Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Memorable Singles from March 1981

Plastics : Diamond Head

Released as a gold flexi-disc 33 1/3 rpm single, "Diamond Head" is just as fun and quirky as you would hope to hear from this Japanese new wave band. Produced by Alex Sadkin who worked on all of the Grace Jones releases this same year. A favorite single of mine from 1981

Altered Images : Dead Pop Stars

The debut single from Glasgow's Altered Images rose to UK#67. The band, coming off a tour opening for Siouxsie and the Banshees, would shed their punk influences quickly enough to record both UK#2 "Happy Birthday" and UK#7"I Could Be Happy" before the year was out. By then front woman Clare Grogan had stolen a million hearts.

Dexy's Midnight Runners : Plan B

The new Dexy's single, which sounds like it could have pulled from Searching For The Young Soul Rebels  only peaked at UK#58. Maybe fans felt they'd already heard this before. David Hepworth of Smash Hits wasn't impressed:

Teardrop Explodes : Reward

Though released in January, "Reward" spent much of the month of March in the UK Top 10. It even got the Liverpool band on Top of the Pops. In his book 'Head On', Julian Cope says the band were doing Acid, speed, booze and weed from breakfast all the way to their appearance. The drugs would take their toll on the band, which would break up by the end of 1982.

Grover Washington Jr featuring Bill Withers : Just The Two Of Us

Thanks to the US#2 hit, Grover Washington Jr's platinum album Winelight topped the US jazz charts for too many months to count. That silky electric piano sound comes courtesy of Richard Tee who also played on Paul Simon's "Slip Slidin' Away". 

Taana Gardner : Heartbeat

The 20 year old Newark singer scored a massive disco hit with "Heartbeat" which would be sampled in the basis of "Lyrics 2 the Rhythm," the song from the "New Jack City" soundtrack by The Essence, Ini Kamoze's ubiquitous 1995 summer hit "Here Comes the Hotstepper," and De La Soul's 1989 hit "B.U.D.D.Y. Remix" 

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Misery of FM Rock Radio

Styx : "The Best of Times"

In March of 1981 FM rock radio made it impossible to escape Paradise Theatre, the most successful album Styx ever made. Top 40 radio was playing the first single, "The Best of Times" to death. It was the #3 song in the land. But FM radio had at least three tracks in rotation. According to FMQB Rock Album weekly report ,an FM radio "tipsheet" , when FM rock stations put the needle down on Paradise Theatre they played "The Best of Times" only 30% of the time. "Rockin' The Paradise" was the second highest choice at 23% and the new single "Too Much Time On My Hands" got 17% of the plays. This happened with a lot of albums. The new Who album split its FM rock airplay between "You Better You Bet" (29%), "Another Tricky Day" (22%) and "You" (19%). This is the reason why Billboard Magazine, the trade mag that told radio programmers what was happening and what to play,  began a new chart this week in 1981: 

If the chart hurts your eyes I'll just point out there's little here to excite the followers of this blog. It's a wonder anyone in the heartland of America ever heard any XTC, Elvis Costello and The Clash, much less Teardrop Explodes and Spandau Ballet.  To get any airplay they'd have to breakthrough a wall of safer bets like Styx, REO Speedwagon, Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, and Journey. There was an enormous amount of excitement surrounding the U2 tour at this time, but no radio airplay. And charts like these would only ensure that FM radio programmers would play it safe. Are you really going to play "I Will Follow" when your general manager sees Styx dominating the charts?

1981 would be a miserable year for me. I would spend the second half of the year in Reno, Nevada where the FM rock playlist was as conservative as any in the country. No thanks to a new list in Billboard Magazine.

There's another effect of the new tightened FM radio playlists. Labels began to rely on college radio stations to break their artists. Larry Braverman, national director of college radio for Warner Elektra Atlantic said "It's our only avenue left."

Indeed the 80's would be a banner decade for college radio as I would discover myself in a Tulane University basement beginning in the Summer of '83.


Friday, March 26, 2021

The Human League's Phil Oakey : My Top 10

Human League : Sound of the Crowd

At the end of March 1981, Phil Oakey of The Human League shared his all time Top 10 with Smash Hits, weeks before the band would release its new breakthrough single "The Sound of The Crowd", a UK#12 hit. By the end of the year the Human League would be one of the most popular and critically acclaimed in the UK, thanks to the album Dare and the single "Don't You Want Me".


