Juice Newton, Dan Fogelberg, Stevie Nicks
In 1981, everyone in the music business was trying to figure out what the trend for the 1980s was going to be. This year the key phrase was "play it safe," with Adult Contemporary and AOR dominating. Even Neil Diamond (The Jazz Singer) and Barbara Streisand (Guilty) could boast of a Top Ten album. In Country, the strings-saturated Nashville Sound still reigned supreme as Kenny Rogers (Greatest Hits), Dolly Parton (9 to 5 and Odd Jobs) and the Oak Ridge Boys (Fancy Free) were all in their heyday. It was only logical that this kind of country would mesh seamlessly with the bland pop of 1981, and many were the crossover hits. Soul was overcome by balladeers such as Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie and Diana Ross, while disco was infused with some sophisticated funk by the likes of Kool & the Gang ("Celebration"). Lionel Richie became the first person to produce the Number One pop, R&B and country records in the same week, while his duet with Diana Ross ("Endless Love") topped the U.S. singles chart for nine weeks and became Motown's biggest selling single ever. A brief medley craze was provoked by a Dutch sessions group known as Starsound in the UK and Stars on 45 in America, with their hit "Stars On 45," which was the #2 single in the U.S. in June. A medley of Beach Boy songs and another of Beatles hits did well later in the year. The Stray Cats and Welsh rocker Shakin' Stevens led the way for a brief rockabilly revival with songs like "This Ole House" and "Runaway Boys" respectively.
But the future of Eighties music was making itself heard. U2 made the critics sit up and take notice with Boy (1980) and October (1981). Squeeze gave us a taste of "New Pop" with East Side Story, while Bruce Springsteen illustrated the future of Eighties folk-rock with the gritty, haunting realism of The River, significantly different from the romantic idealism of Seventies artists who worked in that genre. (This year Dan Fogelberg would produce the final encore of the latter with The Innocent Age.) Artists like UB40, The Specials, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Police, Prince, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Pat Benatar and Adam and the Ants all cranked out solid -- and in some cases exceptional) albums that gave proof through the long night of 1981 that the music was still there, and that some musicians dared to do more than trim their sales and steer a safe course through the calm seas of pop music. Punk rock and the New Romanticism were about to transmogrify into a New Pop tsunami ready to strike next year. Blondie was the trailblazer, with "The Tide Is High" and "Rapture" breaking into the Top Ten.
On the business side of things, record sales remained in a slump -- so much so that companies began to look seriously at videos as a means to save themselves. Columbia Records launched CVE (Columbia Video Enterprises) for the purpose of making videos promotional tools designed to drum up interest in bands before they entered the market with a new album of tour. Warner Communications explored a joint venture with American Express -- a new cable channel offering music videos 24 hours a day. Major record labels raised the price of singles to $1.99; only last year they had been $1.29. Home taping became an issue; Elton John, Cliff Richards, Gary Numan and others endorsed British Phonographic Industry's campaign for a tax on blank cassettes because, as BPI's alarmist ads said, "home taping is wiping out music." The first demonstration of the compact disc occured in Europe; this revolutionary digital playback system utilizing laser beam technology would quickly surpass vinyl in popularity due to its superior sound quality and durability. Sony sold 1.5 million of its Walkman cassette players.
Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes" was the biggest single of the year, hitting #1 in no less than 21 countries and winning Grammy awards for Song of the year as well as Record of the Year. (It remained at #1 in the U.S. for nine weeks, matching the duration of the Richie/Ross duet "Endless Love" at that exalted spot, and surpassed only by the ten-week stay of Olivia Newton-John's "Physical.") The Jacksons embarked on a 36-city tour that grossed a whopping $5.5 million, but that was small change compared to the triumphant Rolling Stones American tour that grossed a record-setting $35 million. (The band members netted $4 million of that.) Australia made itself heard; in November three Aussie acts inhabited the Top Ten -- Air Supply with "Here I Am," Little River Band with "The Night Owls," and Rick Springfield with "I've Done Everything For You.
Notable Events of the Year
On September 19, Simon and Garfunkel reunited long enough to give a free concert in Central Park. Half a million people showed up and discovered that the best things in life are free, after all.
Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics was arrested during a Milwaukee concert for lewd conduct, i.e. "simulating masturbation with a sledgehammer." She did not go quietly, and required twelve stitches for a nasty gash above one eye.
