Thursday, 27 October 2011

Music Year Zero


1981 was the year I fell in love with music. Of course, I'd liked a lot of music before then but none of it had really grabbed me. When I was primary school age in the mid-Seventies I enjoyed the Glam Rock of the Sweet, Slade, Bowie and co. as well as the poppier sounds of Abba and 10CC, but I really had little interest in music beyond whatever song took my fancy on Top Of The Pops in any given week. In 1976/7 Punk Rock passed me by ( I'd catch up later ) but, as the '80s dawned, I began to listen to Rock ( Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Hendrix ) and Two Tone ( The Specials, Madness ) and the vaguely-defined New Wave ( Blondie, Squeeze, Undertones ) and even began to buy some of the stuff. My first single was Pink Floyd's mega-hit Another Brick In The Wall... not the coolest choice, I know, but I still love it.

Then I became an Antperson. Really. Punk underachiever Adam Ant had reinvented himself as some sort of Glam Punk Pirate and was making waves with his ludicrous-but-catchy musical blend of Glam stomp and Burundi beats. Songs like the mighty Dog Eat Dog and Antmusic bowled me over with their freshness and colour and I started drawing Adam's "Warrior Ant" logo on all my school books, bought all the Ants' back catalogue, and, er, wore a feather in my hair...
Adam's 1980 Kings Of The Wild Frontier album was my Bible and, as my musical Year Zero arrived, I eagerly awaited the follow-up. I bought the first single from the album, the title track Prince Charming, in HMV on the day it was released and had to endure the shop assistant's scorn, as he thought me an empty-headed teen pop fan: "Have you even heard this song?" ( What a twat! ) Although, to be honest, Adam's 1981 music wasn't as good as the previous year's - he was becoming too much of a showbiz "entertainer" for my liking - but it didn't really matter. I was now officially a Proper Music Fan. I had begun to buy music magazines ( starting with Smash Hits, progressing to Sounds and Melody Maker ) and was listening to Radio One every spare minute I had.



1981 was also the dawn of the Electropop era. Instead of buying guitars and Play In A Day books of chords, bands were grabbing cheap synthesisers and plundering the works of Bowie and Kraftwerk to create new, electronic sounds. And a lot of crap was produced. But the main movers 'n' shakers of the scene, the Human League, were way out in front. They, like Adam, had ditched their earlier cult sound and look, and were heading for the Pop big leagues. The Dare album was a massive seller, overflowing with classic song after classic song. The League may seem cheesy nowadays as they haul themselves around the nostalgia circuit but, in 1981, they had the tunes, the confidence and the ridiculous haircuts that would propel them to stardom.


Speaking of ridiculous haircuts...
The League's splinter group, Heaven 17, made their debut in 1981 with the wonderful single We Don't Need This Fascist Groove Thang, an irresistibly funky call to arms in a time of worrying Right-wing thuggishness. I bought the ensuing album and enjoyed it at the time but its sound dated as much as the band's ironic, Yuppie image, and it didn't survive my later Vinyl Purges...


Meanwhile, over in the world of Sensitive Boys With Guitars, here's Faith by The Cure. I actually went out and bought this album purely on the strength of a review in Sounds, without having heard a single track. ( Very trusting of me. ) Faith is probably the quintessential early '80s Goth album: doomy, gloomy and claustrophobic. Songs like All Cats Are Grey and The Drowning Man are as atmospheric and pretentious as you'd imagine, but not without their own certain, spectral charm. Little did I know that 6 years later I would meet a young girl called Sarah who was a massive Cure fan, and we would end up seeing the band play live many times...


In a similar ( jugular ) vein, The Cure's contemporaries The Banshees spawned this side-project by singer Siouxsie and drummer Budgie, a percussion-driven e.p. of overheated sexGoth torchsongs. It's all good stuff and, as a teenager, I was seriously impressed by the sleeve photos...


