is there anything Steven Tyler can’t do? Apparently. But anyway, I just saw this video of him and Joe Perry doing “Dream On” and I have to say, much respect.
February 9 – Phil Collins releases his first solo album.
Some may see this as a sign of the anti-Christ. Others may see this as an opportunity to hear Another Side of Phil. The soft side. The truly insidious side.
February 14 – Billy Idol leaves the band Generation X to begin a solo career.
Too bad. Gen X had some poppy-punky moments. But this is great news for 50% of American high school students who are trying to figure out how to be punk, yet still play football and get good grades. Billy’s going to make it OK to wear eyeliner, parachute pants and wrestling shoes.
March 14 – Suffering from bleeding ulcers, Eric Clapton is admitted to United Hospital in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Clapton’s 60-city tour of the U.S. is cancelled, and he remains in hospital for a month.
Bad news for concert promoters and Clapton fans; shrug-worthy news for the rest of us. I’ll give you one guess what’s the leading cause of stomach ulcers. Funny, but it’s also the same day Steven Tyler was released from the hospital.
March 27 – Ozzy Osbourne bites the head off a dove at a CBS record label gathering in Los Angeles.
April 1 – The Go-Go’s sign to IRS Records.
One of many landmarks for women in rock. The Go-Go’s would be the biggest girl band yet. You also gotta hand it to IRS Records. They picked a couple of winning horses in the 80s.
April 4 – British pop group Bucks Fizz wins the 26th Eurovision Song Contest, held at the RDS Simmonscourt Pavilion, Dublin, with the song “Making Your Mind Up”.
Hmm. Fascinating. Have you ever heard Bucks Fizz? I hadn’t until a few minutes ago. Let’s just set this on the table, slice it up, and serve it as is. The Eurovision Song Contest is a fucking joke. You know who else has won? ABBA, Celine Dion, and Katrina and the Waves. Which is convenient since Bucks Fizz was Britain’s answer to ABBA.
April 11 – Van Halen’s lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen marries actress Valerie Bertinelli.
I wasn’t sure how to feel about this. On one hand, EVH was the greatest guitar player on the planet. Did that mean he’s entitled to the hottest actress on prime-time television? I guess so. And to me, that was a spoil of riches. My favorite guitar player marrying one of the few non-Playboy centerfolds I’d ever masturbated to? That ain’t fair. But you know, that’s life.
April 18 – Yes announce that they are breaking up.
Liars! It’s about fuckin’ time, but it’s a bald-faced lie. Just another fake retirement announcement. Yes will be back, sadly.
April 20 – The Mamas & the Papas’ John Phillips is sentenced to five years in jail after pleading guilty to drug possession charges. Phillips’ sentence would be suspended after thirty days in exchange for 250 hours of community service.
Even though I’ve absolutely nothing invested in John Phillips or his music, there was a time when I was keen to write for a website that specializes in the obscure and relatively unknown elements of popular arts and culture. One of the first things I considered sending them was the John Phillips solo LP Pay Pack and Follow (2002), produced by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Outside of John Phillips’ family, friends and diehard fans, and super-core Stones fans, nobody has heard this record. And it’s one of the more atrocious records I’ve ever heard from a so-called “superstar.”
April 22 – Eric Clapton is taken to the hospital suffering from bruised ribs and a lacerated shin, following a car accident in Seattle, Washington.
The fuck is this cat doing out of the hospital?
April 27– Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach marry, in London, England.
If it weren’t for the sex, I’d have married Ringo. He seemed like a fun guy. Always happy, chipper, and quick with the wit. Dude knows everybody. He was Ringo. The fuck did he care? No matter what he did for the rest of his life, he had it made. The Beatles money may never run out. Meanwhile, Barbara Bach may have been insanely good-looking, but she was no dummy.
Anyway, there was one other major, enormous, gigantic development in popular music in 1981-82. It was called MTV (Music Television) and it changed the way we perceived, reacted to, and ultimately purchased popular music. That really doesn’t have anything to do with 1001 Albums, except that almost every successful band from 1981 to 1996-ish(?) had videos in Heavy Rotation on MTV. Or they weren’t successful. Nowadays, MTV is Jersey Shore, I dunno. No clue. The point is, I’m not going to spend a lot of time carping about music videos and whatnot, except when we get to Michael Jackson – Thriller. Stay tuned.
