A Life In Vinyl: 1980
In 1980 I turned 14, and shortly before that I bought my 100th single — that is, the 100th single in my collection since I had dumped all my old Schlager platters and started accumulating proper pop records. The honour of providing my century went to Peter Gabriel’s Games Without Frontiers, a song he also recorded in very broken German. I preferred the English version. Within a year I would almost stop buying singles in favour of albums (though I’d rediscover the joy of the single when I lived in London in the mid-’80s).
A couple of months later I bought in short order a quartet of singles which, along with New Musik’s Living By Numbers, define my year 1980: Tim Curry’s I Do The Rock, The Pretenders’ Brass In Pocket (to this day I have no idea what Chrissie Hynde is singing much of the time), the Ramones’ version of Baby I Love You, produced by Phil Spector, and Dexys Midnight Runners’ Geno.
If forced to choose, I’d call Geno my favourite single ever. It’s not the best single ever, of course, nor is it even my favourite song to be released as a single. It is my favourite single because never before or after have I loved a single — as an item and a song at a particular place and time – as much as Geno. I remember vividly buying it and sitting on the bus home, staring at its stark cover, anxious not so much to play it, but to own it, to place it in my collection of singles, as if this new acquisition was going to complete it.
The song may be somewhat derivative, but it sounded like nothing I had ever heard before: the urgent chants of the titular name, the minor notes of the stirring brass, and then Kevin Rowland’s distinctive style of staccato singing. It caused a weird sensation in my guts. I’ve heard Geno many, many times since then, and I can still feel that sensation of hearing it 34 years ago.
New Musik’s Living By Numbers is perfectly situated in 1980: the paranoia of the 1970s anticipating the computer age of the 1980s. Towards the end, there is a series of different English-accented individuals proclaiming: “They don’t want your name” (they want “just your numbah”, apparently). I derived much fun, and still do, from imitating the different voices as I sang along; correctly locating the strangely shrill and nasal women’s moment at 2:46 being a moment of particular personal triumph. I associate the song with another new innovation: it was one of the songs I recorded off a music show on our new video recorder, a machine using a format that was already obsolete in 1980!
1980 was indeed an exciting time for music. Lots of new sounds emerged from Britain. The lyrics, to me as German-speaking teen, were secondary. And so it was only a couple of years ago that I discovered that The Vapors’ Turning Japanese is not an ode to acquiring a taste for sushi and saki, nor a narrative about the notoriously difficult act of assimilating to life in Tokyo, Osaka or Fukuoka. Turning Japanese apparently refers to the narrowing of the male’s eyes as he reaches the point of orgasm, in the case of the song brought about by masturbation. It might not be true, but I’ll accept that interpretation as fact.
It seems Germany in general didn’t care much about lyrics. How Frank Zappa’s Bobby Brown received wide airplay, to the point of turning this 1979 song into a big hit in 1980, is something I shall never understand.
1980 was, of course, also a year bookended by the deaths of two favourite singers. In February AC/DC’s Bon Scott died in London. Not long before that I had bought the Highway To Hell LP. On 9 December the radio alarm clock went off with more terrible news. 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 time, the night before, when John was still alive.
As always, this mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes covers. PW in in comments.
1. Status Quo – Living On An Island
2. Electric Light Orchestra – Confusion
3. Cheap Trick – Dream Police
4. Cherie & Marie Currie – Since You’ve Been Gone
5. AC/DC – Touch Too Much
6. Peter Gabriel – Games Without Frontiers
7. New Musik – Living By Numbers
8. The Vapors – Turning Japanese
9. Tim Curry – I Do The Rock
10. Marianne Faithful – The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan
11. Pretenders – Brass In Pocket
12. Dexys Midnight Runners – Geno
13. Ramones – Baby, I Love You
14. Frank Zappa – Bobby Brown
15. Randy Newman – The Story Of A Rock And Roll Band
16. Joan Armatrading – Me, Myself, I
17. The Police – Don’t Stand So Close To Me
18. Robert Palmer – Johnny & Mary
19. David Bowie – Fashion
20. Kate Bush – Army Dreamers
21. John Lennon – (Just Like) Starting Over