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Step back to 1981 – Part 1

For me the first few months of 1981 was dominated by Beatles, John Lennon, more Beatles, more Lennon, more Beatles, a bit of other solo Beatles and more Lennon, and a touch of Bruce Springsteen. Of course, Lennon had just been murdered, and if I was a bit of a Beatles fan with quite a few albums before that, I now bought all the British and US releases, plus all Lennon solo albums, including the Wedding Album with all the paraphernalia. Many of them were Japanese pressings. Over the years my collection became decimated by theft. The Wedding Album and Two Virgins are gone, as are all US releases (except Something New), and the Magical Mystery Tour gatefold with booklet”¦

 

John Lennon – Watching The Wheels.mp3
The songs that dominated the airwaves were Woman and Imagine. The latter has become so ubiquitous that it now is timeless; the former was so overplayed, I am still sick of it. Watching The Wheels , on the other hand, still takes me back to early 1981. It was quite sad: John Lennon, the professional troubled soul, had finally found contentment ““ and then the revolting Mark Chapman murdered him. I think Watching The Wheels is a little underrated in the Lennon canon; perhaps it”s not a classic, but it”s a very good song, the kind that makes one wonder what sort of music Lennon might have churned out had he lived. My guess is that by 1988 everybody would have been thoroughly sick of him until his comeback, appearing on stage with Oasis at the Reading Festival, rehabilitated his reputation with cover features in Q and Rolling Stone, and a big appearance at the Grammys, duetting with Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt and Seal, followed by ““ oh, classic TV moment ““ a bluesy medley Beatles and Stones hits with Mick & Keef.

Bruce Springsteen – The Ties That Bind.mp3
I had been aware of Bruce Springsteen, of course, but I had not really listened to his music. In February 1981 I heard Hungry Heart on the radio, and on strength of that I bought The River, which had been released in October 1980. It helped that Springsteen looked very cool, much like Al Pacino, on the cover. I was hooked with the first song of the first side, The Ties That Bind. In fact, the first two sides of the double album, so upbeat and joyous, were enough for me. I almost never listened to the other two sides; in fact, even as I love Point Blank and Drive All Night, some of the songs remain unknown to me even now. And I cannot abide by Cadillac Ranch. Above all, the album reminds me of being half-blinded for several hours after the optician shone a bright light into my eyes, just after I had bought the record. Coming home, I had to unwrap the record and place it on the turntable mostly by touch.

The Look – I Am The Beat.mp3
I might have been on a massive Beatles and Springsteen trip, but I still loved the British post-punk stuff. I Am The Beat was one of the very few singles I bought in 1981 ““ indeed, I”m struggling to think of any non-Beatles related singles I bought that year, though I”m sure there must some. But by then I was very much an LP-buying teenager of 14-going-on-15. The singer of The Look, Johnny Whetstone, had a strange accent: “I”m in demond”! It was the band”s only hit, reaching #6 in the UK in February 1981, and by 1983 The Look broke up. Apparently they reformed a few years ago and released an album titled Pop Yowlin” which got some good reviews.

Kim Wilde – Kids in America.mp3
Half a year earlier I would have loved Kids In America. I would have bought the single, and put up a poster of the lovely Ms Wilde. But with my Beatles/Lennon and Springsteen obsession I had very limited time for anything else. I heard Kids In America on the radio and saw Kim Wilde perform it on TV, but against Revolver and the White Album, or indeed The River, it was aural wallpaper. The good news was that my classmate Stefan, who had been a great Beatles fan, became so obsessed with Kim Wilde and the burgeoning Neue Deutsche Welle genre that he offloaded his excellent collection of Beatles posters and newspaper cuttings to me. And for that I have to thank Ms Wilde and the next act.

Ideal – Blaue Augen.mp3
Before 1980, German popular music consisted of the Schlager genre, which was becoming increasingly novelty-based when it didn”t exceed previous levels of banality; the Liedermacher (singer-songwriter) genre of angry lefty-wingers and non-conformists; and a clutch of individualists such as anti-establishment rocker Udo Lindenberg, who had long hair and a cultivated impertinence, former actor Marius Müller-Westernhagen, who specialised in mostly sneering lyrics for beer drinkers in leather jackets, and a few punk outfits such the Zeltinger Band. All that changed in the early 1980s with the emergence of the Neue Deutsche Welle (NDW, meaning New German Wave).

