In my notebook, I have shortlists for my albums of the year for 1979 and 1980 side-by-side. The list for 1979 is shorter, but infinitely better; 1980’s list includes 24 albums, but fewer which I’m particularly enthusiastic about. While I’m deciding which albums to bump from ’79, here’s the 1980 lot, with decent albums by David Bowie, Paul Simon, Kate Bush, Motörhead, Ideal and Roxy Music not making the cut for various reasons. It’s a rather predictable list, provided one knows that I never liked ska, got into New Wave only a year later, and mostly bought singles that year. And, it seems, I never really caught up with 1980. So no Specials, no Joy Division, no Talking Heads, no Jam, no The Beat, and (you’ll be surprised) no Gaucho…It is, in fact, a year to piss off the Taste Police (with the Police) with a pick of not the best albums of the year, but those I know and still enjoy.
Dexys Midnight Runners – Searching For The Young Soul Rebel
I had never heard anything like this before. Of course, West Germany was not a hotbed of soul music, at least not the soul music which inspired Kevin Rowland and his mates. Geno might well be my favourite single of all time; it certainly was my song of 1980. The album did not quite stand up to the pop sensibilities of Geno – the brass hook, the chanting, the idiosyncratic vocals – and at times seemed downright weird. Especially Rowland’s style of singing, even when he lurched into a falsetto in the song about Leeds, lost some of the novelty over two sides (minus an instrumental). It took the release of Too-Rye-Ay two years later to rediscover Soul Rebel. And what a fine album it is, with its jubilant sounds dressing the often cynical lyrics. There should be an NGO founded which would send a copy of it to every American who has the nerve to call Dexys a “one-hit wonder”. And a copy of Too-Rye-Ay, just to remind them that one Eileen not a group define.
Dexys Midnight Runners – Tell Me When My Light Turns Green.mp3
Dexys Midnight Runners – Geno.mp3
Bruce Springsteen – The River
A good writer will know that sometimes a great paragraph, a sparkling aside or a riotous gag will need to be sacrificed to maintain the flow, the rhythm of the whole piece. It’s what makes them good writers. Recording artists, even good ones, do not always exercise such disciplined judgment. Rock history is oversupplied with double albums which were rather good, but might have been bona fide classics had the artists limited themselves to two sides of an LP. The Beatles’ White Album provided a template for excess and the problem with that excess. Which leads us to Bruce Springsteen’s 1980 offering. Cut the thing by half, and you’d have an album every bit as good as his artistic peak, Darkness At The Edge Of Town. Having said that, one of the more popular tracks on The River is Cadillac Ranch, which I wholeheartedly despise. I love the cover, on which Bruce channels Pacino and De Niro. It’s a very popular cover, as thousands of contributors to Sleeveface prove. This song, to me, defines the Springsteen sound of the era.
Bruce Springsteen – The Ties That Bind.mp3
Bruce Springsteen – The River.mp3
Warren Zevon – Stand In The Fire
Sometime in 1983 I discovered Warren Zevon. At the time, South Africa (where I has moved in 1982) had very well-stocked record libraries, where you could hire LPs for a day. Somehow the record companies didn’t like that, and by 1989 these great shops were forced to close. But when I was introduced to Warren Zevon, by my boss, I took out his entire back catalogue. Two albums stood out: Excitable Boy (naturally) and this live set. It is a rather poorly recorded live album, as these things go, but the cooking atmosphere of LA’s Roxy Club that night is steaming through the LP’s groove. The title is apt, the gig is incendiary. Zevon is often called the missing link between Randy Newman and Bruce Springsteen; Standing In The Fire proves the point.
