Tuesday, March 31, 2020

March 1980: The Albums We Missed

Billy Joel: You May Be Right

Wanting to rock out in concerts and inspired by punk and new wave music, Billy Joel writes harder edged songs. "This was probably the most fun album that I ever made," Joel says. "It happened fairly quickly. The band loved playing. Audiences loved the material and we were on a roll." The cover features Joel's own house. Glass Houses would top the album charts for four weeks, selling more than 7 million copies.

Genesis : Misunderstanding

The band's breakthrough album, Duke tones down some of the band's far out prog rock tendencies while providing radio programmers with singles like UK#8 "Turn It On Again",UK#48 "Duchess" and US#14 "Misunderstanding", which must have been inspired by the failure of Collins' marriage.  Perhaps the best of the trio era, though not comparable to the Gabriel led albums.

Warren Zevon : Gorilla You're A Desperado

Bad Luck in Dancing School, Zevon's follow-up to Excitable Boy lands flat. His life is pretty much out of control at this point,  but he'd make up for it before the year is out with a powerful live album.

10cc : Welcome to the World

The follow-up to Bloody Tourists and the last 10cc album I ever bought, Look Hear sounds nothing like the band that excited me so much in the mid-70's.  Eric Stewart may have still been recovering from the auto accident that damaged his eyes. Graham Gouldman couldn't carry the rest of the band. Rick Fenn even contributes a pair of songs. Mostly banal, sometimes awful.

Stiff Little Fingers : Nobody's Heroes

Is Nobody's Heroes the last straight punk album? Though they moved out of Belfast, the Irish rockers are still one of the most passionate bands playing. "At the Edge" is a UK#15 hit. The title track would be another single backed with "Tin Soldiers".

The Pop Group: We Are All Prostitutes

The cover of The Pop Group's How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder looks like a newspaper and it is indeed a document of its times, profiling Thatcher's England and the crisis in Northern Ireland. Upon the re-release of this risky, funky, jolting album Mark Stewart told Fact.com “Our stance is shared across the globe,” says Mark Stewart. “I just feel that millions are asking the same question. What gives the one per cent the right to disrupt, exploit and take vast amounts of cash from the chaos and smokescreens they create? Now in this time of proxy wars and false flag attacks, now more than ever I say, for how much longer do we tolerate mass murder?”

Monday, March 30, 2020

Talk of the Town and other great singles from March of 1980

The Pretenders : Talk Of The Town


On March 30, The Pretenders returned to the UK charts  at #26 with "Talk Of The Town" b/w "Cuban Slide". The song peaked at UK#8 and was immediately embraced by critics like David Hepworth who wrote:

"Talk of the Town" represents the kind of risk more bands should take more often; an undisciplined, almost jazzy sort of ballad thingy with a vocal that hovers above brilliant guitar textures. It takes three plays to pull you towards it and kisses you full on the mouth on the fourth.

The name of the song is inspired by a London nite club. The lyrics are inspired by a kid who would hang outside the clubs when The Pretenders were touring that Hynde says she never talked to"

It's not my place to know what you feel 
I'd like to know but why should I? 
Who where you then? Who are you know? 
Common laborer by night, By day highbrow 


The UK #39 hit "Rough Boys" is the first single from Pete Townshend's Empty Glass. Known for its homoerotic lyrics, the song's meaning has been altered by Townshend several times. 

A #72 ht for Fischer Z who would go on to sell two million albums across Europe.

Popular pub rockers Slaughter and the Dogs wear their Springsteen influences on their sleeves.

The all-female Bodysnatchers hit UK#22 with their cover of Dandy Livingstone's "Let's Do Rock Steady". They'd spend the summer touring with their two-tone label mates The Specials and the Go-Gos.

NME described Graduate's single single as an "energetic little beast of comedic intent, with a nice line in machine-gun burst guitar jabs. Difficult to tell which Elvis they mean, the old one should be fairly two-tone by now anyway." In a few years the band will break up and members Curt and Roland will reform as Tear For Fears,

This Rough Trade single is a real grower by art rockers Swell Maps.

It's kind of a toss-up. Which American rockabilly trio from New York State is going to hit it big? Buzz and the Flyers or Stray Cats? Our money is on Buzz.

The new XTC single has a reggae beat and some fine bass playing by Colin Moulding, but the re-worked B side from Drums and Wires,  "Ten Feet Tall", is ten times better.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Undertones return to the charts with "My Perfect Cousin"

The Undertones : My Perfect Cousin

On March 30, 1980 The Undertones posted a new single in the UK charts. "My Perfect Cousin" made its debut at #51. It would reach #9 in both the UK and Irish charts and rank #30 in the 1980 NME Singles of the Year poll.

