By Barbara O'Dair
This may really be the Age of Shit but if my prognosis, based on the musical “product” released in 1981, isn’t bleaker, it’s because I went back and looked at last year’s list. I like this one’s better. Somewhere between the fluff of Olivia Newton John (she makes sex sound like a taffy pull, and just about as much fun) and the dead-weight bluster of Journey lies an interesting if inconsistent body of music from over the year that bears listening to. (To the timid: just because you may not have heard it on PLJ or NEW doesn’t mean it’s going to hurt you. Take the plunge.)
1. X: Wild Gift (Slash) (I) –The second LP from this LA-based group scores this year’s best songs, best vocals (Exene and John Doe), best lyrics, best relationship, best guitarist (Billy Zoom), best hair, best cover art. General best ambience. Puts the X back in love.
2.Greatest Rap Hits, Vol II (Sugarhill)— From the streets of the Bronx through the studios of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey (no. not Prentice-Hall, Sugarhill! Sugarhill!) comes this edition of word-hopping, finger-popping bits: the wonderful “That’s the Joint” by Funky Four Plus One; the sexy “Monster Jam” the classic “8th Wonder”; and the exciting quick-cutting of “The Adventures of Grand Master Flash on the Wheels of Steel.” Rap being the most engaging style to emerge in a big way in ‘81, this LP is really a must.
3.Human Switchboard: Who’s Landing in My Hangar? (Faulty Products)— Hooky, messy, powerful. Myrna Marcarian’s tender, husky vocals tussle and trade off with Bob Pfeiffer’s quavering angst-till-proven-cynical delivery amidst bursts and sprays and long slides of Farfisa and guitar.
4.Elvis Costello: Trust (Columbia)- He’s not done yet, he’s just growing up. And in command.
5.Tom Verlaine: Dreamtime (Warner Bros.)— Taut, funky, and almost lush.
6.Joan Jett & the Blackhearts: Bad Reputation and I Love Rock-n-Roll (Boardwalk)— Twice-blessed this year, though BR is better. Jett has a good sense of history and makes a great role model but I wish she’d sung this way ten years ago (though that would put her at about age 13.) The band provides a thuddingly literal rendering of the songs on both LP, many of which include inspirational gems—today’s favorite is Joan singing:
“Ah! Well I don’t hardly know her/ but I thing /I can lover her/Crimson and Clover! My, my such a sweet thing!! I Want to do ev-er-y-thing/What a beautiful feeling.”
7.Ðavid Johansen: Here Comes the Night (CBS)—I don’t care what anybody says, this is Johansen speaking, the one we know and love, and why shouldn’t he make a play for the big time? His personality is so broad even the silly songs are redeemed. Avoid the cover photo.
8. Prince: Controversy (Warner Bros.) – Well, yes, he is rather muddled, but in the heat of the moment it’s hard to say no. You’ll probably figure out what to avoid.
9. Rolling Stones: Tattoo You (Rolling Stones) – Why am I depressed that this comes in before The Clash and PIL? Nevertheless, I admire it (is that the real reason to love a rock ‘n’ roll album and enjoy it more than any Stones LP released in the last few years.
10. The Clash: Sandinista! (Epic)- OK, ambitious, occasionally listless, sonic graffiti. I honestly think the drawn-out quality of so much of the LP is deliberate – part of the method of selling three records in one jacket for ten bucks. I think they might be on the wrong track, but I’ll keep listening. Curiously enough, for an LP that’s supposed to be so politically correct. I find the little personalisms, such as “If Music Could Talk” most effective.
Now, in the year of the single, the singles!
1.REM: "Radio Free Europe"/"Sitting Still" (Hib-Tone)-The most exciting debut I've heard in a long time. From the sweet I and slurry vocal slush (both sides) to the heart-in-the-throat drum break (side one), this single gets all parts of your body go- |, ing a once (experience this at the reopening of Danceteria this Thursday night, 30 West 21 St.). Oh, I feel love ...
