FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 1981
1- RUSH: "MOVING PICTURES"
I still remember when I purchased this cassette tape, where I purchased it, and exactly how much I paid for it. Yes, it was at Musicland, nestled deep within the corridors of Valley Fair Mall. It was in a bin marked for the low, low price of $2.88. The crazy thing was this was a new release, but for some reason Musicland was selling several Mercury Records cassette tapes for that price. I picked up Moving Pictures, as well as two tapes by Scorpions. What? You're not interested in all those silly details? Well, then...
This album, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of Rush's career. It was also a turning point of sorts. After a few albums of honing their skills, Rush dove into a series of "concept albums", which included 2112, A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres. By time Permanent Waves rolled around, they had mostly abandoned the 20 minute epic pieces in exchange for songs that would be a little more radio friendly. Moving Pictures featured a little of each... not only does it contain classics like Tom Sawyer and Limelight, but it features my personal favorite Rush song, "The Camera Eye", an epic piece, in it's own right.
2. SAGA: "WORLD'S APART"
It was the Fall of 1982, when MTV made it's way to the sleepy suburban town of West Valley City, Utah. One of the first videos I remember seeing was a song by an unknown band from Canada, called Saga. The singer wore knee pads over his pants, a sleeveless t-shirt, and had a mustache that Freddie Mercury would have been gay for. The song was "On the Loose", and featured some of the freshest sounds I had ever heard. Before MTV, my exposure to New Wave music was limited (Human League, Devo, B-52's), but never had I heard music that crossed genres to sound somewhat New Wave, but also be technical and, for lack of a better word, Rockin' like Rush. What was it in that Canadian drinking water?
This album was produced by producer Rupert Hine (who also worked with Rush, The Fixx, among others) and was a flawless blend of melody, energy and fresh sounds. To this day, this album holds up as one of my favorites of the 80's.
3. ECHO and the BUNNYMEN: "HEAVEN UP HERE"
Echo & The Bunnymen were an anomaly in my household growing up. Apart from my older brother, the rest of my siblings and I were fascinated by this band. Heck, I was obsessed with this band. That being said, my younger brother and younger sister each collected albums that I should have been collecting. I had "Ocean Rain" and it's preceding 5-track e.p. featuring the hit Never Stop and the incredible live version of "Do it Clean"; Rich (my younger brother) had managed to acquire "Porcupine", "Crocodiles" and "Songs to Learn and Sing"; my even younger sister Kristy had managed to acquire this album. Of all the early Bunnymen catalong, this was probably the one I was least familiar with. However, when all is said and done, apart from my beloved "Ocean Rain", this is probably my favorite Bunnymen album. This has an energy that strikes a chord with me. Songs like "Over the Wall" and "A Promise" still ring as some of the freshest music by this legendary band from Liverpool. Okay. You're right... legendary OTHER band from Liverpool.
4. THE FLESHTONES: "ROMAN GODS"
I can thank my adolescent friend, Kim Simpson, for introducing me to America's premier party band. A group that invented and perfected the Rock and Roll sub-genre, SUPEROCK, The Fleshtones were hell bent on keeping the energy of 60's bands like The Kingsmen (Louie, Louie) alive and kicking. And that they did. I had the distinct pleasure of seeing The Fleshtones open up for Echo & The Bunnymen on the Ocean Rain tour, and they rocked the house. I still see, in my mind's eye, Peter Zaremba (vocalist and tambourine player, extraordinaire) standing atop a stack of amps, his Mod suit, shirt opened at the collar, shaking his legendary bangs. These guys may have sounded like they belong in a garage, but really, they should be bleeding out of every radio in the country. But only your transistor or AM radios... because that is the inspiration... and sound... of The Fleshtones.
5. DEPECHE MODE: "SPEAK & SPELL"
I'm still trying to remember when I first came across the music of Depeche Mode. I know that it was when "Construction Time Again" (their 3rd album) was the most recent release. I don't remember if it was the single, "Everything Counts", from the aforementioned album, or "Dreaming of Me" (from Speak & Spell), which was included on a classic K-Tel (kids, ask your parents... they'll explain the K-Tel thing) LP record which I owned.
One thing that many of you may not know about the album, Speak & Spell, was that it was primarily written by original member, Vince Clarke. Vince brought to the table a very unique sound, and the marriage of classic electronic music from bands like Kraftwerk and French synth artist Jean-Michel Jarre with Pop sensibility, creating one of the most unique sounds of the day. 1981 seemed to be the year that Synth-Pop was truly born, as you will see by time you are done reading this list. For those of you NOT familiar with Vince Clark, his career with Depeche Mode was very short lived. In a fairly recent interview, Vince explained the reasoning behind his departure from Depeche Mode after only one album. He never had his heart completely invested in the project, but after bringing a new song to the other band members... a little ditty called, "Only You"... and having them turn their noses up, telling him the song was crap, Vince excused himself, telling the band that he was going out for a smoke... and he never returned. If Paul Harvey were here, he would simply say, "... and now... you know... the rest of.......the story."