Warren Zevon-Bo Diddley’s A Gunslinger + Bo Diddley.mp3
The Police – Zenyatta Mondatta
In 1980, the Police were still cool. Sting had not yet revealed himself to be the pretentious, tantric twat we know and hate now. He had edge, as did the other two blond chaps. I really liked the raw debut, Outlandos d’Amour, but found the follow-up patchy, besides its three big single hits. Zenyatta Mondatta (whatever that means), the final album before mega-stardom, was more cohesive than its predecessors. Where the previous two albums required the occasional song-skipping, all of the first side of Zenyatta Mondatta is quite excellent, in particular Driven To Tears. And, well, for the tune we ought to forgive the lyrics of De Do Do Do De Da Da Da. Much of my affection for this album is nostalgic: it transports me back to the day in November 1980 when my step-father and I wallpapered and painted my room. I had taken all my posters off, and threw them away. Of course, since I was a teenager, new posters would soon go up again, but that day marked a rite of passage, to the soundtrack of Zenyatta Mondatta.
The Police – Driven To Tears.mp3
ABBA – Super Trouper
By the time this was released, I had come to hate ABBA, much as I still loved the glam-pop of the mid-70s. By 1980, ABBA had grown up; I was still growing up and yet had outgrown them. I had bought Voulez-Vous, and despised the album. On the cover, our four friends looked like Mom and Dad going to the disco (and my mom and step-dad were middle-aged contemporaries of ABBA). On the sleeve of Super Trouper they were glowing at the sort of extravaganza no 14-year-old would be invited to. ABBA had entered a strange middle-age world. It was only when I had caught up with adulthood (in as far as I ever have) that I came to discover what a fine album Super Trouper is. The title track, which I had despised, is actually very lovely. The Winner Takes It All, a melancholy ballad set to a quasi-disco beat, is a high water mark in the ABBA canon, Lay All Your Love On Me is luscious and gorgeous, and Happy New Year is at once sad, bitter and hopeful. No surprises here, really. Those reside in the album tracks. If the synth-pop number Me And I sounds familiar, it does so because it would be ripped off throughout the 1980s. The Piper recalls Benny and Bjorn’s roots in northern European folk music. Andante Andante (one of those infuriating non-English titles) is a lovely ballad which, with a different title, might have been a hit. And the final track, The Way Old Friends Do, is a gloriously sentimental masterpiece. It possibly was initially conceived as a simple folk song, but here becomes an orchestral anthem, recorded live. It is a pity that the CD re-release came with three bonus tracks, because The Way Old Friends Do closes the album perfectly. Instead, it’s followed by the (admittedly very good) Gimme Gimme Gimme, the throw-away Elaine, and the absolutely awful Put On A White Sombrero, which is as bad as the title would suggest and recalls the turgid genre of the German Schlager.
Abba – The Way Old Friends Do.mp3
Abba – The Winner Takes It All.mp3
Abba – Happy New Year.mp3
Joan Armatrading – Me, Myself, I
Shortly before she passed away in October 1980, my grandmother lived with us. One day she gave me money to buy myself a new pair of trainers. Fashion be damned, I first bought myself two LPs with the unexpected moolah, and invested the remaining funds in the cheapest pair of adidas available. And I had change for some sweets still. The albums I bought were this one and Cornerstone by Styx (the one with Babe, though I bought it for Boat On The River). The latter I never played in full; Armatrading’s would get many spins over the years. The title track is excellent: great guitar riff and solo, and Armatrading in great lyrical and vocal form. All The Way From America and Turn Out The Lights are other highlights. Looking over the list it seems that I was rather too much into AOR (which beats being rather too much into S&M).
Joan Armatrading – All The Way From America.mp3
Joan Armatrading – Me Myself I.mp3
George Benson – Give Me The Night
After Zevon’s LP, this is the other album on this list which I can’t connect to 1980. I discovered it two years later. Benson has acquired an unfortunate reputation has über-smooth, glitter-jacketed soulster of 1980s lurve ballads. While elements of that are true, this image suppresses the respect the man merits for his pre-crooning days (just listen to his version of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit). Give Me The Night, produced by Quincy Jones, finds our friend at a crossroad: part jazz guitarmeister, part proto-Vandross. Here the combination pays off: lite-funk disco numbers such as the title track and the exuberant Love X Love cohabit with fusion instrumentals such as Off Broadway (a play on his 1977 hit with the Drifters’ On Broadway) and Dinorah Dinorah, and with a couple of nice but unremarkable ballads. The highpoint is Moody’s Mood, more recently sloppily covered by Amy Winehouse. The song was based on a sax solo on James Moody’s I’m In The Mood For Love, turned into a song by King Pleasure in 1952. On his version, Benson, usually an average singer, goes all Al Jarreau on us, with the help of Patti Austin.
