On November 28, 1980, just in time for the holiday season, Siouxsie and the Banshees released the UK#41 single "Israel" b/w "Red Over White", the band's third single of 1980. Musically, the single is a triumph but like all of Siouxsie's lyrics, "Israel" is open for interpretation and so is the fact that it came in a sleeve with the Star of David. The band would also wear Star of David t-shirts performing the song.
Some serious interpretations of the A-side suggest this is Siouxsie's way of apologizing for wearing a Nazi arm band in her punk days. In the song we meet orphans in the snow. Are they the children of European Jews who survived World War II and joined in the founding of the nation of Israel? And what to make of grim lyrics like "Waiting for a sign / To turn blood into wine /The sweet taste in your mouth /Turned bitter in its glass"?
It's always dangerous trying to interpret the meaning of lyrics. Even for the artist they change over time. So maybe we should sit back and enjoy the way the song builds to include a 30-person Welsh choir at the end.
Kate Bush had just released a holiday single, the UK#29 "December Will Be Magic Again", when she agreed to provide Smash Hits with an eclectic list of her all Time Top 10 albums in late November, 1980.
1.Frank Zappa: Overnite Sensation -"Montana"was the first Zappa track I ever heard and it's stuck as a firm favourite.
2. A.L. Lloyd and Ewan MacColl : Blow Boys Blow - I was brought up with this album.
3. The Eagles: One of These Nights - I played it to death when studying with Lindsay Kemp and it reminds me of him.
4. David Bowie Young Americans - It reminds me of 1976, the drought summer and open windows.
5. The Beatles Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Because it's an album of excellent songs.
6. Eberhard Weber Fluid Rustle - It's like having your brain massaged.
7. Captain Beefheart Blue Jeans and Moonbeams - This is the Beefheart album where he writes love songs like nobody else.
8. Stevie Wonder The Secret Life of Plants - Because it's a modern symphony with a high emotional content.
9. Pink Floyd The Wall - Because it reminds me of last Christmas and open fires and I wish I'd written it.
10. The TV National Iranian Chamber Orchestra Treasures of the Baroque Era - Because it allows my mind to sit down and go "aah". I listen to it when doing paperwork. In fact while writing this list!
On November 28, 1980 The Jam released the UK#2 album Sound Affects. Paul Weller has said it's his favorite ("We kept to our fundamental sound but stretched it a bit") It was certainly the most diverse Jam album at the point, featuring pretty ballads, punchy horn sections, traditional Jam-style rockers and quite a few Beatlesque touches.
The deluxe 30th anniversary edition of the album includes bonus tracks, including covers of The Beatles ("And Your Bird Can Sing", "Rain"), The Kinks ("Waterloo Sunset","Dead End Street" ) and Small Things ("Get Yourself Together").
Sound Affects could very well be The Jam's Revolver. Of course there's the "Taxman" bass riff on "Start!". But there's also some backwards guitar on "Dream Time" and "That's Entertainment", and some McCartneyesque observations on "Boy About Town"(which, like Revolver, begins with a cough) and "Monday". Weller's songwriting and guitar playing, Bruce Foxton's bass playing and Rick Buckler's drumming are all at peak form.
In the NME Paul Du Noyer wrote that "...it's a brave departure and an earnest effort to break new ground. Sound Affects is the Jam today , and thats what we need most of all. The new songs represent a band that's as vital and as capable of anger as ever, but more than ever before The Jam's attacking spirit is being allied to melodic invention., and to lyrics that are increasingly thoughtful. Ignore any suggestions that they're going soft of '67"
In Sound Dave McCullough wrote that Sound Affects is "their best album yet...a truly stirring record. It has a depth that appears impenetrable. My head is still going round with the possibilities.
And there's this from Smash Hits:
At 22, Weller may have been listening to a lot of mod bands from the 60's he was also on a literary kick, when he could find the "tranquility of solitude". He told MOJO "A poem by a bloke called Paul Drew inspired That's Entertainment."
Heres an excerpt:
A dead body on the hour,” one, six nine or ten – that’s entertainment
A rape before the Horlicks, a simulated Orgasm before the Bovril,
NOTHING IS FUNNY ANYMORE.