Of course, Vince took "Only You", found husky Brit female vocalist, Alison "Alf" Moyet, created the duo "YAZOO" (Yaz, in America) and the rest is history. As was Yazoo, after the first album was a success, and the second album had barely been recorded. One would think that Vince couldn't hold a relationship, but his marriage (figuratively, NOT literally.... although one would wonder) to Andy Bell in 1986, with the formation of Erasure, has proven to be a most successful relationship, as Erasure still lives on, 25 years later, always finding ways to keep their music fresh... including doing an album of Country/Americana versions of their own music. Yeah. It was awesome.
Wait... we're not talking about Erasure, are we? No... Depeche Mode. Right. This album had a unique sound. At least, to the discerning ear. And included some of my favorite DM songs, including "Any Second Now (Voices)".
6. JOURNEY: "ESCAPE"
This album was released in the Spring of my 9th grade year. I had been quite a Journey fan that year, and this album only cemented my love of the group. This was also the first album with keyboardist Jonathan Cain, who had replaced founding member, Gregg Rolie. While the songwriting of Cain brought some of the biggest success of the band's career (with songs like "Open Arms", it was also the beginning of the end. Many people don't know that Journey was formed by Neil Schon and Gregg Rolie, who were both part of the late 60's/early 70's line-up of SANTANA. The first few Journey albums were more Fusion than Rock, and were completely absent of Steve Perry, the man that would eventually become the "voice of Journey". While I should be a tad embarrassed to have this album sit at a respectable spot like #6, it has always remained very fresh to me, featuring some of the finest musicianship of the day. Heck, with an extremely talented guitarist like Neil Schon and the immaculate drum stylings of Jazz trained, Steve Smith, you cannot go wrong. At least for another couple years....
7. SPLIT ENZ: CORROBOREE (also known as WAIATA)
I still remember the first time I heard (and saw, for that matter) Split Enz. It was on the late night television show, FRIDAYS. A short while later, I stumbled across them on the PBS program, "AUSTIN CITY LIMITS". Between my first exposure to them and the Austin City Limits performance, I had fallen in love with a song called, "I GOT YOU". I remember when seeing them on Austin City Limits how disappointed I was. Most of that performance featured Tim Finn (the elder of the Finn brothers) on vocals, and it didn't sound like the Split Enz that I had been falling in love with. Sure enough, right at the tail end of the show, young Neil Finn stepped up to the microphone and sang, "I Got You". Because of the unsettling opinion of the ACL performance, I went years without purchasing any of their music. It wasn't until 1985 that I purchased the cassette of "Waiata". I was hooked. It quickly became one of my favorite albums of that year and, as you can tell, one of my favorites of 1981.
8. DEF LEPPARD: "HIGH'N'DRY"
Another album from my 9th grade year, High'n'Dry was (and still is) one of my favorite Heavy Metal albums EVER. To this day, it remains the one Def Leppard album that I listen to with regularity, and the album that I consider to be my favorite of their discography. This album was produced by Robert John "Mutt" Lange, who had just finished working with AC/DC on their classic, "BACK IN BLACK". The Leppards may have still been teenagers when they recorded this album, but they rocked like veterans.
I still remember the extreme disappointment when I found out that Def Leppard was coming in concert to the Salt Palace in Salt Lake.... opening up for Native American Hard Rock outfit, BLACKFOOT... and my father wouldn't let me go. I had to be 16 before I could go to concerts on my own, and I sat home broken hearted the night of the concert. Now, before I continue on, let's ponder that for a moment..... Def Leppard, who were arguably one of the most successful bands of the 1980's... opening up for Blackfoot... one of the most obscure bands in the history of Hard Rock music. Yeah, it's hard to believe... but, oh so true.
9. U2: "OCTOBER"
The second of what I like to refer to as the "Lillywhite" albums (they being produced by famous 80's producer, Steve Lillywhite), this album featured a more mature side to this Irish band of teenagers. Their debut album, BOY, was immature sounding, yet deeply mature for a band their age. This album included songs like the title cut, which showed a deeper side to what these lads were capable of.
10. HEAVEN 17: PENTHOUSE AND PAVEMENT
Ah, the debut album from one of my favorite Synth Pop bands of the 80's... "Penthouse and Pavement". Heaven 17 was formed in the early 80's by Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, both previously members of The Human League, a band that had broken through the radio airwaves of America the same year. As I look over this list of my favorite albums of 1981, I am amused by the relating factors of some of these albums. Heaven 17 and Human League (10 and 11) both featured the same founding members, and were both from Sheffield, England; the top two bands were both from Toronto, Canada... as will be the case with number 14 (stay tuned).
11. HUMAN LEAGUE: "DARE"
12. DEVO: "NEW TRADITIONALISTS"
13. THE CURE: "FAITH"
14. APRIL WINE: "THE NATURE OF THE BEAST"
15. THE BLASTERS: "THE BLASTERS"
16. QUINCY JONES: "THE DUDE"
17. MEN AT WORK: "BUSINESS AS USUAL"
18. THE POLICE: "GHOST IN THE MACHINE"
19. RICKIE LEE JONES: "PIRATES"
20. ORCHESTRAL MANEUVERS IN THE DARK: "ARCHITECTURE AND MORALITY"