John Phillips of The Mamas and The Papas was imprisoned after pleading guilty to dealing drugs -- but not for long; all but 30 days of his eight-year sentence were suspended.
Race riots erupted in Southall after a pub gig by a skinhead band, the start of three days of violence that was said to be the worst scenes of civil disorder in modern British history.
When a fire swept through Dublin's Starlight Club disco, 130 were injured and 49 lost their lives.
Public Image Ltd. had to flee for their lives when fans rioted during a performance at New York's Ritz Club; the group had been making an "artistic statement" by hiding behind a large screen and making noise instead of music.
George Harrison was ordered to pay ABKCO Music $587,000 in a plagiarism suit settlement involving the songs "My Sweet Lord" and "He's So Fine."
Those who passed away this year included Hoagy Carmichael, singer, actor, composer, at age 82; Bill Haley,56, first rock 'n' roll star whose "Rock Around The Clock" sold 25 million copies, of natural causes in Harlingen, TX; Bob Hite, 38, lead singer with Canned Heat, of a heart attack in Venice, CA; Jamaican reggae giant Bob Marley, of cancer, in Miami, aged 36; white blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield, who worked with Bob Dylan and others in the Sixties, found dead in his car in San Francisco.
Journey Escape Tour ticket
Top Ten Singles
1. "(Just Like) Starting Over" - John Lennon
2. "Love On The Rocks" - Neil Diamond
3. "The Tide Is High" - Blondie
4. "Every Woman In The World" - Air Supply
5. "Guilty" - Barbara Streisand & Barry Gibb
6. "Passion" - Rod Stewart
7. "Hungry Heart" - Bruce Springsteen
8. "It's My Turn" - Diana Ross
9. "I Love A Rainy Night" - Eddie Rabbitt
10. "Tell It Like It Is" - Heart
1. "I Love A Rainy Night" - Eddie Rabbitt
2. "9 to 5" - Dolly Parton
3. "Celebration" - Kool & The Gang
4. "The Tide Is High" - Blondie
5. "Woman" - John Lennon
6. "Keep On Loving You" - REO Speedwagon
7. "Passion" - Rod Stewart
8. "Giving It Up For Your Love" - Delbert McClinton
9. "Same Old Lang Syne" - Dan Fogelberg
10. "(Just Like) Starting Over" - John Lennon
1. "Woman" - John Lennon
2. "Keep On Loving You" -- REO Speedwagon
3. "9 to 5" - Dolly Parton
4. "The Best Of Times" - Styx
5. "Crying" - Don McLean
6. "Rapture" - Blondie
7. "I Love A Rainy Night" - Eddie Rabbitt
8. "Hello Again" - Neil Diamond
9. "The Winner Takes It All" - Abba
10. "Celebration" -- Kool & The Gang
1. "Kiss On My List" - Hall & Oates
2. "Rapture" - Blondie
3. "Just The Two Of Us" - Grover Washington, Jr.
4. "Morning Train" - Sheena Easton
5. "The Best Of Times" - Styx
6. "While You See A Chance" - Steve Winwood
7. "Woman" - John Lennon
8. "Angel Of The Morning" - Juice Newton
9. "Crying" - Don McLean
10. "Don't Stand So Close To Me" - Police
1. "Being With You" - Smokey Robinson
2. "Bette Davis Eyes" - Kim Carnes
3. "Just The Two Of Us" - Grover Washington, Jr.
