Starting the Decade in Style
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Part V/V: The Finest Albums of 1980
THE reason I am putting together this feature…
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is to shine a light on the albums that started a decade with a huge deceleration. I feel it is hard to define what a decade is about and how it evolves but the first and last years are crucial – I have already looked at decade-ending albums. I am bringing to life this feature that celebrates albums that opened a decade with a mighty amount of quality and gave inspiration to those who followed. In this final part, I am focusing on 1980 and the best ten records from the year. We often feel the 1980s is a bit of a weak decade but, regardless of what you think of it as a whole, the first year was a pretty epic one and gave us so many terrific albums. Have a look at the selected ten and see how a maligned (but terrific) decade...
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GOT off of the blocks.
ALL ALBUM COVERS: Getty Images
Talking Heads – Remain in Light
Release Date: 8th October, 1980
“The album's single, "Once in a Lifetime," flopped upon release, but over the years it became an audience favorite due to a striking video, its inclusion in the band's 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense, and its second single release (in the live version) because of its use in the 1986 movie Down and Out in Beverly Hills, when it became a minor chart entry. Byrne sounded typically uncomfortable in the verses ("And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife/And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?"), which were undercut by the reassuring chorus ("Letting the days go by"). Even without a single, Remain in Light was a hit, indicating that Talking Heads were connecting with an audience ready to follow their musical evolution, and the album was so inventive and influential, it was no wonder. As it turned out, however, it marked the end of one aspect of the group's development and was their last new music for three years” – AllMusic
Standout Track: Once in a Lifetime
Dire Straits – Making Movies
Release Date: 17th October, 1980
Labels: Vertigo/Warner Bros. (U.S.)/Mercury (Canada)
“Without second guitarist David Knopfler, Dire Straits began to move away from its roots rock origins into a jazzier variation of country-rock and singer/songwriter folk-rock. Naturally, this means that Mark Knopfler's ambitions as a songwriter are growing, as the storytelling pretensions of Making Movies indicate. Fortunately, his skills are increasing, as the lovely "Romeo and Juliet," "Tunnel of Love," and "Skateaway" indicate. And Making Movies is helped by a new wave-tinged pop production, which actually helps Knopfler's jazzy inclinations take hold. The record runs out of steam toward the end, closing with the borderline offensive "Les Boys," but the remainder of Making Movies ranks among the band's finest work” – AllMusic
Standout Track: Romeo and Juliet
David Bowie – Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
Release Date: 12th September, 1980
“Elsewhere, however, many of the songs on Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) were as challenging and unconventional as critics and discerning Bowie-philes could have asked for. The opening tune, "It's No Game," married a plodding dirge to Bowie's intentionally strangled vocals and a female narration of the lyrics in Japanese. "Up the Hill Backwards" commented on the singer's recent divorce over a lurching, 7/4 beat, and then the title track arose from a sinister Robert Fripp guitar figure, which was indicative of its subject's descent into madness – all before the aforementioned singles made their entrances.
Bowie's imagination continued to fly unchecked and unafraid on the second side, over the anthemic, "Heroes"-like march of "Teenage Wildlife," the intriguing chord changes that made "Scream Like a Baby" half-new wave, half-hard rock, a lush interpretation of Tom Verlaine's "Kingdom Come" complete with girl-group backing vocals, a densely arranged "Because You're Young" boasting windmill power chords from Pete Townshend and concluding with a "civilized" reprise of "It's No Game" that proved a Dr. Jeckyll to the opener's Mr. Hyde” – Ultimate Classic Rock
Standout Track: Ashes to Ashes
Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel 3: Melt
Release Date: 23rd May, 1980
Labels: Charisma (U.K.)/Mercury (U.S.)/Geffen (U.S./Canada)
“Each aspect of the album works, feeding off each other, creating a romantically gloomy, appealingly arty masterpiece. It's the kind of record where you remember the details in the production as much as the hooks or the songs, which isn't to say that it's all surface -- it's just that the surface means as much as the songs, since it articulates the emotions as well as Gabriel's cubist lyrics and impassioned voice. He wound up having albums that sold more, or generated bigger hits, but this third Peter Gabriel album remains his masterpiece” – AllMusic
Standout Track: Games Without Frontiers
U2 – Boy
Release Date: 20th October, 1980
“As much as these were songs that Bono sincerely felt, he clearly wished that the world was a good enough place that it wouldn't require them. On gentle album closer "40" he returns to a refrain from "Sunday Bloody Sunday", saying "I will sing, sing a new song/ How long to sing this song," regretting the need to sing about the world's ills. The U2 we've known ever since had arrived on War, and even today it sounds vital. As much as cynical critics and listeners often swipe at U2 for their earnestness, it's still refreshing to hear a band that cares so much, wants to be heard by so many, and isn't afraid to show it. As if to hammer home the point, the reissues each include contact information for half a dozen activist charity organizations” – Pitchfork
Standout Track: I Will Follow
John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy
Release Date: 17th November, 1980
“Even as a bared-soul, one-man show on an LP like Plastic Ono Band, Lennon adjusted and perfected himself with clever production techniques. He didn’t view naturalism as attainable through austerity alone; it had to be painstakingly sought through trial, error, and education. And sleek professionalism characterized Double Fantasy to such an extent that the record’s isolated individual pieces never seem anything more than inchoate kernels in need of fleshing out. Double Fantasy Stripped Down tries to husk the album’s craft to expose the rubbed-raw honesty within, but it condemnably forgets that in 1980, beside wife and child, Lennon’s honesty was his craft” – SLANT
Standout Track: (Just Like) Starting Over
Joy Division – Closer
Release Date: 18th July, 1980
“Closer is even more austere, more claustrophobic, more inventive, more beautiful, and more haunting than its predecessor. It's also Joy Division's start-to-finish masterpiece, a flawless encapsulation of everything the group sought to achieve. The hypnotically abrasive "Atrocity Exhibition" leads to the relentless yet somehow still economical "Isolation", the group more capable in its playing and confident in the arrangements. The dirge "Passover" implies that the band is every bit aware of its morbid power, while "Colony" marks a return to the heavy riffage of Unknown Pleasures.