Strikethrough indicates what you probably think it does
Green indicates highly recommended listening
Underlined indicates questionable but ultimately acceptable record
Blue bold italic indicates ABSOLUTELY MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE
Note: Suggested alternatives are from the same year as the contested entry unless otherwise indicated.
Also, anything in Red generally indicates hazardous material
ABBA – The Visitors (1981)
ABBA did for popular music what U.S. Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill did for women’s hairstyles in the late 1970s. Do I mean they made every woman look like a teenaged boy you wouldn’t want to fuck? Maybe.
Duran Duran – Duran Duran
The Plasmatics – Beyond the Valley of 1984
The Police – Ghost in the Machine
I’m not gonna lie to you people. I owned all three of these records at some point within a year of their release. In fact, I think the Duran Duran record is the best thing they ever did. I still put it on every now and again, especially after I’ve been listening to Wesley Willis. “Girls on Film” hits a soft spot with me, I dunno. Side one is great.
I’ll never forget the day. The same kid Robert who traded me his relatively rare Japanese import of Cheap Trick – At Budokan for my entire collection of Kiss albums and memorabilia, came over for another record swap. He had the swindler’s look in his eye, but I was way ahead of him on this one. It turned out that in return for my entire collection of Ted Nugent albums, (a total of six LPs) which I really wasn’t listening to any more, Robert matched it with his entire collection of punk and new wave records. I got four albums out of the deal, most notably Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, but also the Damned, the Romantics, and the Plasmatics. Score!
Ghost in the Machine has been mistakenly described as the “darkest” Police album, and I think that if it’d been released with say, a pale green cover, instead of the now iconic black cover, this wouldn’t be the case. Sure, there is one really dark jam (“Invisible Sun”) and one genius Steward Copeland track (“Darkness”), but generally speaking, there are more good vibes than anything else. At any rate, Ghost is easily more of a Must Hear than anything ABBA ever did.
Bauhaus – Mask (1981)
Black Flag – Damaged (1981)
I don’t even like Bauhaus or goth rock in general, but Mask is great. Besides, this might also qualify as Love & Rockets, Tones On Tail, plus Peter Murphy, so we’re killing multiple birds with one stone. Kind of like brushing more than one tooth at a time. These kids aren’t shoegazing or hiding behind black bridal veils. Whenever I hear someone say “[somewhere] is an oppressive, grim, dull grey place to be,” I always think, “Sounds like Bauhaus.”
Damaged is Black Flag’s first studio album with Henry Rollins on vocals, and it’s quite impressive. One listen to this record and you’ll never wish for a mosh pit. One will appear magically in your mind. Humor is fairly important in punk, but sing-a-longs, audience participation, and the Monkees, are generally not the first things that come to mind. Except whenever I listen to Damaged, that’s what I’m feeling.
Bobby Womack – The Poet (1981)
OK, so maybe you’re thinking, “Man, the R&B charts are severely under-represented on this list. You don’t have Teddy Pendergrast, Lou Rawls, or Bobby Womack.”
This is very true on several accounts.
- Contemporary R&B in 1981 was the following artists (reasons for exclusion from the list in ALL CAPS):
The Four Tops – CONFUSED, SAD
The Gap Band – DISCO
Rick James – FONK
Chaka Khan – DISCO FONK
Evelyn King – NO IDEA
Kool & The Gang – DISCO
Lakeside – AIN’T TAKING ME ON A FANTASTIC VOYAGE
Ray Parker Jr. & Raydio – SEE LAKESIDE
Smokey Robinson – SOFT SOUL EASY LISTENING
Diana Ross and Lionel Richie – DEATH
Frankie Smith – NEVER HEARD OF HIM
A Taste Of Honey – A TASTE OF DISCO
Luther Vandross – HE A’IGHT
Yarbrough & Peoples – PROBABLY NOT A LAW FIRM
Funk = James Brown, The Meters, Parliament, Funkadelic, Stevie Wonder, Prince
Fonk = Rick James, Chaka Khan, Labelle, Brides of Funkenstein, Klymaxx
- The only exciting artist in the world of R&B, funk and soul, is Prince, and trust me, you’re gonna be fucking capital D-done with Prince after Sign O’ the Times (1987). It’s just the way it is. Lovesexy (1988) is a personal favorite, but by the time you get to Graffiti Bridge (1990) you’re gonna be saying, “All right, dude. We get it.”