2.Babylon Dance Band: "When I'm Home'/”'Remains of the Beat" (Babylon Dance Band)— Knotty and intense. Tara Key's quicksilver guitar yowls and snarls, Chip Nold's broad bark of a vocal cuts a desperate edge. (Experience this at Danceteria in February.)
3.Public Image Ltd.: "Flowers of Romance" (Virgin)— Wish the rest of the LP was as pointed as this.
4.Rick James: "Superfreak" (Gordy)
5.Taana Gardner: "Heartbeat" (West End)
6.Yoko Ono: "Walking on Thin Ice'/'It Happened" (Geffen)
7.Medium Medium: "Hungry So Angry" (Cachalot)
8..Rick James: "Give It To Me" (Gordy)
9.Lene Lovich: "New Toy" (Stiff)
10.Tom Tom Club: "Genius of Love" (Sire)
By Peter Carbonara
These records are my favorites of 1981. I have included them on this list solely on the basis of how much fun I had listening to them last year. It is possible that none of these may turn out to be "important" and that I may not listen to some of these records much if at all next year or next week. At this moment in history, however, these are the ones I like best.
1. The Rolling Stones: Tattoo You (Rolling Stones Records) Nothing else really came close this year. This is the most overadvertised, over-played and over-praised record of 1981. Fortunately, it turned out to be the most durable. The Stones no longer seem intent on proving that they are nastier, more masculine, more misogynistic than anybody else.
2. Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Trust (Columbia) Not unlike the Stones, Elvis settled down a lot this year. Replacing near-psychotic frenzy with romantic regret, he made a record that is more compassionate and more honest than anything he has done before.
3. Squeeze: East Side Story (A&M) Irresistibly catchy pop tunes. The best car-radio album of the year. Chris Difford's lyrics provide a kind and bemused look at romantic failure and Glenn Tilbrook's tunes are absolutely impossible to get out of your head.
4.David Byrne: Songs from the Broadway Production of The Catherine Wheel (Sire) Byrne's music from his collaboration with Twyla Tharp is funky and thoughtful and it manages to stay exciting over repeated listenings. Byrne looks at the tensions in family relationships with a horror that occasionally verges on despair. But the album's exultant finale resolves everything in a celebration of old loves and new possibilities.
5. The Clash: Sandinista! (Epic) A monumental mess. From the sublime ("The Magnificent Seven" and Tymon Dogg's "Lose this Skin") to the ridiculous ("Rebel Waltz" ouch!). Weirdest record of the year. Half is excellent and half is just barely listenable.
6. U2: Boy (Island) U2"s lyrics can be silly and embarrassing filled as they are with junior high school-type profundities. Their music is a different story, a clean and powerful sound that combines the volume and power of heavy metal with the visceral rush of— you know— punk. Melodic, dramatic, a very exciting first record.
7. The Raybeats: Guitar Beat (Don't Fall Off the Mountain Import) A very bizarre record. The Ventures meet the Thirteenth Floor Elevators meet Ornette Coleman. Or something. Melodies that make you hum along even as the solos scramble your brains.
8. The Police: Ghost in the Machine (A&M) The "one world" sentiments on this record are nice even if they are not selfconciously serious enough to be "political", like the Clash, you know? Sting's tunes can be annoyingly calculated but he managed to come up with some pretty spiffy melodies this time out, especially "Spirits in the Material World".
9. The Kinks: Give the People What They Want (Arista) Some of this is just product, composed to give the Kinks something to play for the heavy-metal masses at the Garden. Some of it is graceful, optimistic pop. "Better Things" is positive and exciting and seeing Ray Davies sing the sublime "Art Lover" on Saturday Night Live was probably my rock thrill of the year.
10. Rick James: Street Songs (Gordy) Sexist, ribald, utterly infectious pop-funk. James's voice can be a little annoying. He has a tendency to leer and whine a little more than is good for the music but his band really jumps and the tunes are guaranteed to keep your toes tapping.
