1980 In Music

I have for a long time wanted to do some work on retrospective review of popular culture — the sorts of work that usually receive immediate reviews in the popular press, receive annual awards (or don’t), and then give way to the next, latest release. How often do entertainment-industry flacks anoint someone as the next Bob Dylan, or assert the monumental importance of this or that movie, when a few years afterward those overinflated award-winning works of genius crowd cut-out bins and used-video sale shelves?

I’m starting with 1980 because it’s twenty-five years ago, a very good round number, and because I was still listening to enough music that my opinions warrant more than derisive attention. We can branch out from there to other years, and to movies (of which I watch relatively few). I’ll base many music observations on my iTunes database, which is subject to misleading labels and outright errors — but gives me a starting point, anyway. (More dangerously, for my reputation, I’ll overlook some albums that I own but haven’t ripped yet, especially risky since those will be the more-often-played CDs by more prominent artists.) Then I’ll sum up by proposing awards that seem fitting to me, in quantities and categories that suit my whimsy.

In 1980, the Grammys lauded the Doobie Brothers (“What a Fool Believes”) and Billy Joel for (Phil “Wanted” Ramone-produced) 52nd Street. Ricki Lee Jones was their Best New Artist. Muddy Waters got an award for Muddy Mississsippi Waters Live, and Irakere got a Grammy for their eponymous album. Donna Summer won Best Female Rock Performance for “Hot Stuff”; Bob Dylan, Male, for “Gotta Serve Somebody”; the Eagles, Group, for “Heartache Tonight”; and Paul McCartney and Wings, Instrumental, for “Rockestra Theme” (I appreciate fundraisers as much as many people, but you’ve got to be kidding). The R&B selections: Dionne Warwick for “D?©j?† vu”; Michael Jackson for “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough”; Earth, Wind & Fire for “After the Love Has Gone”; and Earth, Wind & Fire for “Boogie Wonderland.”

Jazz: Oscar Peterson for Jousts; Chick Corea & Gary Burton for Duet; Duke Ellington for Duke Ellington at Fargo, 1940 Live; Weather Report for 8:30; and Ella Fitzgerald for Fine and Mellow.

(Grammy reports courtesy of the Wikipedia.)

Ummm, yes; something was happening, but they didn’t know what it was, did they?

1980 was a monster year for music in my iTunes collection: I’ll just throw out the following terrific albums for starters: Elvis Costello, Get Happy!!; David Bowie’s Scary Monsters; the Pretenders’ first album; Peter Gabriel’s third solo album named Peter Gabriel; X, Los Angeles; Dire Straits, Making Movies; Dead Kennedys, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables; Jim Carroll Band, Catholic Boy; Bruce Springsteen, The River; XTC, Black Sea; Roxy Music, Flesh + Blood. Friends, that’s a very good year.

On the R&B front, Prince’s Dirty Mind album was released, and Kurtis Blow released “The Breaks.”

I see a handful of “not quite” albums. The Beat’s I Just Can’t Stop It (ooh, now that I take a closer look, that album leaps in my estimation); the B-52’s, Wild Planet; the Specials, More Specials (though their reappropriation of “Maggie’s Farm” came out that year, I think, winning them bonus points for taste and political pertinence); Squeeze, Argybargy. Blondie’s Autoamerican catches them way past their best work, and Devo’s Freedom of Choice likewise seems a sign of falling-off (sad that “Whip It!” captured the public imagination rather than the title cut — can someone re-release or remix that in honor of the present condition of U.S. politics?). The Stones’ Emotional Rescue is just sad.

OK, here are some AKMA awards for the year 1980, subject to correction and amplification when others point out stuff I missed:

1980’s Album Lingering in My Consciousness: Making Movies.

Unfairly Overshadowed Album: (Well, “unfairly overshadowed movie,” with album in tow) Rockers, the amiable reggae potpourri film that will never emerge from the shadow of The Harder They Come.

Great Covers: “Soul Kitchen,” by X; “Stop Your Sobbing,” the Pretenders (I love her a capella intro); “Eight Miles High,” Roxy Music.

