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.