Directed by Julien Temple ( who would go to work with David Bowie and the Rolling Stones), the classic music video features the Undertones roaming around Derry and playing tabletop football at the O'Neill house.

The song is apparently about a real life cousin if a band member who is not really named Kevin, and has nothing to with The Who's Tommy character "Cousin Kevin". It's another band that gets a mention:

His mother bought him a synthesizer 
Got the Human League into advise her 
Now he's making lots of noise 
Playing along with the art school boys

Bassist Michael Bradly tells Penny Black Music:

There is a theory that ‘My Perfect Cousin’ was a hit because there was a strike at ‘Top of the Pops ‘that spring, so people didn’t realise how ugly we were and we didn’t put people off! No, we had a great year. The record we were really proud of. I remember when the LP chart positions came out we were at the O’Neill’s house in Derry.

Feargal came in after being on the phone and he said “Number 6!” and it was just a huge deal for us. We were just in Derry and we weren’t even doing anything. These days a band would be doing every hamster promotional wheel out there. We were in Derry just going “Ah, the record’s out today, great!”

Writing for Smash Hits David Hepworth sez :

The lyrics are lovely and it's delivered with the kind of spirit that you naturally associate with the Undertones, but I can't help wishing they'd let us hear some of the slower, more satisfying material that they've got stashed away.

The new album, Hypnotised, is just three weeks away.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Madness takes the night boat to the UK Top 10

Madness : Night Boat to Cairo

On March 30, 1980 Madness' Work Rest and Play EP entered the UK charts at #14, buoyed by the radio play of a remixed version of  "Night Boat to Cairo". It would peak at UK#6. The song was originally intended to be a instrumental but Suggs had come up with some lines to sing in the middle.

There is a story about the video:

In the Madness Information Service (MIS) fanzine, Chris Foreman (Chrissie Boy) said: "During the filming we had an idea that was used a lot... basically slowing down the music and film so that when you run it at normal speed we all tended to move in slow motion which nullified the effect. At the end Bedders hams it up as the thirsty soldier and gets a playful prod in the behind. 'Who was it?' He said half serious. No-one owned up.

Friday, March 27, 2020

The Ruts score their final hit before tragedy strikes

The Ruts : Staring At The Rude Boys

On March 27, 1980 The Ruts released their UK#22 hit "Staring At The Rude Boys", a song about the crowded night club scene that invokes a special kind of nostalgia in this day of social distancing: 

The skins in the corner are staring at the bar 
The rude boys are dancing to some heavy heavy ska 
It's getting so hot people are dripping with sweat 
The punks in the corner are speeding like a jet

The single came in a sleeve that doubled as a crossword puzzle. The first to complete the puzzle and return it to Virgin Records won a night on the town with the band (they pay). Second prize is The Ruts stay at your home (you pay).

The song is another great reminder that The Ruts were one of England's best bands.

Unbeknownst to anyone at this point, The Ruts had played their last concert with front man Malcolm Owen at Plymouth Polytechnic on 26 February. His heroin addiction would soon force Owen to sell all of his possessions, separate from his wife and move in with his parents. In July he would be found dead of an overdose in the bath at his parents' home. 

The single's B-side, originally titled "Love in Vein", was another Owen song about heroin. The reggae tune features the line "Don't want you in my arms no more" . A book about The Ruts shares the title.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Daryl Hall's Robert Fripp collaboration finally sees the light of day

Daryl Hall : Babs And Bads

In March of 1980 RCA Records finally released Sacred Songs, the album Daryl Hall (of Hall and Oates fame) recorded with King Crimson's Robert Fripp three years earlier. The album is considered part of a loose trilogy of Fripp productions, along with Fripp's 1979 album Exposure ( on which Hall sang) and Peter Gabriel's second album, Scratch. Why did it sit in the RCA vaults for so long? You can blame the record company which didn't believe the album --full of Frippertronics and other art rock explorations--was commercial enough.

Though after one listen to "Babs and Bads"  I'm convinced a cut down version would have received plenty of airplay.

Frustrated by record label politics, both Hall and Fripp made their displeasure known in interviews.

"Daryl is a remarkable singer," Fripp told  Best magazine's Jean-Gilles Blum in 1979. "It is too bad RCA is limiting the scope of his career. As for Hall and Oates, they are a very profitable group. They limit their format and possibilities on purpose as part of a commercial compromise they accept."