"I was reading Geoffrey Ashe's Camelot and The Vision of Albion and a lot of Shelley at the time too," adds Weller.
Borrowing a bit from the best, The Jam made their masterpiece.
On November 28, 1980 The Clash released the UK#40 anti-draft single "The Call Up", which preceded their new album Sandinista! I was seventeen when the draft was reinstated in the United States and Ronald Reagan had El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua in his gunsights. Central America would be our next Vietnam. The Clash, from overseas, told us "It's up to you not to heed the call-up".
Thanks to the music video the Clash introduced a new fashion trend: guerrilla chic.
He's Chevy Chase and we're not. And we should be glad because that means we aren't responsible for the worst album of 1980, a collection of very unfunny musical parodies including this rap number called "Rapper's Plight".
The Beach Boys : Keepin' The Summer Alive
Even with some help from Joe Walsh and Randy Bachman, The Beach Boys can't keep the summer alive. It died of dreck.
The Chipmunks: My Sharona
The worst thing about this album featuring a 21-year old novelty act is that it sold well enough that The Chipmunks followed it up with A Chipmunk Christmas, Urban Chipmunk and Chipmunk Rock.
Various Artists : What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?)
Maybe the Death Star had some good qualities after all.
Kiss : Torpedo Girl
This is the album that made every high school kid in America abandon one of the biggest band's of the 70's. That's how bad Unmasked is.
In November of 1980 Blondie released Autoamerican, a nearly universally panned loose concept album that contained two #1 hits, "The Tide Is High" and "Rapture". "The record for me was about America, hence the title," Chris Stein recently told American Songwriter in an article that suggests the album deserves to be reevaluated. "Originally, the concept that we had was to call the record Coca-Cola. Because we thought that was very American. We went to Coca-Cola and we asked them and they said no."
After the album's release the band seemed to go into hiding, rather than touring it.“After we recorded that album, we didn’t work for basically two years," Burke says in the same article. "It was like the height of Blondie’s success. We never toured it. In some ways, it was like our Sgt Pepper’s. I don’t think that any of us though that we were going to be able to play this record live anyway.”
Blondie sounds like a different band on each track, but never finds the power pop energy that attracted me to Parallel Lines and Eat To The Beat.
Tom Carson of Rolling Stone famously panned the album, writing:
Blondie's Autoamerican is a terrible album, but it's bad in such an arcane, high-toned way that listening to it is perversely fascinating.
Sounds' Dave McCullough wrote
"'Rapture is over six minutes long. I only survived four. Can't somebody stop these people?'
From Robert Christgau, who always grades on a curve for New York City bands, a B-:
It's odd at best that the two hits and the two high points are the two songs predicated on black sources--the resourceful reggae cover "The Tide Is High" and the genius rap rip "Rapture" (which stands, let me assure my fellow Flash fans, as the funniest, fondest joke she ever told on herself). Elsewhere power pop turns power cabaret and Sgt. Pepper turns white album, only without Lennon-McCartney, or even McCartney. Debbie sings better all the time, but a better singer than she'll ever be couldn't save "T-Birds," or "Faces." They got what they wanted and now what?
Reevaluated 40 years ago, Autoamerican reveals Blondie was always a pop band, not a power pop band, that felt it had earned the right to expand its sound even at the cost of disappointing most of its (male) fans. It's a brave move. The opener, "Europa", suggests an epic adventure awaits listeners but it's just not that enthralling. The cover of "Follow Me" from Camelot just punctuates the whole effort. When bands make albums just for themselves why should they expects fans to follow them.
On October 24, 1980 U2 released one of their most famous singles, "I Will Follow". Bono has said that the song is about a mother's love for her son. As many fans know, Bono's mother died from a brain aneurysm when he was just 14. That makes the line "A boy tries hard to be a man/
His mother takes him by his hand/
If he stops to think he starts to cry/
Oh why" Her name was Iris . In the bridge Bono gets as close as he can to saying her name : "Your eyes make a circle/
I see you when I go in there/
Your eyes, your eyes, your eyes, your eyes"
As I turn up the volume in the car and see my son tapping his fingers to Larry Mullen, Jr's beat, it's hard to imagine that the single did not chart in England and drew mixed reviews from critics.