1. The Rolling Stones: "Start Me Up" (Rolling Stones)
2. Teena Marie: "Square Biz" (Gordy)
3. Rick James: "Super Freak" (Gordy)
4. Tom Tom Club: "Wordy Rappinghood" (Sire)
5. The Go-Go's: "Our Lips Are Sealed" (IRS)
6. The Police: "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" (A&M)
7. Hall and Oates: "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) (A&M)
8. Squeeze: "Tempted" (A&M)
9. The Clash: "The Magnificent Seven" (Epic)
10. The Waitresses: "Christmas Wrapping" (Ze)
U2: Fire (Island Import)
The Pretenders: Extended Play (Sire)
Lene Lovich: New Toy (Stiff America)
Rock Event of the Year
No question. Elvis Costello going ten rounds brainwave to brainwave with Tom Snyder on the Tomorrow show. Two of the most twisted personalities in the English speaking world meeting for 20 minutes of back-slapping and mutual admiration. Journalistic breakthrough of the year: Tom to Elvis, "Do you love your dad?"
By Dan Zedek
1. X: Wild Gift (Slash) As exuberantly American as apple pie, X's slices of life are crammed chock full of sex, adrenalin, love, greed, Jefferson Airplane harmonies and Chuck Berry guitar riffs. In other words, all the things that make rock 'n' roll great: buy it!
2. Human Switchboard: Who's Landing in My Hangar? (Faulty Products) From sadly sweet pop to tautly passionate Velvetish guitar rushes. Explosive, direct "The first time I ever saw you/1 thought I'd tell you a secret direct from me to you./ And when I did my pain went bye bye."
3. The Clash: Sandinista! (Epic) One of the most ambitious pop records ever made. Over six sides the Clash take you from rock to rap to reggae to revolution. You gotta take chances to be the greatest rock 'n; roll band in the world: the Clash pull it off.
4. The dß's: Stands for decißels and Repercussion (Albion) Ringing guitar hooks, sweet Beatles harmonies and heartbroken love letters from New York's pop masters. The dß's recently packed their bags for a European tour; catch 'em live when they get back.
5. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts: Bad Reputation and I Love Rock 'n' Roll (Boardwalk) The Ramones meet Gary Glitter with the sassy waitress from the local greasy diner singing. Dumb? Sure! Fun? You bet! So put another dime in the jukebox, baby!
6. Greatest Hits of Rap VoL 2, (Sugarhill) Sue hot extended singles whose bass/drum thump will vibrate your dancing organs while the cocky strutting vocals have you shaking your head and laughing in amazed disbelief. Somebody scream: aaaiiieeeeeee!
7. Elvis Costello and the Attractions Trust (Columbia) Last year's Get Happy! felt rushed. On Trust Costello drops the frenetic pacing and frantic word games to shoot straight from the heart: "Well it's easier to say 'I love you' than 'Yours sincerely' I suppose." Righto.
8. The Gun Club Fire of Love (Slash) Caterwauling slide guitar, voodoo punk blues. I especially like it when Jeffrey Lee Pierce takes the band down to a whisper, mumbles menacingly and the whole band comes crashing back. Better when loud, best when taken with alcohol.
9. The Rolling Stones Tattoo You (Rolling Stones) With the exception of "Start Me up" and one or two soulful numbers off the second side this one sounds like it was written in the bathtub and recorded via the mail . Never mind: it's the Stones and I want to believe.
10. Tom Verlaine Dreamtime (Warner Bros.) I love to hear T.V. spin his hypnotic web of sinewy guitar and yearning vocals. Won't convince the doubtful but it's a much needed fix for fans.