- Rick James, bitch! To be honest with you, Street Songs (1981) is a notable record, and not a Must Hear. Plus, he’s an unsavory character now immortalized by Dave Chappelle. Look at those fuckin’ boots. I’m not having it. I wasn’t having it in 1981, and I’m not having it now. Plus, have you ever actually listened to the lyrics of “Give It to Me, Baby”? Uhhhhh. To be frank, Rick James and Prince were essentially making the same music in 1981. Prince just had a better way of phrasing things. And he didn’t have that stupid weave.
- Bobby Womack? You can’t be serious. Yes, he was Sam Cooke’s guitar player, and yes, a sideman for the Rolling Stones; and he had a couple of hit records on the charts, none of them memorable. Film buffs will know that his 1972 jam “Across 110th Street” is featured in a Quentin Tarantino movie, Jackie Brown. Never saw it. Can’t be sure.
Having listened to The Poet start to finish, I have one recommendation. If you really want to know about Bobby Womack, I highly recommend his memoir, Midnight Mover (2006; John Blake Publishing. ISBN 978-1844541485). Tons more juicy, salacious druggy fun than what’s going on here.
The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You
The Stray Cats – Gonna Ball
Prince – Controversy
Hey hey! The Stones made an OK album in 1981. I thought we’d lost them to disco on Emotional Rescue (1980).
The Stray Cats are one of the few throwback revivalist groups I can stomach, and new wave rockabilly sounds really fucking sweet when the guitar player is Brian Setzer. Holy Christ, can that guy play!
Prince Rogers Nelson may have been one of the few black dudes on the planet who had a hard-on for Todd Rundgren, and I don’t mean that in a sexual way. At least, I don’t think I do. Anyway, Prince is a direct descendant of the mighty Runt, who himself was influenced by Philadelphia soul. So there’s kind of a Human Centipede thing going on. Must Hear? Nah. See Prince live in 1981-82? I’ve seen video. My God! Screw his albums. Live was the way to get your Prince on.
Of course, we’re going to get at least two Must Hear albums from Prince, in addition to the three I’ve already suggested as alternatives. So this is kind of a push. It’s just here to reinforce the Bobby Womack strikethrough. Don’t get me wrong; I like Controversy and its questionable, frothy mix of funk, soul and new wave. Oh, and sex. Lots of sex. I think it’s the only album in history that contains the lyric: “Come down to my neighborhood / I’ll jack you off.” But for that reason, Controversy is pretty far down on my list of albums I want to hear.
Brian Eno & David Byrne – My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (1981)
It’s not very often that a record exudes pretension before you get it out of the wrapper. Titled after Amos Tutuola’s 1954 novel of the same name, of which neither Eno or Byrne had read, My Life was critically regarded as a “pioneering work for countless styles connected to electronics, ambiance, and Third World music.” The extensive use of drum loops, samples and soundscapes are stuff that we really take for granted now, but which was unheard of in all but the most progressive musical circles at the time.
Therefore, if you’re familiar with a current “artist” like for instance, Four Tet, you absolutely Must Hear this LP, cuz Four Tet ain’t happening unless Eno & Byrne make My Life. I fucking hate it, and refuse to even review it for the purpose of this entry, but I have heard it start to finish at least three times.
Einsturzende Neubauten – Kollaps (1981)
After sitting through Kollaps for the second time ever this evening, I had to constantly remind myself that this is important music for a couple of reasons. Whether I like it or not, industrial music is a thing, and these cats are incomparably influential on a disturbing wave of bands that are going to flood the airwaves in 5-7 years, such as Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. Additionally, bands like My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult, Skinny Puppy, and Marilyn Manson, as well as groups like Slipknot, probably wouldn’t exist if not for this album. That’s just a guess. We’ll never know.