Paul Du Noyer of NME liked it, writing that it "...stands out from the drab ranks of dull-but-worthless and just plain-awfuls, distinctive for the strength of its individuality, the way that U2 actually seem to believe in the song. Brittle guitar gibber away over a dense, muffled, driving beat; the number pushes forward with such propulsion it starts to soar ,over and away from heavy rock's leaden limitations."
The critic for Smash Hits was not as big a fan.
Anyone who's seen U2 in concert knows the impact the song has on the crowd. One of the great singles from 1980 no matter how poorly it charted.
James Brown takes on all up and comers with one of his last great singles, "Rapp Payback ( Where Iz Moses?)". I was hoping this might be a diss single, insulting 4 + 1 and The Sugarhill Gang but it's a disco-reworking of 1973's "The Payback". ( Wasn't disco already a thing in 1973?) . Filed under C for Curiosity.
On November 19, 1980 Robert Palmer's "Looking For Clues" was climbing the UK charts on its way to #33. I mention this because it's one of my favorite songs of the year and because it was his first Top 40 hit in the UK. All those memorable singles that preceded it never gained traction with UK record buyers. "Bad Case of Lovin' You", for instance, stalled at UK#66 while hitting #14 in the US "Every Kinda People" had a similar fate.
Robert Palmer is actually taller than the official music video will have you believe.
On November 21, 1980 Steely Dan released Gaucho, after spending two years in the studio working with 42 musicians and a $150,000 drum machine. While The New York Times declared it the best album of 1980, Trouser Press only gave the album a one paragraph review :
"All the things you love about rock- energy, humor, unpretentiousness--are disdained by Steely Dan. They want admiration, not affection. Still, in spite of the dodgy words and thinner melodies than usual, Donald Fagan continues to be a singer of great presence. Too bad he's so smug".
Robert Christgau, citing the Top 10 hit "Hey Nineteen" wrote: "Even the song with Aretha in it lends credence to rumors that the LP was originally entitled Countdown to Lethargy."
Of course the album has its admirers, but songs tend to get stale when they are played over and over again in the studio. The drum tracks on "Gaucho" was assembled from 46 different takes. Drummer Jeff Porcaro described what the sessions were like.
"From noon till six we'd play the tune over and over and over again, nailing each part. We'd go to dinner and come back and start recording. They made everybody play like their life depended on it. But they weren't gonna keep anything anyone else played that night, no matter how tight it was. All they were going for was the drum track."
Keith Jarrett sued Becker and Fagen for copyright infringement over the title track of the album, claiming it plagiarised "Long As You Know You're Living Yours" from his 1974 album Belonging. As a result, Jarrett has since been included as a co-author of the track.
This would be the last studio album from Steely Dan for twenty years.
In November of 1980 Bow Wow Wow released its EP Your Cassette Pet , an eight song 20 minute cassette only release packaged in a bright red flip-top cassette box and selling for only £1.99. Malcolm McLaren is hoping to both upend the music industry by using cassettes and to freak out the establishment by selling 15-year old singer Annabella Lwin as a sex symbol. He told the press the EP is "a celebration of under-age sex" and followed it up by trying to publish Chicken, a Playboy-style magazine featuring juveniles. "Sexy Eiffel Tower".
Days later Annabella Lwin would attend her first concert. It was Bow Wow Wow at the Starlight Roller Disco. The NME's Max Bell was there and though it was sparsely attended, Bell said they were very good and exciting, adding "If they were really smart they'd jettison McLaren now and rely on their own talent to get rid of the nagging feeling that this is only another stunt, a clever joke, a publicity scam for a manufactured group".
Their cover of "Fools Rush In" is sublime. Check out Leigh Gorman's basswork.