That's one of those statements that begins with a complement and ends with a knife stab. By '79 Fripp was also angry with Hall.

"When you get into a relationship or a collaboration with a musician, it's almost like a romantic relationship – and that's the best way I could put it. You get into somebody's heart. And Robert, I think, had visions that he was going to steal me away from John (Oates)," Hall told Pitchfork in 2007. "And I think that he thought that we were going to work together. That was never my intention, and because of all the difficulties we had, that was his response to all that. I understand where he's coming from. That was his way of spraying out his frustration."

Hall would say the Sacred Songs experience is why he fell out of love with the music business. But Hall and Oates were just getting ready to own the first half of the 1980's. With Voices, released that Summer, they would score four hits including the US#1 "Kiss On My List" and  the US#5 "You Make My Dreams". That album would spend 100 weeks in the Billboard 200, briefly lifting Sacred Songs up to #58.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Adam Ant's Revenge is a UK Indie #1 smash

Adam and the Ants : CarTrouble

Two months after manager Malcolm McLaren convinced guitarist Matthew Ashman, bassist Leigh Gorman  and drummer Dave Barbe to leave Adam and the Antz and form Bow Wow Wow , Adam Ant took his Pirate-Meets-Apache look and released the single "CarTrouble" ( a re-recording of a Dirk Has White Sox track)  b/w "Kick" on the Do It Records label. 

The single features new musicians guitarist Marco Pirroni (an ex-member of Siouxsie and the Banshees), bassist Kevin Mooney, and future Culture Club drummer Jon Moss. The result was not only a #1 single on the UK Independent Singles Chart but a preview of The Ants' Kings of the Wild Frontier sound. 

Eventually CBS Records would sign the band based on the success of the single and their "Ants Invasion" UK tour. Next stop: super stardom.

The song doesn't lack for clever lines:

You might have seen them very busy at the weekend / 
Licking and polishing the beep-beeps into shape / 
Then it’s proudly up the M1, M2, M3 / 
And keep your feet of the upholstery, Ronny 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

This U2 band might have a chance

U2 : Out of Control

In March of 1980 NME featured U2 in an article with the headline "U2 Can Make It In The Rock Business".  Paul Morley calls the band "naively passionate', writing :

 "Now that The Boomtown Rats have disclaimed the tiny island and been disclaimed, Bono's U2 are indisputably Ireland's finest; recent winners of  a host of Hot Press awards; recent chart toppers with "Out of Control"...

"Bono and the group are warily preparing to leap from Irish success--a literally poor type of success; sales of 20,000 merits a Gold disc in Ireland and entertainers like the Pope win those--into British obscurity, and wondering how to grab attention, scythe through the settling collection of old values, scatter the old tribal narrow-mindedness

"Even over here," tuts Bono, "we get people coming up to us and saying 'Well, I like you ...but I don't really like you because I'm a mod and you're not!"

Even in Ireland.

 "I'm not fully in control of my own performances," Bono confesses. "I'm not sure which way it's going to go when I hit the stage. It could go any way. There have been times when I have been really frightened and could hardly sing. I hardly looked up. Like when I can't get anything out of the hall, the audience, I turn into myself, close my eyes and try to find something there."

Monday, March 23, 2020

What would we do without Lene Lovich?

Lene Lovich : What Will I Do Without You

On March 23, 1980 Lene Lovich returned to the UK charts at #63  with her Stiff Record single "What Will I Do Without You",  which would peak at UK#58. The actual release consisted on two 45's made up of two studio tracks from 1979's Flex, the single and "Joan", and four live tracks, "Monkey Talk", "The Night", "Too Tender (To Touch)" and "You Can't Kill Me". The whole lot sells for 96p. 

"A marvelous record, it deserves to be huge!" sez Smash Hits.

Other new singles on the UK charts include "No One Driving" by John Foxx at #32

And "Missing Words" by The Selecter, which debuts at UK#51.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Clash's "Hidden Gem" hits American Top 40 Radio

The Clash : Train in Vain (Stand By Me)

On March 22, 1980 The Clash visited the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time with the ridiculously catchy "Train in Vain (Stand By Me)" b/w "London Calling", which debuted #84. The song would peak at US#23.

