My Favourite Year (That 1980 Music Post, Continued)

1980-Album-Reviews

I really want to be writing fiction or researching my paintings or organizing sound files into a prog composition right now, but I feel I owe folks a continuation of last week’s music post, which got from A to halfway through M. I say halfway, because I left out an album for more or less deliberate reasons.

First off, a refresher: There are a handful of important, milestone years in modern popular music that span the last one hundred or so years, depending on where you start. For some, popular music extends back to the invention of reproducible music, with player pianos, popular sheet music, and of course, the Gramophone record player. I mean, wax cylinders predated the vinyl disc by a few decades, IIRC, but the sound reproduction was a bit crap, yeah?

So now we have CDs and Blu-Ray discs and SACDs and all that, plus MP3s and FLAC and ALAC and all the rest of those sound files for your PC or Mac or iPod or what have you. But back in the beginning, it was all about getting the performance recorded onto a round platter of vinyl, and then reproducing the sounds on a little wind-up mechanism with a horn attached to it.

Milestone years are a bit subjective, especially depending on what genres of music you favour; a Bing Crosby fan might cite the beginning of his recording career in the 20s, or the beginning of his experiments with improved recording technology in the 40s and 50s (he pioneered the use of tape reels and a lot of other modern recording developments, often bankrolled with his own money). Country fans might prefer to set the date as far back as the earliest recordings of Ozark jug bands, or start with Hank Williams Sr. or Earl Scruggs or Hank Snow or Roy Rogers or George Jones or Lefty Frizzell or Emmylou Harris… lots of milestones in country, lemme tell you.

I won’t delve too deep into any of that, however. I’m principally a Rock aficionado. For me, popular music really didn’t get its wings until 1966, with Rubber Soul and Revolver, the first in a series of Earth-shatteringly diverse and experimental albums by The Beatles, that changed the way everyone made music recordings, virtually overnight. Brian Wilson then gave us Pet Sounds, Frank Zappa gave us We’re Only In It For The Money, the Fabs gave us Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Moody Blues gave us The Days of Future Past (also a great Chris Claremont X-Men tale over a decade later), and absolutely everyone went to the moon after that.

But while 1966-67 is where my roots started sprouting, and 1973 was the banner year of Prog Rock, the cornerstone of much of my favourite music, the year I designate as my watershed year, where my nascent musical development as a writer and musician sprang from, is the year 1980, and the years 1979 and 1981, around which time pretty much every musician still recording underwent a sea change in compositional and production style.

See, I love me some 60s Psychedelia and 70s Prog, Fusion, and Funk as well, but the sound quality from those eras were pretty hit and miss, for me. The Beatles were almost always flawless, miles ahead of everyone else on the sound curve, but they had the genius of George Martin and Geoff Emmerick on their side, and everyone else was rushing madly to catch up.

But by 1980, a whole new bag of tricks was being introduced, and soon afterwards, digital recording, which gave us, for better or for worse, a level of clarity that we had never known before.

Okay, enough lecturing. Let’s get back to work:

Mike Rutherford – Smallcreep’s Day (1979)
I saved this for this post because it’s a pivotal album for me personally, despite its relative obscurity to anyone who isn’t a die hard Genesis fan. Basically, it’s bassist/guitarist Mike Rutherford’s first solo album, years before he had his major ‘solo’ breakthrough with Mike + the Mechanics. If you’ve never heard Smallcreep’s Day, you probably don’t understand half of what I love about rock music in general. It’s got everything, from soaring keyboard lines (supplied by original Genesis guitarist and former songwriting partner Anthony Phillips) to stellar drumming (the criminally under-recognized Simon Phillips (no relation)) to the absolutely revelatory guitar histrionics of Rutherford himself, who finally lets loose after the carefully orchestrated, tightly reined-in efforts on Genesis’ ‘…And Then There Were One’ album (from whence cometh the hit Follow You Follow Me). Noel Calla’s vocals are wonderful, and the only thing wrong with this whole album (aside from the curious-if-not-incomprehensible exclusion of B-side ‘Compression’ from the main album) is, there has never really been a proper follow-up to it. A few years later, Mike was in a completely different musical frame of mind, recording 80s pop songs and moving on to working with the Mechanics team, as well as writing hits for Genesis. This, Tony Banks’ ‘A Curious Feeling’, and the aforementioned ‘Duke’ are essentially the capstones of Genesis’ progressive rock output. I’ve gone on record as saying I will never be completely satisfied until Mike and Ant team up for one more rock album. It’s probably the only way Ant will ever deliver a rock album again.

Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard of Oz (1980) and Diary of a Madman (1981)
I include these two albums together because, for me, they sum up the majority of his musical output. I don’t begrudge the man his career or his ability to pick stellar guitarists to write and record with, but for me, it’s all about Ozzy 1980 with the late, great Randy Rhodes. There have been other great partnerships in Heavy Metal, but for my money, this pairing was the finest conjunction of lyricist and guitarist the genre ever produced. I can listen to pretty much anything Ozzy produced, but these are the albums I keep going back to.

Paul McCartney – McCartney II (1980)
Okay, a funny addition to this list, I’m sure, but McCartney is a major influence on me, and this album was his return to solo recording. He never really played in a proper rock band again, after the dissolution of Wings (for better or for worse), and though he’s maintained the same live band for the last handful of years, which I’m sure feels like a band for Paul, he’s nevertheless rarely had to do more than make one album with any of the irregular collaborators he’s worked with since 1980. A song or two with Stevie Wonder, a couple of songs with Michael Jackson, an album with Eric Stewart of 10CC, an album with Elvis Costello, an album with Steve Miller, and a few experimental Fireman albums with Youth of Killing Joke. Other than that, he’s written and largely performed most if not all of his own music for the last thirty-odd years. And this album is where he picked up the pieces of his flagging Wings career and started over. Whether you enjoy the number of hits he achieved off the back of this album, you have to give it to him that it’s a brilliant third act opener.

Paul Simon – One Trick Pony (1980)
This is an album I’ve been hearing bits of for many years, but haven’t really spent enough time with on my own. What I will say is, this was where Paul started reinventing himself into the guy who would give us the underrated Hearts and Bones and the legendary Graceland albums. I honestly don’t remember if there were any real hits off of One Trick Pony, but it contains perhaps my all time favourite Paul Simon song, Late In The Evening. The title is an obvious jab at his reputation as an acoustic folk artist, even though he had been playing electrified for a decade. I think after I finish this write-up, I’m gonna put the album on and really listen to it for a change.

Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel 3 ‘Melting Face’ (1980)
This. Album. Is. Amazing. It’s where he shifted from rock and blues and such into his much meatier, much more intense synth and drum laden albums. Intruder. No Self Control. Games Without Frontiers. Family Snapshot. Biko… Actually, every single track on this album is a complete winner. Amazing album that helped define what albums in the 80s would sound like, thanks to that massive gated drum sound created by Phil Collins, Hugh Padgham and Peter Gabriel, as well as Jerry Marotta and the engineer, whose name has slipped my mind for the moment.

Phil Collins – Face Value (1981)
Speaking of Philsy, here he is with his debut solo album, which made him a household name almost overnight. Amazing album. Still his best. You cannot beat In The Air Tonight. A desert island album for me.

Pink Floyd – The Wall (1979)
Love it or hate it, The Wall is a legendary album, almost as important and twice as beloved by a certain generation of rock fans as Dark Side of the Moon, six years before it. My own feelings about it are mixed; it was the first Floyd album I ever really fell in love with, and it colours my adoration of the concept album to a huge degree, being as its central theme and plotline are so cohesive, unlike most (but not all) other legendary concept albums in rock history. Sadly, my knowledge of what a tyrant Roger Waters was towards the band at this time colours much of my appreciation for it now, but it still has some of their strongest, hardest-rocking numbers on it, and it really was Roger at his most clear and precise. I still play it now and then, reflecting on how it serves as perhaps the last classic concept album of the 70s, and almost certainly the last great double album of the classic rock era.

Queen – The Game (1979)
Definitely a transitional album for the band, where they began moving from guitar-oriented rock towards the synth pop and dance music of their next studio release, Hot Spaces (1981). This album, however, has some of the last really rocking music they would make until the A Kind of Magic and The Miracle, and was probably the last Queen album to really do well in America until Innuendo. A fine album, and containing ‘Sail Away Sweet Sister’, a personal favourite and one of the last prototypical Brian May rockers before the synth years.