George Benson – Moody’s Mood.mp3
Dire Straits – Making Movies
One day I might feature Dire Straits in the Pissing Off The Thought Police series. The credibility problem with Dire Straits was threefold: firstly, when CDs became popular, all the quasi-yuppies bought Brothers In Arms, which was seen (like Coldplay today) as “music for people who hate music”; secondly, Mark Knopfler and his red headband and C&W shirt; thirdly, Dire Straits negated punk by creating 9-minute songs. Of course, only the latter element applied in 1980. I had bought the first two albums, on strength of the excellent Sultans Of Swing. Apart from that, they were fucking boring to me. Not so Making Movies. Amid a few dodgy Knopflerifications which anticipated the hateful Money For Nothing, there were four magnificent songs: Romeo And Juliet, Tunnel Of Love, Espresso Love and the title track. When this album came out, one could buy miniature sleeves of albums containing pink chewing gum shaped like an LP, grooves and everything. I remember buying two: Billy Joel’s Glasshouse (the one Billiam album of the era I have no time for), and Making Movies. When I listen to the Dire Straits album, I can still taste the gum.
Dire Straits – Romeo And Juliet.mp3
AC/DC – Back In Black
This was the last AC/DC album I bought. When my friend Mike and I, both AC/DC fans at the time, first played it and Johnson’s voice burst forth, we burst out laughing. He sounded like a Warner Bros cartoon character doing an exaggerated imitation of the late Bon Scott. I still cannot abide by Brian Johnson’s voice. And for evidence to support my dislike, take Give The Dog A Bone from his first album with AC/DC. Bon Scott, who died just half a year before this album was released, would have invested his vodka-drenched soul into this schoolboy prank of a song to make you believe he was indeed looking to, er, feed a canine. In Johnson’s larynx, the song evokes a sleazy drunk about to get nasty with a blow-up doll while his virgin friends watch. So, I think it is fair to observe, I prefer my AC/DC with Bon Scott at the wheel. Johnson actually did OK on tracks like You Shook Me All Night Long (which is really Highway To Hell Redux), Hell’s Bells, Back In Black or Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution. But he was not Bon Scott.
AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long.mp3
John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy
John’s love for Yoko was exemplary, a real fairy tale story. This slavish devotion created his foolish impression that the sound of his wife singing was in some way attractive, so much so that the world had to be treated to it. To the world, of course, Yoko’s singing was akin to a recording of a parrot being violated and the sound of his sad squawks being played on 78rpm. Or perhaps I am being unduly harsh. Yoko’s Hard Times Are Over is a fine song, and Kiss Kiss Kiss is a good disco number. John’s tracks were great though. Even Woman, which was overplayed so much after Lennon’s murder that few people alive in 1981 should wish to ever hear it again. I will always love (Just Like) Starting Over, and defy anyone who claims it is cheesy (other than the bit about the Ono-Lennon’s taking out a loan for a trip far, far away. I imagine that Lennon had so much possession as to make the notion of him taking a trip to the bank manager obsolete [Edit: oops, misheard lyric rendering my gratuitous dig at the hypocrite Lennon obsolete. Damn]). As a father, I can identify with the sentimentality of Beautiful Boy. I’m Losing You is potent. And Watching The Wheels is among the very best things Lennon ever did out of McCartney’s earshot. Back in the day, I taped all of John’s songs, and added Hard Times Are Over and Yoko’s Walking On Thin Ice single which came out a few months after the murder (don’t let it be said that Yoko spurned great cash-in opportunities in her 28 years of grief). These days, a playlist employing the same selection technique will do the trick.
John Lennon – (Just Like) Starting Over.mp3
John Lennon – Watching The Wheels.mp3
And what are your favourite albums of 1980?