At any rate, if you’re game for 39 minutes of avant-garde industrial noise rock, Kollaps has you covered.
Fun Fact: Sometime in the 2000s, I waited on a table of four that included Einsturzende Neubauten vocalist Blixa Bargeld (who maintains a residence in S.F.). He was a super nice guy and talked about some project he was currently involved with. I’d heard of him (as a member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) but didn’t recognize him except for the fact that he oozed rock star (of some sort). It was actually kind of fun to hear this record after the fact, and I can see why it was so critically influential. Nobody else was making records like this, except…
Public Image Ltd. – Flowers of Romance
Heaven 17 – Penthouse And Pavement (1981)
Motorhead – No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith (1981)
Heaven 17 was something special for maybe one year and one hit single? You never saw anybody wearing a Heaven 17 t-shirt. I don’t even know how to categorize their sound. Affected plastic depression? Synthesizer cosmetics? It sounded incredibly “gay” to me at a time when I was trying to figure out which side of the sexual fence I was on. This type of music became an aversion. Heaven 17? Nope, no thanks. Not this time.
Van Halen – Fair Warning
Despite being the band’s slowest-selling album to date, among aficionados, Fair Warning is generally regarded as the Holy Grail of the David Lee Roth era. Dark, mean and nasty, there are few “fun” moments on the record, and a total absence of the pop element found on their previous three records. At the same time, it does contain “Unchained”, selected the number one favorite VH song (by Rolling Stone readers) and a jam I wouldn’t argue with. In fact, it got me to thinking. What are my 10 favorite VH cuts? (parent album in parenthesis):
Runnin’ With the Devil (Van Halen I)
Unchained (Fair Warning)
Secrets (Diver Down)
Drop Dead Legs (1984)
Hot For Teacher (1984)
Little Guitars (Diver Down)
Dirty Movies (Fair Warning)
And the Cradle Will Rock (Women and Children First)
Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love (Van Halen I)
Fair Warning probably isn’t a Must Hear, but it is a worthwhile listen, and recommended for any fan of hard rock music, even if you think DLR was a dick. I know you’re out there. And I can see your point.
Moving Pictures would probably get my vote for best hard rock album of 1981.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been jamming you with Siouxsie records in the Suggested Alternative category, for a couple of reasons, but reason numero uno is guitarist John McGeoch, one of the most under-rated guitarists in rock, who influenced nearly every post-punk, alternative and indie rock guitar player from this point on out. Ask Johnny Marr, Peter Buck, Robert Smith, Dave Navarro, John Frusciante, and Johnny Greenwood. [Note: McGeoch played in Magazine (see 1977-78) during their “classic” line-up years, and is really the only great thing about that band.]
Juju also happens to be my favorite non-live Siouxsie record, and contains my favorite Siouxsie track, “Monitor”. Seriously, I just listened to the entire album, nodding my head, tapping my toes, and singing along the whole time.
Soft Cell – Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (1981)
Two classic, fruity alternative radio hits on this record, and the rest of it stinks.
“Whoa, that’s a hasty generalization, isn’t it?” you say. Trust me on this one.
Adam and the Ants – Prince Charming
If Dirk Wears White Sox (1979) is their best, most vital work, and if Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980) is their most accessible and significant, then Prince Charming is by far, their most over-the-top, ambitious and delightful. Delightfully.
The Go-Gos – Beauty And The Beat (1981)
The Gun Club – Fire Of Love (1981)
The Human League – Dare (1981)
The Psychedelic Furs – Talk, Talk, Talk (1981)
To be honest, this four-album set is going to start out all girlish good-vibes with the Go-Go’s, and by the time the Gun Club is finished with you, the last thing you’re gonna wanna hear is the fucking Human League. But you gotta do it. Dare is an important landmark. Talk, Talk, Talk isn’t going to change your life, but it is the Furs’ best album, almost. That’s coming in 1983, so proceed with caution.
