So, in some thread somewhere, someone said something about music in the 80s sucking.
I really must disagree. But rather than spend a lot of time breaking down the cultural and music environment of the music scene in the US circa 1980-1989, I figured I’d post a shitload of you tube links, along with a brief description of why I like these songs. This isn’t a music history thread, nor does it have any kind of arc; rather, it’s just a bunch of songs that I really like that were released in the 80s. And for the hell of it, I organized it by the year the album came out. So, we begin.
Public Image Limited released their second album in 1980, and it’s a mind-bendingly uncomfortably brilliant record. Turning away from the Pistols’ bombast, they anchored everything with an almost-reggae bass. And then shoved knitting needles in your ears with shrill guitars winding through the whole thing. Johnny proves himself a more nimble and ambiguous lyricist, as well. For your consideration: Poptones
We also see the Cure’s first album. The piercing sound of this album seems remarkable when you think about what they really became famous for (later in this decade, actually. We’ll get there). Boys Don’t Cry
is one of those “missing link” albums that easily demonstrates how Goth music came from Punk culture. Songs: Plastic Passion
(with bonus Bettie Page), and Object
Speaking of punk, Stiff Little Fingers released their second album, Nobody’s Heroes
this year. If you don’t know who these guys are, they’re pretty much Green Day’s cooler grandfathers. Much cooler. Gotta Get Away
, At The Edge
Just to make sure I don’t forget that music was made that appealed to a lot more people, Judas Priest released British Steel
in 1980, and pretty much blew the doors off the metal scene. Also, listening back to the tracks knowing Halford was totally queer makes tracks like Grinder
While that was happening, Robyn Hitchock was doing his thing with The Soft Boys, which no one ever heard, but influenced so much of the Athens, GA scene a few years later it’s not even funny. If you’re the kind of person who thinks Robyn got a bit too twee with his solo stuff, check out Insanely Jealous
and Positive Vibrations
. Also, if you just don’t like his voice, there’s always You’ll Have to Go Sideways
“But LMNO,” you say, “what about bands we actually know about?” Well, how about Devo? “You mean that silly New Wave band?” Um, no. I’m talking about the band that took satire to the fucking wall and then slapped you with it, only the public in 1980 had no idea what was going on. I’m talking about Freedom of Choice
. ‘Nuff said.
Too cheerful for you? Do you feel like wallowing in existential angst and despair? Lucky for you, Joy Division’s last album came out. If you only know that song about love tearing you apart, and maybe the Nine Inch Nails cover of Dead Souls, it, um, gets even more bleak than that. First, the JG Ballard-inspired The Atrocity Exhibiton
(by the way, if you’ve never read that book, shame on you), and then The Eternal
. If you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a length of rope. All the same, it’s a really beautiful album.
Ok, ok. I like dark music. And 1980 had its share. Siouxie and the Banshees released Kaleidoscope
, and songs like Red Light
seemed as if it was made for overly romanticized nerds who think nightclubs should be filled with smoke and eyeliner. And Happy House
is filled with so much snark, it’s dangerous.
You know what? Fuck it. Let’s keep going with this. You want some anger to go with your moping? Try Killing Joke’s eponymous album. Eventually, dozens of more famous bands would cop to this style, but this was one of the first albums to have the harsh, cold, unrelenting razor blade guitar as the focal point. Check out The Wait
and War Dance
. Try not to look so uncomfortable.
Then there’s Bowie, because Bowie. Ashes to Ashes
Aaand back into punk territory. Dead Kennedys shoved Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
into America’s face in 1980. Do I have to tell you of the importance of this band? Even if Jello Biafra turned out to be kind of a tool? California Uber Alles
and Holiday in Cambodia
are two songs that you must absolutely have in your memory banks.
I really can’t decide what tracks off of Talking Heads’ Remain in Light
to post. The whole album is really great. But a track you may not remember is Listening Wind
, a song about a terrorist bomber. How oddly relevant. It also may have been a while since you heard The Great Curve
, so you’re welcome.
Hey, you know who else was around in the 80s? The mothefucking Clash, that’s who. Sure, Sandanista!
was a self-important car crash, but did you know Black Market Clash
came out the same year? If you haven’t heard their cover of Armagideon Time
or the oddly inspiring Bankrobber Dub
, now you have.
Oh, I’m sorry. Did you want fucking weird oddball concept music? Well, you can’t go wrong with The Residents. The Commercial Album
is forty one-minute songs, constructed as perverted and corrupted jingles. Yes, I linked to the whole album. Sue me. Listen anyway.
Oh, hell. Why not? Art-Punk Gothers Bauhaus released their debut album in 1980, and Daniel Ash was a lot more pissed off than you’d think. And Peter Murphy was, well, just as Peter Murphy as he became, only more so. In the Flat Field
and Double Dare
Dude, do you realize that Ace of Spades
was released that year? One of the best albums anywhere, anytime. Much like no punk band could match Iggy’s Funhouse
, released in 1970, no metal band can match Motorhead, who have always said they’re just playing rock and roll. Title track, obviously
, but The Hammer
is fucking awesome, too.
Ok, now we get personal. The Birthday Party. Their albums were a big part of my late teen/early twenties soundtrack, especially the “year off between colleges” period. I was completely hooked (oof. Bad heroin pun) from the first time I heard Harvey and Howard’s squalling guitars. And, of course, Nick. There was a lot more anger and pain in his voice back then. Sometimes it bordered on savagery, but his images and use of language were still spot on. Most of the time the songs sounded like they were teetering on the verge of collapse, and that tension, that uncertainty, gave the music a life that isn’t easy to find. Their first album was released in 1980. Anyway, here’s a huge influence on the way I think about music: The Friend Catcher
and Happy Birthday
Another awesome band from across the pond, Gang of Four released an untitled yellow EP called, creatively, The Yellow EP
. Sure, these songs would appear on Solid Gold
, but this is like, now
, man. So listen to indictments of society such as Outside the Trains Don’t Run On Time
and He’d Send In The Army
And then, and then… Hoo boy. The number one band of my life. Seriously. More than Iggy, more than Nick Cave, more than Brian Eno (I know, I know…). The Minutemen. Their first EP, Paranoid Time
, was released in 1980. When I first heard them, I didn’t realize music could be written this way. Angular. Minimal. Compelling. Political. I mean, holy shit. Fuck it, I’m linking the whole EP
. I’m not much of “that kind” of music guy, but I have this 7” on green vinyl, and fuck you. It’s worth it just for “Joe McCarthy’s Ghost”, but “Definitions” and “Paranoid Chant” are mind-blowingly good.
So, yeah. All of that, that was in one year
of the 1980s. Ok, fine, I looked ahead, and it got a bit more sparse, but there’s equally good stuff happening throughout, nevertheless.