Friday, April 30, 2021

April 1981: Singles We Missed

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers : The Waiting 

Tom Petty was always at his best when he was updating the Byrds sound. This US#20 hit is a good example. It may have been a former Byrd that gave him the lyric. "That was a song that took a long time to write," Petty said. " Roger McGuinn swears he told me the line - about the waiting being the hardest part - but I think I got the idea from something Janis Joplin said on television. I had the chorus very quickly, but I had a very difficult time piecing together the rest of the song. It's about waiting for your dreams and not knowing if they will come true. I've always felt it was an optimistic song."

The Psychedelic Furs : Dumb Waiters

The new Psychedelic Furs single has the added gimmick that you can play the picture sleeve, which is a flexi-disc with snippets of three songs from the upcoming album Talk Talk Talk

Kraftwerk :  Pocket Calculator

Returning from a three year absence, these Teutonic godfathers of every 80's synth act from Gary Numan to Visage show up with a tribute to, of all things, calculators ("By pressing down a special key it plays a little melody"). As if computers are EVER going to play a big role in our lives!! Dated, but still charming.

The Undertones : It's Gonna Happen

Another irresistible hit from The Undertones, their last to go Top 20. It's apparently a veiled attack on Margaret Thatcher's policy regarding the Irish hunger strikers.  

Level 42 : Love Games

Bassist, vocalist and songwriter Mark King had already perfected the thumb-slap bass guitar technique when Level 42 released its first UK Top 40 single "Love Games". The band made their first appearance on Top of the Pops thanks to "Love Games".


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

April 1981: Some Albums we missed


Adolescents : Kids of The Black Hole

On their debut, releasedx in April of 1981, Adolescents reveal the nihilism of the American suburbs during the Reagan era. Morning in America? More like a nightmare for kids who need something to believe. The highlights are "Kids of The Black Hole", which describes a party house for punk rockers:"House of the filthy, house not a home House of destruction where the lurkers roamed House that belonged to all the homeless kids Kids of the Black Hole" ,  "Amoeba" and "Wrecking Crew". The band couldn't keep its line-up together long enough to tour the album. 

The Cramps : Goo Goo Muck

Without Alex Chilton producing or the charismatic Bryan Gregory on guitar, The Cramps sound tired on their sophomore album Psychedelic Jungle. The highlight is "Goo Goo Muck", a cover of an obscure 1962 single by Ronnie Cook and the Gaylads. During the recording The Cramps and IRS chief Miles Copeland began a legal battle that prevented The Cramps from releasing another album until 1983's Smell of Female.

Stiff Little Fingers : Just Fade Away 
Also in April 1981, Belfast's Stiff Little Fingers released Go For It, the band's third album and front man Jake Burns' favorite. It's a bit more adventurous musically than the others ( the brass section on "Silver Living") and lyrically ( domestic violence on "Hits And Misses"). Perhaps more than any other band, SLF provided the blueprint for the sound of the American punk-rock bands of the 90's.

The Flesh Eaters : Divine Horseman

Chris D. recruited LA indie heavyweights John Doe and DJ Bonebrake ( from X) , Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman ( from The Blasters) and Steve Berlin for this descent into madness. Village Voice critic Richard Meltzer wrote Chris D. " has lowered the boom...putting the TNT to the whole fragile whatsis of musically accompanied language per se ...BLABBERMOUTH LOCKJAW OF THE SOUL, which you gotta admit is kinda neat". Also kinda neat: following author Chris Desjardins on GoodReads. He's into the classic mid century pulp novels.

Van Halen : Unchained

On April 29 1981, Van Halen releases Fair Warning, a double platinum album. At this point listening to a Van Halen song means biding your time through misogynistic lyrics (She looks so fuckin' good/ So sexy and so frail/ Something got the bite on me /I'm goin' straight to hell) and David Lee Roth shrieks just to hear Eddie Van Halen rip through a solo. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Slags, Slates and Apes

The Fall : Fit And Working Again

On April 27, 1981 The Fall released the six track EP Slates, which became my introduction to the band thanks to the song "Fit And Working Again". Neither long enough to be an album  nor short enough to be a single, Slates was marketed by Mark E Smith at least as a release for people who don't buy records.