Too Late Reintroduction: Professor Longhair got some posthumous press for Crawfish Fiesta, from listeners who should have been paying attention all along. The Muddy Waters album was pretty good, too; I guess the Grammys can’t get everything wrong (though if I were a folk artist, I might be grouchy about the blues taking this award, though if I were a blues artist, I’d respond that at least “folk” had a category of its own. OK, enough bickering).

Best Single: Not the Romantics’ insidiously catchy “What I Like About You,” nor “ ‘Antmusic!’ ” by Adam and the Ants, the prescient “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles, but the especially deserving “That’s Entertainment” from the Jam’s Sound Affects.

Best Debut: The Pretenders.

Best Album: Top to bottom, I suppose I have to go for The River.

That’s how I see it, anyway; but I’m probably forgetting something, 1980 being so long ago and all.

11 thoughts on “1980 In Music

  1. A couple you might consider from late in 1980 … U2’s Boy and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light (I can’t imagine 1980 without a Talking Heads song in my head)

  2. Wow, yes! I had Boy tacitly in mind as I wrote, but it never entirely caught my attention the way October did. Remain in Light, though, is a whopper — a perect illustration of the “too obvious to be in my playlist” phenomenon. I think Bruce has to move over for album of the year.

    “She is moving to describe the world
    She has messages for everyone. . . .”

    I relish True Colors, too, an admirably solid album. The Finn Brothers are tremendous pop craftsmen. I’d put that up in the paragraph of exemplary-acheivement records in an amazingly rich year.

  3. 1980- Definitely spent a lot of time listening to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. 2005-my grandkids ask, “Pink Who?” Sigh!

  4. Wow … I thought I was the only person who still remembered X, which is one of my favorite bands ever. Have you heard John Doe’s solo work? Some of it is pretty astonishingly good.

  5. Cliff, according to the All Music Guide database, The Wall counts as 1979 — so I’ll reminisce about that in a subsequent post.

    Sarah, I haven’t tracked down any recent John Doe except his contribution to the Knitters tribute. I’ll keep my eyes open (I thikn I heard good reviews of his latest).

  6. Forgot about Split Enz … got to see them live in a rather small venue (Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary) which was definitely a good show.

    As I was pondering other albums while my kid was playing ball hockey, 1980 was also one of those years with really disappointing ‘subsequent’ albums of a lot of folks (Blondie, the Cars, Ian Drury, the Police); that was the year that ELO turned to mush, Alan Parsons Project was overplayed … I was probably the only person who liked pete townshend’s Empty Glass …

    On the other hand, AC/DC’s Back in Black came out that year too …

  7. See, Empty Glass was another of those never-ripped CDs. Margaret and I soaked that up; I’m not convinced it ages well, but we loved it back in the day.

    Relative to Ian Dury, AMG shows 1980 as the year for Laughter, which was his third, and was a disappointment indeed after New Boots and Panties and Do It Yourself; I rather liked DIY, though not as much as I liked the non-album singles “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” and “Reasons To Be Cheerful.” I wasn’t the Police fan in the couple, but Margaret liked them (caught them in Portland,Maine, on an early tour). AMG gives as their second album Reggatta de Blanc, 1979, and assigns 1980 to Zenyatta Mondatta. Either way, they seem more skillful than soulful to me. Sting’s later history may be influencing me, though.

    As for Back in Black, Joey and I have been going round and round about it. I didn’t even pause to consider it a notable album of 1980, but I’ll promptly give it the “Accordion Guy/Rogue Classicist Award for Unpretentious Metal” or whatever you suggest.

  8. Well, your list certainly brought me back in time. Thanks. Of course, in 1980, as I recall, I was mostly lamenting the breakup of Led Zeppelin.

  9. Just took a look at the Oscars for 1980 films, which would be the ones given out in ’81. That was the year of Raging Bull, Ordinary People, and The Elephant Man. Undoubtedly three of the greatest American films, so pop culture was definately up to something back then.

  10. X is still doing the occasional gig–I’ve missed them more times than I can count in the last few years. Most memorable was the night my wife, who is supposed to be a fan, too, and who has seen X (though without Billy Zoom) so I guess it wasn’t such a big deal to her to see them, decided to go to the hospital and give birth instead. Glad I didn’t have tickets–what a bummer that’d’ve been!

    There’s a really good interview from a few years back with Billy Zoom which he liked well enough to put on his website, and this is the link: http://billyzoom.com/niceguy.html

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