In November of 1980 Public Image Ltd released the live album Paris Au Printemps, featuring a cover painted by John Lydon. Released to outsmart bootleggers and to help cover expenses for the expensive Metal Box , it shows off the band's spontaneity and attitude in the concert setting ("I'll walk off this stage if you continue spitting", Lydon says in the kind of on-stage banter we never heard from Elvis) . Three of the seven songs are from Metal Box. The live album, recorded that Spring for those who don't know French, marks the vinyl debut of new PIL drummer Martin Atkins, but by the time of its release bassist Jah Wobble had already left the band. It's sound is barely better than that of a bootlegged album.
"Don't buy this live album" Lydon urged. "It's not very good."
Enough people bought the album to get it to #61 in the UK album charts.
In November of 1980, The Fleshtones, garage-rockers out of NYC, released Up-Front, a five song EP on IRS Records. There's a surf instrumental and a high intensity version of the Stones' "Play With Fire". Owing a bit of their schtick to Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, The Fleshtones, led by Peter Zaremba, had already established themselves as a great party band. And by signing to IRS, they earned a spot in the Urgh! A Music War documentary.
Six years later our paths would cross in New Orleans when I worked on The Cutting Edge. That story, which includes cameos by Alex Chilton and Mitch Easter, can be found here.
On November 17, 1980 John Lennon and Yoko Ono released Double Fantasy. It was Lennon's first album in five years where he played stay at-home dad with Sean and spent time separated from Ono. Had Lennon not been murdered weeks later, its legacy as a "heart play" might have been very different: an honest look at a relationship between two strong personalities, one living in fantasy ; the other more of a realist.
"Well, I know I hurt you then," sings Lennon on "I'm Losing You". "But hell, that was way back when/ Well, do you still have to carry that cross?"
"I'm moving on, moving on you're getting phony," responds Ono.
40 years later, it's Yoko's music that thrills me more. There's too much polish, too much studio craftsmanship, in the Lennon songs.
The immediate reviews of the album were not necessarily kind.
Charles Shaar, writing for NME, memorably said Double Fantasy "sounds like a great life, but it makes for a lousy record. ... I wish Lennon had kept his big happy trap shut until he had something to say that was even vaguely relevant to those of us not married to Yoko."
David Hepworth of Smash Hits was also brutal.
More negative reviews were withheld following the murder, including those for Rolling Stone and The New York Times.
My dad was one of the millions who bought Double Fantasy after the murder. He was writing a novel about the dissolution of a marriage at the time and I think he found wisdom in the lyrics, especially Yoko's. Some of her biting lines sound like something his next wife was already saying. (The food is cold/ Your eyes are cold/ The window's cold /The bed is cold). He honestly wanted to make a go of this upcoming third marriage but it wouldn't last.
Double Fantasy is more than a memento. But, like Rumours and Shoot Out The Lights, an honest dialogue with universal appeal. As Sean Lennon said "“I feel like Double Fantasy would have been the beginning of a whole new style of records for him."
On November 17, 1980 The Fall released their third album , Grotesque (After the Gramme). Mark E. Smith yelps and drawls in his own peculiar tone-deaf style over ragged, lo-fi, two chord riffs that Smith described as "Country and Northern."
Some of the songs, like "C'n'C's Mithering" and "The N.W.R.A.", ramble on for seven + moments while Smith takes on subjects like the music business, amphetamines, middle class liberals and on the final track (The North Will Rise Again), the rise of Northern England.
Smith wrote about the Fall's album in his memoir Renegade:
Grotesque is a very English album. It’s written from the inside, from experience; the real thing. Pub men can tell you a lot about the English way. But it’s tricky, because it wasn’t a defence either. It wasn’t some sort of kitchen-sink apology; or even one of those crap salt-of-the-earth things, where the working class are delighted with their lot, trudging around potless and pissed.
I don’t really write from a solid idea. It’s never that certain at the start. You get to what you’re saying through the writing, the process; and then you move on.
But the place for Grotesque certainly wasn’t indie music.
Even though it wasn’t respected at the time, it won us a groundswell of support. That was the great thing about it. People of a certain age, say twenty-five and upwards, said that it was their record, they related to it – not people in groups who heard it as nothing more than a naff LP recorded by a bunch of pony musicians, and certainly not the critics. But the most telling aspect of that period was the fact that I realized there’s a lot of ambitious people in this country without the talent. It’s a disease.
