The 1981 entry in the Millennium series follows the same template as before, coming in a light blue with a variant of the classic 3D logo on the front. Once again, Bob Marley gets mentioned in the sleeve notes but doesn’t actually feature here. “In 1981, the global music community suffered one of its greatest losses – the tragic death of Bob Marley, aged just 36. Later in the year, 20,000 people flocked to Montego Bay’s Fourth International Reggae Sunsplash Festival which was billed as a tribute to Marley. Marley’s music has continued to be a major influence in the work of musicians the world over.”
I’ve covered 21 of the tracks when reviewing previous compilations. These are:
Chart Blasters ’81: Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight, Roxy Music – Jealous Guy, XTC – Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me).
Super Hits: Human League – Love Action (I Believe In Love), Quincy Jones – Razzamatazz, Imagination – Body Talk.
Chart Hits ’81: Ultravox – Vienna, UB40 – One In Ten, Star Sound – ABBA Medley, Godley and Creme – Under Your Thumb, Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin – It’s My Party, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Souvenir, Squeeze – Labelled With Love, Kim Wilde – Kids In America, Smokey Robinson – Being With You, Michael Jackson – One Day In Your Life.
Hits Hits Hits: Elvis Costello – A Good Year For The Roses.
Modern Dance: Visage – Fade To Grey.
Action Trax: Philip Lynott – Yellow Pearl.
Now That’s What I Call Music – Smash Hits: Queen and David Bowie – Under Pressure, The Specials – Ghost Town.
The Tide Is High, originally a hit for The Paragons in 1966, became the lead single on Blondie’s fifth LP Autoamerican. The music video sees Debbie Harry trapped in a flooded apartment and then flying into space. In a prophetic twist, a #1 chart position was achieved – just like Heart Of Glass, Sunday Girl, Call Me, Atomic and 1999’s Maria. Meanwhile the new romantic movement was gathering pace and would peak in 1981: Duran Duran’s third single Girls On Film was their breakthrough and brings back carefree memories of that summer in Courtown Harbour. The song begins with a recording of the rapid whirring of a motor drive on a camera while its raunchy video was directed by Godley and Creme. They are four key mixes: 3:27 (Single Version), 5:31 (Night Version), 5:45 (Extended Night Version), 5:41 (Instrumental Version). B-Side is Faster Than Light.
If you’ve got the time you might consider At Night: A Duran Duran Compilation.
Late Bar / Khanada / Fame / To The Shore / Tel Aviv / Anyone Out There / Faster Than Light / Like An Angel / Hold Back The Rain (Remix) / The Chauffeur (Blue Silver) / Faith In This Colour / Secret Oktober / Tiger Tiger (Remix) / The Seventh Stranger
Tainted Love was recorded by Gloria Jones in 1965 and became a smash down Wigan way during the glory days of the Casino c. 1973. A cover version by Soft Cell became the band’s second single. A much slower take and the 12″ mix transitioned into a version of The Supremes’ Where Did Your Love Go? Mike Thorne recalls: “When Soft Cell performed Tainted Love I heard a very novel sound and a very nice voice, so off we went.” It ended up being the year’s best-selling single, shifting 1,350,000 copies. True diamond geezers Spandau Ballets broke into the top 3 with their fourth 45, the funky Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On). 36 years on, it’s still fresh and sparkles like nothing else. The juxtaposition with Yellow Pearl works brilliant before the next tune kicks in.
RCA released the Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) LP in September 1980 with the promo line “Often Copied, Never Equalled”, seen as a direct reference to the new wave acts Bowie had inspired over the years. The title track is a percussive treat with an exaggerated cockney accent. Unfortunately the single edit is not included here. Neither is the correct version of ABC’s debut 45, Tears Are Not Enough, which was produced by Steve Brown. Instead we get the re-recorded take from The Lexicon Of Love which is actually better but not authentic. CD1 ends on a serious note with Titles, or Chariots Of Fire as it’s better known. A sweeping piece of music that has become synonymous with slow motion pieces, it was used by the BBC as theme music for its coverage of the 1984 Summer Olympics.