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Best of The Rest : March 1981 Releases

Devo : Freedom of Choice Theme Song

In March of 1981 Warner Brothers experimented with selling EPs by some of their new acts that appealed to younger buyers. DEV-O Live is made up of six songs recorded live at the band's 1980 concert in San Francisco, including their US#14 hit "Whip It". American FM radio ignored the EP.

The Pretenders : Porcelain

The Pretenders' Extended Play was another Warner Bros/Sire extended play release that sold well at its discount price, peaking at US#27. It certainly seemed like a good deal to me at the time to get "Talk of the Town", "Cuban Slide" and "Message of Love" for $5.99, while we waited to hear Pretenders II, not out until August. In a way it backfired too, because we had already purchased the best songs on the album.

Romeo Void : White Sweater

415 Records has released the Romeo Void debut It's A Condition. The Bay Area band is fronted by Debora Iyall, who speaks/sings observations on empty love. The critics went nuts. Creem reviewer Iman Labadedi wrote that" if you tore Romeo Void's debut LP down to its essence , what you'd get wouldn't be a million miles away from a collection of torch songs. The type Billie Holliday once did so's easily one of the best albums I've heard all year". The album finished #17 on The Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll

The Greg Kihn Band : The Breakup Song

The Bay Area cult band breaks out with the hook-filled US#15 hit "The Breakup Song(They Don't Write 'Em)" from his mostly bland power pop album Rockihnroll. Greg Kihn, one of the original Beserkley label acts, would hit it big again in 1983 with his US#5 hit "Jeopardy".

The Producers : What's He Got

The Producers, a new wave quartet out of Atlanta, get some buzz from their debut album thanks to the ear worm "What's He Got".

Robert Plant and Rockpile : Little Sister

The line-up alone got record buyers excited about the double album, Concerts For The People of Kampuchea. Recorded in late 1979 as a fundraiser to benefit the starving refugees of Cambodia, the album featured British rock royalty highlighted by The Rockestra supergroup, featuring Wings, John Paul Jones and John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, Ronnie Lane of the Faces, Kenney Jones and Pete Townshend of the Who, and Hank Marvin of the Shadows. But it was Robert Plant's cover of Elvis Presley's "Little Sister" that got my bandmates excited enough to do a cover at our final high school concert.

John Cale : Dead Or Alive

Much of John Cale's Honi Soit was written spontaneously in the studio. Critics acclaimed the album which reached #154 on the charts, the highest the former Velvet Underground member has yet to achieve. Cale toured the album beginning in April of the year.

Monday, March 22, 2021

UK TOP 10 March 22, 1981 : Kim Wilde's "Kids in America" peaks at UK#2

Kim Wilde : Kids In America 


1. Shakin' Stevens : This Ole House
2. Kim Wilde :  Kids In America
3. Roxy Music : Jealous Guy
4. Toyah : Four From Toyah (EP)
5. Adam & The Ants : Kings of the Wild Frontier
6. Stevie Wonder : Lately
7. Coast To Coast : (Do) The Hucklebuck
8. Teardrop Explodes : Reward
9. The Who : You Better You Bet
10. Tony Caprick & The Carlton Main/Frickly Colliery Band : Capstick Come Home

Kim Wilde's "Kids In America" begins its two week peak at UK#2 behind Shakin Stevens' major smash hit "This Ole House". The song, written by Wilde's brother Ricky and her father Marty,  would peak at US#25 the following year.

In 2012 Kim Wilde's impromptu tube train performance, aided by some alcohol, went viral. "I was with my brother, on my way home after some drinks, and I just started singing," Wilde explained. "When I woke up the next day it'd all kicked off on Twitter and I thought, 'Whatever career I have right now, I probably buried it.' What amazed me was that people thought it was fun and sweet and it's made me realise that the public have more time for me than I thought."

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The Cure and Depeche Mode release new singles

The Cure : Primary

On March 19, 1981 The Cure released the UK#43 single "Primary", featuring an ear-catching twin bass guitar attack. It was the only single released from the forthcoming album, Faith, but it was big enough to get the band on Top of the Pops.

