Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Favorite Albums, 1981

1981 covers the second half of my sophomore year and the first half of my junior year in high school, so that's the time when you really start figuring out what kind of music you like. Some of the things on the following list were records I bought at the time, while others I discovered much later. There are a few albums I loved in 1981 which don't make the cut now (Dare by the Human League comes quickly to mind). It was a great year, in retrospect, for music: techno-pop was exploding, "New Wave" nite at the disco was lots of fun, and The Fall and Snakefinger played live at smelly old Tumbleweeds in Tucson. It was the height of the "post-punk" era. Here are some of my favorites from that year in no particular order:

  • The Au Pairs: Playing With a Different Sex. I love a lot of the British funky pop-punk from this era, and this one is one of the best. The Au Pairs combined political/sexual savvy with irresistible bass lines and ridiculously catchy choruses. Why isn't "It's Obvious" more of a gay anthem? Too oblique, I guess.
  • Devo: New Traditionalists. I saw them live on this tour, and they performed the entire show on treadmills, which instantly made them the hardest working band in America. So precise, so cold, so subversive. I loved this record then, and I still love it now. 
  • Lemon Kittens: Those Who Bite the Hand that Feeds Them Sooner or Later Must Meet the Big Dentist. Danielle Dax and Karl Blake cook up an indescribable blend of noise, sinuous Middle-Eastern-inspired melodies, mutated pop and bizarre lyrics into an unforgettable, ear-wormy mess. Good luck finding this one today.
  • Monitor: Monitor. Southern Californian proto-goth murky rock. Spooky, rhythmic, other-worldly, yet beautiful and stately sounding.
  • Suburban Lawns: Suburban Lawns. Sue Tissue, where are you? Zappa-damaged L.A. new wave at its finest. Tricky, syncopated, almost too-clever, almost too quirky, but played so well! Half the album is terrible, but the rest more than makes up for it. Baby in a bag, baby in a bag!
  • This Heat: Deceit. What happens when prog collides head-on with punk? This Heat. Probably the best drumming on any album released that year.
  • Prince: Controversy. No need for explanations. Hearing this on the R&B stations in Tucson really opened my lily-white tastes to other kinds of commercial music.
  • Nurse with Wound: Homotopy to Marie. When I heard this the first time, my reaction was, "I knew it! I knew there was music this weird somewhere!" Hypnotic, scary... really shows that "ambient" doesn't have to be "boring."
  • Brian Eno and David Byrne: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. Funky, repetitive grooves with found/stolen vocals. I've listened to this obsessively ever since. I remember thinking, "A lot of people are going to copy this," and boy was I right.
  • Cabaret Voltaire: Red Mecca. Later, I realized that Byrne and Eno had themselves stolen a lot of their ideas from Cabaret Voltaire. This was before they went all disco. Mesmerizing. 


Lockwood said...

Thanks so much for this. Not as familiar with Sense and Sensuality, but I love Au Pairs, and they seem to be largely forgotten. This led me to track down "Fiasco," from their next album, Playing with a Different Sex- a long-lost favorite.

And I'd totally forgotten Suburban Lawns myself. Another great group, I'm now in the process of reacquainting.

So, again, thanks!

dianegsocialist said...

There's a MEat Puppets song on that Monitor record, right? I love a bunch of these, Peter, but then you knew that. :)

And now, I'm going to choose an identity...

Peteykins said...

Diane, we had such similar tastes way back then, in that we both liked really out-there experimental stuff, but also plenty of pop music.

I'll never forget that you were the first person to play me Neu records!

Dale Hoyt said...

Sue Tissue was last see, by me anyways, in a cameo in Jonathan Demme's Something Wild. She appears at the High School Reunion scene and has a line, something the affect of :"Oh I know (character's name". Just Saw Devo and the "Whip Her To Shreds" tour opening for Blondie. Hard workers indeed! The Au Pairs were great. Remember Pigbag? they were fun that year. Wasn't it also the year of the first Pylon record?

As long as your taking suggestions for lists, you never seem write about Television. Curious about your take on the venerable art form.

Mr Bad Trash said...

I think we had about 5 of those records. Outstanding choice for the illustration, the Monitor album was a 16th birthday present from my brother. Drummer Keith later migrated to Green on Red for a while. 3 of the other records I heard from you a couple years later, and only the Heat remains unknown today.
Pylon, Love Tractor, Pere Ubu, Pointed Sticks, early Plasmatics on Bomp! records, and all that early Raplh Records stuff, it was a pretty dynamic era.

I MUST have been out of town for The Fall at Tumbleweeds, the biggest regret of my life! But the Snakefinger gig with Eric Drew Feldman and those Ralph films beforehand blew my teenage mind. Did Loudness One open that show?

Another formative moment was seeing the Meat Puppets at Tumbleweeds with only 4 other people, two of whom were giggly chicks who started throwing empty longneck Bud bottles they'd grabbed from a back room, till a bottle grazed Curt's head and another the neck of the bass. I had never seen longer hair, or heard faster drums and guitars in my life. Meanwhile, the rest of Tucson was up 4th Ave watching the Stray Cats play at the lame-ass Night Train (formerly Choo-Choo's, now Surly Wench), where they always checked IDs, so I couldn't get in. No regrets about that.

Peteykins said...

Dale, I'm pretty sure that's the last anybody heard from Sue Tissue. What a shame!

I like Television, especially, of course, "Marquee Moon." They're not really a huge favorite. LOVE Pigbag, and also Liquid Liquid.

Mr. Bad Trash: I was just listening to Pointed Sticks the other day! So underrated. The only reason The Fall isn't on this list is that, oddly, they didn't release a full LP in 1981.

Those early Meat Puppets gigs were so great. The audience HATED them and they were so good!

Anita Manbadly said...

I'm a year younger than you, and I was listening to pretty much the same music you were in 1981. Except I had never heard of the Au Pairs -- they are brilliant! I found some of their songs on you tube (here's one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZSRWIxse_I) and now I'm sad for the younger me, who would have loved to add this to my endless replaying of The B-52s' "Wild Planet."

Peteykins said...

I'm very, very happy to turn people on to the Au Pairs. So, so good!

Comrade Physioprof said...

Not an album, but the Crazy/M-Train single from Pylon was on my turntable 24/7 in 1981. And yeah, I loved the New Traditionalists tour, too! My pals and I saw it at the Beacon Theater in NYC. The plastic JFK hair and treadmills were awesome@!

Peteykins said...

PYLON is a big favorite of mine, and I've also got the Crazy single with the rainbow trout sticker on it. I was lucky enough to meet Randy a few years ago (he was good friends with a coworker) before he died.

Comrade Physioprof said...

I saw them play at the Peppermint Lounge in the early 80s, and it was one of the highest energy shows I ever saw in my life. As far as fronting a band, the only person I ever saw more fired up than Vanessa Briscoe was Jello Biafra. Very sad that Randall Bewley died so young.

Anonymous said...

Suburban Lawns!
I have been waiting for years for that album to be put out on cd. I've only found "Janitor" on some compilation.