Tuesday, April 24, 2007


1981 was probably the last year I listened to the radio constantly for my musical entertainment. After '81, I had enough discerning taste (and, eventually, discretionary income) to get most of my music from albums and cassettes and, after much consternation, CDs (and after more consternation, mp3s and the like). So, when I accidentally found myself at Wikipedia's 1981 in Music page, I was propelled down a river of memories on a rowboat of melodies.

Also, in 1981, I didn't care where my music came from. I'd later develop an anti-pop attitude (since rescinded). I'd become a snob about critical reputation. I was 15. All I cared about was a good song, whether it came from Top 40 radio (REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Hall, Rick James, Oates) or from one of those late night shows on Philadelphia's classic rock stations, when they would play entire Clash and Eagles albums at midnight. Yes, it was a time when The Clash and The Eagles could find common ground.

(Coincidentally, my earlier post today was about a book I read in 1981.)

So, looking at the Wikipedia list of albums and singles that came out in 1981, I'm kind of astounded at how good a year it was for music. In a now-classic list, I had 1981 ranked as the 26th best year for music in my lifetime. Now I think it might belong in the Top 5, nestled between '67 and '94. Just look at what 1981 brought to the table: Prince's Controversy album, Heaven 17, the best work of Genesis (Abacab), Blondie's most underrated song (The Tide Is High), the comeback of Gary U.S. Bonds, Jesse's Girl, Charlotte Sometimes, Thomas Dolby's Europa and the Pirate Twins, This is Radio Clash (!), Super Freak, Squeeze's East Side Story album, the first Replacements album, and, courtesy of Wikipedia, this gem of an anecdote from 8/23/81: "The Violent Femmes are discovered by members of The Pretenders busking outside the Milwaukee venue where The Pretenders will be playing, and invited to play a 10-minute acoustic set as a second opening act that night."

I could easily have listed an entirely different set of songs/albums/artists from '81 and my point would still stand. In fact, I'll do just that: Celebrate, I Love Rock and Roll, Freeze Frame, Tainted Love, Joy Division's Still, 38 Special's Wild Eyed Southern Boys, the single of Springsteen's The River (the album came out in '80 of course), You Better You Bet, Kids in America, the commercial peak of them, U2's October, and Waiting For a Girl Like You.

I'm not exactly longing for something gone here. Today, music is arguably better. If not better, it's at least easier to find and to catalogue. I will say with certainty that, although there were strict formatting considerations even 26 years ago, music on the radio was more interesting, diverse, and free flowing then. Of course, I'll probably say the same thing about 2007 in 2033. No, all I want to do is celebrate a great year for music, which 1981 surely was. If you don't believe me, listen to my favorite song from that year.


Visual G. said...

"I was propelled down a river of memories on a rowboat of melodies." All I have to say is... Wow! That's a great line...

Also... "The Beauty and the Beat" by the Go Go's and "Dare" by Human League were pretty amazing in 81 too... Especially for me... I was 10. Oh, and "Mistaken Identity" by Kim Carnes. It was a good year, yes.

b. blueprint said...

Hmmm... I wonder who this "visual g." person is.

If you were 10 in '81, it means you're 36 now? 35 if your birthday hasn't happened yet?

I'll figure it out some day.

That much is true.