Liner Notes

The Year That Was: 1981

by Benjamin Ray

Nineteen eighty-one was really the year that "arena rock" as we know and love/loathe it came to be. There was some post-punk and alternative releases of note, and plenty of pop music both good and corny, but arena rock really was the big story of 1981.

Chief among the big names was Journey's Escape and "Don't Stop Believing," Foreigner's 4, releases from Loverboy and Triumph, Styx's Paradise Theatre and REO Speedwagon's Hi Infidelity (with "Take It On The Run" and "Keep On Loving You." This was not music of subtlety or cultural impact. This was music meant to be played loud, at a party or stadium, with a maximum of people singing along.

Other rock releases of the year included the solo debut of Ozzy Osbourne and guitarist Randy Rhoads with Blizzard Of Ozz and "Crazy Train," Rush's excellent Moving Pictures, Billy Squier's Don't Say No, Blue Oyster Cult's "Burning For You," Red Rider's "Lunatic Fringe," the Rolling Stones' Tattoo You, Eric Clapton's "I Can't Stand It," the J. Geils Band's Freeze Frame and AC/DC's For Those About To Rock, We Salute You. The Police offered Ghost In The Machine (with "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic"), Van Halen offered the underrated Fair Warning, ZZ Top released El Loco, the Kinks briefly returned with "Destroyer," Brian Setzer had "Rock This Town" and the Who released the dull Face Dances, its first effort without Keith Moon. 


Some of the better post-punk and alternative releases of the year were the Psychedelic Furs' Talk Talk Talk, the Replacements' Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash, the dB's debut, the Cars' second release Shake it Up, the Plimsouls' "Everyday Things" and U2's sophomore release, October. A special nod goes to progressive rockers King Crimson, who reformed with Adrian Belew and released a sort of prog-new wave hybrid with the knotty, rhythmic and truly excellent Discipline. Black Flag offered Damaged, X released Wild Gift and nascent hip-hop arrived from Afrika Bambaataa with "Jazzy Sensation." 

Over on the pop side of things, it was a big year for Hall & Oates and Private Eyes, Stevie Nicks and Bella Donna ("Edge Of Seventeen" and a couple of duets) and Phil Collins, who had his first solo effort Face Value (with the chilling "In The Air Tonight") and a hit album with Genesis, Abacab, a solid pop release with progressive overtones that marked the continued move of the group toward the mainstream. Speaking of which, another former prog-related group, the Moody Blues, returned with a new keyboard player and the surprisingly good Long Distance Voyager.


Other pop hits included Squeeze's "Tempted," the Go-Gos' Beauty And The Beat, Soft Cell's "Tainted Love," Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes," Neil Diamond's "America," Sheena Easton's "Morning Train," Rick James' "Super Freak," Olivia Newton-John's "Physical," Dolly Parton's "9 To 5," Quarterflash's "Harden My Heart," Joey Scarbury's hilariously bad theme to The Greatest American Hero, Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl" and the Lionel Richie/Diana Ross duet "Endless Love."

And that, friends, was the Year That Was in music.
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