 There's a song here called "Prole Art Threat". That's what Smith and his band were to the upper class art college kids trying to create a clean new new wave sound for the 80's.

As Smith told a reporter for Smash Hits:

"I have a theory about production. I believe that good production is one of the things that's sort of killed off music. I'm not saying that all good production is bad, but I think there's a lot of thing that could be covered up by good production--personality I suppose.

"Personality in music is not coming through any more and our ears are becoming dulled because we're looking at everything through rose-tinted glasses.

Photo by Martin McClenaghan

"Every studio The Fall go in we have a huge battle every time, trying to convince guys who're, like, ten years out of synch that there are other ways of doing things. But they try to dazzle new band with all of their flash equipment. And it is a bit awesome, so young kids get frightened and hand over the reins to these blokes who used to be musicians ten years ago and want to lay their sound on everyone else.

"That's the mockery of the whole new underground music scene in Britain, I think, that its all run by acid-damaged hippies really. It's not a youth movement at all. Basically I'm fed up with the whole thing."

The EP peaked at #3 on the UK Indie Singles chart and ranked #13 on NME's album of the year chart.


Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Neville Brothers release a New Orleans classic

Neville Brothers : Run Joe

In April of 1981 The Neville Brothers released Fiyo On The Bayou, my favorite of their albums and a necessary addition to any serious record collection. The Brothers benefited from the participation of guitarist Leo Nocentelli ( who had played with both Art and Cyril in The Meters) and their embracing of New Orleans. They play both Crescent City classics "Hey Pocky Way" and "Brother John/Iko Iko". The album also takes advantage of Aaron Neville's angelic voice, covering "The Ten Commandments of Love" and "Mona Lisa". Yeah, this album is all over the place.

 Scarcely a day went by on my college radio station when someone didn't play a track from Fiyo On The Bayou. I can't hear it without tasting the ghosts of flat keg beer in my mouth. At Tulane, we were lucky. The Neville Brothers often played Fridays on the quad.

I liked playing deep cuts on my show so I played "Run Joe", an updated version of the 1947 Louis Jordan calypso hit. Moe and Joe don't tell fortunes in the store. They sell cocaine.

Unfortunately our radio station was one of the few playing the album, which Keith Richards called  the best of 1981. “I knew it wasn’t going to get played on the radio,” Cyril Neville told Rolling Stone. “So I didn’t build up any false hopes. We just made the best record we could.”


Friday, April 23, 2021

Two Indie UK 5 Star Albums from April of 1981


Scars : All About You

Released in April of 1981, Author! Author! is one of the great surprises of the year for me. It's the debut album from Edinburgh's Scars, an exciting band that only made one album. By what an album! It received the highest possible rating for Sounds' reviewer Dave McCullough who wrote :

"A! A! is an album teeming with a sense of re-found faith in the pop ethic. Scars go to extreme lengths to prove it! There are four tracks on here that end, truly, with grandiose flourishes of Paul Research's guitar, depicting dry ice, kicking up sand, in short completely over the top dramatization. But they fit the exaggerated sense of new romanticism perfectly ...An album of the year so far". 

A Certain Ratio : Choir

Manchester's A Certain Ratio released To Each... on the Factory Records label they shared with Joy Division. The band has often been described as a funky version of Joy Division. There's just as much despair here but some funky bass and drums and a horn section that sometimes break the monotony. Sounds again gave the album its highest rating, inspiring critic Chris Burkham to write "Hear me late at night, listen to my soul, my blood could run cold. Scream!...Music to toss and turn to, a hardness to run up against, a resilience that won't give, a combination that will not break." Red Starr thought the album was a bore. Record buyers sent the album into the UK Indie charts for twenty weeks where it peaked at #1.


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Ant Invasion comes to the United States and Black Flag is waiting

Adam and the Ants : Stand and Deliver

Adam and the Ants had posted six singles in the UK Top 40,  Now, as Kings of the Wild Frontier hit the US Top 20 in album sales, the Ant Invasion came to the United States with a 16-date tour. College radio has already added the album to playlists but commercial FM stations were, as usual, hesitant to try something new. As one music director put it, "'Antmusic' is getting good telephone reaction but it scares some people."

