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:


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.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Juju is a new peak for Siouxsie And The Banshees

Siouxsie And The Banshees : Arabian Nights

On June 19, 1981 Siouxsie and The Banshees released Juju, one of the albums recorded with Magazine's John McGeoch on guitar. His swirling guitar sound joins Budgie's drumming and Steve Severin's bass playing to create a dark and heavy atmosphere for Siouxsie's commanding vocals. And by commanding, I mean that she commands listeners on Spellbound "When your elders forget to say their prayers, take them by the legs and thrown them down the stairs".

Met with critical acclaim, Juju peaked at UK#7 and was released in North America on PVC in October where the band toured for six weeks, selling out shows in Los Angeles. Severein told Cashbox "We're not interested in cracking America. We like success and our audience seems to be growing all the time, but we'd rather enjoy ourselves than 'slog away' like so many other bands. The desperation to make it really big brings out the worst in people. "

 1. Siouxsie & the Banshees - Ju Ju 
 2. Joy Division - Still 
 3. Echo & the Bunnymen - Heaven up here 
 4. P.I.L. - The flowers of romance 
 5. New Order - Movement 
 6. Brian Eno & David Byrne - My life in the bush of ghosts 
 7. Motorhead - No sleep till' Hammersmith 
 8. Clock Dva - Thirst 
 9. Psychedelic Furs - Talk talk talk 
 10. Cure - Faith 
 11. Iron Maiden - Killers 
 12. John Foxx - The garden 
 13. Riot - Fire down under 
 14. Bauhaus - Mask 
 15. Lounge Lizards - The Lounge Lizards 
 16. Killing Joke - What' this for 
 17. Tuxedo Moon - Desire 
 18. Exploited - Punk's not dead 
 19. Rip Rig & Panic - God 
 20. Tygers Of Pan Tang - Spellbound


Friday, June 18, 2021

The Sparks Brothers: Your Favorite Band's Favorite Band

Sparks has been called your favorite band's favorite band. 

 “Throughout all the years that I've been making music, if you get on a tour bus with a bunch of musicians, eventually the conversation will go to Sparks,” Beck says in The Sparks Brothers, a documentary directed by Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead). 

 “The reason I wanted to make this documentary is I felt that Ron and Russell and Sparks were like the greatest and most influential artists that didn't have a documentary about them,” Wright says. During the 1970s when weird music could actually top the charts, nobody had more weird hits, at least in the UK, than Sparks.

The documentary tells the story of two Southern California siblings, Ron and Russell Mael, who joined forces to make ambitious pop music. They scored nine UK chart hits in the '70s including the operatic UK#2 hit "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us".

Evening’s Saint Bryan is a huge fan and he wondered if Ron Mael ever came up with a melody that was so convoluted that his brother wondered if he could sing it.

“He does that all the time,” laughs Russell Mael. “From day one they've been convoluted.”

“That's called Sparks songs,” laughs Ron Mael.

“No option but to sing it,” adds Russell Mael.

The band's image also caught on with fans of both sexes. Long-haired and handsome Russell Mael could be mistaken for any 1970’s pin-up. His brother, on the other hand, wore a mustache that reminded people of Adolf Hitler and glowered at the audience.

Bryan asked Ron Mael what it was like seeing teenage girls rush the stage to kiss his brother.

“Oh they kissed him too as you see in the documentary,” interjected Russell Mael. “ There's one that was a super fan who's in love with Ron.”

“I don't have quantity but I have quality,” laughed Ron Mael. “The more intellectual, introspective ones are the ones that come after me so I don't feel deprived at all.”

Sparks has kept reinventing its sound, scoring hits overseas to this day. The Mael brothers even have a second movie coming out this Summer. They wrote the screenplay and music for Annette, a film that will be distributed by Amazon Studios in August.

How long can the Mael brothers, both in their 70’s,  keep this up?

“I've often asked that question,” Ron Mael says. “When we saw the first record that we had ever done in 1971, that was enough. We said we made it. That's all we need. We don't have a plan, so this could go on for quite a bit longer and Edgar has already signed on to do the sequel to this documentary so we're set."

“Sparks: the next 50th,” adds Wright.

The Sparks Brothers can now be seen in local theaters


Thursday, June 17, 2021

Out To Offend : Oingo Boingo's debut and other June 1981 releases

Oingo Boingo : Little Girls

When Oingo Boingo released their debut album Only A Lad on June 19, 1981, the NME's Robin Eggar wrote "this record will make the kind folks up at Virgin Records as sick as parrots. You see Oingo Boingo have made the album they've always wanted XTC to make. Full of fractured rhythms, pop hooks, warped humor and commercial appeal".

The album's most notorious track is "Little Girls", Danny Elfman's character study of the a type he saw  all the time. "Out here in Hollywood, you see so much of that; the older guy's in the car with some young girl who essentially asks no questions," he said. The video , directed by his brother Richard, was banned in Canada.

Some other noteworthy tracks are "Only A Lad", "Capitalism" and their cover of The Kinks' "You Really Got Me".

Killing Joke :  Follow The Leader

On the second Killing Joke album furious tribal drum beating replaced synthesizers  Yes, the songs on What's This For drone on endlessly but that's all for the master effect. Killing Joke played dark and disturbing music, but you definitely could dance to it! Reviews were mixed with Melody Maker's Adam Sweeting providing the dissenting opinion:"a tired and very noisy collection of ripoffs", and deemed the whole effort "unlistenable ... apart from the spaces between the tracks" .

T.S.O.L : Code Blue

In June of 1981 True Sounds of Liberty released their debut album Dance With Me. The band is essentially trying to come up with a fusion of hardcore and "Monster Mash". 