Until 1981 NDW was an underground phenomenon, led by groups like Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft (DAF) and Mittagspause. It was not  so much a musical genre as a label for post-punk and New Wave bands. In early 1981, NDW exploded into the mainstream, and Berlin-based band Ideal”s Blaue Augen, more post-punk than New Wave, was one of the pivots. Quite incredibly, Ideal had made their breakthrough as a support act at a Berlin open-air gig for prog-rockers Barclay James Harvest. Even more incredibly, and I hadn”t known this until I looked it up for this piece, it took until 1982 for Blaue Augen, first released on LP in November 1980 and as a single in early 1981, to become a hit.

Visage – Mind Of A Toy.mp3
At around the same time, the New Romantic thing was starting to get traction. It had been brewing for a while, with Gary Numan as a spearhead, but now the Bowie-influenced synth-based pop music was becoming quite ubiquitous, with Ultravox, the Human League and Duran Duran breaking through. Visage were heralds of the movement, first with their hit Fade To Grey, which was quickly followed up with Mind Of A Toy. The brilliant video for the latter was directed by Godley & Creme. Visage was fronted by eccentric nightclub owner Steve Strange, but the lead vocals on Mind Of A Toy are by Ultravox”s Midge Ure, with Ultravox”s Billy Currie on keyboards, and Rusty Egan on drums.

Yoko Ono – Walking On Thin Ice.mp3
Walking On Thin Ice was the song John Lennon and Yoko Ono were working on that 8 December, before Chapman shot Lennon dead outside the Dakota, apparently while John was holding the master tape of the song. It is easily Ono”s best song, a disco number with a new wave sensibility (or vice versa).  Lennon played the lead guitar on the song. I bought the single as an act of loyalty to Lennon, and quite liked it. Not everybody did, it seems. Despite widespread sympathy for Ono just a couple of months after the murder, the single stalled at #58 in the US and at #35 in Britain. Presumably Yoko”s monkey-like chants put off the average record buyer; in this context I quite like it (and, as I”ve stated before, I don”t bow to the musical genius of Yoko Ono).  Later remixes by the Pet Shop Boys and others managed to revive the song on the dancefloors.

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  1. lugworm
    June 14th, 2012 at 05:27 | #1

    Good post, nice selection, pertinent comments. Thank you.

  2. simmo
    June 14th, 2012 at 15:34 | #2

    Elvis Costello did a decent version of Yokos finest moment a couple of years later which is worth checking out.

  3. HW
    June 15th, 2012 at 07:41 | #3

    Watching the Wheels is right up there with Lennon’s best, an existential classic, like Abba’s The Day Before You Came. I’m listening to #9 Dream now – pure bliss…

  4. June 16th, 2012 at 04:03 | #4

    That Look song was immediately familiar, though I had completely forgotten it, but the version seems a little different from what has now been dredged from my memory. I wonder if I knew it from a live version or a different recording?

  5. June 18th, 2012 at 22:08 | #5

    Funny – I’m so sick of “Imagine” – way overplayed and overrated. But whenever I hear the opening chords to “Woman,” it reminds me of Lennon’s death. It’s a very sad song, probably not meant to be when he recorded it.

  6. Magic Fingers
    June 23rd, 2012 at 02:46 | #6

    Of course, Ideal’s Blaue Augen was covered (horribly) by Deutschland’s answer to Britney Spears, “Blümchen”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQ6Wrdh9Kzk

  7. The Look
    August 9th, 2012 at 12:06 | #7

    @spinetingler
    THE LOOK ARE BACK!

    We have recorded a new album and our first single will be out on 3rd Sept 2012!

    To see the NEW VIDEO to our NEW SINGLE ‘Let it Go’ follow this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSQ8XxkI7y0&feature=plcp

    Find us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TheLookOfficial
    Follow us on Twitter: @OfficialTheLook

    Best wishes,

    The Look

  1. June 28th, 2012 at 14:36 | #1