Sunday, February 28, 2021

"Don't Stop the Music" takes Yarbrough & Peoples to the top of the R&B charts

Yarbrough and Peoples : Don't Stop The Music

On February 28. 1981 Dallas-based Yarbrough and Peoples topped the R&B charts with their dance hit "Don't Stop The Music", one of the catchiest songs of the year thanks to its bouncy synth line. They also made the funkiest music video to ever use hand puppets. The duo would revisit the top of the top of the charts in 1984 with "Don't Waste Your Time". 

REO Speedwagon's Hi Infidelity topped the US Album charts that same week, while Phil Collins's Face Values topped the UK charts. Overseas, "Shaddup Your Face "by Joe Dolce was #1 in the UK, while in the US Eddie Rabbit's "I Love A Rainy Night"  topped the charts. The #1 country song was Dottie West's "Are You Happy Baby?" and the #1 album was Dolly Parton's 9 To 5 And Odd Jobs.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Spandau Ballet releases debut album, a UK#5 hit

Spandau Ballet : The Freeze


On February 27, 1981 Spandau Ballet released their debut album, the UK#5 hit,  Journeys To Glory, featuring the UK#5 hit single "To Cut A Long Story Short," the UK#17 "The Freeze" and the UK#10 "Musclebound". They will spend the rest of their career comparted to Duran Duran, but it's important to note they were out first with a single and then this album, and they were among the first to try to incorporate some funk elements and fashionable dress in the New Romantic scene.


Friday, February 26, 2021

Yoko Ono's "Walking On Thin Ice" is one of 1981's Greatest Singles

Yoko Ono : Walking On Thin Ice (For John)


In February of 1981 Yoko Ono released the single "Walking On Thin Ice (For John)". It's the final mix of this recording Lennon is holding when he was shot, and features Lennon on guitar, his last recording. You can almost hear the sense of doom in the music and lyrics (I may cry some day But the tears will dry whichever way And when our hearts return to ashes It'll be just a story It'll be just a story). 

Lennon thought it would be a Number One hit. The song was both a critical and commercial success, peaking at US#54 and UK#35.

NME rated it the #10 best single of 1981. David Hepworth of Smash Hits wrote :

The B-side begins with audio verite of Lennon and Ono walking together

Elvis Costello's cover : 


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Some memorable R.O.C.K. in early 1981

Garland Jeffreys : Modern Lovers


In February of 1981, Garland Jeffreys released Escape Artist. Recorded with members of the E Street Band, members of The Rumour, Adrian Belew, Lou Reed, and Big Youth, Jeffreys has updated his sound. Radio stations played his cover of "96 Tears", but there are a few other gens here including opening track "Modern Lovers" which is not about the band.

The Plimsouls : Lost Time


Ex-Nerves Peter Case continues his power pop ways with The Plimsouls, whose self-titled debut shows why they were huge on the LA club scene. Ridiculous that this didn't get radio airplay. "A Million Miles Away" is on the follow-up.

From Trouser Press :

The Barracudas : We're Living in Violent Times


The British band The Barracudas seem to be anticipating the entire neo-psychedelic Paisley Underground scene a year early on Drop Out. They would break up later in the year.


Monday, February 22, 2021

Frankie Smith gets a ticket to the top on his Double Dutch Bus

Frankie Smith : Double Dutch Bus 

On February 22, 1981 Frankie Smith released the R&B#1/US#30 hit "Double Dutch Bus". The song celebrates double dutch jump roping and the bus system in his native Philadelphia. You can hear how Smith's singing style influenced Tone-Loc while breaking into the IZ slang inspired Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube. Rap music is still literally about having a good time. 


