1981 Soundtrack

‘Don’t You Want Me?’ by The Human League (see vid box to the right)
The seminal girl meets boy pop song of the age. This isn’t the official video, which really should be viewed to understand the phenomenon. Singer Phil Oakey was a bloke who wore make up but also looked like he could turn out for the second XV and give you a clip round the ear if you took the piss out of him. And the girls just danced like they were down the local disco, which made them seem hugely attractive. (Not long after this most fifth and sixth form girls began to look exactly like this). It seems bizarre that the HL sound was not that far removed from Cabaret Voltaire only two or three years earlier. (Would the history of Western civilization have been different if it had been the Cabs that had got hold of a couple of disco hotties?)


‘Can You Feel It?’ by The Jacksons
Jacko’s sense that he was some kind of alien deity sent to Earth to heal us all can be picked up from subtle clues in his other records. But in ‘Can You Feel It?’ the whole song/video seems to be about a strange alien deity sent to Earth to heal us all. There’s no doubt that Jedi mind power was used to write this track. Jackson would return to this theme many times. But never again would he waste so much glitter (that would have been better used on kids’ home made Christmas cards).


‘Once In A Lifetime’ by Talking Heads
When bands like Talking Heads started having smash records you know that the times were changing. But just to make sure we all knew they weren’t really a pop band, David Byrne had to do jerky head movements and repeat the same lines over and over.


‘Body Talk’ by Imagination
Comedy sex-band that gave kids at discos the chance to do Kenny Everett style joke wiggly hip dancing. Of course, the song was probably about cars.


‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk
I’d heard of Kraftwerk a few years earlier when my auntie had bought ‘Autobahn’ and my cousin and I would spent hours listening to it and giggling to the rude lyrics – “fart fart fart on the autobahn”. By the time ‘The Model’ came out every kid in Britain had a little Casiotone keyboard and this song was one that was pretty easy to copy.


‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials
We saw riots on TV but it was far removed from our lives. People fought on Saturday nights and there was a certain lawlessness on the streets but it was directionless anger, turned inward, rather than being a reaction against society and the economic/political climate. Anyway, to many people our town had always been a ghost town, so the lyrics to this song didn’t seem that startling. But it summed up the time beautifully.


‘Going Back to my Roots’ by Odyssey
I liked some disco records. Although I didn’t shout it from the rooftops, I had various singles by Chic and Earth, Wind & Fire. This was sort of in the same mould, at least up to and including the first chorus, but is spoilt by the crooner in Leslie Philips style blazer.


‘Quiet Life’ by Japan
Teenage boys hated Duran Duran but, strangely, liked Japan. Similar sequenced rythms and funk bass/guitars, though Japan were obviously more muso-ish. But it must have been down to the singers. Although he looked like he’d have should have had a pipsqueak high pitched wail, David Sylvian had a voice almost as unique as Edwyn Collins, a deep, tired, cynical slurring drawl. Not really suited for disco pop like this, which was why it worked, and was much copied. I tried to put on a David Sylvian voice at home for a couple of days (you had to think “how would David Sylvian ask for a cup of tea? What would David Sylvian say when Tomorrow’s World was on telly?”) but my folks just got too confused.


‘The Sweetest Girl’ by Scritti Politti
The NME C-81 cassette at the start of the year had been a game changer for many of us, opening our ears to pop/rock sounds that we wouldn’t normally get to hear (my abiding memory of it is wobbly keyboards and Robert Wyatt’s voice). It had bands like Orange Juice, Josef K, Aztec Camera and this song by Scritti Politti, which was like a love ballad by Cabaret Voltaire if they’d had someone who could sing properly. By the time it had come out as a single Scritti Politti were already going down a more commercial route to achieve success. A few of the potentially great acts on the tape would get eaten up by mid-80s pop’s crass production values, rubbish hair styling and the get rich quick attitude of record companies.


‘Chant no. 1’ by Spandau Ballet
A lot of people hated Spandau Ballet but I say to them, just listen to the bits where Tony Hadley isn’t singing and tell me you’re not moved just a little bit. In fact, this clip has missed out the best bit, which is the first couple of bars with just the twangy guitar. At discos, you’d dance furiously to this track for about 20 seconds, then go for a slash.


‘Wordy Rappinghood’ by the Tom-Tom Club
1981-style novelty single which, due to the excitement of the time, is trying to make some kind of philosophical point and have it’s arty cake while eating its pop success cake at the same time. And succeeding.

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