Don’t bore us, get to the chorus! Here’s Day 2 of 1981.
Lindsey Buckingham – Law and Order (1981). As if to prove just how the musical rules were being broken in the early Eighties, Lindsey Buckingham followed up Fleetwood Mac’s most ambitious album, Tusk, with his first solo album that was stuffed with odd takes on his wonderful pop/rock vision. Take the lead track “Bwana,” as a example, since it sounds as if Buckingham had joined the Talking Heads during their Remain in Light tour to record this tune. Even with all the oddball production experiments, Lindsey did give us one of his ten best songs with the hit “Trouble.”
Loverboy – Get Lucky (1981). I still contend that Bon Jovi stole Loverboy’s hard rock with tasty synthesizer swashes sound. The proof is on here on this album. Sure, the Jovi boys were prettier than the ironically named Loverboy, but these Canadians were innovative for AOR at the time. And, although the band had more hits over the next couple of years, this was their pinnacle.
Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard of Ozz (1981). What a dramatic comeback for Ozzy! Just as he was quickly becoming another forgotten coked-out drunk rocker, in swoops Sharon to take over his career which re-established his kingdom of all thing metal. Her stroke of brilliance was teaming Ozz with budding guitar hero Randy Rhoads, an obvious heir to the Eddie Van Halen shred-fest throne. This album was a fresh take on a Halen-influenced metal coupled with Ozzy’s dark lyrics. You’re welcome Iron Maiden!
Pat Benatar – Precious Time (1981). Cases can be rightfully made for the inclusion of either of Benatar’s, or both, first two albums. However, this is when Pat and her partner, and future husband, Neil Giraldo flexed their creative powers on this chart-topping album of tough woman hard rock. I saw Pat, Neil and the band on this tour, and they were very commanding of the stage. This was a gang who was a force not to be reckoned with, least of all that tiny lady with the huge voice at the front of the stage.
Phil Collins – Face Value (1981). Most of the time, when artists bare their souls, they created some pretty substantial work. That’s what Phil did on his first solo outing, and he reaped the critical and commercial success that had been limited here in the States for his band Genesis. Phil picked the scab off his imploding marriage and created the blueprint his solo and Genesis careers would follow for the rest of the decade. I can sum up this album in four words: “In the Air Tonight.”
Prince – Controversy (1981). If Prince became a critical darling on 1980’s Dirty Mind, he became a creative force on this album. At the time, we thought Rick James was the punk-funk visionary, when it was Prince all along. The scary part, Prince proved the point when the two were out on tour during 1981. Legend has it that James was pissed that he couldn’t keep up. At the time, I thought this might not age well. But, now, I cannot believe how timely songs like “Annie Christian” and “Controversy” remain. This album just might be the man’s most political statement in his illustrious career.
Rick James – Street Songs (1981). Generally speaking, people were divided into two factions as to who held the long-term vision for the future of black music. While Prince was dipping his funk in new wave toppings, James was bringing a more street-level punk attitude to his funk. In the short run, James was leading the way. This album is his masterpiece, but it causes one to pause and wonder what could have been if the man could have controlled his demons. Regardless, this album remains a crucial step in the blurring of racial lines in music. It’s just a shame that MTV refused to play his great videos back in the early days of the channel.
Rickie Lee Jones – Pirates (1981). Two years earlier, this female version of Tom Waits, Rickie Lee Jones, struck platinum behind the left field hit “Chuck E.’s in Love.” All of the promise she displayed on that album came to fruition on Pirates. Her tales of characters traveling the late night club scene are endearing and real. And, quite possibly as the last of the Seventies singer/songwriters, she updated the genre for the Eighties crowd. After this album, however, Jones retreated a bit from the spotlight, shrank her crowds and maintained a fulfilling cult-status career. But, this is her best stuff.
Rush – Moving Pictures (1981). This is the sound of the world’s greatest cult band taking their place alongside the pantheon of rock greats. This album is the band’s greatest album. The songs, while as innovative as ever before, are tightened to precise standards, allowing Rush to flex their creative muscles within then-current pop constraints. All ready recognized as one of rock’s most talented collection of musicians, Rush proved they were not adverse to incorporating current trends into their sound.
Soft Cell – Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (1981). First off, this is synthpop actually beginning to sound like a rock album by Pink Floyd. In other words, there’s art being made by this duo. Of course, in typical fashion of the tastes of the budding Gen X, the themes tackled on this album were somewhat controversial, if people actually had paid attention. It’s all about the seedy underworld of sex, as if the Velvet Underground had a gotten a sense of empathy for their subjects. Of course, the cold-hearted remake of the soul hit “Tainted Love” is the big draw on this album.
Squeeze – East Side Story (1981). Unfortunately, original keyboardist and in-concert focal point Jools Holland left the band. To fill those huge shoes came journeyman musician and singer Paul Carrack, the voice behind the huge 1975 hit “How Long” by Ace. While Difford and Tilbrook continued to gain comparisons to Lennon and McCartney for their songwriting, Carrack contributed the song for which Squeeze might be best known to this day, “Tempted.” The song fit perfectly into this song cycle about troublesome relationships that are wrought with betrayals. And, all those dark lyrics are set to some of the best blue-eyed soul-slash-new wave music this side of Daryl Hall & John Oates.
And, folks, that brings us to the end of Day 2 for 1981. Next time, I will wrap up this great year for music. Peace.