Death casts a shadow over this song and the album as well. Drummer Lol Tolhurst's mom has passed away, so had Robert Smith's grandmother. The deaths of John Lennon and Ian Curtis also haunted the proceedings. Smith says he was inspired by the thoughts of dying young when he wrote the elliptical lyrics to "Primary". 

Depeche Mode : Dreaming Of Me

They may still not look a day over 14 but Depeche Mode, consisting of three synthesizer players and vocalist Dave Gahan, already have a way with tuneful and danceable numbers. The band's first single,  the UK#57  "Dreaming Of Me" b/w "Ice Machine" is available from Mute Records. It will rank #10 on Sounds' year end list of top singles.


Thursday, March 18, 2021

Aztec Camera releases debut single in busy week for Postcard Records

Aztec Camera : Just Like Gold

The weekend of March 19, 1981 was a busy one for Postcard Records, the Sound of Young Scotland.  They released the debut single from Aztec Camera, "Just Like Gold" b/w "We Could Send Letters". NME was smitten with the band led by Roddy Frame. Paul Morley writes

 "These love songs, that speak of sadness with undefiled integrity, seem closer to the white music of Nick Drake and some John Martyn than the lament-dance of Josef K or the irony pop of Postcard (Records)...Aztec Camera are a smooth and special taste, a smile on their face, tear in the eye".

The B side, featured in an acoustic form on the C-81 compilation, was re-recorded for the 1983 debut album, High Land, Hard Rain

Josef K : Chance Meeting

Josef K's new single is "Chance Meeting", a re-recording of the song that was the A side of the first single a year ago. Some glorious horns arrive about two minutes in. Early copies came with a free postcard.

We talked for a short while, 
while I snuck forward, 
and touched your hand. 

Smash Hits, 1981

Orange Juice : Poor Old Soul

Orange Juice continues finding the sweet spot between Chic and the Velvet Underground on their  4th single "Poor Old Soul", which also comes with a free Orange Juice postcard in the sleeve.


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Who's Face Dances may be better than you bet

The Who : Another Tricky Day

On March 16, 1981 The Who released the US#4 Face Dances, the first studio album to feature Keith Moon's replacement, Kenney Jones on drums. It was preceded by the release of the US#18 single  "You Better You Bet", one of the most annoying songs the Who ever recorded. Townshend would call Face Dances a disappointment. It certainly was to me, but I've since discovered at least a few songs that I really like.

FM radio was all over Face Dances, playing " You Better You Bet", "Another Tricky Day" and "You", which all harken back to the glory days of the bombastic guitar and synth driven Who. But here's where I started wondering if Townshend has saved his better songs for Empty Glass. You can almost hear the inspiration draining from the album. 

By this point Townshend was abusing alcohol, cocaine and freebase cocaine laced with heroin. He would even fall asleep onstage during The Secret Policeman's Ball. Roger Daltrey was pursuing an acting career. John Entwistle's contributions, "The Quiet One" and "You" only partially rescue the album.

The album received mixed reviews. Rolling Stone's Tom Carson gave the album two and a half stars out of five: 

The Who’s familiar repertoire of rhetorical devices – the sudden soft-loud, slow-fast changes; the whole superstructure of segues, theatrical overdubs and explosive solos – sounds irrelevant here, and even the best bits (Townshend playing banjo licks on electric guitar in “Daily Records” and the cascading keyboards and harmonies of the “You Better You Bet” intro) aren’t part of anything bigger than themselves. Though the songs are smoothly and beautifully produced and performed, Face Dances feels scattershot, centerless.

But Robert Christgau gave the album a grade of B+ writing:

If nothing else, Keith Moon's death seems to have delivered Pete Townshend of his obsession with the band he created--and with his own mortality. His new sex songs are stylish and passionate, the strongest he's written for the Who in a decade. Problem is, his pretty-boy mouthpiece sounds like he's forcing the passion. Which reminds me that sex always has to do with mortality--and that mortality catches up with pretty boys faster than with the rest of us.


Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Church release an instant classic in "Unguarded Moment"

The Church : The Unguarded Moment

On March 14, 1981 The Church released "The Unguarded Moment", a breakthrough single of neo-psychedelic jangle pop offered in that era as an alternative to synth pop. Written by Steve Kilbey and his wife, the song reached #22 on the Australian pop charts after the band performed the song on television.

