1980 is a fascinating year from a music perspective. In that year, we lost Bon Scott, John Bonham, John Lennon and Ian Curtis. Disco/easy listening sounds were dying out and punk/goth was breaking new ground in the UK. While the US held on to the old ways, the UK flourished.
Today I’ll be posting some of my favourite - somewhat groundbreaking for the time - songs from that year, starting with The Cure's A Forest.
U2 - 11 o’clock tick tock. In this track, you can hear the percussive and guitar elements of ’70s power rock bands with the ’70s style funk / disco bass. In 1980, many bands who broke into the music scene seemed to combine perfectly the elements of music from the three decades prior. So we recognise the music but, at the same time, it had more power thanks to political / socially aware lyrics and strong vocal delivery.
Joy Division - She’s Lost Control. With their militaristic clothing, punk guitar, abrupt percussion, monotone drone, introspective and dark lyrics, Joy Division was a new culmination of industrial gothic punk. You can understand why they made such an impact on the music listening populous when you consider in the same year - in the US - Please Don’t Go by KC and the Sunshine Band was number 1. In the US, ELO and even The Grateful Dead were still popular. It’s like the UK was a different planet and one, back then, I wished I lived on.
Gary Numan - I Die You Die. I was 11 in 1980 and I can’t over emphasise the impact Gary Numan had on me. My older brother was 22 and a major Tubeway Army fan, so I’d been exposed to Gary’s musical style before. This clever combo of a shy guitarist + Moog + futuristic androgynous image exploded onto the music scene. At the time, the music was so sparse to what people were used to and I believe his live performance blew people’s minds. This was the future. All of a sudden, EVERYONE had a synth in their bands. Therein lies the power of Numan.
Adam and the Ants - Dog Eat Dog. The new romantic style was born with Adam Ant. This style of music - while many dismiss as simplistic - was a catchy combo of 1950s rockabilly with tribal beats and primitive howling vocals. Combine this with a highwayman / native high fashion sensibility and theatricality, and you have the basis for the excess, glamour, danceability and relative silliness of the New Romantic genre. Which I absolutely adored. It was fun music for a fun time.
Madness - Baggy Trousers. With their Goon Show antics, pork pie hats, shades and saxaphones, Madness introduced an interesting white boy take on a reggae / Jamaican base.
Kate Bush - Breathing. You don’t have to listen too attentively to detect Kate’s influence on the Tori Amos-style female singers of the ’90s who would’ve heard Kate when they were kids. Kate proved it was okay to be a drama queen as long as you were incredibly beautiful and talented. Unfortunately, these days, Kate copiers tend to think they can get by on looks alone. Back in 1980, girls wanted to be Kate, most men wanted to possess or protect Kate. That was the year Kate blossomed as a woman and expressed her sexuality more through her music. To this day, she inspires absolute dedication in her fans, even when the music she produces is less than amazing.
The Clash - London Calling. Raw, gritty, expressing the reality of living in the UK as young men, The Clash inspired and continues inspire generations of socially and politically aware musicians and music fans. Clash singer Joe Strummer was a news junkie, and many of the images of doom in the lyrics came from news reports he read. The title came from the BBC World Service’s radio station identification: “This is London calling…” which the BBC used during World War II.
Echo and the Bunnymen - The Puppet. You can immediately hear the funk bass line influence, but Echo and the Bunnymen created their own sound through guitar tone and an unusual (not quite in key) vocal style. Melancholic lyrics with a danceable upbeat style of music and catchy guitar riffs created a apathetically ‘defiant’ UK sound.
The Psychedelic Furs - Sister Europe. A much overlooked band who had a major influence on many of my musician friends beyond their Pretty in Pink days. Richard Butler was an unusual pin-up but everyone fell in love with his voice and it didn’t matter that he was no pretty boy (and back in the Smash Hits bedroom poster days, that usually mattered more than the music). The sultry bass line from Tim Butler was something I and my friends all tried to emulate. Although called post-punk new wave, I think their sound is much more polished and I personally believe it was a big influence on American bands of the mid ’80s. The Furs made it sexy to be a bit of a depressing individual.
Killing Joke - Wardance. Killing Joke took the concept of punk into a strange realm where only devotees followed. They established a hard rock, tribal sound combined with soaring and somewhat maniacal, primal vocals from dramatic frontman Jaz Coleman. It’s almost like the birth of what later became grunge metal. Modern bands such as Nirvana, NIN, Tool, Jane’s Addiction and Soundgarden have all cited Killing Joke as a major influence on their music. The band also spawned Paul Raven who later played bass in Ministry.
Blondie - Rapture. One of the few US albums I’d rate from 1980 is Blondie’s Autoamerican. While still evidently sliding off the end of disco, Blondie’s punk look and association with that movement’s famous characters cemented Deborah Harry’s place as the Queen of Cool. This song is interesting because of its funk/disco/rap combination. Possibly the first time a white girl had rapped in a top 10 hit? Rapture went on to reach number 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100, on the US Hot Dance Music/Club Play charts, number 4 in Australia, and number five in the UK singles chart. Nothing very punk about that ;)
Icehouse - I Can’t Help Myself. In my humble opinion, the album Icehouse by The Flowers (who then had to change their name to Icehouse due to another band being named The Flowers) was my favourite Australian music offering of 1980. The band was unlike anything else in Australia at the time (eg. Joe Dolce’s Shaddap You Face…). Inspired by the likes of Brian Eno, their sound was energetic, modern and sharp. The band’s frontman Iva Davies was an intelligent and considered new wave musician who made me proud to be Australian at a time when every other country seemed to look down on our music industry.
What was your favourite 1980s single or album? Drop me a message in the comments section! Check out more of my favourite videos on my Tumblr.