Tom Tom Club – Tom Tom Club (1981)
Nonsense. This record has one jam, one groove, one idea, and it’s called “Genius of Love”, which has been used in Kia car commercials and a boatload of movies including Pie in the Sky (1996), Lars and the Real Girl (2007), Towelhead (2007), You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008), Tower Heist (2011), Shame (2011), The Family (2013) and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013). You’re gonna hear this song whether you like it or not.
X – Wild Gift (1981)
ABC – The Lexicon Of Love (1982)
Brian Ferry and Roxy Music really fucked everybody in terms of bringing Scott Miller and lounge-lizard faux glam soul to the alternative party. ABC and Spandau Ballet are two great examples of shit bands that wouldn’t have existed without Brian Ferry and his increasingly greasy croon. Or Scott Miller for that matter.
XTC – English Settlement
Associates – Sulk (1982)
I wanted to love this band. I just don’t think the world was ready for Yamaha synthesizers, lead bass guitar and Rob Halford’s boyfriend in the same band. And apparently, the record-buying public in 1982 agreed with me.
Birthday Party – Junkyard (1982)
Honest, this is the first time I’ve ever sat through this record. We’re going to do it together. At some point in life, you’ve been appointed to a task and you say, “I know this is gonna suck,” and then it’s even worse than you imagined. Like, ten times worse than you could have possibly imagined, while on crack, even though you’ve done things similar to this before. I feel like that’s about to happen to me right now.
Holy shit, this Nick Cave dude really, really takes himself seriously. I was thinking, “He’s very Shakespearian” and then I look at the play list and track 4 is “Hamlet”. OK, that makes sense. Meanwhile, I’m hearing Captain Beefheart all over the place, and that’s great, cuz I love Beefheart, but this is not Beefy. It’s more jerky than beef. At any rate, at least there was a band out there who was following in the great Captain’s footsteps, I reckon. Whatever this second track is called is fucking killing me. I hate this.
To be frank, I’m not surprised that I’d never heard this entire record before. It’s goth plus rockabilly? Gothabilly? The Cramps did that way better than anyone ever will. Who the fuck does this guy think he is, Jim Morrison? Fair enough, he’s good-looking and whatnot. Jesus, the guitar players ought to have stayed in the jazz-fusion band they quit in high school. I would love nothing more than to skip through the rest of this. Oh, OK, here we are at track 4, “Hamlet”.
Yes, they’ve obviously heard the first two Public Image Ltd. records. I have to keep reminding myself that Nick Cave is a novelist. Unfortunately, there’s nothing remotely Shakespearian about “Hamlet”. I was in the mood for a soliloquy. Where is Rush when you need them?
We’re at the 17-minute mark and I’m getting antsy. It’s not like I ever wondered where Jesus Lizard came from, but now I’m convinced. The Butthole Surfers probably loved this band. Track 5 confirms what I thought before: these dudes listened to a lot of Doors records. And apparently, Adam and the Ants. At the 23-minute mark now. He’s howling at us. Couldn’t care less what he’s going on about. I wish he’d stop.
OK, here’s what seems like it might be a toe-tapper, “Kiss Me Black”? I was just thinking about the time my…never mind. This record would make good Musak for a BDS&M club. It sounds like walking into the Smart Bar on a Saturday night in 1990. What the fuck is that smell? It’s like rubber cement and feces. Where are we? Minute 32 of 39.
So I’ve never done ecstasy the drug, folks. At least not that I’m aware of. I think someone spiked me one time, but I was so fucking drunk that it either didn’t take or I didn’t notice, until the next day when I was pissing burnt copper. From what you tell me, ecstasy is a “love drug.” You want disco, glow rings, and lots of hugging. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted any of those things, especially disco and glow rings. Now that I’m a husband and father, I want to be a hug machine. But that’s me under the influence of love.
This record sounds like it’s under the influence of whatever is the opposite of ecstasy. It’s not hate. I believe these to be non-linear emotions. Ecstasy by definition is an outpouring of an ecstatic emotional energy. This shit sounds like a kid is being impregnated with bad vibes. Injected with a dose of despair. He’s clearly raging against a machine, but I think the machine might have been his dad?