This same month, Adam and The Ants would release "Stand And Deliver", the band's first UK#1 hit.

A full page Billboard Magazine ad attempted to sell the Ants to the American music industry and, in fact, the band performed on American Bandstand.

Dick Clark gave the band a warm welcome.

When the Ants showed up at Tower Records, hundred of fans showed up. Some dressed like their idols. But some punk rockers also showed up to paper the area with stickers reading "Black Flag kills Ants on Contact". Greg Ginn of Black Flag denied having anything to do with the stickers but said " There are definite philosophical differences between Black Flag and Adam Ant...They're really  just a lame joke and represent all the things punk rock set out to get rid of."

That night Adam and the Ants performed at the Roxy. Elton John, Rod Stewart and David Lee Roth were in the audience. Kings of the Wild Frontier peaked at US#44 , selling enough product to be awarded a gold record. The advent of music television would only make the visual band more popular.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Rocking Roadhouse-style in April of 1981

Dave Edmunds : Almost Saturday Night

On the UK#37 Twangin', released in April of 1981, Dave Edmunds covers George Jones, John Hiatt and most memorably John Fogerty on the top 60 single "Almost Saturday Night". The songs have apparently all been pulled out of boxes of old recordings. An especially dusty box contained a 13 year old version of "Baby Let's Play House".

Smash Hits review :

Robert Gordon : Someday, Someway

Also in April of '81, rockabilly pioneer Robert Gordon released his fifth album, Are You Gonna Be The One, which introduced his fans to the songwriting of Marshall Crenshaw, who wrote both the title cut and the regional hit "Someday, Someway". New York City FM stations WLIR and WNEW played the hell out of the single. There's also "Drivin' Wheel" written by Billy Swan and T Bone Burnett.

Record World review

Willie Nile : Poor Boy

In April of 1981, Wille Nile followed up his critically acclaimed debut with Golden Down, a second solid collection of rootsy rock. But this time something was different and the critics at Stereo Review who called his debut the best album of 1980 ( tied with London Calling) wondered if Nile and producer Thom Panunzio were trying to turn Nile into a new Springsteen. Panunzio had worked on Darkness On The Edge of Town and critic Steve Simels wrote "It gets embarrassing --every third song or so you expect Willie to break into 'Backstreets', and you're almost surprised when he doesn't".

Cashbox Review:

Gary U.S. Bonds : This Little Girl

The real Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Van Zandt teamed up to bring 60's rocker Gary U.S. Bonds back into the spotlight on Dedication. The album features a Springsteen/Bonds duet on "Jole Blon" and three songs written by Springsteen including "This Little Girl", a US#11 hit. Payback perhaps for all the times Springsteen played "Quarter To Three"? 

The Fabulous Thunderbirds : I Believe I'm In Love

On Butt Rockin', The Fabulous Thunderbirds serve up more roadhouse style rock n roll. FM Radio stations put "I Believe I'm in Love" in rotation. We're still 5 years from "Wrap It Up". The band was scheduled to tour with Eric Clapton, but after Clapton's car accident in Seattle postponed the tour, they wound up supporting Tom Petty.

A rave from Stereo Review:

Joe Ely : Dallas

Released after his tour with The Clash Joe Ely's Musta Notta Gotta Lotta is infused with rockabilly. Ely cranks up the tempo on his cover of Jimmie Dale Gilmore's "Dallas".


Friday, April 16, 2021

Jim Kerr : My All Time Top 10

Simple Minds : The American

In April of 1981 Jim Kerr, the Simple Minds front man, provided Smash Hits with a list of his all time Top 10. Outside the Ike and Tina Turner selection, it's all art rock. Kerr has always taken himself very seriously so what did we expect? Joe Dolce?

