The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
The Year in Music - 1980
Talking Heads on the cover of Rolling Stone; Olivia Newton-John; Elvis Costello & the Attractions

Disco was dead, and the music industry floundered in 1980 looking for something to fill the void. Sales had been declining for years and 1980 continued that trend, with 34 million fewer units sold than in the year before. Major record labels were hurting; they responded by laying off employees --as many as 2,500 people in the industry lost their jobs. If any kind of music dominated this year it was pop. The original rock'n'roll crowd that had been teenagers in the Sixties were all grown up now, and the record companies tried to appeal to them with a safe, homogenized product. Peter Frampton was sounding more and more like Barry Manilow these days, while it became less easy to distinguish Fleetwood Mac from The Captain & Tennille.

For those with vision, there was a new sound on the horizon, slowly making headway -- British New Wave, best represented by Talking Heads (Remain In Light) and The Pretenders (Pretenders). But the record labels were not believers just yet, and their conservative approach left many innovative New Wave bands languishing for lack of support. The most creative music was coming off the streets, and a handful of its purveyors -- The Police,The Clash, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers -- were pointing the way to the light at the end of the tunnel.  Eventually the industry would see that light.  But, in the meantime, "easy listening" pop briefly reigned. "The commercial cotton candy of the pop chart," lamented music critic Michael Gross, "was all too sweet for words." Just look at some of the hit singles of the year: "Magic," Olivia Newton-John; "Sailing," Christopher Cross; "Shining Star," The Manhattans; "All Out Of Love," Air Supply; "Lady," Kenny Rogers; "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," Hall and Oates; "I Can't Tell You Why," The Eagles; "Working My Way Back To You," The Spinners -- the list goes on and on. (Perhaps the syrupy pop-rock of Air Supply best exemplified the formula for chart success in 1980.) Some of this was quite good, and without it elevator music would not be what it is today. But the music fan could not live long on white bread alone.

Fortunately, some red meat was available.  New artists were in the wings, artists who would blend pop and reggae and metal and punk and R&B and lay it over a big beat borrowed from disco and funk and thereby create a new sound for the Eighties. Madonna, U2, Prince & The Revolution, Duran Duran, Culture Club, Peter Gabriel, John Cougar Mellencamp and The Eurythmics were in the on-deck circle. Blondie's "Call Me" and The Knack's "My Sharona" were already dance faves in the teen clubs -- a preview of the music that Eighties youth -- a group largely dismissed by music execs this year -- would take to heart. And "Brass In Pocket" by The Pretenders was the first legitimate New Wave Top 20 hit in the U.S. The signs were everywhere.

Country music sales had been in decline, but were revived in 1980 thanks in no small measure to the popularity of the film Urban Cowboy. The so-called "Nashville Sound" -- pop-country tunes with lush arrangements that incorporated strings and synthesizers -- was in vogue. The leading purveyors of this sound included Kenny Rogers, a pop singer (formerly with First Edition) turned country crooner. This was a very good year for Rogers, whose 1979 album Kenny was certified platinum and the single "Coward Of The County" was a transatlantic chart-topper. Rogers scored again this year with "Lady," a ballad penned by Lionel Richie that would spend six weeks at US#1 while also topping the R&B, C&W and Adult Contemporary charts. Rogers walked away with an armload of Grammy and American Music Awards in 1980. Other  top country artists: Eddie Rabbitt ("Drivin' My Life Away"), Johnny Lee ("Lookin' For Love") and Dolly Parton ("9 To 5"). Progressive country was expiring, and even "outlaws" Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson had been appropriated by the Nashville establishment. For several years to come the rhinestone crowd would dominate country sound, but soon there would be a move afoot to bring country music back to its roots.

With the arrival of the video disc, industry prognosticators didn't need to be rocket scientists to predict that the video market was going to be one of the major developments of the Eighties. Gary Numan paved the way with the first rock video cassette in April 1980, beating out Blondie for that honor by only a matter of weeks. Digital recording became a viable alternative to analog recording with all its deficiencies inherent in recording sound on a tape coated with magnetic oxide. The digital recorder decoded magnetic pulses -- an electronic processing of information -- that solved the problem of imperfections in reproduced sound. In April, The Beat's "Mirror In The Bathroom" became the first British single to have been digitally recorded.

