1980, and I wasn’t buying records. Sure, there would be the occasional, possibly vociferous, predominately unsuccessful cooing and cajoling noises thrown in parental directions, as if they genuinely knew their way around a record store (one day I’ll forgive them for not furnishing me with that ‘Wuthering Heights’ 7”, whose importance at the time was all-encompassing).
Instead I’d have to wait a wee while until quantity of pocket money converged with being trusted not to run away and join the circus when left to my own devices. I was young in 1980; the first single I bought was this; first album would have been Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) by Eurythmics. On cassette. In a St. Helier branch of Boots The Chemist. During an imaginary episode of the BBC’s Jersey-based detective “drama” Bergerac.
When entering into some semi-regular, blog-based retrospective of a twelve month release window (1981 next time out), this not buying records in 1980 thing creates a kind of void; distance between a contemporary awareness of sound and playing some form of back catalogue catch-up once old enough to know better. For example, it would be many years until I chanced across Colossal Youth by Young Marble Giants. A deliciously stripped-back affair, songs tightly bound to the sparsity of guitar and bass tracks, above which Alison Statton’s vocal floats in a web of alluring ennui. Nostalgia is of course a dangerous business; presumed nostalgia is even uglier. That said, many fascinating albums were released in this year, and what many have in common are undercurrents of flavour that segue tightly with the social inflexions of the era. Be it Joy Division’s Closer or Kaleidoscope by Siouxsie And The Banshees, there are ghostly trails of a shared, communally understood aesthetic that reached out beyond mere vogue. Post-punk, perhaps. A complicit redistribution of sonic foreplay.
In fact browsing the new releases section of your local vinyl emporium in this year must have been a liberating experience. Whilst the mainstream rock audience may have been revelling in Springsteen’s The River or AC/DC’s Back In Black, those with a more eager, esoteric nose were treated with billboard-sized chunks of evocation. Albums such as Travelogue, the second Human League album (also their last before taking the pop shilling) – earnest, sometimes geeky electronica that simultaneously manages to exude a most agreeable slyness. Kilimanjaro by The Teardrop Explodes – a fascinating début, not quite the sublime slice of intelligent introversion that comprised follow-up Wilder, but still a ballsy record unafraid of poppier sentiment. Crocodiles, the first full-length release from Liverpool scene rivals Echo And The Bunnymen, shares that embryonic sense of musical direction; a sparse album quite distinct from the fashion for a deeper verbosity as the ’80’s expanded.
And I could happily continue; 1980 was that type of year. I’ve never had any time for Dexy’s Midnight Runners – their recent reappearance carried with it the aroma of desperation – but Searching For The New Soul Rebels remains an alluring first LP, defined by a soulful swagger much missing from subsequent releases. Reise Durch Arcadien by Krautrock pioneer Hans-Joachim Roedelius could never be defined as mass-market – there’s occasional cravings for some oompf among the ambient tendrils – but as minimalistic electronica goes, this album comes very much recommended.
And so it goes. The Return Of The Durutti Column appeared in January – the “return” element being a reference to Civil War Spanish Republicanism, rather than Vini Reilly’s exquisite, difficult to define début. Then there’s How Much Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? by The Pop Group; Seventeen Seconds– hinting heavily at the magnificence of the two albums by The Cure that were to follow. The Correct Use Of Soap by Magazine; The Voice Of America by Cabaret Voltaire; The Associates and their The Affectionate Punch; Remain In Light – the fourth Talking Heads record. And I could continue; each of these records may not be perfectly formed; the dynamic of inflexion may have been surpassed on subsequent releases, but the sheer number of influential discs rich in style and verve is astonishing when weighed against any landscape those filaments of vogue took us later in this (and other) decades.
As said, revisiting a year’s worth of releases is going to be one of those weekly themed-posts beloved of unimaginative music hacks across the internet. Thus it makes some kind of sense to reveal my favourite record of each year at the end of each post. When dealing with 1980’s artist in question, there had already been more than a decade’s worth of material lodged deep in perception; thirteen studio albums prior to 1980, almost all of which explicitly challenged notions of musical vogue – in other words, we could debate just which of David Bowie’s albums are his finest well into the night. What perhaps isn’t in question is that Scary Monsters represents some high water mark; his last great album. Perfectly attuned to the nuance of era – ’79, ’80, ’81 imply an angularity in terms of the significant records those years begat. A filtering of the energy behind ’70’s punk rock that saw tracks fundamentally assured of their own svelte silhouette (a line that perfectly sums up the Scary Monsters groove).
Young Marble Giants / Searching For Mr Right
The Durutti Column / Sketch For Summer
The Human League / Being Boiled