Written in the immediate aftermath of a break up with Viv Albertine of The Slits, Mick Jones sings lyrics we've all heard ourselves say at one point: 

You said you love me and that's a fact 
And then you left me, said you felt trapped  

Albertine tells EccentricSleeveNotes.com

"Train in Vain, what a beautiful song. It still makes me laugh when I hear it because mmm… I wasn't that bad...I'm really proud to have inspired that but often he won't admit to it. He used to get the train to my place in Shepherds Bush and I would not let him in. He was bleating on the doorstep. That was cruel. It's such an odd title; there's nothing in it about a train."

The song appears on the album London Calling, but you won't find the title on the original releases. Mick Jones explained the reason why to MTV:

"The real story on "Train in Vain" is that originally we needed a song to give to the NME for a flexi disk that NME was going to do. And then it was decided that it didn't work out or decided the flexi disk didn't work out so we had this spare track we had done as a giveaway. So we put it on London Calling but there wasn't time because the sleeves were already done."

That makes "Train in Vain" a hidden gem, and the song that finally opened the American market to "the only band that ever mattered".

Friday, March 20, 2020

1980's Best Self Isolation Songs

The Police : Don't Stand So Close To Me

In 1980 quite a few rock bands recorded songs about the threat of nuclear warfare. I've already covered that. 40 years later, we now live in a new age that will define this generation. To lower the infection rate of the Covid-19 virus, we must put up barriers between the infected and would-be patients. Here are some songs to help us keep this in mind.

1. The Police : Don't Stand So Close To Me

Inspirational Lyric:

He starts to shake he starts to cough
Just like the old man in
That famous book by Nabakov
Don't stand so close to me

2. Joy Division : Isolation

Inspirational Lyric:

In fear every day, every evening
... Isolation, isolation, isolation.

3. English Beat: Mirror in the Bathroom

Inspirational Lyric:

Mirror in the bathroom 
Please talk free 
The door is locked 
Just you and me

4. Generation X : Dancing With Myself

Inspirational lyric:

So let's sink another drink
Cause it'll give me time to think
If I had the chance I'd ask the world to dance
And I'll be dancin' with myself

5. 10cc : I Hate To Eat Alone

Inspirational lyric:

'N' frozen dinners don't do much for me
When you've got T.V. on the table
'N' T.V. on T.V.
All you do is chew your fingers
Down to the bone
I hate to eat alone

6. The B-52's: Private Idaho

Inspirational lyric:

You're living in your own Private Idaho 
Living in your own Private Idaho 
Underground like a wild potato 
Don't go on the patio

7. Bruce Springsteen : You Can Look But You Better Not Touch

Inspirational lyric:

You can look but you better not touch boy
Mess around and you'll end up in dutch boy
You can look but you better not, no you better not, no you better not touch

8. Utopia : Alone

Inspirational lyric:

Alone, alone
Nobody knows how lonely it can be
And I'm so tired of being alone

9. The Cramps: Fever

Inspirational lyric:

When you put your arms around me
I get a feeling that's hard to bear
You give me fever, when you kiss me
Fever when you hold me tight
Fever in the morning
Fever all through the night

10. The Specials Do Nothing

Inspirational lyric:

I'm just living in a life without meaning
I walk and walk, do nothing
I'm just living in a life without feeling
I talk and talk, say nothing

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Tuxedomoon debut offers mood music for the paranoid

Tuxedomoon : 59 to 1 

In March of 1980 San Francisco Tuxedomoon released Half-Mute, their debut album on Ralph's Records. An album that reminds me of Eno's Another Green World with its mix of atmospheric instrumentals and odd lyrics, it would spend 5 weeks in the UK Indie charts, peaking at #10. 

The band was formed by art commune member Steven Brown and multi-instrumentalist Blaine L. Reininger, whom he met in an electronic music class at San Francisco's City College. They developed a style based on the instruments they hand on hand, which is why --in this age of synths and guitars--you'll hear Reininger on violin and Brown playing saxophone. 

"The only rule was the tacit understanding that anything that sounded like anyone else was taboo," Brown told author Simon Reynolds in his book Rip It Up And Start Again. "When Blaine and I first started performing in public --a violin, a sax, a synth and a tape recorded--the crowd threw beer bottles and screamed 'Where's the drummer?!'"

