Tuesday, July 27, 2021

July 1981: Girls Just Want To Rock


Stevie Nicks : Edge of Seventeen

On July 27, 1981, Stevie Nicks, who wrote Fleetwood Mac’s only #1 hit, releases Bella Donna, her debut album which would four million copies on its way to #1 thanks to heavy radio airplay for the US#3 “ Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”, the US#6 “Leather And Lace” and the US#11 “Edge of Seventeen”. Pristine Jimmy Iovine production and musicianship throughout. That said, I didn't understand a word of “Edge of Seventeen” until I read a lyric sheet. Apparently it has something to do with John Lennon.




Debbie Harry : Backfired



Debbie Harry and Chris Stein team up with Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernie Edwards on Koo Koo. Despite the musical talent, the songs here are overshadowed by the album cover photographed by Brian Aris and then painted over by H. R. Giger of “Alien” fame to create an image both memorable and so severe, posters were banned from the London Underground stations. “Backfired” is the best tune here but Harry is not a soul singer or rapper and her delivery only works as a counterpoint to the funky Chic sound.




Siouxsie and the Banshees : Arabian Knights



Siouxsie and the Banshees release the UK#32hit “Arabian Knights ”, perhaps the only song that contains the word “orifices” played on the BBC. The B side is a cover of Ben E. King’s 1975 smash “Supernatural Thing”.





 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Female Bonding celebrated on The Go-Go's debut Beauty and the Beat


Go Go's : This Town

On July 8, 1981 The Go Go's released their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, on IRS Records. It would take nine months and MTV, but the album topped the US charts for six weeks beginning in March of 1982."We Got The Beat", a #2 hit, introduced American audiences to the five musicians who came across as best friends. 




"This Town" is the mission statement. /"We all know the chosen toys/ Of catty girls and pretty boys". As Rob Sheffield writes in the Spin Alternative Guide:

In Go-Go's songs, the pretty boys just kept their mouths shut and preened, while the catty girls took center stage to make up that face, jump in the race, and get dressed up to get messed up, whether flashing their underwear in public fountains or prowling by night. The Go-Go.'s eventually developed a knack for songs about men ("Turn To You", "Yes Or No"), but their grand theme was always femme bonding : we rules the streets tonight, this town is our town, our lips are sealed.





The best Go-Go's songs begin with tomboy Gina Schock laying down the beat.


While American critics swooned, the English were less taken with the album .Robert Eggar from the NME summed up the album writing that 

"The Go-Go's play sixties pop for the eighties with a seventies philosophy. This record is three years of struggling with instruments, of sleeping on floors in strange cities, of flirting too close with an easy terminal escape from reality. It sounds like a joyous, bubbling celebration by five cute girls, with no thoughts inside their darling little heads save for tonight's beach party."



But there's also some disillusionment with the seedy side of Hollywood night life, summed up on "Tonite," "Lust to Love," and "This Town", which includes lyrics that provide a counterpoint to that joyous MTV video: We're all dreamers, we're all whores/ Discarded stars/ Like worn out cars ".



Beauty and The Beat finished #10 in the Village Voice Pazz and Jop critics poll. It topped Greil Marcus's list:

GREIL MARCUS: 

Go-Go's: Beauty and the Beat (I.R.S.) 20; 
David Lindley: El-Rayo-X (Asylum) 20; 
Red Crayola with Art & Language: Kangaroo? (Rough Trade) 15; 
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Reactor (Reprise) 10; 
The Mekons (Red Rhino import) 10; 
Joy Division: Still (Factory import) 5; 
Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates (Warner Bros.) 5; 
The "King" Kong Compilation (Mango) 5; 
Au Pairs: Playing with a Different Sex (Human) 5; 
Raincoats: Odyshape (Rough Trade) 5. 


 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

R.E.M's "Radio Free Europe" leads a bounty of new singles in July of 1981


R.E.M. : "Radio Free Europe"

On July 8, 1981 R.E.M. released their debut single "Radio Free Europe" b/w "Sitting Still" on the Hib-Tone label. With an energy that matched the excitement of punk rock and indecipherable lyrics, the single marks a brave new world for alternative rock, opening one side of the gate as Mission of Burma holds the other. Man, I wish I heard this single in the Summer of '81 but I was on my own course, buying one classic album a week as recommended by Dave Marsh's Rolling Stone Record Guide. But never fear : R.E.M's debut album and I would arrive at my college radio station the same week. 