Sunday, February 21, 2021

Why nobody was talking about Prince's Saturday Night Live debut

Prince : Partyup

On February 21, 1981 a 22 year old Prince performed the Dirty Mind track  "Partyup" on Saturday Night Live. He wasn't actually the designated musical guest that night. That honor went to Todd Rundgren. But when Prince got his chance to play, he took it. Producer at the time, Jean Doumanian, said of the performance to Rolling Stone: “I was blown away, he was just the most original act I had seen in a long time.” 

This might have been the performance everyone talked about Sunday morning had Charlie Rocket not said fuck that night on live television

Saturday, February 20, 2021

R.E.M plays the 688 Club : This Athens band could go somewhere

REM : Burning Down 

On February 20, 1981 the Athens, GA band REM played the 688 Club in Atlanta, opening for Joe "King" Carrasco. Within a year they would be recording their Chronic Town EP. In ten years they would be the biggest band in America.

They opened with a cover of Buddy Holly's "Rave On" and followed it with originals  "Burning Down" ( which would become "Ages of You"),  "Dangerous Times", "All The Right Friends" ( which would be recorded and left off Murmur), " Get On Their Way" ( which would be recorded as "What If We Give It Away" for Life's Rich Pageant), "Different Girl", "Permanent Vacation" ( a song they would perform with Bruce Springsteen), "White Tornado" ( a Bside to "Superman"), Bill Berry's "Narrator" ( later recorded by the Hindu Love Gods), "Windout" ( which would appear on the Bachelor Party soundtrack), the Chronic Town number "Gardening At Night" ( which the band would perform at their induction ceremony to the Rock Hall of Fame), "Mystery To Me" ( which they would revisit during the Life's Rich Pageant session)  and "Radio Free Europe" which they would record as their first single at Mitch Easter's Drive In Studio the following month.


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Eno and Byrne release My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts

Brian Eno-David Byrne : Regiment

In February of 1981, Brian Eno and David Byrne released My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, which paired the funky African polyrhythmic music both were so intrigued by with snippets from radio broadcasts and Middle Eastern singing. The album was both a prequel and a sequel to the 1980 Talking Heads album Remain In Light. Though completed before Remain In Light, Bush Of Ghost was delayed because of a legal problem with one of the voices used.

Along with "Moonlight In Glory", "Regiment" is one of the songs that made Eno happiest. 

"I think my synth solo on Regiment is possibly the best I've ever played," he told Melody Maker. "People think it's a Fripp guitar rip-off, but it really is me on synthesizer. 

 "In fact I remember Fripp once saying something like I was the best guitar player he'd heard, and I didn't even play guitar."

Both Eno and Byrne wanted to make an album that made people dance and connect on a spiritual level.

"We are both fairly disenchanted with ordinary song structures - the voice you record is invested with your own personality," Eno said. "What we wanted was to create something more mysterious, and by taking voices out of context, but featuring them dominantly as the main vocal performance, you can go on to create meaning by surrounding the voice with a musical mood."

 In some cases they use sounds from a New Orleans preacher, an exorcism, readers of the Koran and, in the above example, a Lebanese singer named Dunya Yusin. The album is named after a novel by Nigerian author Amos Tutuola 

 Years ahead of his time, Rolling Stone's Jon Pareles wrote "My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts is an undeniably awesome feat of tape editing and rhythmic ingenuity. But, like most found art, it raises stubborn questions about context, manipulation and cultural imperialism."

Monday, February 15, 2021

Dance Craze celebrates the 2 Tone scene on film

The Specials : Nite Klub

On February 15, 1981 Dance Craze, a documentary about the British ska scene, made its premiere in London. The film was directed by American Joe Massot, who also made Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains The Same. The hope was that Dance Craze would do for ska what The Harder They Come did for reggae, but critics were disappointed that the film was just a series of clips of bands performing their songs. 

Dance Craze wouldn't play to American audience until the Spring of 1982, where it appeared in art theaters and then vanished almost without a trace. Never released on DVD or to streaming services, Dance Craze reveals the incredible energy the 2 Tone bands brought to the stage. If you had to see it to believe it, this remains one of the few ways to see it. 

