Maybe the revolution in music didn’t an immediate impact on the States in 1980, but it sure won the war. Alternative music did a slow burn that waited to explode in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Synthpop made itself felt all over music as musicians latched onto the latest technologies that ranged from more affordable synthesizers, samplers and drum machines. And, perhaps, the most enduring aspect of the music of 1980 was the prominent role the rhythm section of a band began to play. The basses became deeper and the drums louder.
And, all of that droning leads us to the last ten albums of this great year. Let’s do it!
The Clash – London Calling (1980). Yes, I know that technically this album was released in 1979. However, in my mind, this album started the Eighties, so that’s why it’s here. Next, we all know by now that this album is my all-time favorite. And, for all the Prince, Tom Petty, Cheap Trick, etc., fandom I possess, London Calling is the right album that came into my life at the right time. Unlike many other landmark albums, this one does NOT have clunker on it, and it’s a double album. I wore out my first copy, bought two more (so each son could have one) AND even had it on CD at one time (I hate cassettes unless I dubbed them with my old stereo). Yeah, I LOVE this album.
The J. Geils Band – Love Stinks (1980). The great J. Geils Band started adding new wave sounds to their R&B take on early Sixties rock music on their previous album, Sanctuary. But, they began to perfect this synthesis on this album. The title song, “Just Can’t Wait” and “Come Back” are a trio of great songs found on this album. Oh, and “No Anchovies Please” is a hilarious bit that could have been on a Cheech & Chong record.
The Jacksons – Triumph (1980). Although the brothers released a few more albums with and without Michael, this is their last really good one together. Yes, we all know by now that Michael was rightfully keeping his best songs for his albums, but he still gave his brothers a couple of great ones so they could maintain their lifestyles. “Can You Feel It” is awesome, while “Lovely One” and “This Place Hotel” are two terrific singles.
The Jam – Sound Affects (1980). After the great Setting Sons, Paul Weller took the boys back to their basics, as signaled by one of the all-time great stand alone singles “Going Underground.” The result was this terrific album that saw the band emphasizing their Mod influences while maintaining their ferocity as a power trio. This means they will be slowly begin to showcase their R&B side, which will ultimately lead to their demise. Still, this is the sound of a great band at their peak.
The Police – Zenyatta Mondatta (1980). Say what you will about the band’s last two albums, this was the sound of this trio of ultra-talented musicians at their most unified, for them. They were hitting on all cylinders throughout this album, as this is the one that broke the band over here in America. Plus, you will find arguably their greatest song “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.”
The Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight (1980). Welcome to the world singer/songwriter Robyn Hitchcock! And, if you are not familiar with this classic album, go listen to it now, especially if you love the jangle of The Byrds and The Beatles coupled with surrealistic humor lyrics. Psychedelia pop never really died, it simply influenced younger people who took the ball and ran with it. This album is just a masterpiece and should be heard by anyone who loves music.
The Vapors – New Clear Days (1980). Power pop was not simply an American phenomenon, as they was a British version of it practiced by fantastic bands such as The Records, Bram Tchaikovsky, among others. But, The Vapors released the most complete album of new wave-influenced power pop. Of course, nothing on the whole album rises to the level of “Turning Japanese,” but to write off The Vapors as a one-hit wonder is to ignore this album.
U2 – Boy (1980). Were these Irishmen punk, new wave, Celtic mystics, true Christians or rock messiahs? Maybe a little of all, but mostly none of the above. This was a whole new sound by a new generation for THAT generation. You can hear the rudimentary sound of what would become the biggest band in the whole within the decade. This was the true revolution taking place here.
Utopia – Adventures in Utopia (1980). Todd Rundgren is as subversive as he is influential, and that’s what separates him from the others in rock. He had his solo career, where he was a chameleon as he went from power pop to blue-eyed soul to prog rock to singer/songwriter and back on a whim. Then, in the mid-Seventies, he started what he described as a democratic prog rock band. But, the man was too much of a control freak to totally let go. Hell, he was all ready one of the greatest producers of all-time by this point. So, the band took on a version of prog rock occupied by Styx and Kansas, only Utopia did it with humor and virtuosity. This album was the band’s venture into AOR territory that was unmatched by any band of the genre at the time. “The Very Last Time” and “Set Me Free” were minor hits that should have been huge.
Various Artists – Times Square OST (1980). The late-Seventies through the Eighties were a golden era for film soundtrack albums. After Saturday Night Fever, RSO Records CEO Robert Stigwood would dip into movies based upon Fifties music (Grease) and The Beatles (Sgt. Pepper). Both were commercially successful. So, when Stigwood was reported to be making a film based in punk-era NYC, we anticipated what would be on the soundtrack. My goodness! This was a terrific introduction to the underworld of music. Everyone was on this from the Ramones, The Cure and Joe Jackson to XTC, Patti Smith and Talking Heads. The only songs that suck are the original ones written for the film, but the rest is classic stuff.
X – Los Angeles (1980). X was one of the best bands from the LA-area hardcore scene, along with the Germs and Black Flag. They took the whole rockabilly with a Bo Diddley-beat this and turned it up and played it fast, which was perfect to egg on the disaffected youth of Southern California. “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline” is an anti-violence song that was misinterpreted by the mass idiots of the world as an endorsement of violence against women. X was upending the status quo, and thank goodness!
Zapp – Zapp I (1980). This Roger Troutman-led branch of George Clinton’s P-Funk empire, Zapp was the sound of the latter’s band updated for a new decade. “More Bounce to the Ounce” was one of the dance songs of the decade and continues to be sampled to this day. Funk was now ready for the Eighties. Troutman was a barely recognized musical genius.
And, now, we only have nine more years in the greatest decade for music. Peace!