The Ramones : We Want the Airwaves

In July of 1981 The Ramones released "We Want The Airwaves", a new single produced by Graham Gouldman of 10cc fame. The Pleasant Dreams single sounds more like hard rock than punk rock to these ears. Music journalist "Chuck Eddy" described the song as " a sort of Black Sabbath punk rock". The song failed to chart.

Other great songs complaining about the airwaves : "American Beat 84" by The Fleshtones and " I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts" by X.





Squeeze : Tempted

On July 10, 1981 Squeeze released "Tempted" as the second single from East Side Story. It's strange that it took this this long because "Tempted" was the one song FM Rock Radio was playing at the time. The single was not a massive hit by any means, peaking at UK#41 and US#49, but it has become the most famous of the band's songs . It also contains Difford's favorite lyrics, as he tells What's New, " It’s so visual and again floats me back to that time when youth was a cloud I drifted around on from day to day." 





The Go-Betweens : Your Turn, My Turn

In July of 1981 The Go-Betweens release their fourth single, "Your Turn, My Turn", with plans to make it the album opener for their debut. Recorded in Sydney at Trafalgar Studios. In Grant & I, Robert Forster writes "Singles were of supreme importance, like a report card of a band. Groups were conscious that everything they wanted to show the word, including how far they'd progressed since their previous record, had to be compacted into a single's release." 

The video for  the angular ballad is shot in Grant's flat.






Kraftwerk : Computer Love

On July 7, 1981 Kraftwerk released the eventual UK#1 hit "Computer Love", a song that predicts the loneliness of sitting in front of a home computer looking for love. Coldplay fans will recognize the melody which Chris Martin borrowed with permission for "Talk" on the album X&Y.





The Undertones : Julie Ocean

In July of 1981 The Undertones released the dreamy "Julie Ocean", a UK#41 hit. It's a re-recorded version of the Positive Touch song, which adds a tremelo guitar and nearly doubles the length of the tune. A winner!!






Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty : Stop Draggin' My Heart Around

Recorded with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for the Hard Promises album, the US#3 hit instead showed up on Stevie Nicks's debut album Bella Donna. Heartbreaker Mike Campbell explained how that happened to Songfacts:

"Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" was a song that I had written the music and Tom had written the words. The Heartbreakers had recorded a version of it with Jimmy Iovine, and Jimmy being the entrepreneur that he was, he was working with Stevie, and I guess he asked Tom if she could try it, and it just developed from there. We cut the track as a Heartbreakers record and when she decided to do it we used that track and she came in and sang over it. It became a duet. It's basically all the Heartbreakers on that record .






Sunday, July 4, 2021

July 1981 : That's When I Reach For My New ELO Album


Mission of Burma : That's When I Reach For My Revolver

 On July 4, 1981 Mission of Burma released their debut EP Signals, Calls and Marches on the Ace of Hearts label. Best known for “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver” and “ All World Cowboy Romance”, the “Marquee Moon” of post-punk, the EP’s intense, noisy, yet catchy punk rock sound nearly instantly transformed alternative rock and what we played on college rock radio. My favorite EP of the year, the CD version includes the first single “Academy Fight Song/Max Ernst” and other extra tracks.



Gang of Four : To Hell With Poverty

On July 3, 1981, Gang of Four released the single “To Hell With Poverty”, perfectly encapsulating the Reagan/Thatcher attitude towards people of lesser means. The punky funk number became a dance club hit in America where cheap wine comes in refrigerated boxes.





Foreigner : Urgent

As July of 1981 began, a new song topped FM rock station playlists.  Featuring synthesizers programmed and played by an unknown Thomas Dolby and a sax solo by the legendary Junior Walker, “Urgent” was one of the great booty call songs of the decade. The first single from 4, “Urgent” was a US#4 hit. The album is also a huge seller because most listeners aren't as annoyed as I am by Lou Gramm constantly pushing his vocal range to the breaking point (ie "He heard one guitar/juts blew him away" on "Juke Box Hero").