At some point in my collegiate career I managed to get a copy of the soundtrack album, a terrific primer to the 2 Tone scene. The soundtrack peaked in the Top 10 of the UK charts in 1981 and at 145 on the American charts the following year. More importantly, it influenced the next wave of ska artists, including Fishbone.

The performances in order:

"Nite Klub" – The Specials 
"The Prince" – Madness 
"Ne-Ne-Na-Na-Na-Na-Nu-Nu" – Bad Manners 
"007 (Shanty Town)" – The Bodysnatchers 
"Three Minute Hero" – The Selecter 
"Ranking Full Stop" – The Beat 
"Big Shot" – The Beat 
"Concrete Jungle" – The Specials 
"Swan Lake" – Madness 
"Razor Blade Alley" – Madness 
"Missing Words" – The Selecter 
"Let's Do the Rock Steady" – The Bodysnatchers 
"Lip Up Fatty" – Bad Manners 
"Madness" – Madness 
"Too Much Too Young" – The Specials 
"On My Radio" – The Selecter 
"Easy Life" – The Bodysnatchers 
"Rough Rider" – The Beat 
"Man at C&A" – The Specials 
"Inner London Violence" – Bad Manners 
"Night Boat to Cairo" – Madness 
"Twist and Crawl" – The Beat 
"Wooly Bully" – Bad Manners 
"Too Much Pressure" – The Selecter
 "Mirror in the Bathroom" – The Beat 
"One Step Beyond" – Madness 
"Nite Klub" – The Specials


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Funky 4+1 rock Saturday Night Live with "That's The Joint"

Funky 4 + 1: That's The Joint


Named the best song of the 1980's by Village Voice critic Robert Christgau, "That's the Joint" is the second single by the Bronx, NY rap group Funky 4 +1. The band, made up of Jazzy Jeff, D.J. Breakout, Guy Williams, Keith Keith, The Voice of K.K. and Rodney Stone broke barriers with the inclusion of the first female MC Sharon "Sha-Rock" Green. 

In his 1981 review of the single, which samples "Rescue Me" by A Taste of Honey, Christgau gave it an A rating and wrote of its musical significance: 

 "The instrumental track, carried by Sugarhill bassist Doug Wimbish, is so compelling that for a while I listened to it alone on its B-side version. And the rapping is the peak of the form, not verbally—the debut has funnier words—but rhythmically. Quick tradeoffs and clamorous breaks vary the steady-flow rhyming of the individual MCs, and when it comes to Sha-Rock, Miss Plus One herself, who needs variation?"

On Valentines Day Funky 4 +1 appeared as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live hosted by Debbie Harry. She was allowed to pick any band she wanted. You can see them at the 11-minute mark in this clip. 

Chris Stein remembers :

“The people on the show were so nervous about them doing it,” he recalled. “I remember trying to explain to them how scratching worked. Trying to verbalize what that is for someone who has no idea, it’s really difficult.”

The groundbreaking appearance had little effect on the charts. My search in Billboard Magazine for Funky 4 +1 in 1981 only brought up this ad for a Bronx record distributor promising " the latest of any type of sound"

The Taste of Honey version of "Rescue Me"

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Gap Band burn rubber to the top of the R&B charts

The Gap Band : Burn Rubber (Why You Wanna Hurt Me) 


On February13, 1981 Tulsa Oklahoma's  Gap Band had the #1 R&B song in America, "Burn Rubber (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)". The infectious and funky dance floor filler also peaked at UK#22 but never got higher than #84 on the Hot 100.

Actor Nick Offerman told NME this is the song that always wants to make him dance :

“I like to dance a lot more than you might think to look at me. I was the right age to be swept away by breakdance. My cousin and I were in a breakdance duo, in fact. We grew up on a farm and we’d listen to late night radio to discover R&B songs we could dance to.”