"We were on a TV show called Countdown which was the only music tv show in Australia, and we did this song called Unguarded Moment," recalls Kilbey. " We were instant hits, we were in the charts, the girls were screaming, the drugs were flowing, the cars were driving, the guitars were going in and out of cases, we were travelling, motel doors opened and closed, meals wolfed down, zooming up and down in planes and at airports and waving goodbye and saying hello and packing cases, it was like that." 


Friday, March 12, 2021

Fake Jazz and Other Finds


Lounge Lizards :

In the Spring of 1981 you couldn't walk around Manhattan without seeing flyers for the Lounge Lizards, a band that was half rock/ half jazz. The jazz side included leader and sax player John Lurie and his pianist brother Evan. Noise guitarist Arto Lindsay, Feelies drummer Anton Fier and bassist Steve Piccolo made up the rock side. John Lurie described the Lounge Lizards as "fake jazz". The band deconstructed familiar tunes and added jagged edges courtesy of Lurie and Lindsay. They played together well into the 1990's . Lurie is now best known for acting and his HBO series "Painting With John"

The Rolling Stones : Everything Is Turning To Gold

On March 12, 1981  The Rolling Stones released Sucking in the 70's, which opens with "Shattered" and includes the B-side "Everything Is Turning To Gold", a live version of "When the Whip Comes Down" and only one never released track, "If I Was a Dancer ( Dance Part II)". Not essential by any stretch. Even radio programmers had trouble selecting a track to play.

The 101ers : Keys To Your Heart

In March of 1981 Andalucia Records released this compilation by the 101ers, Joe Strummer's pub rock band before he formed The Clash. Strummer sings lead on most of the tracks, recorded between 1974 and 1976. Best known tracks are "Keys To Your Heart", written about Palmolive of The Slits and a cover of "Junco Partner" which would be covered by The Clash on Sandinista!

Ellen Foley : Torchlight

And while we are on the subject of the Clash Ellen Foley has a new sound courtesy of her boyfriend Mick Jones. He and other members of The Clash write play and produce some of the songs on Spirit of St Louis.  That explains the marimba! 

Rosanne Cash : Seven Year Ache

The title track from Rosanne Cash's critically acclaimed third album would top the country charts. Produced by husband Rodney Crowell, Cash also offers cover versions of Merle Haggard's "You Don't Have Very Far To Go" and Steve Forbert's "What Kinda Girl". Two other songs on the album topped the country charts," My Baby Thinks He's A Train" and "Blue Moon with Heartache". 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The biggest single of the year is released

Kim Carnes : Bette David Eyes

On March 10, 1981 journeyman singer Kim Carnes released the synth-pop single "Bette Davis Eyes",  the biggest hit of the year. The song was written way back in 1974 by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon and DeShannon recorded the song with a boogie-woogie country feel for her album New Arrangement. Producer George Tobin brought the song to Carnes and keyboardist Bill Cuomo came up with the signature synth line. Coupled with the raspy vocals that some mistook for Rod Stewart, "Bette David Eyes" caught on in a big way, topping the charts for nine weeks and winning Grammy Awards for Song Of The Year and Record of the Year. 

Smokey Robinson : Being with You

This same week in 1981 Smokey Robinson released the title track of his new album Being With You  as a single. Good call! The song spent five weeks at No. 1 on the Hot Soul Singles chart from March to early May 1981 and reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100, behind "Bette Davis Eyes", his highest charting solo hit on the Billboard pop charts. Robinson has written the song for Kim Carnes after she scored a hit with his "More Love" the previous year. Obviously he decided to keep it for himself. Another good call.


Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Gang of Four releases follow-up to Entertainment!

Gang Of Four : What We All Want

On March 1, 1981 Gang of Four released the ironically titled Solid Gold, their follow-up to the ironically titled  Entertainment. It's not half as fun as the debut, but just as influential. How many bands used the dark, echoing martial beat of " What We All Want" as a starting point ?