Over now. Sheesh. Fucking Nick Cave. I should read one of his novels and see what his problem is.
Speaking of which, I recently came across a BBC documentary about one the pervy-est Russian novelists of all-time, Vladimir Nabokov, who turns out to be nowhere in the vicinity of perversion. He was a straight-up lunatic, and forget his books, listen to some of the things he has to say about life in general. (From the opening montage, in case you miss it.)
“I loathe such things as jazz…I don’t belong to any club or group. Progressive schools. I don’t fish, cook. I especially loathe the vulgar moolies, homosexuals. I don’t get drunk, go to church. Brutes, bores, swimming pools. I don’t go to analysts. Music in supermarkets. I don’t endorse books, sign books. Fake thinkers, puffed-up poets. Freud, Marx. Frauds and charlatans.”
The Clash – Combat Rock
Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska (1982)
I know I can’t be the only dude on the planet with a personal vendetta against anyone who blows into a harmonica. But clearly, Bruce the Boss is making a statement. “I can write songs without an E Street Band.” Or is he? I dunno, and I don’t care. Nebraska is a great time-killer, especially if you’re on a long flight or drive. Put it on; forget it’s there.
Dexys Midnight Runners – Too-Rye-Ay (1982)
Donald Fagen – The Nightfly (1982)
Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Imperial Bedroom (1982)
Imperial Bedroom is kind of important, isn’t it? Christ, I have to look it up. I think this is the one of his “piano” albums? He isn’t rocking very hard at this point, that’s for sure. Goddamnit. This is NOT the same cat who made This Year’s Model.
You should probably hear this for reference. About 50% of indie rock bands in existence dreamed of losing their virginity to this album. Death Cab For Cutie based their whole shtick on “Beyond Belief”. I don’t like it, but you might.
Blue Oyster Cult – Extraterrestrial Live
Oingo Boingo – Nothing to Fear
Whaaat!?! A double LP B.O.C. record? Hey, it’s got all the hits such as “Godzilla”, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Burnin’ For You”, plus all the deeper cuts. Why not? If you’re 15 years old, this is fucking Valhalla.
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – The Message (1982)
Is this the first hip-hop record? I dunno. What I remember is that the cool clique of rich girls in my school we’re all over this shit. There was this pack of chicks that all lived in Burr Ridge and our junior high school revolved around them. They essentially set the trends. They loved the Go-Go’s and the B-52s. They wore Topsiders, Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and Mother Kerens jackets. The Preppy Handbook was required reading if you wanted a shot at these girls.
At some point, we were hanging out at this one girl’s house and someone put on The Message. Me and my best friend Kevin, the only two dudes present, were absolutely horrified, but what could we say? What could we do? You know what we were there for. The chicks were shaking it, and we were hoping for a little nookie to fall off the truck. It didn’t, but we sat there and listened to this record for what seemed like a week. Later, as we rode our bikes back to my house, Kevin said, “I don’t know about you, but I think that Grandmaster Flash stuff is a load of bullshit.” And I said, “I’m with you, brother.”
The Sugar Hill Gang – Sugar Hill Gang
The rich girls were HUGE into the Sugar Hill Gang. There were a couple of them in particular who championed this record, and everyone at Gower Middle School had at least heard this fucker all the way through whether they liked it or not. There are some parts of “Rapper’s Delight” that are still with me to this day. “Hotel, motel, Holiday Inn.” I’ll never be clear of that shit.
Haircut One Hundred – Pelican West (1982)
Why not Roman Holiday?
Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast (1982)
Kate Bush – The Dreaming (1982)
For the life of me, I cannot understand why people rave and gush about Kate Bush. Her work strikes me as lackluster and mundane.
Adam Ant – Friend or Foe
This is basically it for one of our favorite cats. The Allmusic Guide says it better than my lazy ass ever could.
Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Adam Ant and Marco Pirroni ditched the rest of the Ants not long after the release of the widely derided Prince Charming [Edit: WHAT!?!?!], which provided them with the perfect opportunity for a new statement of purpose in the first Ant-less album, 1982’s Friend or Foe. They had already begun moving away from Burundi beats and Indians on Prince Charming, but here they ditch any pretense at the underground, favoring big, glitzy glam pop. There’s still residual artiness, of course, since Adam and Marco are post-modernists that love to paste together seemingly incongruous strands of pop culture in an attempt to craft something new. The difference is, they’ve wrapped this instinct in big, big production and cheerful, unabashed pop hooks, best heard on “Place in the Country” and the hits “Friend or Foe,” “Desperate But Not Serious,” and “Goody Two Shoes,” the latter becoming Adam’s biggest hit in the U.S. Since these are deliberate pop trifles, several critics laughed off Ant as a silly lightweight, but that’s missing the point — these are intentionally tongue-in-cheek tunes, delivered with an excess of flair and good humor. Though Friend or Foe does lose momentum on the second side and the cover of the Doors’ “Hello, I Love You” falls a little flat, this is good, giddy fun, one of Ant’s best records and one of the best new wave albums.
This may be my favorite song on the record, “Here Comes the Grump”.
Madness – The Rise And Fall (1982)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)
You don’t need to hear Thriller. I’m fucking dead serious. If there’s ever been an album that should have been titled The Emperor’s New Clothes, this is it. There are two timeless jams on this record (“Billie Jean” and “Beat It”), two mediocre rump-shakers (“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and the title track) and the rest is the R&B equivalent of choogle, sung by a cartoon character, and I’m sorry, but that’s exactly what this kid turned out to be. It’s sad, but I don’t know his life.
This is not me being a dick and hating on the best-selling album of all-time. This is me being reasonable and saying if you do sit through Thriller from start to finish, you clearly have nothing better to do, and in which case, a drug habit isn’t nearly as expensive as you might think.
MTV sold Thriller, as in door-to-door, like a magazine subscription. But if you had never seen the video, you’d dismiss this record for what it is, over-produced bullshit. If the goons who managed Michael Jackson were smart, he should have done an MTV Unplugged record at this point. Instead, he went Hollywood. The songs and the videos were so tailored together, that I’m fucking serious, neither could have existed without the other.
All that said, you will or have already heard most of this album, regardless.
Van Halen – Diver Down
If Fair Warning is the Holy Grail of DLR era VH LPs, then Diver Down is the viper that bit Cleopatra. This is the only record of the period of which people said, “Nuh-uh. This shit doesn’t fly.” This shit they’re referring to is the cover of Martha and the Vandellas “Dancin’ in the Streets”, by far the most danceable VH jam since “Dance the Night Away” and a perfect example of what many of us considered to be DLR’s disco influence, since we all knew Eddie Van Halen hated the disco shit. Diamond Dave, on the other hand, had no qualms about doing the hustle. I’ve read his autobiography. Zero qualms.
Anyway, all that said, Diver Down remains one of my favorite VH records for all the jams that aren’t “Dancin’ in the Streets.” Hell, I don’t even mind that song. I was excited when it came out. It was like, whoa, didn’t see that coming, at all!
Orange Juice – Rip It Up (1982)
R.E.M. – Chronic Town
Prince – 1999 (1982)
Simple Minds – New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84) (1982)
Aaaaannnnnnnd…we have a first of its kind – a strikethrough underline.
It’s a Must Hear because it’s pretty good for what they were doing, which is what half of rock bands in 1982 were trying to do – get comfortable with a synthesizer. Forget about that “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” crap. They were good before that.
It’s not a Must Hear because these cats shouldn’t have more than one record on a Must Hear list, and Sparkle in the Rain is coming out next year. Now, if U2 had released an LP in 1982, it would have been easy-squeezy. We’d go with the Irish kids for anthemic post-punk new wavey type rock that takes itself quite seriously.
U2- October (1981)
Going out of sequence for a suggested alternative is allowed as long as it’s noted and explained. For whatever reason, I really like this album, which doesn’t get the respect it deserves (as far as early U2 records are concerned). This is another one of those records with a good back-story.