After the gentle strum of Elvis Costello’s A Good Year For The Roses and Squeeze’s Labelled With Love, The Jam crash in with That’s Entertainment. In 1981 it was an import single backed by a live version of Down in the Tube Station at Midnight, peaking at #21. File under caustic acoustic psych – it’s fantastic, minimalist, transcendent and tremendously evocative of a time and place. Here’s John Thorne’s take on those times:
“This is 70s London in three minutes. The opening bars of this take me back to the baking summer of 1976, and a couple of years later to sitting in back gardens drinking with mates, both white and black, listening to a Jam track, then a Trojan records reggae track, then a Clash track, then Marley, Toots/Maytals – and everybody there, white/black, loved each one. I know London black guys who think music ended after The Jam!! We thought racists were mugs. Why make an enemy when you can make a friend? I had my black mates’ kids sit on my lap calling me Uncle John and was proud. If I didn’t hate them when they were 5, why the fuck would I hate them if they were 25? Then 1981 came around and it all went so very wrong. But we’ll always have The Jam, Madness, The Who, The Clash, The Kinks. And a special mention to Don Letts.”
Number 7, number 7, number 7, number 7, number 7, number 7, number 7. . .
The Return Of The Los Palmas 7 was released as the Madness’ seventh single on 16 January 1981, reaching #7 in the UK and staying in the charts for seven weeks. The 7″ single release was slightly different from the track on the album Absolutely, and was roughly 30 seconds longer. 2:33 vs 2:03 – and guess what? We get the Absolutely version here. Either way, it’s a top instrumental that takes me right back to the school yard. “You will know these songs; the North London septet eulogise London with a sound like rainwater on grey roof slates. It’s an interesting world Madness created with trilby hatted rude boys, weary old lags and ASBO offenders singing songs of redemption and despair. The lyrics are all picture perfect and the instrumentation evocative of the sounds of London and its inhabitants.” (Hot Fudge on Divine Madness)
“All wrapped up the same.” Another cracker from that cold January. The Teardrop Explodes, fronted by Julian Cope, created a beautiful racket of ska and northern soul with wonderful lyrical observations: “Death in solitude like Howard Hughes.” Anyone for a bit of Latin? Despite only reaching #55, U2’s Gloria comes next, the opening track on their quietest and most unobtrusive LP, October. The anthemic chorus is taken from Gloria In Excelsis Deo, a Christian hymn. The Steve Lillywhite influence is evident: even now, it’s a stunning track that takes me back to RTE’s Anything Goes and its Rock Show segment which was presented by Dave Heffernan. The Gloria video, directed by Meiert Avis, was filmed in October 1981 on a barge in Grand Canal Basin, Dublin. You never see it now.
Another track which failed to crack the top 40 was Steve Winwood’s While You See A Chance. A 45 peaking at #45. The musical equivalent of a sunrise and perfect for early morning bus or train rides. Watching the red skies. The single mix runs about 80 seconds less than the version on Arc Of A Diver. We get the full 5:15. A 4:09 version can be found on Time Life’s The Early ’80: Part 2 – a fantastic 32 volume series that’s well worth collecting. Into the soul zone: Motown veterans The Four Tops arrive with When She Was My Girl, all booming bass. Flying the funk flag are Kool and The Gang with the infectious Get Down On It – another tune with a taut 7″ edit that’s not here. Save the last dance for Endless Love, a honeyed duet between two legends Lionel Richie and Diana Ross.
The Jam – That’s Entertainment
Duran Duran – Girls On Film
Spandau Ballet – Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On)
Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Souvenir
Lest we forget
U2 – Gloria
Missing tracks and other thoughts
The second volume in Now That’s What I Call Music’s Millennium series does a great job of capturing 1981’s musical highlights with a thoughtful selection of exquisitely sequenced tracks. Again, good things come in pockets – a ska / reggae triumvirate early on CD1 with new romantics and synth pop dominating the rest of the disc. New wave and R&B / soul get their chance on CD2. While the failure to use correct single edits continues to be disappointing (Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight is another album version casualty), it’s to be expected with retrospective compilations. The casual listener is not going to notice.
19 songs reached #1 in the UK during 1981; seven of them are here while The Tide Is High was a 1980 #1. Key omissions include Adam and The Ants’ Stand And Deliver (will always be associated with Carry On Henry – RTE2 re-runs) and The Police’s Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic. Once again, The 80s – The Album Of The Decade is a good source for the latter. John Lennon’s Woman should also have been included – before or after Jealous Guy. Given that songs from outside the top 40 made it in, a case can be made for Simple Minds – take your pick from The American, Love Song or Sweat In Bullet. Depeche Mode surely deserve inclusion too – New Life or Just Can’t Get Enough – while some rock ‘n’ roll or rockabilly (think Shakin’ Stevens, Stray Cats or Matchbox) would work too.