"Cheeseburger", which kicks off Side Two, is a brash swipe at Americans. In a recent Tim's Twitter Listening Party Jon King told the story :

Andy & I were shooting pool in Barney’s Beanery up from the Trop in Hollywood, winner stays on. A couple of half-drunk truckers take us on, they think they’re all that. Spilling their stories over cold Schlitzes, and, to make the game more interesting, place bets. They weren’t as good as they thought, and it was fun taking their money. Verse one & three are the bollocks I could remember the next day. As someone or other may have said, it's not enough to win, someone else must lose.

Though conspicuously absent from most Best of 1981 polls, Solid Gold finished 7th in Robert Christgau's list of the best albums of 1981. He wrote

Only when a jazz critic uttered the word "harmolodic" in conjunction with this music did I realize why I admired it so. Not for its politics, which unlike some of my more ideological comrades I find suspiciously lacking in charity. And not for its funk, which like some of my more funky comrades I find suspiciously lacking in on-the-one. And certainly not for its melodies. I admire it, and dig it to the nth, for its tensile contradictions, which are mostly a function of sprung harmony, a perfect model for the asynchronous union at the heart of their political (and rhythmic) message. Here Jimmy Douglass's production strategy is to cram everything together. Compare the more spacious versions of the two recorded songs on their 1980 EP, and dig those to the nth as well.

Solid Gold peaked at #52 on the UK album charts and at #190 in the US, where it was finally released in May.


Monday, March 8, 2021

Some new toys hitting the UK charts this week in 1981


Lene Lovich : New Toy

In the week of March 8, 1981 Lene Lovich's "New Toy" entered the UK charts at #72. The song, written by Thomas Dolby about his new Fairlight CMI synthesize, would peak at UK#53. A defining song in the new wave playbook,  I thought it would have been a bigger hit, but David Hepworth apparently had reservations about the song in his Smash Hits review.

Visage : Mind of a Toy

Visage entered the UK charts this same week at #32 with their follow-up to the Top 10 hit  "Fade To Grey".  "Mind Of A Toy" peaked at UK#13, with a great deal of help from the visionary Godley& Creme, whose music video aired on Top of The Pops on March 19th. Keep in mind, we are still five months away from the launch of MTV. 


Saturday, March 6, 2021

New Order releases Ceremony, one of the songs of the year

New Order : Ceremony

On March 6, 1981 New Order released its debut single the UK#34 "Ceremony" b/w "In A Lonely Place". It's a Joy Division tune with lyrics written by the late Ian Curtis, despondent as ever. (Oh, I'll break them down, no mercy shown/ Heaven knows, it's got to be this time/ Watching her, these things she said/ The times she cried/ Too frail to wake this time). The band would record the song again in September when Gillian Gilbert joined the band. 

I like this review on Rate Your Music from Duncan_Disor:

I bought this on 7" on it's release. I had it ordered at the local store and called in several times knowing full well it wasn't out yet but hoped that I'd be wrong. Yes I'm that old. And I'm a Manchester lad. And, I took it into school with me (as you did) and I remember that in those dark days the gold sleeve shone like the sun and I remember thinking that it was the most perfect thing I'd ever heard. To this day it raises the hair on the back of my neck and if there's a woman that feels the same here then we need to get hitched.


Friday, March 5, 2021

Mark Bedford of Madness : My All Time Top Ten

Madness : Return of the Los Palmas Seven

Madness bassist Mark Bedford, who still looks a year or two away from puberty,  provides Smash Hits with his 10 All Time Favorite Songs as their latest single, the instrumental "Return of the Los Palmas Seven" is visiting the UK Top 10. The 19 year old seems intent on finding danceable songs. In 1982 Bedford would play double bass on Robert Wyatt's "Shipbuilding".

The Doors revival was at full strength at this time.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

U2 bring Boy Tour to North America

U2 : Another Time, Another Place

On March 3, 1981 Island Records finally released U2's Boy in North America, the same day the Irish band began touring the continent, starting in Washington DC. It was a brutal tour, 59 US and Canadian cities, radio interviews at every stop. They'd usually open with "The Ocean" and close with "I Will Follow", which was starting to get FM radio airplay. A live version of the closer, recorded in Boston, would be the B side to U2's "Gloria". 

An FM radio tipsheet reported on U2's growing fandom among radio DJs and programmers. Among the quotes here : "The young boys from Ireland may be young but they know what they're doing. Boy was it a show with enthusiasm rampant among the crowd. U2 is on their way."