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A Life In Vinyl: 1981

February 19th, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

A Life In Vinyl - 1981

With violent death of John Lennon just as 1980 drew to a close, the first few months of 1981, the year I turned 15, was spent on Beatles binging. I had been a fan before, but the only way to honour John Lennon was to go into manic overdrive. I even liked Yoko Ono’s single — and Walking On Thin Ice is a indeed a fine song on its own merit. It was the song John and Yoko were working on that 8 December, before Chapman shot Lennon dead outside the Dakota, apparently while John was holding the master tape of the song.

In February I bought Bruce Springsteen’s The River double album. On that day I had an eye test which for a few hours almost blinded me — I lacked the sense of knowledge or irony that might have prompted me to crack a “Blinded By The Light” joke. The second side of the album — starting with Hungry Heart and ending with the title track — and in between the glorious You Can Look (You Better Not Touch) — turned me into a Springsteen fan. Or was it simply the first track, the very underrated The Ties That Bind, which did the trick? It helped that Springsteen looked very cool, much like Al Pacino, on the cover.

From Springsteen it was a short jump to Garland JeffreysEscape Artist, a hit-and-miss affair that came with an EP, on which the E-Street Band’s keyboardist Roy Bittan and organist Danny Federici played. Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg also appeared on Jim Steinman’s Bad For Good album, a ridiculous and thoroughly entertaining affair which had been intended for Meat Loaf. The cover and the spoken track, Love And Death And An American Guitar, are so magnificently mad that Bad For Good should reside in every serious record collection.

Later I bought Nils Lofgren’s Night Fades Away; Lofgren would, of course, later join the E-Street Band. I listened to the LP again not so long ago. It’s not great, though Lofgren’s version of Peter & Gordon’s I Go To Pieces (written by Del Shannon) is pretty good. Around the time, or maybe a bit earlier, I also bought Neil Young’s Re-ac-tor LP, with its red and black sleeve. I listened to it again a while ago. I was reminded why I never listened to it back then. It’s awful. Even Opera Star, which prompted me to buy that LP.

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I didn’t own Kids In America on record, and I didn’t really like it very much (though I did like Kim Wilde), but the song was so ubiquitous that hearing it beams me back to 1981. I rather enjoy it now. I also didn’t own Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes on record, though I taped it off the radio. It was a hit when my sister’s boyfriend returned from a visit to Colorado. For a German boy who had been around a fair bit in Europe, the USA was nevertheless terribly exotic. I expected that all of America sounded like Kim Carnes’ song and Juice Newton’s Angel Of The Morning. Which in 1981 much of the USA possibly did.

The year was also the time when the New Wave broke big. Visage’s double whammy of great singles with great videos — Fade To Grey and Mind Of A Toy — as well as Duran Duran’s Girls On Film and the OMD songs provided a whole new sound. Best of them was Ultravox’s Vienna. One of the great songs of the 1980s, and still it was held off the British #1 spot (when that still meant a great deal) by the ghastly novelty song Shaddap Your Face. Well, that nation re-elected Thatcher, so it had — and evidently still has — a surplus of idiots. Alas, last week, shortly after I had prepared this mix, Visage’s Steve Strange passed away at 55.

I bought the Rolling StonesTattoo You album, freshly released, on the day we were making a trip to East Germany. I taped it as we packed the car for our driving entertainment. At the border I hid the tape in my jacket pocket. I left the tape (and other contraband we smuggled over, at some risk) with our friends in the GDR. I wonder whether they knew to capitalise on having the brand-new Stones album. I have been told that my act of smuggling tapes and Bravo magazines (West Germany’s big pop and sex education publication) was greatly appreciated.

As autumn broke I bought Billy Joel’s Songs In The Attic LP, an album of songs recorded in concert which in their studio versions had been considered unsatisfactory by Joel. It is a near-perfect album, to this day an all-time favourite. In 1981 I played it to death. This and the older Turnstiles, The Stranger and 52nd Street LPs (I always hated Glass Houses) provided the soundtrack for and solace in many dark teenage days.

My quartet of acts that I was obsessed with in 1981 — Beatles, Springsteen, Joel — was completed at the end of the year by the German band BAP. Their story is remarkable: they sung only in Kölsch, a dialect unique to the city of Cologne, yet they went on to become Germany’s biggest act for several years. Their rock sound was catchy and their live performances incendiary. In 1984/85 I saw both BAP and Springsteen in concert within eight months or so of one another. The energy was comparable, though the quality of the music not so much.

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As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-reared covers. PW in comments.

1. John Lennon – Watching The Wheels
2. The Look – I Am The Beat
3. Yoko Ono – Walking On Thin Ice
4. Bruce Springsteen – The Ties That Bind
5. Garland Jeffreys – R.O.C.K.
6. Jim Steinman – Bad For Good
7. Kim Wilde – Kids In America
8. Ultravox – Vienna
9. Visage – Mind Of A Toy
10. The Specials – Ghost Town
11. Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes
12. Rolling Stones – Waiting For A Friend
13. Nils Lofgren – I Go To Pieces
14. Billy Joel – Summer, Highland Falls
15. Stray Cats – Stray Cat Strut
16. Foreigner – Juke Box Hero
17. Fischer-Z – Marliese
18. Hazel O’Connor – (Cover Plus) We’re All Grown Up
19. Bap – Verdamp lang her

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  1. halfhearteddude
    February 19th, 2015 at 07:17 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. dogbreath
    February 19th, 2015 at 12:28 | #2

    Good backstories, good compilation, good job! Many thanks.

  3. February 21st, 2015 at 10:16 | #3

    A wonderful series. More power to your needle.

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