The Rolling Stones "Start Me Up" (Rolling Stones)
Tom Tom Club "Genius of Love" (Sire)
Rick James "Superfreak" (Gordy)
Pete Shelley "Homosapien" (Genetic import)
REM "Radio Free Europe" b/w "Sitting Still" (HibTones)
Bow Wow Wow "W.0.R.K." (RCA)
Gang of Four "To Hell with Poverty" (EMI import)
Yoko Ono "Walking on Thin Ice" (Geffen)
Psychedelic Furs "Pretty in Pink" (Columbia)
The Go-Gos "Our Lips Are Sealed" (IRS)
The Lyres (Ace of Hearts)
Mission of Burma "Signals, Calls and Marches" (Ace of Hearts)
The Individuals "Aquamarine" (Infidelity)
ESG (99 Records)
The Neats, People In Stores, CCCP-TV, Wild Stares "Propellor Product" (Propellor Records)
By Evan Charkes
Au Pairs: Playing with a Different Sex (Human)-import
Black Uhuru: Red (Island)
David Byrne: The Catherine Wheel— cassette—(Sire)
The English Beat: Wha'ppen (Sire)
Gang of Four: Solid Gold (Warner Bros.)
Gregory Isaacs: More Gregory (Island)
The Jam: Sound Affects (Polydor)
Prince: Controversy (Warner Bros.)
Public Image Ltd: The Flowers of Romance (Warner Bros.)
U2: October (Island)
1981 was not exactly a watershed year for music; there was too much water over the dam for this particular taste. Deciding on the 10 "best" albums was rather painstaking because ten albums do not immediately jump off the turntable. The problem is that many of the groups listed above have already made significantly better albums. But, in some cases, the second albums (or third, or fourth, whatever) are startlingly better" than much of the shlock that is being manufactured by the nascent wave crowd.
The Au Pairs still haven't released anything in this country, which is a shame. Often compared to the Gang of Four because of their political stand, they are fronted by lead singer Lesley Woods, who plays her Telecaster with more agility than Chrissie Hynde; guitarist Paul Foad, a jittery sort on stage is accompanied by the smooth rhythm section of Jane Munro (bass) and Pete Hammond (drums). On Playing with a Different Sex "Come Again" is the superb track, and like most of the album's content, the complexity of romance is the question that drives the Au Pairs quest for a sexual revolution.
Black Uhuru's Red is probably the best album of the year. Duckie, Michael and Puma have improved upon their first album, Sinsemilla, in great leaps. Backed and produced by Sly and Robbie, the trio has found the magic. Red is perhaps akin to the Wailers' Natty Dread in its intensity.
David Byrne's score from The Catherine Wheel is found complete only on cassette. All the Heads did solo work this year and this is the savviest. Brian Eno helped on some tracks, but Byrne's solos give the Catherine Wheel its funk.
Wha'ppen is a heavily-reggae influenced album, good, but not quite as lively as the Beat's debut album, I Just Can't Stop It. Although they were a ska-revival band, they have taken reggae on and Wha'ppen is insightful and funky. The English Beat are as talented as the Specials were, it's just they haven't received recognition.
The Gang of Four, on the other hand, are the media's darlings. They are another group who made last year's list with their debut album, and Solid Gold is exactly that: solid. The GofF just can't miss, though; politically attuned, they are not just a bunch of aspiring intellectuals. They want the Revolution, now.
Gregory Isaacs is a superior vocalist, who wrote, arranged and produced More Gregory. With a little help from Sly and Robbie on three tracks, Gregory uses his own backing group. This album is just plain sweet.
What can I say, the Jam can play. Sound Affects received, as usual, scant attention from the critics, who don't particularly like Paul Weller (I mean, who does?). But, this trio has continued to play better, although you may complain the album is a little slick. Well, have you listened to the new EP?
Prince, that handsome devil (angel?) from Minneapolis, is Mr. Crossover himself. Controversy is a mixture of disco, punk, reggae, funk, pop and any other musical category you care to think of. Like the Au Pairs, he's for some kind of sexual revolution, but Prince tosses in theology for good measure.