Robert Palmer – Clues (1980)
Here’s the album where Robert started to become a household name, with clever songs like the title track and ‘Johnny and Mary’, which I still think sound brilliant, even if I’m not that crazy about the sparse production these days. A very important forgotten album for Palmer, and for radio-friendly pop music in 1980.

The Rolling Stones – Emotional Rescue (1980)
Despite a few hits, I wasn’t really listening to the Stones much at this time, and I still don’t really play this album, but it definitely marks a shift in their recognizable sound. There was a fair bit more funk and soul, as opposed to blues, country and straight rock, and it marked their move towards more exotic rhythms.

Roxy Music – Flesh + Blood (1980)
Another album I haven’t spent much time with, but I will.

Rupert Hine – Immunity (1981)
This is an album and musician who is on my list of artists to better verse myself with. It marks the return of Rupert Hine to solo recording, and coincides with a period when he was basically producing every cool band recording in 1980 (except the Police, though he worked with Stewart Copeland). I’ll be listening to this album as well, after you leave.

Rush – Permanent Waves (1980)
This is an album I’ve written about briefly before, and I want to reassert that this album in incredibly important, particularly to Rush themselves, but also to rock radio in general. First off, while it’s not the much more venerated follow-up album, Moving Pictures, it does contain The Spirit of Radio, perhaps the finest rock single they ever produced, and Free Will, which is also an important track. Plus, one of their last extended pieces, the 9+ minute Natural Science, which is a lovely coda to all of their prog rock excess, which at that time was just about to be jettisoned for more radio-friendly pieces, as even the boys themselves had grown tired of the long, sprawling, and increasingly difficult to top progressive rock epics of Caress of Steel/2112/A Farewell To Kings/Hemispheres. If not for Permanent Waves, there probably wouldn’t have been a Moving Pictures.

Saga – Silent Knights (1980)
Okay, this album has a lot going for it, not least of which because it contains the opening track, ‘Don’t Be Late (Chapter II)’. If you don’t know it, haven’t heard it, or suspect you couldn’t care less, then you really came to the wrong place. Don’t Be Late is one of my unnumbered top ten songs of all time. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s the shortest prog rock epic ever recorded, and you don’t feel the slightest bit ripped off by that.

Slade – Return To Base (1979) and ‘Til Deaf Do Us Part (1981)
I have them. I still haven’t played them. I’ll get to it. Slade are fun. I can’t claim to be a fan, but I like them. That is all. For now.

Sparks – No. 1 In Heaven (1979), Terminal Jive (1980) & Whomp That Sucker (1981)
I have them. I’ve played them. I really need to spend more time with them. I find Sparks hit and miss with me, but they have numbers from every period of their career that resonate with me. A few years after these albums, they record perhaps the most signature piece of Sparks music in their canon, ‘Change’. Absolute classic. They may drift a bit here and there, but they always come back with a surprise or two every few years. Amazing, really.

Split Enz – True Colours (1980)
I Got You… that’s all I want. Great album. Such a signature 80s album from a band everyone heard but few remember by name. This album is one of a handful that heavily influenced my writing and playing on the first Etcetera Thesis album, Bisecting a Circumference. So yeah, important album.

Squeeze – Argy Bargy (1980)
A fine album with two monster hits that pretty much spell out the template for all future Squeeze hits; ‘Pulling Mussels From A Shell’ and ‘Another Nail For My Heart’. Absolute classics.

Stanley Clarke…
I have his albums from 79-81 and several others, but I haven’t spent enough time with them yet to formulate an opinion. I will say that Stanley’s playing on bass is an absolute inspiration to me, just based on the tracks I know him best for, and particularly for his work with Stewart Copeland and Return To Forever. Plus, School Daze, man! Killer bassist.

