Playlist #4: All Hail 1981

Marc Hall evaluates the lasting impact of 1981 on the musical landscape…

1981 is not the first year that comes to mind when you think of those defining music history.  Rising from the ashes left over from the stale punk movement, a fresh sound was needed.  Following the sudden end of Joy Division a year earlier, New Order released their first album, Movement. This was thrown into the emerging Synth-Pop movement with groups such as Depeche Mode, OMD and The Human League all gaining a considerable following.

Punk’s shadow still loomed large though, with a public now more accustomed to a zesty sound. Billy Idol disbanded Generation X to embark on a more user friendly solo career, and Adam and the Ants went full on pop with their third album Prince Charming. We were even seeing pop starlets such as Kim Wilde, debuting with a song as energetic as Kids in America.

This is a year that must also surely be seen as seminal for Heavy Metal fans. Formed this year were Metallica, Anthrax, Faith No More, Slayer and Pantera. Iron Maiden embarked on a new start by recruiting Bruce Dickenson, and Ozzy Osbourne lived up to his image by biting the head off a dove (whilst celebrating signing a record deal).

Another fledgling music genre was also born when Debbie Harry invented rap with Rapture. Of course, this involved a little creative journalism at the time, conveniently forgetting bands like The Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash.

The way music was consumed was challenged with the arrival of MTV, launched in August. Rock dinosaurs past and present had found a new way to showcase their music. Queen and David Bowie combined for Under Pressure, with Bowie further exploiting this new media with his first (and freakiest) music video, in Ashes to Ashes.

The growing urban unrest was sound-tracked by The Specials with the sublime Ghost Town highlighting the decline seen in cities throughout the country. Whilst still at number one in the charts, riots broke out in several cities, most notably Brixton and Toxteth.

Following on from the murder of John Lennon in Dec 1980, his music dominated the early year charts with Imagine, Woman and Jealous Guy (covered by Brian Ferry) all hitting the  number-one spot (although these were rudely interrupted by Joe Dolce’s Shaddap You Face).

1981 was also a great year for Mums and Dads. Phil Collins released his first solo album, and Dire Straits secured their place in every drive time compilation with the release of Romeo and Juliet. We even had a moment to be proud of when Bucks Fizz won the Eurovison Song Contest, beating such classics as Finland’s Reggae OK and, erm, Turkey’s Donme Dolap.

1981, we salute thee!

Marc Hall

Posted on 29/01/2012 by thedoublenegative