On November 15, 1980 Blondie topped the UK charts for the third time that year with their cover of The Paragons' virtually unknown 1967 single "The Tide Is High". It would also be the third Blondie single ( following 1979's "Heart of Glass" and 1980's "Call Me" ) to also top the US charts.
Brilliantly produced by Mike Chapman and sung by Deborah Harry, the song does have its fans. But there were already some people wondering why America's most successful power pop band was playing reggae and what did this mean for the forthcoming album Autoamerican.
Here's the original version.
The flip side, "Suzy and Jeffrey", was written about a real life incident where a couple who were coming to the studio to deliver something wound up crashing their car into the building. I can imagine fans who pogo'd to the power pop sounds of Blondie taking some solace from this one.
In November of 1980 Bob Marley released "Redemption Song", perhaps the most profound song in the entire Marley catalogue. It's inspired by a speech Black nationalist Marcus Garvey made entitled "The Work That Has Been Done", directly quoting some of the speech "We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind."
Neville Garrick, who created the artwork on many Bob Marley and the Wailers albums, including 1980's Uprising, told Bob Marley: The Untold Story biographer Chris Salewicz
"One of the most celebrated things Marcus Garvey ever said was 'Uplift ye mighty race: you can accomplish what you will. To me, 'Redemption Song' is an update of that: it really lives with you ; you have to make the move; you have to free your mind first, before you can attain anything.
The single emerged as rumors of Marley's health made headlines. There was speculation that Marley had cancer but Marley's people said it was just exhaustion. Marley himself recorded a personal message sent out by Island Records to radio stations. In the message he said
"You think anything can raas kill me? I understand that writers and people in the press are very interested and concerned about my health. I want to say thank you for your interest and I'll be alright and I'll be back on the road again in 1981 -really , performing for the fans we love. Beautiful, y'know it's Bob talking to ya, have no doubt. Seen? Good".
The November 13, 1980 issue of Smash Hits featured an All Time Top Ten list from Pete Wylie of Wah! Heat. The band's new single, the cold war anthem "Seven Minutes To Midnight", had just entered the independent charts at #3. Alan Lewis of Sounds described the single as " a force nine gale of jangly, trebly guitar and anguished vocal as Pete Wylie and company rip through a performance which is so intense as to be physically exhausting (and I'm talking about the listener!) A great record! Talk about totally wired.."
Pete's list has some huge surprises in it for those who may have never followed Frank Sinatra's career down the alleyways of punk rock.
In November of 1980 Poly Styrene, one of the most outrageous voices of punk as the lead singer of X Ray Spex ("Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard
But I say...
Oh Bondage! Up yours!") released her debut solo album Translucence. It's a warm, airy album of easy listening tunes with a mellow tropical vibe. But the sunny sounds of the album hid the anxiety of the singer. ("dreamt that you were skating over ice/very cold and slippery but nice/woke up screaming in a nightmare/didn't you see the thin ice sign - beware")
The fanciful sound was just what the UK needed heading into the winter months and ,in its own way, it's a precursor to Tom Tom Club and Haircut 100. That said, not everyone was a fan of this surprising change of pace.
As CMJ put it
"It is quite likable and very palatable, but that's just what is more disturbing about it. It's as if Styrene awoke one morning thinking she had turned into Joni Mitchell. According to the artist, this is he real self. That's a damned shame."
Robert Christgau liked it quite a bit more, grading the album an A- and writing:
If the retarded tempos and professional musicians mean this isn't rock and roll, then what the fuck do you call the Shirelles? Speed and crudity aside, the pleasures here recall Germfree Adolescents--nursery-rhyme melodicism and tongue-in-cheek versifying superimposed on an image of provocative, charming plasticity. And if you believe that means she's "plastic," just what exactly is your beef? Are you a hippie or something?
On November 10, 1980 Visage released the UK#8 single "Fade To Grey", one the 80's ultimate synth pop hits. The band's debut album came out the same day. How could anyone watching the Godley and Creme directed video not believe they were witnessing the future, when men wore makeup and beautiful French women crouched suggestively? Everything that was great about 80's pop is right here, just a matter of month into the new decade.