The Cure – Pornography (1982)
The Cure is credited with helping to establish goth rock, which is somewhat misleading. On the surface, the band certainly looked the part. Every goth kid wanted to look like Robert Smith. But the Cure, above everything else, was a pop band. Er, maybe pop-post-punk-rock band. They’re actually very hard to pin down, because their first six albums are markedly different, both from each other, and from record to record. The only constant was Robert Smith’s oddly appealing warble – some called it ‘sad, morose whining.’
The group that made Three Imaginary Boys is hardly the same bunch of lads who made Pornography, which is unquestionably one of the most dark, tormented, existential and challenging albums ever made in the rock genre. It’s almost impossible to imagine this same band would make The Head on the Door. In between all that, you have flirtations with synthy-dance rock (“Let’s Go to Bed”) and fluffy, throwaway pop (“The Lovecats”).
Pornography is almost the anti-thesis of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper in terms of a psychedelic experience. Whereas Pepper was decidedly a positive, carefree trip, Pornography was a nightmare batch of tainted acid. Having been on a bad trip or two in my day, Pornography is exactly what it sounds like. And what I like most about the album is its relentlessness. It starts off in a shitty mood and it never, ever lightens up. It’s nothing but funhouse mirrors and creepy shadows from start to finish.
Venom – Black Metal (1982)
I’m still laughing at this one. Venom. But then I took into consideration what’s lurking around the corner, i.e. Metallica, etc. These Venom cats were way ahead of the curve on all things metal. I gave it a spin.
Scorpions – Blackout
Judas Priest – Screaming for Vengeance
More Suggested Alternatives:
Billy Squier – Don’t Say No
Devo – New Traditionalist
Robert Plant – Pictures at Eleven
Bad Brains – Bad Brains
Flipper – Album: Generic
EDITOR’S NOTE: Release dates get spaced in the surf from time to time on the official 1001 Albums list, which I’ve occasionally bitched about and tried to set straight, but I’m human, too. Sometimes I don’t catch mis-dated records, or I forget to mention an essential Suggested Alternative; neither of which I believe you care about. What difference does it make if the release date is off by a year? Very little. A precedent was set with the Tom Petty record, where I didn’t realize it had been mis-categorized in 1977, and I suggested it as an alternative in 1976, because I knew it was fucking released in 1976. This means two things. First, I’m writing these one at a time. I’m not looking forward to see what’s next. I’m staying in the now. Second, a mistake confessed is half redressed. Therefore, when these discrepancies occur, I will not go back and edt; they will simply be recognized post-publish. This situation is applicable to the next entry, which was released in 1983, a fact that doesn’t change anything about the album or my comments withstanding.
Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes (1982)
Of all the big albums that influenced my growth as a musician, Violent Femmes probably had the greatest impact upon my vision of making a band happen. I looked at them as a perfect example of how anyone could pick up a guitar, roust a couple of his buddies to play along, write some catchy tunes, and by the sheer dint of verve and good fortune, basically make it happen, from nothing.
The story goes that the Femmes were discovered by the Pretenders’ guitarist James Honeyman-Scott when the band was busking on a street corner in front of the Oriental Theatre, the Milwaukee venue that the Pretenders would be playing later that night. They so impressed Chrissie Hynde that she invited them to play a brief acoustic set after the opening act.
Meanwhile, this album marked another milestone in my musical education. It was the first “alternative rock” album I ever discovered on my own. The vast majority of my musical influences were handed down from the older kids or shared by friends. In fact, I was in a record store right after Violent Femmes came out, and the store was playing it on the PA. So I went over to the clerk and said, “What the fuck is this?” and he told me. I bought the cassette on the spot. Nobody in my social circle had heard of it, and a couple of knuckleheads who shall remain anonymous actually teased and taunted me about the blatantly “gay” name of the band. And so, it was the first time I ever had a scuffle with someone over music and perceived sexual orientation.
I’m telling you, there isn’t a bad spot on Violent Femmes. It remains one of the most thoroughly engaging and entertaining albums from start to finish. Even though it bears no audible resemblance to John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, it shared one incredibly brilliant quality: Simplicity. It’s three dudes in a half circle around one microphone, singing these catchy little tunes.