Steve Hackett – Defector (1980)
For Genesis fans, this was also a monumental album, because Steve started veering away from his progressive roots as well, into the mode he is most associated with; the instrumental rock guitar opus. Not as successful as Phil’s Face Value, nor as experimental as Peter’s third solo album, but it was consistently more rocking than Anthony Phillips’ pop/rock work of this period, and was at least as sturdy as Mike and Tony’s first solo albums. Basically, a really huge time for all writing members of the songwriter’s collective that once was classic Genesis.

Steve Winwood – Arc of The Diver (1980)
A great album, if a bit uneven. But what it has that is important is ‘While You See a Chance’, perhaps the single most recognizable song of his solo career, and a perfect blending of 70s and 80s keyboards into one cohesive monster hit. Beautiful song, and well worth buying the album for, even if you don’t care for the title track or Spanish Dancer.

Stevie Wonder – Hotter Than July (1980)
I don’t really know the album well. I keep trying to get that far into the discography, but I keep stopping at Songs From the Key of Life. That said, this album has Master Blaster on it, and that ain’t a bad tune to have on any album. Again, a transitional album, though. Even Stevie was getting ready for the 80s.

Styx – Paradise Theater (1980)
Here we see Styx making another Styx album in the vein of their last few hit albums, which works for me, because I love those albums. However, this album too shows signs of things to come. For one thing, it has ‘The Best of Times’, a monster love ballad from the transforming Dennis DeYoung, who would go on to pen a handful more such numbers throughout his career with and without Styx (though it was presaged by ‘Babe’ from Cornerstone the year before). The last great classic Styx album, sadly. The rot had set in by this time, and the cocaine was starting to mess up the otherwise brilliant Tommy Shaw, who soon came to resent the whole poster boy routine, even before he came to loathe the following album, 1983’s Kilroy Was Here, which basically put the last nail in the coffin of concept albums for the 80s.

Supertramp – Breakfast In America (1979)
Not quite as much a transitional album as a capstone album; a grand summation of the 70s pop song. Supertramp both charted out the remainder of their most successful incarnation, and had their biggest hits with this album. This and 1974’s Crime of the Century form the bulk of their greatest hits packages. And while I still enjoy Famous Last Words, this is basically the last Supertramp monster album. It was all downhill slowly from here.

Talking Heads – Remain In Light (1980)
‘Crosseyed and Painless’ and ‘Once In A Lifetime’ mark this as a major breakthrough album for the band.

Tangerine Dream – Force Majeure (1979)
Even though this album once gain repeats the structure of two sides of uninterrupted music, comparison to their earlier albums shows a pretty clear shift in how they were making music at this time. Compositionally, this album is much tighter, more robust, and has a lot more solid riffs and themes that sound like complete thoughts and that resolve in a more timely fashion. It’s not the first album they created that appealed to me when I was first discovering them, but it made a definite impression on me, and influenced much of my early synth experiments when I was teaching myself to play keys.

The Cars – Candy-O (1979)
Their first album, the self-titles album from 1978, had used up most of the material they had written throughout the early years of the band, so with Candy-O, they had to start with new material, forging a cohesive identity. I remember at the time thinking it was an interesting with some great tunes, like Let’s Go and the title track, but it’s not quite as consistent as their first album, and lacks the massive hits of their later albums. Still, that Vargas cover is pretty impossible to ignore.
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This post is over 3K long, so I’m gonna stop here and pick up the last part (I hope) tomorrow (I hope). Thank you for reading, as always.

PART 3

Lee.

2 Responses to “My Favourite Year (That 1980 Music Post, Continued)

  • did you ever get back to listen to
    Rupert Hine’s ‘Immunity’??
    It was one of my favorites,
    and it still is!!! : )

    • To be honest, I’d dabbled, but hadn’t made time to sit and listen to it carefully until you prompted me, and I’m thankful you did. Aside from not liking unfinished business, I love digging into stuff I’ve largely overlooked. I knew about Hine from his production work, but had only dabbled in his solo work. A friend turned me on to some of his slightly progressive work previously, but again, it’s not quite like anything else, so I didn’t grok it fully. Just played through it for the second time in 12 hours. Interesting stuff. Now I’m catching up on some of the others I mentioned that I also neglected. Jethro Tull’s ‘A’ is pretty commercial, but intriguing as well. Reminds me just a little bit of Chess.

Don't be shy. Tell me what you really think, now.

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