Who is Visage? It's a who's who of UK pop. There's vocalist Steve Strange who may have first attracted attention as an extra in David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes" video. There's Ultravox's Midge Ure on guitar and syths and violinist Billy Curie . From Magazine, there's guitarist John McGeoch and from Rich Kids there's drummer Rusty Egan.
Midge Ure would say in 1983 there was no way the band would get back together to record a second album.
The trouble with Visage was that there were too many chiefs, six characters all wanting an equal say without putting in an equal amount of work. I was doing most of the writing and producing, and we all knew Steve [Strange] was the frontman, but when it became successful, jealousy and the nasty side of the business crept in. That was never the way it was intended.
But for one album and its exceptional single Visage captured the essence of the decade. A crossroads: one way leading to the synth pop of Human League and Heaven 17; the other way leading to the New Romantic music of Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran.
On November 8, 1980 Motörhead released the uk #4 album Ace of Spades. Recorded by the classic Motörhead lineup : bassist/vocalist Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister, “Fast” Eddie Clarke (guitar) and Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor on drums, Ace of Spades is as heavy and as sleazy a rock album as you’ll ever own. The title track, a UK#15 hit, may be the band’s finest moment. (“They say that I was born to lose/‘Cos gambling’s for fools/But that’s the way I like it baby/I don’t want to live forever “.
While Lemmy insisted his band played rock not heavy metal, Ace Of Spades had all the earmarks of the speed metal sound that would come to the forefront during the 1980’s: jackhammer drums, quicksilver guitars riffs, lead bass and throaty roaring vocals .
In his five star review for Sounds Garry Bushell wrote “Motörhead are heavy metal in the only meaningful sense of the term – everyone else is just pretending.”
In the first week of November 1980 The Sound released Jeopardy, their critically-acclaimed debut album on the Korova label. Perhaps because of the band's generic "new wave" name, I missed out on all things Sound. I rank Jeopardy as my best musical discovery from 1980. This is as energetic as post-punk gets, but it came at an awful price for songwriter Adrian Borland, who put his music ahead of his own mental health. On "I Can't Help Myself" he sings "Left alone I'm with the one I fear".
The Sound. Adrian Borland is third from left.
I'll let the critics of 1980 have their say. Dave McCullough of Sounds gave the album a five star review, writing :
There's a richness and depth here that places Jeopardy alongside Boy (U2) as early eighties tonics for ailing mainstream rock, that gives the almost bankrupt era the spirit and sheer modernity of the best moderns. Its form is a practically incredible, but consistently effective synthesis of Teardrop-meet-Bunnymen ( and survives the strain). The Sound are on to a winner...an inconspicuous but real missing-link between the Modernist Jam and the vibrantly Post Mod Joy Division.
Steve Sutherland of Melody Maker also gave the album the magazine's highest possible rating. He wrote:
"Jeopardy is one of those records that makes me want to throw all the windows open, crank it up to full volume and blast it out to the world. It clears my head of boredom, strips away the gloom and single-handedly restores my belief in the power of pop to make people stop, think and question. [...] Jeopardy has got more spirit, more soul and more downright honesty about it than any other record I've heard this year".
The album did not sell in big numbers. Adrian Borland threw himself in front of a train in 1999, dying before the reputation of Jeopardy began building to the point where it is now ranked among the best 20 albums of 1980 by RateYourMusic, ahead of those by The Cure, Bunnymen, and Teardrop Explodes.
On November 3, 1980 The Damned released The Black Album. Goth elements enter the band's punk sound. Originally, fans got two discs. The first is the studio album featuring the UK#51 single "The History of the World (Part1) ", "Wait For the Blackout" and "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde". The second disc featured a strange 17 minute piece called "Curtain Call" on one side with live versions of fan favorites on the other.
The second disc upset the band. Rat Scabies told the press "Just as we are trying to hammer home a value for money policy, the radio company come up a scalper!If any of our fans have been caught with this turkey, bring it to a gig and we'll autograph it as a gesture of good faith"