Here's Charlie Wilson singing and dancing with his brothers on Top of the Pops in 1981. It is one of the high points of his career. At 68, he's doing well these days but he spent the early 90's living on the streets of Hollywood Boulevard.

“The drugs, they were my downfall,” he told Essence magazine in 2010. “It’s how I landed on the streets. I did a lot of moving during the night; during the day I’d disappear. I didn’t want people seeing me. I’d eat where I could and sometimes shower using random sprinkler systems around town. I didn’t want to ask for help, but the people that I did reach out to, they turned their backs on me. I felt like I didn’t have anyone on my team.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Roxy Music rides Jealous Guy to the top of the UK charts


Roxy Music : Jealous Guy

In February of 1981, Roxy Music released "Jealous Guy", a cover of the John Lennon song from Imagine. At the time Lennon had three songs in the UK Top 40 ("Woman" at #1, "Imagine" at #4 and "Give Peace A Chance at #33) and two albums in the Top 10 ( Double Fantasy at #1 and Imagine at #5). On March 14, it would top the UK charts, becoming the first and only UK#1 hit for Roxy Music.

The first time Roxy Music performed ‘Jealous Guy’ was 20 December 1980 at Westfalenhalle, Dortmund, Germany. 

“We were due to play a show in Germany at a big arena,’ Bryan Ferry told Noise 11. “We thought we should do something special because we were all John Lennon fans. His version is beautiful, very poignant. Donny Hathaway also did a very good version”.

 “Jealous Guy” was a perfect fit for Ferry’s persona of the world-weary rouĂ© and for Roxy Music’s adult rock, which they had by that stage in their career buffed to an icy, immaculate sheen," writes the Financial Times. "Their 1981 cover remains definitive."

 “Our version caught the public’s imagination. It was a big record in Europe for us. It has become a standard for me and Roxy Music,” Bryan said.

The B side is an early version of "To Turn You On", which would appear on Avalon.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Rush releases a prog rock masterpiece in Moving Pictures

Rush : Tom Sawyer

On February 12, 1981 Rush released Moving Pictures, the Ontario trio's finest 40 minutes. Here they found the perfect balance between flashy prog rock instrumentalism and accessible, radio-friendly tunefulness. Opener "Tom Sawyer", an FM radio hit in the US, is the perfect example. It also showcases Geddy Lee's interest in Mini Moog, Oberheim Polyphonic and Taurus pedal synthesizers. How he managed to play all of those and the bass is onstage is one of the reasons Rush had become such a huge concert draw.

Asked about his guitar solo on "Tom Sawyer", Alex Lifeson says

I winged it. Honest! I came in, did five takes, then went off and had a cigarette. I'm at my best for the first two takes; after that, I overthink everything and I lose the spark. Actually, the solo you hear is composed together from various takes

"Limelight" was an even bigger radio hit. It's drummer Neil Peart's take on the band's fame, according to Geddy Lee.

Limelight was probably more of Neil's song than a lot of the songs on that album in the sense that his feelings about being in the limelight and his difficulty with coming to grips with fame and autograph seekers and a sudden lack of privacy and sudden demands on his time ... he was having a very difficult time dealing with. I mean we all were, but I think he was having the most difficulty of the three of us adjusting; in the sense that I think he's more sensitive to more things than Alex [Lifeson] and I are, it's difficult for him to deal with those interruptions on his personal space and his desire to be alone. Being very much a person who needs that solitude, to have someone coming up to you constantly and asking for your autograph is a major interruption in your own little world.

Moving Pictures would peak at US#3. It has been certified quadruple platinum, the biggest selling album of their career.


Monday, February 8, 2021

Oscar Wilde hits the UK Top 11 thanks to The Pretenders

The Pretenders : Message of Love

Released on February 6, 1982 The Pretenders' "Message Of Love" would peak at UK#11 and raise expectations for Pretenders II. Like a lot of people, I got my copy on the low-budget Extended Play EP, which came out in March of '81.