Some of the year's most notable events

In December, as the single "(Just Like) Starting Over" reached the Top 5 and his comeback album Double Fantasy climbed the charts, John Lennon was murdered by Mark David Chapman.

Though it flopped at the box office, Olivia Newton-John's musical fantasy flick Xanadu produced a soundtrack album that sold two million units and had three Top 20 singles.

Paul McCartney spent ten days in a Tokyo jail after a small quantity of marijuana was found in his baggage. The "Wings" Tour was cancelled.

In January Pink Floyd's The Wall would reach the #1 spot on the US album chart -- and stay there through April. The band's Dark Side Of The Moon was still on Billboard's album chart after 303 weeks, making it the longest charting pop album in history, unseating Carole King's Tapestry.

Critics and audiences alike were turned off by Bob Dylan's born-again antics in concert and on his new album, appropriately entitled Saved.

A Texas truck driver took hostages in the New York offices of Elektra/Asylum Records; his terms for their release -- that Jackson Browne or The Eagles finance his trucking operation.

Bon Scott, notorious lead singer for the Australian heavy metal band AC/DC, died of alcohol poisoning. Other deaths: Ian Curtis, lead singer with Joy Division (suicide); Tommy Caldwell, bass player for The Marshall Tucker Band (car wreck); Malcolm Owen, lead singer for The Ruts (drug-related); Jacob Miller of Inner Circle (car wreck); and Professor Longhair, New Orleans piano player and R&B legend, dead at 61.

Queen's Magic Years videocassette cover; Billy Joel's Glass Houses album cover; Deborah Harry of Blondie

Top Ten Singles

1. "Rock With You" - Michael Jackson
2. "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" - Rupert Holmes
3. "Do That To Me One More Time" - Captain & Tennille
4. "Send One Your Love" - Stevie Wonder
5. "Coward Of The County" - Kenny Rogers
6. "We Don't Talk Anymore" - Cliff Richard
7. "Please Don't Go" - KC & The Sunshine Band
8. "Cruisin'" - Smokey Robinson
9. "Ladies Night" - Kool & The Gang
10. "The Long Run" - Eagles

1. "Do That To Me One More Time" - Captain & Tennille
2. "Rock With You" - Michael Jackson
3. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" - Queen
4. "Cruisin'" - Smokey Robinson
5. "Coward Of The County" - Kenny Rogers
6. "Yes, I'm Ready" - Teri DeSario with K.C.
7. "Sara" - Fleetwood Mac
8. "Longer" - Dan Fogelberg
9. "On The Radio" - Donna Summer
10. "This Is It," - Kenny Loggins

1. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" - Queen
2. "Another Brick In The Wall" - Pink Floyd
3. "Desire" - Andy Gibb
4. "Longer" - Dan Fogelberg
5. "Working My Way Back To You/Forgive Me, Girl" - Spinners
6. "On The Radio" - Spinners
7. "Yes I'm Ready" - Teri DeSario with K.C.
8. "Him" - Rupert Holmes
9. "The Second Time Around" - Shalamar
10. "Too Hot" - Kool & The Gang

1. "Call Me" - Blondie
2. "Another Brick In The Wall" - Pink Floyd
3. "Ride Like The Wind" - Christopher Cross
4. "Special Lady" - Ray, Goodman & Brown
5. "Working My Way Back To You/Forgive Me, Girl" - Spinners
6. "With You I'm Born Again" - Billy Preston & Syreeta
7. "Too Hot" - Kool & The Gang
8. "I Can't Tell You Why" - Eagles
9. "Fire Lake" - Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
10. "Lost In Love" - Air Supply

1. "Call Me" - Blondie
2. "Lost In Love" - Air Supply
3. "Sexy Eyes" - Dr. Hook
4. "Ride Like The Wind" - Christopher Cross
5. "Don't Fall In Love With A Dreamer" - Kenny Rogers & Kim Carnes
6. "Funkytown" - Lipps Inc.
7. "Biggest Part Of Me" - Ambrosia
8. "Hurt So Bad" - Linda Ronstadt
9. "With You I'm Born Again" - Billy Preston & Syreeta
10. "Another Brick In The Wall" - Pink Floyd

