Welcome to the third and final day for 1981. As I write this, I do so with a very heavy heart as my fantastic father-in-law passed away yesterday while in the final stages of renal failure. He was 94, though he lived the last six years with a very broken heart after the love of his life, my mother-in-law, passed away. However, all the mischief we caused is what I will remember the most about him, and how the chaos of seven crazy grandchildren could never get under his skin. And, no matter how many times he was giving me a premium beer to drink, Fall City or Burger is still NOT a premium beer! I’m going to miss you Don! Godspeed my friend!
Now, for something a little different.
Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna (1981). From the sound of radio throughout my first two quarters at Ball State, Stevie Nicks was the biggest artist on the planet. If I had just a nickel every time “Edge of Seventeen” was played, I’d have been a millionaire and quit school. And, then there were two other hits from her solo debut in her duet with Don Henley “Leather and Lace,” and her bid to become a member of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” However, it was the deep cuts like the title track and “After the Glitter Fades” that made this album so deep and hauntingly beautiful. This is what primo Stevie Nicks is all about.
The Clash – Sandinista! (1981). So, how does a band followup one of rock’s greatest albums, let alone double albums? Well, by making one of the most sprawling, self-absorbed experimental triple albums of all-time. This is definitely Rock’s Most Important Band’s own White Album. You can find all kinds of crap being thrown at the proverbial wall just to see what sticks, making for an album that is at times frustrating, incomplete and thrilling. This album reeks of pills, weed and coke, with a little horse thrown in for good measure, but in a somewhat good way.
The Go-Go’s – Beauty and the Beat (1981). By 1981, the world was ready for an all-female band who could write their own songs. And, into that void walks a group of five women who took the energy of punk and married it with the pop songs of the Sixties, and their sound took over America. The Go-Go’s were veterans of the LA punk scene yet somehow got marketed as the girls next door, which was contrary to their actual personalities. Still, they had the goods, got noticed as an opening act on The Police’s tour that year and took off to the stratosphere. Unfortunately, their management rushed them into the studio, while success drained them, and they imploded from the outside pressures. Still, their music, and this album specifically, remains the calling card of the band, and they deserve a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame immediately.
The J. Geils Band – Freeze Frame (1981). Finally! In 1981, The J. Geils Band got the big commercial success the band had always seemed destined for but never attained. You could not escape this album on the Ball State campus if you wanted to. It was the perfect party record, sounded great on the radio and was loaded with such memorable songs as the title song, the number one hit “Centerfold,” the party blow out number “Flamethrower” and the drunks’ favorite “Piss on the Wall.” This was the pinnacle for Geils.
The Police – Ghost in the Machine (1981). Although many thought this album was a letdown from Zenyatta Mondatta, I personally wore the damn album out. I just could not get enough of “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” I saw the band on tour supporting this album with Joan Jett as the opening act. Of course, the band’s performance was outstanding. Yet, somehow, I just knew the band would blow up in a huge way on their next album. Sometimes, I hate it when I’m right, and other times, I bask in it. This will be a time in which I basked.
The Waitresses – Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful? (1981). That’s right! That band who created the enduring Christmas anthem called “Christmas Wrapping” actually had a very noteworthy album before they released that yuletide tune. This Akron, Ohio band was following the path Devo set with this wonderful album of new wave pop/rock songs. Although these cheeky feminist songs were sang by Patty Donahue, the songs were actually written by guitarist Chris Butler. The band had the perfect lineup to bring Butler’s songs to life. And although The Waitresses are known as a one-hit wonder due to the success of the immortal “I Know What Boys Like,” the band was much deeper than their status would lead one to believe.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Hard Promises (1981). This was the album that made me fall in a lifelong Tom Petty fan. When you hear the line, “Oh baby don’t it feel like heaven right now, don’t it feel like something from a dream,” you know this is not just another rocker. Only gods write lines like that. Oh, and I love “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me),” “A Thing About You” and “Letting Go,” but for my money, the greatest song on this album is the band’s duet with Stevie Nicks called “Insider.” I still wish I had kept my English 101 theme paper I wrote about that song. That was my long-lost masterpiece.
Tom Tom Club – Tom Tom Club (1981). While David Byrne and Brian Eno were playing with loops and samples and fellow Head Jerry Harrison was off making a Talking Heads-sounding solo album, the husband-wife rhythm section of drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth took off with Tina’s sisters, the expanded Talking Heads touring musicians and some other hangers-on to the Caribbean. There, the musicians picked up where Remain in Light left off, sprinkled in sounds from the NYC dance clubs and lots of influence from the NYC hip hop community to create a whole new sound that would go on to influence both pop and hip hop well into the 21st century. And, mainly this is due to the lasting effect of their great hit song “Genius of Love.”
Triumph – Allied Forces (1981). I have often unfairly described Triumph as Rush-lite. Well, the band is Canadian, is a trio and plays a more direct version of prog/hard rock. But, they put everything together for this album, especially the standout song “Magic Power,” which is simply immortal in my book.
Tubes – The Completion Backward Principle (1981). What’s a satirical performance art rock band supposed to do in the conservative world of Ronald Reagan. Well, they first team up with a budding producer of some of soft rock’s biggest names in the form of David Foster, dress like a bunch of business corporate raiders and indulge themselves into the world of faceless AOR sounds, leaving behind none of their punk rock attitude. Finally, the band got the airplay they always craved all the while remaining as subversive as ever. The joke was on the listener who thought they were discovering a great new band along the lines of Styx or Loverboy.
X – Wild Gift (1981). Perhaps the best LA punk band of the era, X hit their stride as a band on their sophomore release. Former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek produced this album that went further in merging the punk sound and fury with even more standard rock sounds. This remains one of rock’s best second albums, with or without their classic anthem “White Girl.”
And, that, my friends, wraps up 1981. See you next time with the start of 1982 and the MTV Age. Peace.