1 Velvet Underground: Waiting For the Man - Music from the original Factory - America's Premiere journalist. 
2 Ike and Tina Turner: Nutbush City Limits - Best ever melting pot where synthesiser shows its soul in solo. 
3 Eno: Needle in the Camel's Eye - Not many pieces could live up to the promise of such a title - beautiful and sad. 
4 Magazine: The Lights Pours Out of Me - Howard the insect and true star climbs on producer John Leckie's marble wall - best song of the last three years. 
5 T Rex: Get it On - For the saxophone and the cloak full of ego. 
6 Neu: Neu 2 (LP) - Sheer feelings, clear sounds, new musical realities for me. Take it to the hard hinterland. 
7 Peter Gabriel: The Intruder - The darker side of Gabriel that maybe does exist. Look into his eyes and you'll see what I mean. 
8 Joy Division: Love Will Tear Us Apart - The most uplifting single in a long - long time. It floats around me 
9 Iggy Pop and David Bowie: The Idiot - Bass, drums, refrigerator and striplight combine - the offspring is "Baby, baby I like your pants" 
10 Talking Heads: Don't Worry About the Government - The building is over there. A mixture of greatness and overpowering admiration for Tina Weymouth. Unworkable and Uncontrollable.


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The Cure's Faith kicks off a banner year for gloomy rock

The Cure : The Holy Hour

On April 14, 1981 The Cure released the UK#14 Faith, a gloomy album recorded as family members and fellow musicians were dying all around the band members. The mood change was sudden, recalls Robert Smith. In one night he wrote "All Cats Are Grey and "Funeral Party", the latter not half as bleak as some other tracks on Faith. Smith's grandmother had died suddenly and drummer Lol Tolhurst's mother was terminally ill with cancer. The two talked often about death and so naturally a morbid mood filled the studio at Abbey Road where they wrote and recorded the album. That mood may not seem welcoming at first, but many listeners have embraced it. 1981 was certainly a banner year for all things Goth. 

Critics began tapping their feet. Not to the beat so much as with a lack of patience. Would the band develop into something interesting or would The Cure always "remain stuck in the hackneyed doom-mongering that should have died with Joy Division", as Record Mirror's Mike Nicholls wrote. Most reviews were more positive, though the album failed to make NME's year end list.

The band would spend at least one more year in this doomed mood before bassist Simon Gallup left the band and Smith returned from detox to write "Let's Go To Bed". 

Modern English : Move In Light

Modern English, a band that would also have a remarkable shift in mood a year later, released its debut album Mesh and Lace in April of 1981. It's been called the "bleakest piece of post-punk Goth imaginable", full of phased guitars, dark atmospherics and bitter lyrics. Robbie Grey would find a change of mood paid off with the follow-up, 1982's After The Snow, which sold half a million copies:

He said : "We used to think 'God, we'll never make a pop record. We're artists!', but things don't always turn out as you planned and when you actually create a pop record, it's so much more of a thrill than anything else". 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Thunder from Down Under : Antipodean April 1981

Split Enz : History Never Repeats

In April of 1981, Split Enz releases Waiata, a #1 album in the band's native New Zealand and Australia. Whoever broke de facto leader Neil Finn's heart deserves some credit for inspiring the breakup classics "Hard Act To Follow", "One Step Ahead" and especially "History Never Repeats". Even American record buyers couldn't resist. The album peaked at US#45.

The Swingers : Counting The Beat

On again off again Split Enz songwriter/founder Phil Judd formed The Swingers and recorded one of 1981's most infectious singles, "Counting The Beat", a  #1 single in Australia. I didn't hear it until Gillian Armstrong's "Starstruck" played at the Prytania Theatre in New Orleans years later. The band had too many good songs to be considered one hit wonders.

The Church : For A Moment We're Strangers

On their debut Of Skins And Heart, The Church define the jangle rock sound that would dominate college radio in the early to mid 1980's. Steven Kilbey has an encyclopedic knowledge of rock music and, with bandmates Marty Wilson-Piper, Peter Koppes and Richard Ploog, finds the sweet spot using obtuse melancholic lyrics and jangly rock. Includes two singles already featured here : "She Never Said" and "The Unguarded Moment".

The Birthday Party : Nick The Stripper

How can such dark music emerge from sunny Australia? Well, first of all, sez Nick Cave "Melbourne is the gloomiest city in Australia in winter. It gives sunny Australia a bad reputation. But I prefer it. People there have a slightly more creative sensibility than the rest of Australia." Also, The Birthday Party had returned from London, dejected , depressed and drunk. Rather than sound like the English new wave bands, the UK#4 Indie Prayers On Fire is a reaction to the many sunny, good humored tunes hitting the radio at the time. It's a dark deconstruction of rock'n'roll highlighted by "Nick The Stripper" and "King Ink".