I went through a Heavy Metal phase at the time ( I wore my leather jacket to Punk gigs, my denim jacket to Metal gigs ) and there was no-one heavier than Motorhead. The classic Motorhead line-up were now big stars on the back of the awesome Ace Of Spades LP ( the title track was the second single I ever bought ) and they consolidated this popularity with the ear-destroying live album, No Sleep 'til Hammersmith. It pretty much sounds like having your head stuck inside a washing-machine full of bricks on spin cycle, which is obviously a very good thing. I always wanted to see Motorhead live back in the day, but I saw also-rans like Vardis instead. Which is probably why I still have my hearing today...


The tribal drumbeats popularised by Adam Ant ( which also cropped up in Other Voices from The Cure's Faith ) are given a Post-Punk, artrock twist by John Lydon's Public Image Ltd. on the deeply strange album, The Flowers Of Romance. Lydon and his cohorts blend surreal, nihilistic lyrics, splashes of synth and deep, cavernous drum sounds to spooky effect. "Reptilians... I won't let you in..." indeed! A long way from butter adverts.....


I didn't actually own the above Blue Oyster Cult album back in 1981, but bought it years later. I just had to include it 'cos I love the cover art...


1981's pop charts were certainly diverse! Former Elvis Costello wannabe Joe Jackson ditched his bedsit New Wave ruminations for zoot suits and horns as he put out a wonderful album of Swing-era covers. My Mum bought this album for my Dad, Pete, who loved the Big Band sound of Glenn Miller and the like, but I ended up playing it more than he did :-)
Reap this righteous riff!

As any regular reader of this 'ere blog knows, I'm a major fan of Bruce Springsteen. Back in 1981 The Boss helped out one of his idols, Gary "US" Bonds, by writing and producing his comeback album, Dedication, featuring the retro pop-soul classic This Little Girl Is Mine. A great, swinging r'n'b production with cool, call-and-response vocals and the unmistakeable sound of the E Street Band, this lost classic sounded like a blast of fresh air as it burst from radios in the Summer of 1981...

...my own Music Year Zero!

( If anyone else has similar thoughts on this year or any other year in music, I'd love to hear them... )

7 comments:

Steve W. said...

I think 1979 has to be my equivalent. I'd already been into music for a zillion years - and already proven my good taste by buying such classic records as Long Haired Lover from Liverpool and Billy Don't Be A Hero at a very early age. But 1979 was when I seemed to have the radio on permanently - and inherited the family record player from my sister when she left home, meaning I could spend all my free time playing records.

To be honest, I don't think I was all that discriminating at that time. I seem to remember liking virtually everything that was on the charts - and virtually everything that wasn't on the charts - from PIL to ELO.

But among the acts I cherished most that year were the Beatles, Elvis Costello, the Jam, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Supertramp, Squeeze and Graham Parker.

cerebus660 said...

Great choices, Steve! Squeeze and The Jam are two of my faves from that period. I was actually meant to be seeing Bruce Foxton's band, From The Jam, tomorrow night ( and a mate was getting me in for free! ) but they've cancelled the gig due to poor ticket sales :-(

Steve W. said...

I've just remembered that Sparks had a revival in 1979. How great was that year?

Sadly, there was to be no 1979 revival for Little Jimmy Osmond. :(

cerebus660 said...

Oh yeah! That was Sparks' Disco phase with Number One Song In Heaven and the awesome Beat The Clock. Great stuff!

...but I am getting worried about your Jimmy Osmond obsession...

Steve W. said...

They're playing Ant Music by Adam Ant, on Absolute Radio right now! And they say there's no such thing as fate.

Mickey Glitter said...

In 1981, I was still a long way off from the music takeover you described (I think it was around 1988/89 for me), but despite that, I have the fondest memories of music from around this time of my life. I was eleven at the time and was sort of limited to what I heard on the radio, but to this day, hearing any number of songs from this era can quite simply make my day. =)

cerebus660 said...

@Mickey
That period around '87 to '89 is also one of my favourite times for music... mostly because I was in a band and loving it!

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