1981: Best Pop Year Of The 1980s?

royEagle-eyed readers of this website may have noticed that 1981 has been a bit of a recurring theme recently. And watching the excellent BBC doc ‘The Story Of 1981a few weekends ago got me wondering if it was one of the very best years for pop.

Of course, all music fans have their ‘bedrock’ years, periods when their tastes are pretty much formed for life. 1981 was certainly the year when pop music first properly impinged itself onto my consciousness, but looking back now it certainly does seem to feature more than its fair share of classic singles and albums. There was so much variety on offer, from post-punk, revival rock’n’roll/psychedelia and classic heavy metal through to 2-Tone, jazz/funk, reggae and soul.

I was a nine-year-old football-and-cricket-mad whippersnapper in 1981. We had moved out of London for a few years because of my dad’s work, settling in Southsea on the South Coast. Save from a few hard lads picking fights with my brother and I on the Common or at the Rock Gardens, it was a very peaceful, fun time. You’d never have guessed that riots were exploding in Brixton, Toxteth, Moss Side, Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Coventry. It sounds selfish, but for me it was all about reading Roy Of The Rovers, playing football, collecting Space Lego and listening to The Beatles and the brilliant chart music of the day.

1981 was full of singles that to this day are among my favourites of all time. But, in almost all cases, I haven’t searched out much more music by the artists involved – it’s almost as if I don’t want to curse the golden memories. Here’s just a selection:

carnes

Altered Images’ ‘Happy Birthday’
Bill Wyman’s ‘Je Suis Un Rock Star’
Kim Carnes’ ‘Bette Davis Eyes’
Haircut 100’s ‘Favourite Shirt (Boy Meets Girl)’
OMD’s ‘Souvenir’
Tom Tom Club’s ‘Wordy Rappinghood’
Adam And The Ants’ ‘Ant Rap’
The Police’s ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’
The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’
Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’
Human League’s ‘Love Action (I Believe In Love)’
Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’
Third World’s ‘Dancing On The Floor’
Imagination’s ‘Body Talk’
Freeez’s ‘Southern Freeez’
Cliff Richard’s ‘Wired For Sound’
Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’
Depeche Mode’s ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’
The Teardrop Explodes’ ‘Reward’

And that’s just scratching the surface. There were also brilliant singles by Linx, Visage, Scritti Politti, The Pretenders, Squeeze, XTC, Talking Heads, Madness, Roxy Music, Level 42, Light Of The World, Smokey Robinson, George Benson etc etc etc.

crimson

And then there were the album releases of 1981. Here’s a partial list of favourites:

Human League: Dare
Phil Collins: Face Value
Randy Crawford: Secret Combination
Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates
Rush: Moving Pictures/Exit…Stage Left
Quincy Jones: The Dude
Chaka Khan: Whatcha Gonna Do For Me
Lee Ritenour: Rit
David Sanborn: Voyeur
Frank Zappa: Shut Up N Play Yer Guitar/You Are What You Is
John Martyn: Glorious Fool
David Byrne/Brian Eno: My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts
Grace Jones: Nightclubbing
Level 42: Level 42
John McLaughlin/Al Di Meola/Paco De Lucia: Friday Night In San Francisco
Jaco Pastorius: Word Of Mouth
King Crimson: Discipline
Japan: Tin Drum
The Tubes: The Completion Backward Principle
Bow Wow Wow: See Jungle

Cor. Not bad. I can’t see how another year is gonna beat 1981, but we shall see…

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4 thoughts on “1981: Best Pop Year Of The 1980s?

  1. Superb, Matt. I forgot how much I love Grace Jones. Can’t help dancing to that music!

    Ma x

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