PiL's third album was created, unfortunately, without bassist Jah Wobble. Lydon and Levene are more creative than Lerner and Lowe, and, along with Marty Atkins are making what the critics love to call "innovative" music. The question becomes: is it listenable? Emphatically, yes. Too much mysticism perhaps shrouds PiL. They should get back to being visionaries.
U2’s October is as good as their initial Boy; especially worthwhile tracks are "Gloria," and "I Fall Down." Steve Lillywhite produced the quartet, but he sometimes allows The Edge to play like Robert Smith (of The Cure); he should try and reel in some of those solos. Hey, Island Records distributes them, so give 'em a second listen.
By Jim Lynch
Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays: As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls (ECM) Jazz guitarist Metheny, with keyboard virtuoso Lyle Mays, put together one of last year's most riveting pieces, the 20-minute-long title cut from this album. The tribute to pianist Bill Evans on side two is equally rewarding.
King Crimson: Discipline (E.G. Records) With the latest incarnation of Crimson, Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford join forces with session aces Tony Levin and Adrian Belew to push what used to be called "progressive" rock further than it has ever gone before. Each composition draws the listener in with its sheer complexity, with the ensemble work of Fripp, Belew, and Levin anchored by the best drumming Bruford has ever done.
Squeeze: East Side Story (A&M) If only someone could explain why this album didn't make more AM or FM playlists! Those who never got past "Tempted" missed an album chock full of some of the most gorgeous melodies written in a long time, courtesy of underrated guitarist Glenn Tillbrook. The tunes he has written with lyricist Chris Difford have been compared to those of Lennon and McCartney, but this is a band that deserves more than comparison.
Neville Brothers: Fiyo On The Bayou (A&M) Once again, why no airplay? When a group sings and plays old-fashioned New Orleans R&B as well as these guys do, more people should be let in on it. Aaron Neville could sing Barry Manilow and still sound good.
J. Geils Band: Freeze-Frame (EMI-America) It took a long time, but the wackos from Beantown have finally made the album that they've always been striving for. This album's got it all: ear candy ("Centerfold", "Freeze-Frame"), traditional Geils wildness ("Insane, Insane Again"), danceable funk ("Flamethrower"), and "River Blindness," featuring fantastic keyboard work by Seth Justman, and a bass solo by Danny Klein.
The Police: Ghost In The Machine (A&M) Maybe now people will take them seriously. Sting has a lot to say, and now that he has the commercial power to make himself heard, his lyics have taken on subjects far removed from the red lights of "Roxanne." "One World (Not Three)" and "Invisible Sun" are clear, bold political statements, and each point is driven home by stellar performances by Andy Summers on guitar and Stewart Copeland on drums.
Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates (Warner Bros.) No sophomore jinx for Rickie Lee! With her second album, her stirring compositions and amazing voice developed even further, culminating in "Traces Of The Western Slopes," a searing piece of jazz-rock guaranteed to impress.
The Clash: Sandinista! (Epic) It may or may not be too long, but it sure is good. Jones and Strummer have made it pretty clear that they aren't content to rest on their critical raves as they move yet another step further from their punk roots and get more into reggae and rap. The lyrics are chillingly true, and they still mean it.
Warren Zevon: Stand In The Fire (Asylum) Zevon leaves his superstar friends (Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, and the rest of the L.A. session aces) in the studio and hits the road with guitarist David Landau and a band called Boulder. The results are definitive versions of Zevon's best tunes, from the hysterical "Excitable Boy" and "Werewolves of London" to the powerful version of "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead." Two new songs, "Stand In The Fire" and "The Sin," live up to the standard set by the others. That's saying a lot.
The Rolling Stones: Tattoo You (Rolling Stones) Unlike Emotional Rescue, this one came from the inside, from the place in Mick and Keith that's been making great music for almost 20 years. This is so solid that it's almost impossible to pick a best cut, but anything that Sonny Rollins played on stands out.