Then, after such an auspicious start, Closer really clicks into gear. "Means to an End" is death disco before the fact, buoyed by a surprisingly rousing (and wordless) chorus. "Heart and Soul" is a remarkable collision of atmosphere and minimalism, the stuttering drum beat, synth and Peter Hook's melodic bass lead linked to one of Curtis' most subdued performances. "Heart and soul," he sings, as the stark instruments intertwine and twist together. "One will burn."
"Twenty Four Hours" briefly tries to pry free from the album's looming inevitability before "The Eternal" and "Decades" draw the music back down and the listener back in to Curtis' world. "The Eternal" is the bleakest thing the band ever recorded, and if "Decades" comes off a relative respite in comparison, the lyrics quickly quash that idea. "We knocked on the doors of Hell's darker chamber," moans Curtis. "Pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in” – Pitchfork
Standout Track: Isolation
The Pretenders – Pretenders
Release Date: 7th January, 1980
Labels: Real (U.K.)/Sire (U.S.)
“Hynde wasn't the Pretenders' only force of nature. Guitarist James Honeyman-Scott, a master of tone and time, was her ideal partner. He shunned soloing in favor of an effects-laden, textured approach that locked in with Hynde's feral snarls and tremulous stretched notes. Bassist Pete Farndon and drummer Martin Chambers made sure that, even on the slower numbers, Pretenders has an unstoppable, springy momentum. The band cut only one more LP before Honeyman-Scott fatally overdosed, with Farndon following suit less than a year later. But Pretendersstands as a stunning confluence of hooks, sonics and substance -- it's one of those rare albums on which every move turns out to be the right one”– Rolling Stone
Standout Track: Brass in Pocket
Bruce Springsteen – The River
Release Date: 17th October, 1980
“Like many double albums, The River doesn't always balance well, and while the first half is consistently strong, part two is full of songs that work individually but don't cohere into a satisfying whole (and "Wreck on the Highway" is beautiful but fails to resolve the album's essential themes). But if the sequencing is somewhat flawed, Springsteen rises to his own challenges as a songwriter, penning a set of tunes that are heartfelt and literate but unpretentious while rocking hard, and the E Street Band were never used to better advantage, capturing the taut, swaggering force of their live shows in the studio with superb accuracy (and if the very '80s snare crack dates this album, Neil Dorfsman's engineering makes this one of Springsteen's best-sounding works). The River wasn't Springsteen's first attempt to make a truly adult rock & roll album, but it's certainly a major step forward from Darkness on the Edge of Town, and he rarely made an album as compelling as this, or one that rewards repeat listening as well” – AllMusic
Standout Track: Hungry Heart
The Jam – Sound Affects
Release Date: 28th November, 1980
“Weller’s lyrics were also more human and approachable. Several times he makes self-deprecating reference to his 'star' status (Boy About Town) and also the acceptance of the healing power of love (But I'm Different Now). Only on Set The House Ablaze (which sounds like an out take from their previous album, Setting Sons) does he sound like he’s treading water.
Ultimately Sound Affects shows a band that was being pushed by its leader slightly beyond their level of ability. Buckler and Foxton's propulsive acumen was already falling behind Weller’s ambitions. After the full-on soul revival of The Gift he was to abandon the three-piece for pastures new. But on this album you get to hear the Jam at their absolute peak” – BBC
Standout Track: Start!