Mix Six: “1981 (Part One)”

Written by Mix Six, Music

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Long Live Rock

For me, 1981 was a real musical watershed. I was a sophomore in high school, and through a series of events, it was also a year where I attended three high schools. “School One” was a rocker school where FM AOR radio ruled. “School Two” was a rocker school as well, but it also trended toward the more soulful sounds of the S.o.S Band, Prince, the Time, and Rick James. “School Three” was more interesting. In addition to rock and soul, new wave was surfacing in a way that made the rockers uneasy, and the soul lovers shrug with indifference — except when that ’80s dance started to dominate the dance floor.  You know the one. It’s that aerobic workout/ kicking dance thing Molly Ringwald was rockin’ in The Breakfast Club a few years later. That dance gave rise to many o’ chuckles from the soul crowd at the dances I went to. Me? I was a rocker first, and then switched sides and became a big fan of new wavy sounds that will be featured next week.

But first, let’s go back to a time when, yes, the bands represented below were really popular with the stoners.  However,  not all who loved this music wore army jackets and smoked cigarettes in the parking lot next to the school before class.

“The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love),” Journey (download)

The Rolling Stones had a great year in 1981 by releasing an album comprised of unfinished songs that had been floating around since the mid-’70s, but Journey was undeniably the most popular band with “the kids.” Escape was a solid album that had full throttle rock songs and power ballads that just screamed “Right place, right time” with the music-buying public. Journey also released a live album in 1981 that included a new studio track, “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love).” It was a decent studio song, but the band was really able to expand it in this live version with a groovin’ intro that has Steve Perry singing lines like “I’m gonna party like a party.” Huh?  Still, I love this version because the band is so tight and they’re clearly at the top of their game (and know it).

“Break It Up,” Foreigner (download)

Foreigner had a great debut and a successful run in the mid to late ’70s as the cool new thing on AOR radio.  By 1981, however, it wasn’t clear that they had what it took to keep them in the ranks of cool bands; like Kansas, they seemed to be in danger of being relegated to the B-list. But one listen to the lead single (“Urgent”) melted away any doubts that Foreigner had it in them to produce a great record. “Break It Up” is noted for being the last single released off of 4 but also a song that sounds very much like their ’70s incarnation.

“Promises in the Dark,” Pat Benatar (download)

I have a real affection for this album because it created a détente between me and my older brother. See, for years he couldn’t stand me (he’s two years older) and wouldn’t even be in the same room. I just got used to his aloofness and we basically did our own thing. He graduated from high school in 1981 and for some reason, he had a change of heart about me. Call it being 18 and out of high school, I just don’t know. Anyway, he said he would see Pat Benatar with me at the Oakland Auditorium, and I think my parents were shocked that we were actually going to do something together (as was I). The concert was great, and it was recorded for the King Biscuit Flower Hour (which I tried to pass off as a bootleg at school),  but it was the first time we actually hung out and weren’t at each other’s throats. I guess Pat Benatar can add “Peacemaker” to her resume.

“Just Between You and Me,” April Wine (download)

The pride of Nova Scotia, and a band that’s still together, touring, and recording new music! Yeah, I have to admit to not following April Wine as of late, but back in 1981, this song was all over the radio and, according to the Wiki on the song, was the fourteenth video played on MTV.  At “School One” and “School Three” I heard this song about as much as the next album…

“Let’s Get It Up,” AC/DC (download)

If there’s a sledgehammer album that transports me back to my sophomore year, it’s this one. AC/DC was riding a career high after the success of Back in Black, and when For Those About To Rock (We Salute Y0u) came out in ’81, it was eagerly anticipated by ever-growing fan base. The pent-up demand was so great that the album shot to number one on the charts. At “School Three,” this album was one of my friends’ favorites. So much so, we would often spend our lunch “half hour” cruising around playing various songs off the album at full volume.  I would eat my “sensible lunch” while my friend would consume a diet made up primarily of Skittles and Pepsi — which was oddly similar to the diet of Richard Ramirez (The Night Stalker). Uh-oh.

“The Mob Rules,” Black Sabbath (download)

This was quite the banner year for Black Sabbath and former lead singer Ozzy Osbourne.  Both released albums that did really well on the charts, and the song “The Mob Rules” got an extra promotional push because it was included in the Heavy Metal soundtrack — which also came out the same year. For me, though, the album is also noted for the drubbing it got in Rolling Stone magazine who wrote that the band was “dull-witted and flatulent as ever.” Now, I’ve always like the sense of groove Sabbath had on their early albums, and I think this song has that, but, yeah, the rest of the album is a stiff.

BONUS TRACK!

“Witch Hunt,” Rush (download)

Anyone who regularly reads this feature should know that Rush is one of my favorite bands. The first time I saw them was in 1981 on the Moving Pictures tour, and, at the time, I only really knew two songs: “The Spirit of Radio” and “Freewill.” After the concert, I had a little money and was able to buy Moving Pictures and played that LP over and over on my crappy stereo for the better part of a month. I really thought that I had found “my band” and that no one else at school had really heard of them. Alas, 1981 was also a high point in Rush’s career, and almost everyone at school was listening to this album, too. What separated me from the Rush dilettantes, however, was the fact that I saved my money and bought their back catalogue and could speak about their music with more depth than the other kids – or so I thought.

Tune in next week for Part Two …

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