The band expanded its personnel and stage presence, which involved props and , yes, tuxedos. 40 years later their songs about paranoia and heartache seem more relevant than ever.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Joy Division's ultra-rare single

Joy Division: Atmosphere

On March 18, 1980 Joy Division released their rare "Licht und Blindheit" single in France on the Sordide Sentimental label, which combined art, music and text in a lavish fold-out folder that featured text by label founder Jean-Pierre Turmel, with the Joy Division 45 inside.  Only 1,578 copies were made. They were sold in shops for 2.50 pounds. On Ebay, the record is posted at 1,1750 pounds

On Side A there is the brooding "Atmosphere", one of the band's greatest songs. This is the song DJ John Peel would play after announcing the death of singer Ian Curtis. With its lines "Walk in silence/ Don't walk away, in silence", the song seems to be about Curtis's attempts to reconcile with his unwilling wife after his affair. the song would top the UK Indie charts in October of 1980.

In 1988 the band's photographer and the future director of the bio-pic Control, Anton Corbjin, made a video for the song.

"Dead Souls" reveals Curtis's inner turmoil. His self doubts, his mood swings, his "dual of personalities" that keep calling him. Another great song.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Robert Fripp and David Byrne team up on a "heavy" album track

Robert Fripp ( with David Byrne) : Under Heavy Manners

In March of 1980 Robert Fripp's sabbatical from King Crimson bore new fruit with the album God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners. The follow-up to Exposure consists of atmospheric Frippertronic instrumentals on Side A. Side B has what Fripp called "Discotronics", more tape loops but this time with a beat. With "Under Heavy Manners", we even get lyrics sung by David Byrne (billed as Absalm el Habib), as future touring head Busta Jones plays bass:


Monday, March 16, 2020

John Foxx: My All Time Top 10

John Foxx: No One Driving

In March of 1980 Ultravox frontman turned solo artist John Foxx gave Smash Hits an all time Top Ten list as "No One Driving", the second single from his debut album Metamatic, began climbing the UK charts to #32.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The 1980 single that sounds like a "funny-scary" acid trip

Chrome : New Age

In March of 1980 The San Francisco based acid punk band Chrome released "New Age" on Beggars Banquet. The band was started by Damon Edge and Helios Creed who told writer Simon Reynolds "one of the first things people noticed was Chrome sounds like a paranoid acid trip...funny-scary, we called it.The bad trip would turn into a good trip because you'd already been to the most negative part of the universe."

"New Age" would be the opening track of Chrome's Red Exposure, a landmark album in the Industrial Punk scene.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Jam hits #1 with one of the greatest double A sides in history

The Jam : Going Underground


On March 14, 1980 The Jam released "Going Underground" b/w "Dreams of Children", the first of three singles to make its UK chart debut at #1. The band, who had been playing together since they were 15,  got the news in the midst of their American tour.

"It was a shock when we got to #1, otherwise we wouldn't have been in the States," says drummer Rick Buckler."We knew 'Going Underground' would do well. We had a good drink that night. However, everyone wanted to be back in Britain. We made out we had all come down with a virus. We canceled the rest of the tour of the States. We flew back to Britain on Concorde, to record 'Going Underground' on Top of The Pops for the following week." 

Weller had returned to the music of The Kinks, The Who and The Beatles for inspiration and though Weller usually abstained from politics, the video for "Going Underground" references war and patriotism, Thatcher and other Tory politicians and exploding atom bombs. 

"Maybe I'm only an armchair radical", Paul Weller told Smash Hits the same month. "But every night I watch the news and I get so frustrated. I write it all down then in the morning throw it away because it's rubbish, just paranoid rantings and ravings."

The song would top the UK charts for three weeks and finish the year with the NME readers pick for Best Single while its own critics ranked the song at #2 behind Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart".

Maybe even better is "Dreams of Children" with its backwards guitar lines and Beatlesque harmonies.

Friday, March 13, 2020

How The Clash made a movie star out of their roadie

The Clash : I Fought the Law

On March 13, 1980 The Clash's movie Rude Boy  made its world premiere at Prince Charles Cinema in London's Leicester Square. Filmed between 1977 and 1979, the movie stars Ray Gange playing an ex-Clash roadie who used to work in a porn shop. His accent is indecipherable but we understand the word "fuck' is said 96 times.

The movie is awful but the concert footage is brilliant.

Here's a scene you didn't come to this post to see, featuring Joe Strummer and Gange talking socialist politics over beer that ends with Gange asking to be the band's roadie.

Here's an extremely short clip of the Clash getting ready to rehearse. 

Finally, here's Gange explaining that the film mirrors his own experiences as a roadie for The Clash. Gange would not make a career out of acting. That's something that will not surprise anyone who sees the movie.  He did, however, become romantically involved with Wayne's World director Penelope Spheeris .