The highlight is "Code Blue", a song about having sex with dead women :

Never on the rag or say leave me alone
They don't scream and they don't moan 
Don't even cry if I shoot in their hair
 Lying on the table she smiles and she stares 

I actually saw TSOL play in New York City. I was so loud I never realized what they were singing about.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Some New Romantics: Double Duran and the Village People

Duran Duran : Girls On Film

On June 15, 1981 Duran Duran released its self-titled debut album, which would peak at UK#3 and US#10 a couple of years later. The A-side is almost entirely made up of hits: the UK#5 "Girls On Film", the UK#12 "Planet Earth", then "Anyone Out There", followed by the UK#37 "Careless Memories"( which sounds an awful lot to me like "A Girl's Mammaries" and, on the reissues, the 1983 UK#1 "Is There Something I Should Know". Duran Duran takes everything they could learn from Roxy Music (including Bryan Ferry's fashion sense) and the dance clubs and melds them together for one of the defining sounds of the decade.

As if pin-up looks weren't enough, the band achieved notoriety for its videos, particularly the Godley and Creme produced "Girls On Film", which featured female models in various stages of undress. Andy Warhol once said he masturbated to Duran Duran videos.

Village People : Food Fight

On the same week in June, The Village People followed up the Razzie Award winning Can't Stop The Music by rebranding. They traded in their costumes and hopped on the New Romantic scene, which was enjoying its heyday with the likes of Adam And The Ants, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran.  It's one of the more bizarre moments in musical history, but people who have taken the time to listen to the Renaissance album say it's not as bad as you might think. Still, the punk rock "Food Fight" may be regrettable.


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Wordy Rappinghood and other Summer singles from 1981

Tom Tom Club : Wordy Rappinghood

In June of 1981 Tom Tom Club, an offshoot of Talking Heads featuring the husband and wife team of drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth, released the single "Wordy Rappinghood" in the UK. Critics weren't overly astounded. Record Mirror wrote "Bassist Tina Weymouth raps a little stiffly on a funky soundtrack that borrows a lot of the lyrical style of her mentor David Byrne, File under (barely) interesting." How very wrong!

The project wasn't necessarily meant to be appreciated sitting down. The couple wanted to make a song that would be a hit in the clubs. Chris laid down the the drums. Tina added bass. And the two would take turns adding simple keyboard lines. To get the big drum sound of "Wordy Rappinghood", Chris drove downtown to Nassau's only music store where he scored a big fat tympani.

Tina and her sisters remembered a Moroccan song from their childhood and sang it together:

A ram sam sam! A ram sam sam!
Kuni kuni kuni kuni ram sam sam!
A ka yay yoopi a ka yay
A roo roo a nbi ki chi!

"Wordy Rappinghood" topped the US disco charts and peaked at UK#7. In a year of Talking Head solo projects, Chris and Tina would have the biggest hit single and album of 1981.

The Go Gos : Our Lips Are Sealed

On June 12, 1981 The Go Go's released their first debut American single, "Our Lips Are Sealed", co-written by Jane Wiedlin and Terry Hall of The Specials. This terrific pop song would peak at US#20 months later thanks in part to a classic music video that showcased the band's personalities. 40 years later it is still one of the great songs of Summer. 

Daryl Hall and John Oates : You Make My Dreams

The irrepressible duo Hall and Oates released "You Make My Dreams", the fourth single from the platinum album Voices. The single works as though it were programmed with every feature a 1981 single would need: a hint of new wave, a touch of soul, and a one shot video. Used to death in every light comedy trying to make its audience feel happy for the characters. 

Tubes : Talk To Ya Later

Gone are the costumes and the wild soft -core stage shows. The Tubes are ready to start making money.
The first single from The Completion Backwards Principle, "Talk To Ya Later" scored a 99% positive rating on WMMR's "Smash Or Trash". It has to be a hit this summer of I'm going to have to get out of radio and manage a McDonald's" said one program director. The single peaked at #7 on the Mainstream Rock chart, but only at US#101. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Three Hardcore EPs from bands that changed the world

Minor Threat : Straight Edge

In June of 1981 Washington DC hardcore band Minor Threat released its debut EP consisting of 8 self-righteous songs played in 9:20. The 44 second "Straight Edge" is about singer Ian MacKaye's abstinence from drugs and inspired the straight edge movement, which emphasized a lifestyle without alcohol or other drugs, or promiscuous sex.

I'm a person just like you 
But I've got better things to do 
Than sit around and fuck my head 
Hang out with the living dead 
Snort white shit up my nose 
Pass out at the shows 
I don't even think about speed 
That's just something I don't need 

Black Flag : Six Pack

Black Flag releases the three-song single "Six Pack" on SST Records, recorded just before Henry Rollins replaces Dez Cadena on vocals. NME says "It'll take a long time for us Europeans to appreciate the L.A. beach punk scene, that fascinating subculture which still seems to produce the kind of fast, psuedo-angry predictability most of England forgot about years ago. Give thanks". A UK tour at the end of the year was instead met violent silence from audiences.

Meat Puppets : In A Car

Finally The Meat Puppets released their debut EP In A Car on World Imitation Records. Featuring a cover drawn by guitarist Curt Kirkwood, the record features five hardcore songs in 5:18. New York Rocker wrote "The Meat Puppets screech, howl, and make the most racket of any trio this side of The Minutemen. Their credo seems to be "When in doubt, miniaturize," and rather than condense in the manner of Reader's Digest, they compact in the manner of one of those machines that turn cars into boxes".


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Squeeze's Glenn Tilbrook : My All Time Top 10

Squeeze : Tempted

In June of 1981, while his band's East Side Story was receiving critical buzz comparing them to the Beatles,  Squeeze 's Glenn Tilbrook provided Smash Hits with a list of his all time Top 10. Yes, there is a Beatles track there, but there are also quite a few surprises.