Electric Light Orchestra : Hold On Tight

Electric Light Orchestra : Yours Truly, 2095

Like a lot of fans I walked away from Electric Light Orchestra following the Xanadu soundtrack and I now realize that was a big mistake. For Time, released July 2, 1981, a concept album about time travel, Jeff Lynne traded his orchestra strings for the sounds of synth pop.  Gary Numan and OMD  are often mentioned as influences, but I hear a lot of New Musik. The album spent two weeks at the top of the UK charts. Its reputation has grown over the decades especially among science fiction fans. I'm posting "Hold On Tight" because it was the only American hit and the music video was the most expensive ever made at the time. But check out "Yours Truly, 2095" to hear why fans were originally baffled by the new ELO.









 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Lists Lists Lists from 1981, pt 1



Here's a compilation of some music lists mostly culled from Smash Hits and Record World magazines in the Summer of 1981. The laziest post I have ever made, but it's 118 degrees in Washington State and I just...can't ...do more. 












 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

What's a Doll To Do? David Johansen and Syl Sylvain releases


                                                 David Johansen : She Loves Strangers

When the New York Dolls lost their recording contract the band split up with Johnny Thunder and Jerry Nolan forming The Heartbreaks and Syl Sylvain teaming up with David Johansen for Johansen's solo career. Sylvain helped with the songwriting on a couple of songs here but this is mostly the work of Ex Beach Boy/sideman extraordinaire Blondie Chaplin. Out of the gate, "She Loves Strangers" is the song that connects from Here Comes The Night, released in June of 1981. "Homer" Robert Christgau graded the album a very generous A-, writing "If In Style sounded desperate, this one sounds past caring, and carelessness was always the Dolls' secret. Inspirational Cliché: "You think I'm a whore/But I got a heart of gold."





Sylvain Sylvain : Formidable

Syl Sylvain and the Teardrops is the second solo album from the Dolls guitarist, who passed away in January of 2021. It's a charming pop effort, pretty much lost to history. Hey, I guess that's I do this blog when Trump can't. In any case "Formidable" got some radio airplay in the Summer of '81.




Monday, June 21, 2021

The Specials release the Song of the Year


The Specials : Ghost Town

In June of 1981 The Specials released the Ghost Town EP. The title track would spend three weeks at #1 in the UK and would top the critics end of year polls at the NME, Sounds and Melody Maker. The Village Voice Pazz and Jop Critics poll listed Ghost Town as the best EP of the year as well. 

The song was inspired by a UK tour The Specials did to promote their second album.

In 2002 Dammers told The Guardian, "You travelled from town to town and what was happening was terrible. In Liverpool, all the shops were shuttered up, everything was closing down ... We could actually see it by touring around. You could see that frustration and anger in the audience. In Glasgow, there were these little old ladies on the streets selling all their household goods, their cups and saucers. It was unbelievable. It was clear that something was very, very wrong."

The song is also a reflection on the band, which had been written off by critics and would soon break up. There's surely enough misery here for everyone.








The Kinks : Better Things

If you're looking to the Kinks to get cheered up, you're out of luck. Despite the title, the UK#46/US#90 "Better Things" is a a breakup song Ray Davies wrote about his failing marriage. This Give The People What They Want track was covered by Pearl Jam and Dar Williams.

 

Future Yo La Tengo/ present day rock critic Ira Kaplan named "Better Things" one of his fave songs of the year.

IRA KAPLAN (alphabetical): 
 Cramps: "Goo Goo Muck"/"She Said" (I.R.S.); 
 Cyclones: "You're So Cool"/"RSVP" (Little Ricky); 
 Fleetwood Mac: "Farmer's Daughter" (Warner Bros.); 
 Funky Four Plus One: "That's the Joint" (Sugarhill); 
 Vic Godard and Subway Sect: "Stop That Girl" (Oddball import); 
 Grace Jones: "Pull Up to the Bumper" (Island); 
 Kinks: "Better Things" (Arista); 
 R.E.M.: "Radio Free Europe"/"Sitting Still" (Hib-Tone); 
 Skeletons: "Trans Am"/"Tell Her I'm Gone" (Borrowed); 
 Voggue: "Dance the Night Away" (Atlantic).








The Freshies: I Can't Get Bouncing Babies By The Teardrop Explodes

Chris Sievey returns with another long-titled single that sounds like something the girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore check-out desk might tell a customer. 




Ben Watt : Can't

Finally future Everything But The Girl Ben Watt releases his first single on Cherry Red Records. It's called, in keeping with this post's theme, "Can't". The song and the two B sides are produced by Kevin Coyne.