1. "Funkytown" - Lipp Inc.
2. "Coming Up (Live At Glasgow)" - Paul McCartney
3. "The Rose" - Bette Midler
4. "Biggest Part Of Me" - Ambrosia
5. "Against The Wind" - Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
6. "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me" - Billy Joel
7. "Little Jeannie" - Elton John
8. "Call Me" - Blondie
9. "Steal Away" - Robbie Dupree
10. "Cars" - Gary Numan

1. "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me" - Billy Joel
2. "Coming Up (Live At Glasgow)" - Paul McCartney
3. "Little Jeannie" - Elton John
4. "Cupid/I've Loved You For A Long Time" - Spinners
5. "The Rose" - Bette Midler
6. "Steal Away" - Robbie Dupree
7. "Magic" - Olivia Newton-John
8. "Shining Star" - Manhattans
9. "Let Me Love You Tonight" - Pure Prairie League
10. "Tired Of Toein' The Line" - Rocky Burnette

1. "Magic" - Olivia Newton-John
2. "Sailing" - Christopher Cross
3. "Take Your Time (Do It Right)" - S.O.S. Band
4. "Emotional Rescue" - Rolling Stones
5. "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me" - Billy Joel
6. "Upside Down" - Diana Ross
7. "Shining Star" - Manhattans
8. "More Love" - Kim Carnes
9. "Little Jeannie" - Elton John
10. "Fame" - Irene Cara

1. "Upside Down" - Diana Ross
2. "All Out Of Love" - Air Supply
3. "Fame" - Irene Cara
4. "Give Me The Night" - George Benson
5. "Lookin' For Love" - Johnny Lee
6. "Late In The Evening" - Paul Simon
7. "Another One Bites The Dust" - Queen
8. "Emotional Rescue" - Rolling Stones
9. "Drivin' My Life Away" - Eddie Rabbitt
10. "Sailing" - Christopher Cross

1. "Another One Bites The Dust" - Queen
2. "Woman In Love" - Barbra Streisand
3. "Upside Down" - Diana Ross
4. "All Out Of Love" - Air Supply
5. "Real Love" - Doobie Brothers
6. "I'm Alright" - Kenny Loggins
7. "Drivin' My Life Away" - Eddie Rabbitt
8. "He's So Shy" - Pointer Sisters
9. "Late In The Evening" - Paul Simon
10. "Xanadu" - Olivia Newton-John / Electric Light Orchestra

1. "Woman In Love" - Barbra Streisand
2. "Lady" - Kenny Rogers
3. "Another One Bites The Dust" - Queen
4. "The Wanderer" - Donna Summer
5. "I'm Comin' Out" - Diana Ross
6. "Master Blaster (Jammin') - Stevie Wonder
7. "Never Knew Love Like This Before" - Stephanie Mills
8. "He's So Shy" - Pointer Sisters
9. Dreaming" -Cliff Richard
10. "More Than I Can Say" - Leo Sayer

1. "Lady" - Kenny Rogers
2. "More Than I Can Say" - Leo Sayer
3. "(Just Like) Starting Over" - John Lennon
4. "Love On The Rocks" - Neil Diamond
5. "Hungry Heart" - Bruce Springsteen
6. "Another One Bites The Dust" - Queen
7. "Master Blaster (Jammin')" - Stevie Wonder
8. "Guilty" - Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb
9. "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" - Pat Benatar
10. "Every Woman In The World" - Air Supply

Albums of the Year

London Calling, The Clash; AC/DC's Back In Black; Pretenders, The Pretenders

Back In Black, AC/DC (Atlantic)
This Australian hard-rock band had a new front man for this, their sixth album, following the untimely death of lead singer Bon Scott after a drinking binge. Replacement Brian Johnson and the rest of the band clicked immediately, producing the milestone Back In Black, which would reach the top of the album charts in UK and Australia and eventually sell over 12 million copies, thanks in part to the hit single "Rock 'n' Roll Ain't Noise Pollution." This was hard rock at its rowdy and raunchy best.

London Calling, The Clash (Epic)
This angry, renegade band of punk rockers (singer/guitarists Mick Jones and Joe Strummer, drummer Nicky Headon and bassist Paul Simonson) anticipated the "world music" movement of the Eighties by blending pop, reggae, R&B, and ska sounds with rebel punk in the 19 tracks of this double album. Their us-against-the-world mentality shone through in songs that addressed drug addiction, racial tension in London's Brixton area (the scene of rioting the following year) and other social afflictions of the day.

Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello & The Attractions (Columbia)
In the process of confirming his musical debt to soul artists as well as his commitment to fighting racism -- in spite of ill-advised and career-jeopardizing racist remarks during a 1979 American tour -- Costello created perhaps the best dance album of the year with this, his fourth effort. Backed by the talented Bruce Thomas (bass), Pete Thomas (drums) and Steve Nieve (keyboards), the British New Waver and stylish innovator offfered up twenty tunes that combined soulful lyrics with upbeat sounds. Best track: a rollicking version of the Merseybeat's "I Stand Accused."

Christopher Cross, Christopher Cross (WB)
Cross, a Texas-born singer/songwriter, hit the big time with this debut album, which included the #1 single "Sailing" and a #2, "Ride Like The Wind."  Produced by Michael Omartian, the album consisted entirely of occasionally sacharrine pop-rock songs penned by Cross, and benefited from session work by the likes of Michael McDonald, Don Henley and Nicolette Larson. It would spend two years on the charts, while Cross would make off with five Grammy Awards including Album of the Year and Song of the Year ("Sailing").

Glass Houses, Billy Joel (Columbia)
New York rock'n'roller Joel had had two highly successful albums before this one -- The Stranger (1977), which was Columbia's second-biggest selling album of all time, and 52nd Street (1978). Glass Houses was yet another commercial success, staying at the top of the charts for six weeks, while the #1 single "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me" was a million-seller in its own right. This album firmly established Joel as a superstar, while marking his gradual transformation from rebellious blue-collar troubadour to MOR balladeer and middle class icon.

Damn The Torpedoes, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (MCA)
In spite of two fairly successful albums prior to 1979, Tom Petty had to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to a dispute with MCA that resulted in a lawsuit. But he bounced back with this album, which remained at the #2 spot on the US charts for seven weeks (and would have reached the top but for Pink Floyd's The Wall.). It would register sales of two million, and account for one-fourth of MCA's total profits for 1980. Damn The Torpedoes established the band in the top tier of American rock'n'roll, producing two hit singles, "Don't Do Me Like That" and "Refugee."

Pretenders, The Pretenders (Sire)
Ohio-born lead singer Chrissie Hynde had been a rock critic for the London-based  weekly New Musical Express when she joined three British punk rockers -- James Honeyman Scott (guitar), Pete Farndon (bass) and Martin Chambers (drums) -- to form The Pretenders, whose debut album this year immediately established them as a band to be reckoned with.  In tracks like "Stop Your Sobbing," "Tattooed Love Boys" and the hit "Brass In Pocket," Hynde and the boys undertook an audacious exploration of sexual politics. In spite of tragedy -- the deaths of Scott in 1982 and Farndon the following year -- The Pretenders would rock on through the Eighties, commercially as well as critically successful.

Emotional Rescue, The Rolling Stones (Atlantic)
The Stones had made their very first studio recordings way back in 1962, and by 1980 they were legends in their own lifetimes. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and company could afford to be very experimental in their music, and could get away with allowing themselves to be influenced by current musical fads, flirting with disco on Some Girls (1978) and loading up Emotional Rescue with dance-oriented tracks. The title song was a Top Ten hit, and the album (of course), went platinum. The longevity of the band was no fluke -- as this album demonstrated, The Rolling Stones knew how to change with the times and still maintain the raw integrity of their own unique sound.

Against The Wind, Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (Capitol)
Seger, who in years previous had provided us with hits like "Mainstreet," "Night Moves" and "We've Got Tonite," had his fourth successful album in a row this year with Against The Wind. The product of two years of work, the album stayed on the charts for 110 weeks, with six of them at the #1 position. The title track made it to US#5. Seger won a Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo/Group with this effort, but he wasn't done yet -- two years later he would have his biggest-selling single ever, "Shame On The Moon."

Empty Glass, Pete Townsend (Atco)
Legendary guitarist Townsend, feeling artistically confined in his role as a member of the Seventies mega-band The Who, cut loose with this, his second solo album. Daring to address issues like homosexuality ("Rough Boys") and his own personal demons -- drugs, booze and a disintegrating marriage -- ("A Little Is Enough"), Townsend made music on Empty Glass that spoke in an earnest, emotional and sometimes fatalistic way to the human condition, and in the process proved that he was anything but a washed-up rocker.