4. "Angel Of The Morning" - Juice Newton
5. "Take It On The Run" - REO Speedwagon
6. "Living Inside Myself" - Gino Vannelli
7. "Morning Train" - Sheena Easton
8. "Sukiyaki" - Taste of Honey
9. "Too Much Time On My Hands" - Styx
10. "Kiss On My List" - Hall & Oates
1. "Bette Davis Eyes" - Kim Carnes
2. "Stars On 45" (medley) - Stars on 45
3. "Sukiyaki" - Taste of Honey
4. "A Woman Needs Love" - Ray Parker & Raydio
5. "All Those Years Ago" - George Harrison
6. "Being With You" - Smokey Robinson
7. "America" - Neil Diamond
8. "Living Inside Myself" - Gino Vannelli
9. "Take It On The Run" - REO Speedwagon
10. "The One That You Love" - Air Supply
1. "Bette Davis Eyes" - Kim Carnes
2. "The One That You Love" - Air Supply
3. "Jessie's Girl" - Rick Springfield
4. "All Those Years Ago" - George Harrison
5. "Elvira" - Oak Ridge Boys
6. "You Make My Dreams" - Hall & Oates
7. "Theme From Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not)" - Joey Scarbury
8. "I Don't NeedYou" - Kenny Rogers
9. "Stars On 45" (medley) - Stars on 45
10. "Slow Hand" - Pointer Sisters
1. "Theme From Greatest American Hero (Believe It Or Not)" - Joey Scarbury
2. "Jessie's Girl" _ Rick Springfield
3. "Endless Love" - Diana Ross & Lionel Richie
4. "Slow Hand" - Pointer Sisters
5. "I Don't Need You" - Kenny Rogers
6. "The Boy From New York" - Manhattan Transfer
7. "Elvira" - Oak Ridge Boys
8. "Queen Of Hearts" - Juice Newton
9. "(There's) No Gettin' Over Me" - Ronnie Milsap
10. "Hearts" - Marty Balin
1. "Endless Love" - Diana Ross & Lionel Richie
2. "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" - Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty/Heartbreakers
3. "Queen Of Hearts" - Juice Newton
4. "Urgent" - Foreigner
5. "(There's) No Gettin' Over Me" - Ronnie Milsap
6. "Slow Hand" - Pointer Sisters
7. "Who's Crying Now" - Journey
8. "Lady You Bring Me Up" - Commodores
9. "Step By Step" - Eddie Rabbitt
10. "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" - Christopher Cross
1. "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do" - Christopher Cross
2. "Endless Love" - Diana Ross & Lionel Richie
3. "Start Me Up" - Rolling Stones
4. "For Your Eyes Only" - Sheena Easton
5. "Step By Step" - Eddie Rabbitt
6. "Private Eyes" - Hall & Oates
7. "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" - Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty/Heartbreakers
8. "Who's Crying Now" - Journey
9. "The Night Owls" - Little River Band
10. "Hard To Say" - Dan Fogelberg
1. "Private Eyes" - Hall & Oates
2. "Start Me Up" - Rolling Stones
3. "Physical" - Olivia Newton-John
4. "Waiting For A Girl Like You" - Foreigner
5. "Tryin' To Live My Life Without You" - Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
6. "Here I Am (Just When You...)" - Air Supply
7. "Arthur's Theme (Best That I Can Do)" - Christopher Cross
8. "The Night Owls" - Little River Band
9. "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" - Police
10. "Oh No" - Commodores
1. "Physical" - Olivia Newton-John
2. "Waiting For A Girl Like You" - Foreigner
3. "Let's Groove" - Earth, Wind & Fire
4. "Young Turks" - Rod Stewart
5. "Oh No" - Commodores
6. "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" - Diana Ross
7. "Harden My Heart" - Quarterflash
8. "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" - Police
9. "Don't Stop Believing" - Journey
10. "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" - Hall & Oates
Albums of the Year
Kings of the Wild Frontier, Adam and the Ants; Double Fantasy, John Lennon &Yoko Ono;
The Rolling Stones' Tattoo You
Double Fantasy, John Lennon & Yoko Ono (Capitol)
Marking his return after a self-imposed exile of five years, Lennon proved with this album that he meant it when he said, "I can't be a punk in Liverpool anymore." Lennon and Yoko Ono structured Double Fantasy as a dialogue about the ups and downs of love; it was a true romantic collaboration. Recorded in New York City's Hit Factory, the album struck some critics as suburban ear candy, but their criticism was silenced when, just weeks after the release, Lennon was gunned down by Mark David Chapman. Rolling Stone's Steve Holden called Double Fantasy "an exemplary portrait of a perfect heterosexual union," and as such it remained in the Top Ten on the US album charts from January through April.
East Side Story, Squeeze (A&M)
The best New Wave album of the year, East Side Story was a harbinger of things to come in the music world, a collection of uptempo pop tunes with attitude, an excitingly diverse blend of musical styles penned by the songwriting duo of Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford. Co-produced by Elvis Costello, the album was greeted with critical acclaim if not commercial success. It's best-known track, "Tempted," was an FM-radio favorite in 1981. The fourteen tracks range from soul to country to psychedelia, each one a gem in its own right.
