Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Best Of 1981 - part 1

JUMP TO: 30-21 II 20-11 II 10-1

In 1981, my life was all about The Smurfs and other Saturday morning cartoons, but in the wider world it was the year of Charles and Diana’s wedding and the launch of MTV.

1981: a time when Cliff Richard was still cool(ish)

I was becoming more and more interested in music, and alongside the Aussie pop/rock and American MOR music that you heard everywhere, a new breed of UK synthpop groups started to get noticed – especially by me. Human League, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell... groups like these would come to define my musical tastes for the next few decades.

First off, though, at number 30 is a band whose success was limited to 1981. The bouncy "I Am The Beat" by The Look was a top 10 single in the UK and a top 20 hit locally - and that was pretty much it for the British band, who'd split up by 1983.

An artist who doesn't appear on any other of my year-end charts is at number 29. "Young Turks" by Rod Stewart is the exception to the rule - probably because of its synthpop sound and overall feel-good factor. 

At number 28 "Boys In Town" by Divinyls, the debut single for the soon-to-be iconic Australian band fronted by the school uniform-wearing Chrissy Amphlett. The song was a number 8 hit - a position they wouldn't beat for the rest of the decade (but would eclipse early in the '90s).

A single that often gets overlooked is at number 27: "Water On Glass" by Kim Wilde. In the rush from "Chequered Love" to "Cambodia", I don't think "Water On Glass" was even released in Australia, which accounts for it flying under the radar. Still, I like it - much more than "Cambodia", in fact.

At number 26“Urgent” by Foreigner, who have about half a dozen songs I like. Enough to justify their best of a place in my CD collection (believe me, I bought best ofs by artists with only one or two songs I actually like in the pre-iTunes age). "Urgent" only got to number 24 in Australia, but I prefer it to their all-conquering ballads, "Waiting For A Girl Like You" and "I Want To Know What Love Is", which, it must be said, are both great songs as well.

A band we'll also be seeing in Parts 2 and 3 are at number 25 - it's "Girls On Film" by Duran Duran. The song got a lot of attention thanks to the extended "Night Version" cut of its music video, which is below in all its mud wrestling glory (the clean version is linked to in the song title). Controversy = success.

At number 24 is a song I now associate with Kmart thanks to a 1990s ad campaign: it's “Counting The Beat” by The Swingers. The New Zealand band had a huge number one smash in Australia with this song - in fact, no song was bigger that year. I've always joked I don't like music with guitars in it, which, based on the presence of this song alone, clearly isn't true. But I like my rock to be sing along-able and catchy, not ponderous or thrashy - and The Swingers fit the bill perfectly.

It’s power ballad time at number 23: “Keep On Loving You” by REO Speedwagon. I've always assumed the band was named after some sort of hotted-up vehicle, but a quick search online establishes the inspiration is a delivery truck from the 1910s and '20s, which doesn't look particularly speedy at all. Fascinating.

More American power pop/rock at number 22: “The Break-Up Song (They Don’t Write ’Em) by Greg Kihn Band, who had a pun-tastic series of album titles like Next Of Kihn, Rockihnroll (from which this song is taken) and Kihntinued. There were more, but you get the drift. Ah, the '80s - such comedy.

Into his third decade of hit-making, at number 21 it’s “Wired For Sound” by Cliff Richard - and the clip doesn't get much more '80s. A black leather outfit, a walkman with massive headphones, rollerskating action and, of course, Cliff himself with one of his five Aussie top 10 hits of the decade. His biggest would be "Living Doll" with The Young Ones in 1986, which would be his only number 1 here.

So, what's coming up in Part 2 of our trip through my favourite songs from 1981? It's a mixed bag, with a Vegas superstar, a family affair, the most successful New Romantic act and a singer who'll always be associated with one very famous duet.

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