The song was composed in the studio, based on a sketch Chrissie Hynde had.Chambers explained, "We never really got into the studio without any rehearsal and record[ed] a song, [but] we have done that once and that was 'Message of Love'. ... [Hynde] likes to come to [the band] when she has [a song] finished in her mind ... but this time she hadn't really finished it and so we just ... rehearsed it already set up in the studio and it was on tape in two hours, basically."

The song namechecks Bridget Bardot and quotes Oscar Wilde in the line "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" .

Trouser Press Rant:

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Phil Collins : My All Time Top 10

Phil Collins : I Missed Again

On February 6, 1981 Phil Collins releases Face Value, his two-million selling solo debut. It yields two Top 20 US hits "In The Air Tonight" and "I Missed Again". Although most of the album is a stark take of his marital woes, Collins also adds a cover of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" to the set.

To help promote the album, the Genesis drummer provides Smash Hits with a list of his all time top 10 records.  He admits Earth Wind and Fire are his biggest influence (that explains the horn section in "I Missed Again") and reveals his love for jazz fusion, comedy and Motown. Can a cover of "You Can't Hurry Love" be far away?


Thursday, February 4, 2021

New to the UK charts : February 4, 1981


Stray Cats : Rock This Town

In the first week of February 1981, three remarkable singles entered the UK singles chart that, at the time, was topped by John Lennon's "Woman". Coming in at #35 is "Rock This Town" by the American rockabilly band Stray Cats. The single would peak at UK#9 within three weeks. The Cats would open three dates for the Rolling Stones on their 1981 North American tour. 

Eventually "Rock This Town" would hit the Billboard Hot 100 where it peaked at US #9 in September of 1982.

The Jam : That's Entertainment

Released as a single in Germany, so many British fans bought The Jam's "That's Entertainment" b/w a live version of "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight" as an import that it entered the chart at UK#47. It would peak at UK#21 by the end of the month and remains one of the bands most famous songs.

In an interview with Absolute Radio Paul Weller said: "I wrote it in 10 mins flat, whilst under the influence, I'd had a few but some songs just write themselves. It was easy to write, I drew on everything around me."

Talking Heads : Once In a Lifetime

Entering the chart at UK#63, "Once In A Lifetime" would eventually peak at #14. Only the UK#6 "Road to Nowhere" is a bigger  hit for Talking Heads on that side of the pond. The song emerged from studio jams by the band influenced by funk and Fela Kuti. 

David Byrne's lyrics make more and more sense as we listeners age: 

You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile 
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife 
And you may ask yourself, "Well... how did I get here?"

Byrne gave his take on this song to NPR

“We’re largely unconscious. You know, we operate half awake or on autopilot and end up, whatever, with a house and family and job and everything else. We haven’t really stopped to ask ourselves, ‘How did I get here?’”

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Duran Duran Meets Planet Earth

Duran Duran : Planet Earth


On February 2, 1981 Birmingham's Duran Duran released their debut single, the UK#12 "Planet Earth".

"I call it funky punk. I was really a punk rocker," John Taylor told Complex in 2012 about the song. "Then I discovered disco. When I discovered disco, I didn't want to be a guitar player in a punk band. I wanted to be a postman in a funk band. But I was a punk and I never was going to be able to play like Chic. So 'Planet Earth' for me, as a bass player, was an expression of sort of my punky aspiration to be danceable to have that disco thing going on."

Guitarist Andy Taylor says there are some similarities with Rod Stewart's 1979 disco hit "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?":

"The synth-guitar hook line that kicks off the tune is played on the same scale and key; the first two chords Dm7 and F are the same, so the melody/counter-melody lines are interchangeable," Taylor says.

More hits would follow but this is the sing that introduced Duran Duran to Planet Earth. On March 15, the band performed on Top of The Pops. The band would become an MTV staple.