I have a few specific memories of the final quarter of 1980, but one stands out, as it probably does for most western teenagers growing up in 1980. On 9 December the radio alarm clock went off. I was just rising when the announcer said that John Lennon had been shot dead while we were sleeping. On my turntable was the second LP from The Beatles 1967-70 collection, which I had listened to, for the first time in a long while, just the previous evening, when Lennon was still alive. That bitterly cold morning at school my fellow Beatles fan Thorsten and I were greeted by our more cynical mates with “congratulations” on the death of John Lennon. For Thorsten and me, and probably millions others, the next few months were our generation’s version of Beatlemania. I quickly completed my collection of Beatles LPs, buying a few on a post-Christmas holiday in Greece, and the US releases on Japanese pressings.
Robert Palmer – Johnny & Mary.mp3
I had been a bit of a Robert Palmer fan, so I was quite excited by Johnny & Mary, a song that bought into the nascent New Wave Zeitgeist, with its liberal use of the synth and Palmer’s cool lyrics. Remember that Visage, Human League and Ultravox had not yet had their synth-based hits; these would come in 1981. So Johnny And Mary sounded quite exciting at the time. Moreover, the song has no chorus, which was rare in 1980 (and still is), and the vocals are delivered in a laconic monotone, which was also unusual in pop. On strength of Johnny & Mary, Palmers Clues album made it on to my Christmas wishlist of LPs. And when I opened my gifts at Christmas, it was among them. Listening to it I had the sinking feeling one gets when the lead single is the only really good track on an LP. Palmer totally lost me a few years later with his Addicted To Love, a song with an over-praised sexist video which I still despise.
Kate Bush – Army Dreamers.mp3
Kate Bush’s Never For Ever album was also in that bunch of Christmas present LPs. I loved lead single Babooshka, with its sound of breaking glass that was created by a synthesizer, but I had real affection for Army Dreamers, a song that didn’t get as much attention as Babooshka. Of course, I had recorded both off the radio. I was politically engaged, and naturally opposed to all things military (I didn’t even like war movies), so an anti-martial song appealed to me, especially one with an unusual waltz tempo. I didn’t know the promo video for the song yet, but it seems to have made quite an impact at the time. It is indeed striking. That thing she does with her eyes is particularly good. (HERE) *
Bots – Sieben Tage Lang.mp3
Bots was a Dutch folk-rock group of the left-wing protest song variety. Their Sieben Tage Lang was a hit, of sorts, in West Germany in 1980, a cover of their Dutch original from 1976 which in turn was based on the traditional Breton drinking song Son ar Chistr which in 1971 was a minor hit for the harpist Alan Stivell. The drum beat is martial, and the lyrics offer a vision of socialist revolution.
The German lyrics were co-written by the investigative journalist Günter Wallraff, who by reputation is Germany’s equivalent of Michael Moore, but without the populist polemic. Wallraff made a name for himself in the 1970s by infiltrating the mass-circulation Bild daily newspaper, a reactionary rag that trades in sensation, gossip, tits and sports. It would not be unfair to say that Bild’s ethics, at least in the 1970s and ’80s, were on the level of those now exposed in Rupert Murdoch’s media empire; perhaps even worse. The newspaper cheerfully destroyed lives with lies. It was widely called “das Lügenblatt” (the rag of lies). Wallraff exposed all that.
Co-writing the German lyrics with Wallraff was one Lerryn, the pseudonym of leftist songwriter and manager Dieter Dehm. After the reunification of Germany it was alleged that Dehm had reported to East Germany’s secret service, the Stasi, on the activities of another leftist songwriter, Wolf Biermann (stepfather of Nina Hagen), before the communist regime expelled Biermann from the GDR. Dehm denies having spied for the Stasi.
Paul Simon – Late In The Evening (YouTube live clip)
Paul Simon’s One Trick Pony LP was another Christmas present LP which I had wanted on strength of a great lead single and never really enjoyed. Which means that the album title is quite ironic itself — it had only one trick. Ah, but what a trick. It has a casual drug reference, which didn’t get the song banned! The fantastic Latin horn part was arranged by Dave Grusin, who did the instrumental score for the soundtrack for The Graduate, which Simon & Garfunkel had significantly contributed to. And check out the exquisite drumming by Steve Gadd. Then there are the masterful percussions of Ralph MacDonald, who died in December, and the guitar work of the late Eric Gale. And on backing vocals is Lani Groves, who sang the opening verse of Stevie Wonder’s You Are The Sunshine Of My Life with Jim Gilstrap. (The MP3 file was found and zapped before the post was even up. Hence the YouTube clip.)
Air Supply – All Out Of Love.mp3
I always stress that in this series, the songs are chosen because they have the power to transport me back to the time when they came out, not because I endorse them. This one can in an instance recreate in me that nagging teenage feeling in the stomach, the desire for romance, and the smell of my bedroom. I don’t really want to endorse the song; on the contrary, I want to hate it as the spineless power ballad it really is. And still – and I don’t know if it is the nostalgia for an unhappy youth or my advancing age – listening to it as I’m writing this, I rather enjoy it. So much so, that I’ll play it again. But then, I have previously publicly defended Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now, an act that has earned me some derision, so I might as well confess my (no longer) secret affection for wimpy power ballads.
Karat – Über sieben Brücken mußt du gehn.mp3
On my family’s periodic visits to East Germany, I would try and satisfy my record-buying impulse by purchasing albums by local rock bands. It was also a good way of spending East German marks, which was quite challenge in a country which did not go in for quality consumer goods. You couldn’t even buy a replica Dynamo Dresden football shirt (just as you couldn’t buy a Dukla Prague away shirt in Czechoslovakia; though you could do so from western mail order companies). And that’s how I came to own LPs by the likes of City and the Puhdys. I never really listened to them. But the biggest East German band, Karat, had passed me by until they suddenly had a hit in West Germany with Über sieben Brücken mußt du gehn (You’ll have to cross seven bridges). The rather lovely prog-rock ballad, originally released in East Germany in 1978, was covered by Peter Maffay, one of West Germany’s biggest stars who styled himself (and still does) as a bit of an outlaw. Maffay had the bigger hit with it, but in the slipstream of his version’s success, Karat’s original received much radio airplay (by East German law they were not allowed to appear on West German TV). I preferred the Karat version.
David Bowie – Up The Hill Backwards.mp3
Here’s another Christmas present album, which made my wishlist on strength of Ashes To Ashes and the even more fabulous Fashion. Unlike the LPs by Palmer and Simon, I liked the Scary Monsters LP a lot, and I particularly loved Up The Hill Backwards with its anthemic vocals, Robert Fripp’s crazy guitars and the staccato drumming. Bruce Springsteen’s piano man Roy Bittan did ivory tinkling duty here, as he did on Ashes To Ashes and Teenage Wildlife, and the album’s co-producer, Tony Visconti played the acoustic guitar. Up The Hill Backwards was released as the album’s fourth single in Britain. It stalled at #32, not entirely surprisingly, because it is not really commercial.