Escape, Journey (Columbia)
Journey had produced four platinum albums in the Seventies (Infinity, Evolution, Departure, Captured) after the addition of powerhouse vocalist Steve Perry in 1977. Escape became their most successful project to date, showcasing the band's polished adult-oriented rock sound to perfection and producing the classic ballad "Who's Crying Now" (US#4) as well as "Don't Stop Believin'" (US#9). But it was "Open Arms" that became Journey's first million-selling single. Escape even inspired a popular video game marketed in the US.
4, Foreigner (Atlantic)
Picked by Rolling Stone's readers as top new artists after releasing their debut album in 1977, this group of Londoners and New Yorkers (hence the name) achieved the pinnacle of success with 4, which generated hits like "Urgent," "Juke Box Hero" and "Waiting For A Girl Like You." Produced by Mutt Lange and enhanced with guest appearances by Thomas Dolby and Junior Walker, 4 is the epitome of early Eighties adult-oriented rock, remaining at the top of the US album chart for ten weeks and selling six million units in America alone. It set the stage nicely for 1985's Agent Provocateur.
Ghost in the Machine, Police (A&M)
The trio of bassist Sting, guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland dominated the UK charts with their reggae-influenced albums Outlandos D'Amour and Regatta De Blanc, then had their breakthrough in America, Japan and the rest of Europe with Zenyatta Mondatta. But the brooding, complex aura of Ghost in the Machine, enhanced by Sting's most mature lyric work yet, not to mention Hugh Padgham's full-bodied production, made the band's eccentric, minimalist pop more palatable to the masses, and set Police on the road to a superstardom that would be validated in spades by the upcoming classic Synchronicity (1983).
Hi Infidelity, REO Speedwagon (Epic)
Formed in the late Sixties, REO Speedwagon spent the 1970s perfecting their sound with an album a year for Epic, each of which made a respectable showing. But with Hi Infidelity, their 11th album, the band hit its stride, producing an unique blend of hard rock and MOR balladry that was easy on the ears but still had energy -- perfect for the times as music made its transition from the era of the Eagles to the age of Duran Duran. Two huge singles, "Keep On Loving You" (US#1) and "Take It On The Run" (US#5) marked the apex of REO Speedwagon's career and helped Hi Infidelity dislodge Lennon's Double Fantasy from the album chart's top spot, no small feat.
The Innocent Age, Dan Fogelberg (Epic)
Composer, guitarist, pianist, singer Dan Fogelberg dropped out of school to back Van Morrison and became a respected session player in L.A. His easy listening, folk-rock sound, endowed with plenty of social consciousness, was never better displayed than in the 17-track musical epic The Innocent Age, featuring three Top Ten singles -- "Leader Of The Band," "Only The Heart May Know" (a duet with Emmylou Harris) and "Hard To Say." In hindsight it's safe to say that this album represents the final bow of idealistic Seventies folk-rock, of which it remains a perfect example.
Kings of the Wild Frontier, Adam and the Ants (Columbia)
Released in late 1980, this album dominated the UK album chart for most of the first half of 1981. "Stand And Deliver" was a #1 hit in Britain aided by the clever, superbly produced "Dandy Highwayman" video displaying charismatic front man Adam Ant in all his eccentric glory. As astutely observed by one music critic, Kings of the Wild Frontier "ushered in an era of 'New Pop' where fancy dressing-up and catchy melodic songs without a message became the norm."
Red, Black Uhuru (Mango)
With the passing of Bob Marley, Black Uhuru became -- briefly -- the leading voice of reggae. The Kingston-based trio's second album (and, sadly, their last), Red is the ultimate celebration of Rastafarian thought and culture, and one of the finest reggae albums ever. Backed by bassist Robbie Shakespeare and drummer Sly Dunbar, who produced a thunderous and infectious pulse for the songs, the trio of Derrick Simpson, Michael Rose and Sandra "Puma" Jones delivered a musical plea for cultural revolution that no one with a heartbeat could listen to and remain standing still.
Tattoo You, The Rolling Stones (Atlantic)
Tattoo You proved to be a case of something old, something new. The band was so busy with record-breaking tours that they had no time to write new material and had to dig up old stuff for an album in 1981. "Start Me Up" came from the 1978 Some Girls sessions, and six other tracks had their origin in the 1979 sessions for Emotional Rescue. As with their previous album, the Stones demonstrated a rock-solid self-confidence by dressing up their raw rock sound with sophisticated touches like Sonny Rollins' superb jazz sax solos. Tattoo You reigned at the top of the US album chart for an astonishing nine weeks starting in September, and proved that the Stones still had a lot to contribute.