1980, what a year! The 8 year long Iran-Iraq war began, Reagan was elected, Lennon was shot, Satre + Hitchcock died, nuns were murdered in El Salvador and I was born. It really was a year full of bad things happening around the world, and it was reflected in the music 30 years ago (that makes me feel very, very, old indeed) in the first year of my existence.
The overall picture of the charts of 1980 is a little bleak to say the least: Woman In Love, Super Trouper and D.I.S.C.O. stood alongside Don’t Stand So Close To Me, Geno and The Tide Is High in the singles charts, as top hits of the year. Punk was dying out and being re-amalgamated into the mainstream pop it always secretly was, MOR tripe sat happily alongside edgy politico-tunes and the rock/pop divide of coolness was narrower than it had ever been. Had I been alive then (I am fully aware that for the last 8 months of 1980, I was, technically), I probably would have struggled as much to find originality in music as I do today. But there were gems to be found in amongst the detritus. Those bands that were really starting to show themselves as truly original and interesting were blending genres, and crossing styles to create some fantastic music, still playable in bars today. Blondie was conquering America and, to a lesser degree, England, The Police brought out Regatta De Blanc, in my honest opinion the most interesting of their albums, and The Jam were Going Underground, a little like alternative music’s fan base at the time.
Abba were still rulers of all things pop, and their infectiously annoying, simplistic pop “classics” (you may be able to tell that I’m not a fan) were leading the Disco/Pop clubbing revolution. It was seemingly more straight and sober than much of the “obscene” (thanks Daily Mail, 1980) New York clubbing scene and its associated music, therefore dominating the European charts. Super Trooper is, however, without doubt their best written album, and a tour de force of catchy lyrics and silly song videos; inspiring decades of ridicule and absurd fan obsession.
1980 was also the year of Michael Jackson becoming the King Of Pop, and frankly, with Off The Wall, it was the pinnacle of his career musically. Genesis, however, had just pushed their musical sledge over their pinnacle, and started their steady decline to likeable but banal pop with Duke. Of course, they totally overshadowed former band leader, Peter Gabriel, whose Games Without Frontiers, came nowhere near them despite it’s dated brilliance .
1980 was also a time of changing fashions, yet a bizarre crossover of clothing styles from the late seventies to early eighties was in existence not just on the high street, but also in videos. If ever a band personified this in perfection, it was Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Named after a slang term for certain drugs, they barely looked as this would suggest, because their own take on ‘Gypsy Cool’ gave rise to curly, unkempt hair and that whole “dungarees and nothing else” look. Sexy on a pretty girl, ludicrous on a short skinny man. On the more eccentric side of the charts, Saxon rode reasonably high (for them) with the awful but marvellous, Wheels Of Steel, contrasting in style, but not lack thereof, with David Essex’s bizarre classic, Silver Dream Machine (from the film of the same name I believe (don’t watch it unless stoned, drunk and near death), summing up how you could chart with pretty much anything if you found your audience.
Although a year of trash and triteness, the music charts did give rise to a couple of tracks worthy of a special mention. I’ve already name-checked Going Underground by The Jam, but it truly is an inspirational track, full of pithy social comment, driving beats, and soaring emotional force, exemplifying everything that makes Paul Weller so worship-able, even today. “New Wave” poster band Blondie released Call Me and created a million fans, and a million teenage fantasies, possibly being the first recognisable cougar of our modern age (she was a lot older at that point than you might think, having been born in 1945). She was a truly original vocalist, in a band, who briefly, had a knack for writing perfect pop. A slightly more abstract choice is my favourite Undertones song, My Perfect Cousin (what I like to do, he doesn’t), which beautifully evoked certain childhood feelings, even for those with no cousins, of rivalry and competition within families, whilst also being a rollicking tune.
Of course, I must make sure I don’t forget Ne-Ne-Na-Na-Na-Na-Nu-Nu by the terrifically brilliant Bad Manners, another part, along with Madness, The Selecter and The Specials, of the now reasonably established, 2 Tone Scene. Of course, this would go on to be considered the 2nd age of Ska, and would carry on right through to the present day (through its third age in the 90s) to be as successful and influential an area of music that it is considered today. Often claimed to be as heavily influenced by the new found nostalgia of New Wave music as It was by the classic Ska recordings of the sixties, it was a statement not just musically and of fashion, but also of political tastes and social views, something that would become more important as the Thatcherite years wore on.
Despite all of my disinteresting ramblings, triumphing as probably the best song released that year (only whilst writing this article, however, for I am a fickle beast indeed) is The Vapors classic, Turning Japanese. A song based around a xenophobic and racist euphemism for male masturbation, it was a huge hit around the world (although I hope not in Japan) and that alone is reason for it to be the perfect single to sum up the year I came to be.
1980, style-less, charmless, and senseless, yet the turning point for so many good things in music. I just wish we hadn’t had to have had the rest of the eighties for the ideas at the start to filter through!