30 Years of Albums in My Wheelhouse: 1981

After graduating in May of 1981, I had until September before I started college so I needed a job. Back at that time, at least in Central Indiana, we were facing a massive recession. My county had been tied to General Motors for a very long time, so when people started to be laid off from the supply companies in town our area was actually in a depression. Suddenly, jobs were drying up as all the other places around town began squeezing their staffs. However, I lucked into one of the easiest jobs I have ever had.

Back in the day, people (teenagers) were hired to walk down the rows of cornfields of companies like Pfizer to pull the tassels out of the cornstalks in order to keep the corn pure. After working at a Dairy Queen the previous summer, I was prepared to detassle corn. Fortunately, fate intervened. When it comes to detassling, someone is hired to call all of the kids to make sure the bus is full and to meet the bus in the morning and afternoon to check the kids on and off the bus. That job was held by a young female teacher down the street. However, she was pregnant with her first child, so she asked me if I was interested. Of course, I jumped on it.

The Go-Go’s

Since the area was depressed, it was easy to fill the two buses, one for boys and one for girls. I had took a couple of hours to make calls to the kids, writing that time down on my timecard. At 6 AM the next morning, I was there to check kids onto their respective buses and sat in my mom’s car until the buses pulled out. Then, I met those buses again around 4 PM, checked the workers off the bus, talked to the bus drivers about problems (like did anyone get fired, any fights, anyone quit, that sort of thing). I then waited around until all the kids got rides home, breaking up any fights that might happen. Then I would go home, take an hour to the next group of kids to fill any vacancies for the next day.


What I did not realize until I turned my first timecard that I had originally short-changed my work hours. You see, I also got paid for the time the kids were transported on the bus and worked in the field. While the workers were paid while in the field, I was paid from the moment I arrived at the school to check in the kids to the moment I left the parking lot at the end of the day, and all time in between, even if I was at the swimming pool, playing basketball or mowing Mom’s lawn. Hell, I could spend the day with a girl or working another job, if I could find it, and still get paid for the detassling job.

Rick James

Needless to say, I made great money that summer for little work. In reality, I did feel a little guilty about how I was paid, but that was the system that was set up by the state of Indiana. I never quite figured out why I was hired by the state of Indiana to work for Pfizer in order to find THEM workers. But, every seed company and private farmer who dabbled in field of pure seeds worked in the same manner. Regardless, 1981 was my second year in a row not to work in the field. In 1982, I would go back to the field but as a supervisor, which would become my second easiest job I ever held. But, 1981, the year in which my area was in an economic depression with unemployment around 30%, I had my easiest job.

When I wasn’t goofing off, I was using a portion of my newly found wealth to go to the local record store to “work” on my collection, which was then just going over the 100 mark. Within a year, my collection will double in size. By the end of my college days and internship, my collection would be in the 250-range. During the summer of 1981, I organized all of my albums, by keeping index cards for each album like they were library checkout cards. I did this in case someone in my dorm wanted to “check out” one of my albums. You wouldn’t believe how much of a deterrent that system was to people borrowing my albums. After six weeks at Ball State, people stopped asking to borrow any of them.

Tom Tom Club

To be honest, I feel like 1981 was kind of a boring year for music. We were now two years removed since the exciting summer of new wave in 1979. Sure, MTV debuted on August 1, 1981, but most of the country was still a year or so away from feeling its full impact. Instead, yacht rock was dominating the radio. I realize that yacht rock is another popular musical relic from the past, but when you are still in your teens, a male and full of piss and vinegar, you tend to want to hear aggressive music, not romantic soft rock. And, if you preferred alternative rock like I did, well, you were, as the farmers around here say, “just shit out of luck.”

So, that’s why my album collection grew, and continues to grow today as I take chances on albums that receive good reviews even if I have not heard any songs on them. That strategy paid off well with Marshall Crenshaw, The Jam, Nirvana and many other punk/new wave/alternative bands over the years. Sure, there was plenty of album oriented artists on the radio like Billy Squier, Journey and Foreigner. But, if you wanted to hear “Superfreak” by Rick James, you had to put on your own record because he wasn’t played on rock or pop radio in Indiana. And if you wanted to hear any of the artists who part considered part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal like Motörhead or Iron Maiden, you might hear them a hand full of their tunes on a rock radio station late at night.

Black Flag

In the pre-MTV and internet days, you found out about new music in two manners: radio and print press, specifically rock magazines and fanzines. And, if you were like me and desired to listen to music other than what is on the radio, then you read magazines. All through the 70s, I read Creem, Circus and Hit Parader in order to discover new artists. In early 1980, I discovered Rolling Stone and enjoyed it for its pop culture status, but the others remained as my entry way into the alternative world.

Yet, if you were doing the work, you could discover many more creatively satisfying artists than what the radio was spoon-feeding us. With that said, let’s do the countdown thing.

50. Saga – Worlds Apart

49. Grace Jones – Nightclubbing

48. Sammy Hagar – Standing Hampton

47. Devo – New Traditionalists

46. AC/DC – For Those About to Rock We Salute You

45. Soft Cell – Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret

44. The Psychedelic Furs – Talk Talk Talk

43. Luther Vandross – Never Too Much

42. The Cars – Shake It Up

41. The Stray Cats – The Stray Cats

40. Quarterflash – Quarterflash

39. Elvis Costello & the Attractions – Trust

38. Mötley Crüe – Too Fast for Love

37. Electric Light Orchestra – Time

36. Triumph – Allied Forces

35. Pat Benatar – Precious Time

34. The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You

33. Kraftwerk – Computer Love

32. Duran Duran – Duran Duran

31. The Tubes – The Completion Backwards Principle

30. X – Wild Gift

29. Genesis – Abacab

28. Journey – Escape

27. Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic

26. Echo & the Bunnymen – Heaven Up Here

25. The Moody Blues – Long Distance Voyager

24. Rick Springfield – Working Class Dog

23. Loverboy – Get Lucky

22. Lindsey Buckingham – Law and Order

21. The Time – The Time

20. Rickie Lee Jones – Pirates

19. Black Flag – Damaged

18. Phil Collins – Face Value

17. Dan Fogelberg – The Innocent Age

16. Tom Tom Club – Tom Tom Club

15. The Human League – Dare!

14. Squeeze – East Side Story

13. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – I Love Rock & Roll

12. Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna

11. Foreigner – 4

10. Prince – Controversy

9. Rick James – Street Song

8. Brian Eno & David Byrne – My Life in the Bush of Ghosts

7. Billy Squier – Don’t Say No

6. Daryl Hall & John Oates – Private Eyes

5. Rush – Moving Pictures

4. The J. Geils Band – Freeze Frame

3. The Go-Go’s – Beauty and the Beat

2. The Police – Ghost in the Machine

1. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Hard Promises

Author: ifmyalbumscouldtalk

I am just a long-time music fan who used to be a high school science teacher and a varsity coach of several high school athletic teams. Before that, I worked as a medical technologist at three hospitals in their labs, mainly as a microbiologist. I am retired/disabled (Failed Back Surgery Syndrome), and this is my attempt to remain a human. Additionally, I am a serious vinyl aficionado, with a CD addiction and a love of reading about rock history. Finally, I am a fan of Prince, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, R.E.M., Hall & Oates, Springsteen, Paul Weller & his bands and Power Pop music.

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