Cold Chisel :  Choir Girl

In April of 1981, Cold Chisel's East landed in the hands of American FM rock programmers. They mostly went for "My Baby" because the single was sent wrapped in a diaper. In March 1981 Australia's most popular rock band the band won seven categories: Best Australian Album, Most Outstanding Achievement, Best Recorded Song Writer, Best Australian Producer, Best Australian Record Cover Design, Most Popular Group and Most Popular Record, at the Countdown/TV Week pop music awards for 1980 . Today it sounds pretty generic but the band's behavior was anything but. Singer Jimmy Barnes claimed to have had sex with over 1000 women and who consumed more than a bottle of vodka each night while performing

Cashbox Review


Friday, April 9, 2021

Echo & The Bunnymen shine so hard

Echo & The Bunnymen : Zimbo (Live)

On April 10, 1981 Echo & The Bunnymen released the UK#37 Shine So Hard EP, four live tracks including "Crocodiles" and "All That Jazz" from the final concert of the band's "Camo" tour, named for the netting and the band's army surplus wardrobe. 

It's recorded at the Victorian concert hall at the Pavilion Gardens in Buxton, a quiet spa town in Derbyshire’s picturesque Peak District.  At first the purpose of the 33 minute film, directed by avant-garde filmmaker John Smith, seems to be to irritate fans. It's made up of abstract visual and audio snippets. A filmmaker showing off. 

Finally, about 13 minutes in, we get the concert film we signed up for. And I have to admit it's perfection. The whole thing is here:

Public Image Ltd : Flowers of Romance

On April 11, 1981 Public Image Ltd released an avant-garde exercise called Flowers of Romance. Was this great art? Or just an act of great laziness? Virgin Records claimed it was so uncommercial they refused to release it. John Lydon told the NME "Flowers of Romance is about ponces. People who pretend to be friends but all they really want is to leech in on a good thing and spend your money". I prefer my avant-garde performed by The Pop Group.


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

With a little help from Prince, Rick James releases the R&B album of the year

Rick James : Give It To Me Baby

On April 7, 1981 Rick James, "The Punk of Funk",  released Street Songs, an album that would top the R&B charts for twenty straight weeks and sell four million copies thanks to songs like "Give It To Me Baby" and "Super Freak".

According to his protégé Teena Marie, James had a bitter rivalry with Prince, allegedly stealing Prince’s programmed synthesizers following a tour together and using them on Street Songs, and then sending them back to him “with a thank-you card.”  

Soon after joining the U.S. Naval Reserves at 15, James went A.W.O.L. and ended up in Toronto where he formed The Mynah Birds with Neil Young and Bruce Palmer (later of Buffalo Springfield) and future Steppenwolf Goldie McJohn. They signed to Motown but nothing came of it so James spent years as a sideman. Then, in 1978 Motown signed him again and James began producing a series of hit albums and singles as well as producing two artists who show up on Street Songs : Teena Marie and The Temptations.

Street Songs is Rick James at the height of his powers. After all, it contains "Super Freak" (later co-opted by MC Hammer for his smash hit "U Can't Touch This"). Strangely, the reviewer for Billboard doesn't mention this super freaky song in the 1981 review. It's a little like visiting Seattle and never mentioning the Space Needle.

Street Songs finished as the  #9 best album of the year in the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Critics Poll.

 Rick James: Street Songs (Gordy) 20; 
 Slave: Show Time (Cotillion) 15; 
 Fela Anikulapo Kuti: Black President (Arista import) 10; 
 Chaka Khan: What'cha Gonna Do for Me (Warner Bros.) 10; 
 Ray Parker & Raydio: A Woman Needs Love (Arista) 10; 
 Maze featuring Frankie Beverly: Live in New Orleans (Capitol) 10; 
 Earth, Wind & Fire: Raise! (Columbia) 10;
 Linx: Intuition (Chrysalis) 5; 
 Steely Dan: Gaucho (MCA); 5
Curtis Mayfield: Love Is the Place (Boardwalk) 5.