Well it’s been nearly two years since I did the 1979 songbook, and so it seemed about time to bring things bank up-to-date … with a 1981 equivalent. As mentioned previously, this is kind-of my era, and so I’m not one to be particularly balanced in an assessment of the musical qualities of the year.
As with last time, this is *my* selection, and takes a somewhat biased view on the musical output of the year. So sorry, but you won’t find any Shakin’ Stevens here. Nor will you find any Bucks Fizz, Joe Dolce, Julio Igelsias, Stars on 45 or The Birdie Song (all of whom were in the top 20 selling singles of the year). But what you will find is a selection that showcases some of the wide variety of music that was being made and – in most cases – being lapped up by the British music-buying public.
1981 was the year in which the New Romantics, and electronic music more generally, established itself in the charts. I’ve covered those genres off in more depth here, but included in this book are the likes of Soft Cell (whose cover of Gloria Jones’ Tainted Love was everywhere), The Human League (who came from also-ran has-beens following the earlier split in the band to be triumphant pop conquerors with their classic album Dare, and the omnipresent Christmas Number 1, Don’t You Want Me), the studio-based Visage, OMD (with their songs of dead French saints – x2), the upcoming scream-sensation that was/is Duran Duran, and Basildon’s finest, Depeche Mode. With their strong emphasis on visuals and style, these new artists were truly of the video age, a fortuitous timing that – with the launch of MTV in the US in this year – saw their music being eagerly gobbled up by young Americans, leading to the second “British invasion” which really got under way the following year.
The US were not to be outdone, though. And whilst classic American rock bands have often had a hard-time making a lasting presence in the UK (at least from a singles perspective) the year did see the likes of REO Speedwagon and Journey have some success. But even then, the more “new wave” artists from stateside, such as The Go-Go’s and Kim Carnes (a kind of new wave / classic rock hybrid) had success, alongside the reinvigorated rock-and-roll stylings of Stray Cats.
But these were somewhat of an exception. British Pop was in rude health, as evidenced in more classic ways by the fresh face of Kim Wilde, the songwriting powerhouse that was Kirsty MacColl, and the singles-juggernaut that was Madness. But there were some particularly skewed versions of pop appearing during the year. Most significantly (and if it was anybody’s year, it was probably his) Adam and his Ants took a bizarre amalgam of tribal drumming, punk attitudes, twangy guitars, and almost-pantomime dressing up, married with a constantly evolving but somehow consistent visual style, and won Britain’s playground over big style. This even gave an opportunity for posh punk has-been Eddie Tudorpole to have a hit with the medieval-themed Swords of a Thousand Men.
The graduates of the punk and new wave scenes were still around, albeit in matured ways. The Police were still massive, The Stranglers had a big hit with the relatively laid-back and un-punk Golden Brown (odd time signatures included), XTC continued to plough their own furrow, The Undertones started to grow up, and both Squeeze and Elvis Costello took an unexpected country by-road. In addition the vibrant and varied post-punk scene started to go overground, with the likes of The Teardrop Explodes, Altered Images, Toyah and Scritti Politti establishing themselves.
But the old guard wasn’t to be outdone. Phil Collins took time out from Genesis to begin a parallel (and hugely successful) solo career, Dire Straits were further laying claim to their position as grown-up rock superstars, 10cc’s Godley and Creme broke away with their own brand of quirky pop, and even The Who returned from a few years away as if nothing much had changed (although clearly it had). And not to forget Olivia Newton-John having another gym-based makeover.
Anyway, here’s the book. I’m sure you’ll disagree with the selection of what is or should have been in the book. I’m in no way claiming this to be a definitive record of the year. But it is *my* selection. And I love every song here.
Also, see below for a list of the songs included in the book, along with links to individual song sheets:
- All Stood Still – Ultravox
- Bette Davis Eyes – Kim Carnes
- Chequered Love – Kim Wilde
- Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
- Don’t You Want Me – The Human League
- Einstein A Go-Go – Landscape
- Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic – The Police
- Face To Grey – Visage
- Girls On Film – Duran Duran
- Golden Brown – The Stranglers
- Good Thing Going – Sugar Minott
- Good Year For The Roses – Elvis Costello
- I Could Be Happy – Altered Images
- I’ll Find My Way Home – Jon and Vangelis
- I’m In Love with a German Film Star – The Passions
- In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins
- Is Vic There? – Department S
- It Must Be Love – Madness
- It’s A Mystery – Toyah
- It’s Going To Happen! – The Undertones
- Joan of Arc – OMD
- Keep On Loving You – REO Speedwagon
- Labelled With Love – Squeeze
- New Life – Depeche Mode
- Our Lips Are Sealed – The Go-Go’s
- Physical – Olivia Newton-John
- Planet Earth – Duran Duran
- Reward – The Teardrop Explodes
- Rock This Town – Stray Cats
- Romeo and Juliet – Dire Straits
- Souvenir – OMD
- Sgt Rock (Is Going To Help Me) – XTC
- Stand and Deliver – Adam and the Ants
- Swords of A Thousand Men – Tenpole Tudor
- Tainted Love – Soft Cell
- The Sound of The Crowd – The Human League
- The “Sweetest Girl” – Scritti Politti
- There’s a Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis – Kirsty MacColl
- Under Your Thumb – Godley and Creme
- You Better You Bet – The Who