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 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.


Monday, June 7, 2021

Grieving for John : Yoko Ono's Season of Glass and George Harrison's " All Those Years Ago"

Yoko Ono : Goodbye Sadness

In early June, 1981 Yoko Ono released Season Of Glass. Released six months after Lennon's murder, making music may very well have been Ono's most therapeutic way to deal with her grief, anger and sadness. It was recorded with the same New York session musicians who played on Double Fantasy and Phil Spector is credited with producing the album. There is another contributor who is not credited, the memory of her husband. And that weight hangs over every song.

Unfortunately there were people who saw it as a cash grab and found the cover, with Lennon's blood-soaked glasses, distasteful. Some American radio stations used that as an excuse not to play the album. A program director in Key West found the cover morbid and use of her son Sean telling a story about her dad "shocking enough to make even the Plasmatics seem tame...Season is more than not nice--it is strongly distasteful and it will be a cold day in Key West before this trash is played on the station".

Yoko's response to the criticism:

I felt like a person soaked in blood coming into a living room full of people and reporting that my husband was dead, his body was taken away, and the pair of glasses were the only thing I had managed to salvage – and people looking at me saying it was in bad taste to show the glasses to them. "I'm not changing the cover. This is what John is now," I said.

The album peaked at US#49  and finished #29 in the Pazz and Jop Critics Poll. Pitchfork ranked  Season of Glass 188 of the best 200 albums of the 1980's.

George Harrison : All Those Years Ago

On June 1, 1981 George Harrison released Somewhere In England, which was preceded by the US#2/UK#13 single "All Those Years Ago", a tribute to Lennon (They don't act with much honesty /But you point the way to the truth when you say/ All you need is love) that featured the surviving Beatles. What's not often mentioned is that Ringo played his part weeks before Lennon was murdered and Paul and Linda merely came in to add backing vocals. The song is surprisingly upbeat considering the subject matter.

 There are several gems on this album and there's quite a bit of humor. "Blood From A Clone" is about the Warner Brothers record executives who rejected the original album as too laid back but Somewhere In England  left many critics unmoved. As Rolling Stone's Harry Thomas concluded in a a review that gave the album two starts out of five: 

The most paradoxical of the ex-Beatles, George Harrison is an enigmatic mixture of exquisite craftsmanship and heavy-handed hack work, touching sincerity and plain disingenuousness. As it stands, Somewhere in England is neither here nor there. 


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The Raincoats return with Odyshape

The Raincoats :  Only Loved At Night

On June 1, 1981 The Raincoats released their second album, Odyshape. It would enter the UK Indie charts at #6. If the band sounded like they were still getting to know their instruments on the debut, here the charm lies in the multitude of instruments and the hypnotic quality of their music. 

We wanted to push ourselves, so when we made our second album, we weren’t going to make a sequel to the first.," guitarist Ana da Silva tells Louder Than War. "We wanted to do something different.”

They found that difference at Manny's Music in midtown Manhattan. The store had a treasure trove of instruments. “I bought a few little things there and Gina bought a balafon," da Silva said "We had all of these new instruments, so of course, we wanted to use them!”  

Spin's Alternative Guide has this line about the album : Odyshape has a reputation as some sort of mystical transcendence of rockdom in New Age textures, but it's unmistakably a rock record.

A balfon

 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.