So it’s a year later from my last ‘80s mix disc, and, frankly, my tastes in music hadn’t changed all that much. MTV emerged in ’81 (which is mentioned in the very first write-up, in fact), but we didn’t have cable at the time, and even if we had, I’m led to understand that it originally wasn’t in all that many of the homes that did have cable. So, again, my tastes were limited to what was being played on the radio, in my parents’ vehicles, or – on rare occasions – at school…and, again, you get a playlist that mixes what I was listening to then with the stuff I’ve discovered since. So let’s get schizophrenic again, shall we?
"Adventures in Modern Recording," the Buggles (Adventures in Modern Recording)
We start things off with the title track of an album most people don’t realize even exists. The Buggles’ fifteen minutes of fame came courtesy of “Video Killed the Radio Star,” from their 1980 album, Living in the Plastic Age, but even that came not when it was released a single but, rather, when it became the first video ever aired on MTV, on August 1st, 1981. This album also showed up in 1981, but neither it nor any of its four singles managed to chart. To be fair, it’s not as immediately pop-friendly as its predecessor, but this song was both fun and catchy. Now, if only someone would put it back into print…
"TV Party," Black Flag (Damaged)
I’ve always loved Henry Rollins’ spoken word a hell of a lot more than his music, but I associate this song with “Repo Man,” which immediately doubles its worth in my eyes.
"Burnin’ for You," Blue Öyster
of Unknown Origin)
I’m usually the first person to defend a band when someone goes for the old “They’ve got a greatest hits? It must be a CD single!” joke, but I must admit that if you gave me a CD single that contained “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and this song, I would neither complain nor ever need to buy anything else by Blue Öyster Cult, ever.
"The Man Who Invented Himself," Robyn
Snake Diamond Role)
When the Soft Boys disbanded, frontman Robyn Hitchcock wasted no time leaping into a solo career; in fact, so little time was wasted that every single member of the Soft Boys appears on his solo debut, Black Snake Diamond Role. This, the opening track, is a bouncy little pop ditty that may or may not be about Syd Barrett…but it certainly could be, at least to my ears.
"You Better You Bet," the
The first song from the first album of the Who’s much-maligned post-Moon years is actually pretty good, despite what you might’ve heard. Besides, Kenney Jones had a damned fine reputation from his years behind the kit for the Small Faces; his only crime was the fact that he wasn’t Keith Moon, and you can’t blame the guy for that.
"Bringin’ on the Heartbreak," Def
Yeah, it originally came out in 1981, but you probably didn’t hear it ‘til 1984, when Polygram reissued it in the wake of the crazy success of Pyromania. But the more important question here is, have you ever heard Mariah Carey’s cover of this song? Swear to God, she did a version on her 2002 album, Charm Bracelet. Don’t dismiss it out of hand, either: it s a little over the top, but even the guys from the band liked it, with Joe Elliot observing that there are “some astonishing vocal gymnastics toward the end that make Minnie Riperton sound like Tom Waits.”
"The Passion of Lovers," Bauhaus (Mask)
I swear, I’m not consciously picking bands that start with “B,” even though I realize this is the fourth to appear on this mix disc. It just so happens that a lot of the great music from 1981 was released by artists who are filed under that letter -- like, say, this one. It’s not my favorite song by the band (that’d be “Bela Lugosi’s Dead”) nor the one I have the most sentimental feelings toward (I have very fond memories of cranking the bass solo of “She’s in Parties” to piss off the people who lived next door to me in college), but it’s got a kick-ass chorus, and that’s enough to warrant inclusion.
"It’s Not My Place (In the 9 to 5
World)," Ramones (Pleasant
Funnily enough, I finally got this album on CD only a few weeks ago. The easy pick from the disc would be “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” since it’s probably my single favorite Ramones song of all time – how can you resist as catchy a politically-incorrect pop hook as that? – but I didn’t even know this track until I got Rhino’s 2-disc anthology of the band, and I fell in love with it on first spin. Y’know, I’m actually trying to get an interview with Pleasant Dreams producer Graham Gouldman about some of his new recordings; stay tuned on our progress.
"All Those Years Ago," George
This tribute to the late John Lennon remained the closest thing to a Beatles reunion we’d be privy to until the release of those Anthology discs in the mid-‘90s. Of course, they weren’t all in the same studio at the same time, but, still, it was George, Paul, and Ringo on the same song, and that was all that counted. Confession: until putting this mix disc together, I didn’t realize that Wings stalwart Denny Laine contributed backing vocals to the song as well.
How can you not include this song in a retrospective of 1981? You couldn’t go five minutes without hearing the damned thing!
"On the Loose," Saga (Worlds
As God is my witness, I just downloaded this album from eMusic yesterday. All the AOR talk on the Week in Rock round table has really inspired me to dig into some of the stuff I vaguely remember from my youth, and the adding of this disc to my collection is the result. I just don’t know if it’s a good thing or not.
"From a Whisper to a Scream," Elvis
Costello and the Attractions (Trust)
This is inevitably going to end up on a future Elvis Costello Deep Cuts list, but it’s one of my favorite songs that you never hear anything about: a duet with Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze.
"Lunchbox," Alvin and the
Chipmunks with Jerry Reed (Urban
Okay, what do you want from me? I was 11, for chrissakes. One of my cousins – I can’t remember if it was Derinda or Melissa – had the Chipmunk Punk album (which featured a cover of the Knack’s “Good Girls Don’t,” though I’m guessing the lyric “’til she’s sitting on your face” didn’t make the cut), and I loved it, so I decided to buy this one when it came out. Wikipedia says that the Rolling Stone review involved giving it half a star and declaring it “a piece of shit,” but, again, I fall back on the excuse that I was 11…and, dammit, when I was 11, I loved every damned minute of it.
Hero," Foreigner (4)
I think it’s safe to say that most of us have a story like this one: I loved this song, I didn’t have the money to buy it…but I did, however, have a tape recorder that I could hold up to the radio, in order to tape it. If you asked me to pick a definitive “rock song” to put in a time capsule, this might well be my pick. I’m not talking about the definition of rock ‘n’ roll, per se; I’m just talking about the kind of song that makes you put on your jean jacket, break out your lighter, and unabashedly revel in the power of riff-heavy rock. Dare anyone deny that this meets those qualifications?
"Somewhere Down the Road," Barry
I Should Love Again)
That’s right, kids: this time, Barry does get his due. We all like to get our laughs by mocking Mr. Manilow mercilessly, but in his heyday, he was a master of sweeping ballads that always featured a textbook case of modulation to signify the arrival of the so-called “big finish,” and this is one of his best. If you’re of the few readers still with me at this point, you’re probably a closet fan, so I’ll close by recommending that you check out the original demo of the song – available on the boxed set, The Complete Collection and Then Some – where a sparse arrangement results in the lyrics feeling even more heartbreaking than they do on the album version.