As I intimated last week, I thought I’d move away from Eighties singles and progress onto albums. These comprised my music consumption by then anyway: it was very rare indeed if I bought a single. It was also the decade when I was buying music on all three main formats – vinyl, cassette and then CD – and it saw my last ever purchase of a vinyl album. Sadly, the collection I amassed is no more: space requirements after the divorce precluded my retaining them, but thanks to streaming I now have just about all of them available to me again, apart from some of the more obscure ones! Unlike my trawls through the singles of that decade, I am not restricting this to the top forty: the only criteria for inclusion are that I liked and bought these albums. But most of them were chart hits anyway, to a greater or lesser degree.
You may have noticed by now that I enjoy creating lists of potential tracks for this series. The current count for this one stands at twenty seven bands and artists, many of whom released multiple albums during the Eighties, so the pool into which I’m dipping my toes is a large one! Even by spreading these over several weeks I’m going to have to leave out many great albums and songs, but there still are plenty more to go round!
I’m starting with one that will remove any cobwebs that might be lurking in your head, which just happens to come from one of my all-time favourite bands (actually, all of these are from favourites!):
AC/DC released Back In Black in July 1980. It was their sixth international release (their first of five in the Eighties), and was a massive success, reaching #1 in their native Australia, the UK, Canada, France and Switzerland, and was their first top ten album in the US, where it peaked at #4. Overall, it has sold more than 50m copies, making it one of the most successful albums ever, by anyone. They have always been more of an albums band than a singles one, though this track was released as a single, reaching #8 in Australia, #38 in the UK, and #35 in the US. I think the album sales more than compensated for that, and the song did also have the ultimate accolade: it was for many years my ringtone, which always made life in the office interesting if my mobile rang while I was away from my desk – no one knew whether to answer it or start head banging! This version is a later live performance, which is from their Live At River Plate DVD, released in 2012: I have that DVD and I think it is a great performance – it must be a wonderful feeling being on stage with that sea of seething humanity rocking out with you. The DVD comprises extracts from three live shows the band played in December 2009 (spot some continuity errors!); the stadium is listed as having a 60,000 capacity but local estimates at the time put the combined attendance at nearer 200,000. As a little bonus, if you’d like to hear more, follow this link for Hells Bells, the album’s opening track.
Having started with an Australian band I thought I’d carry on with another. This lot may not have been as successful as AC/DC, but they made some great records, nevertheless. This is one of my favourites of theirs:
As you will have noticed from that, Midnight Oil’s music has always been underpinned by a high degree of political and social awareness, and it is perhaps not surprising that Peter Garrett, their lead singer and songwriter, became a politician, serving two terms in the House of Representatives for the Labor Party. He was appointed a minister in the governments of both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and has held many non-governmental positions in which his concern for the environment is evident. This was a track on the band’s sixth album (their fourth of the Eighties), Diesel And Dust, which was released in August 1987, spending six weeks at #1 in Australia and peaking at #19 in the UK and #21 in the US. This song was released as a single, and got to #6 in both Australia and the UK, and to #17 in the US.
Following the theme of a band with a social conscience, my next choice comes from another such. R.E.M. released their first album. Murmur, in 1983, and went on to release a further five in the period from 1983 to 1988. My choice comes from their fourth album, Lifes Rich Pageant, which was released in July 1986:
If nothing else, that video of R.E.M. playing at Glastonbury in 1999 shows what an extremely good live band they were. The song was only ever an album track, which is why I am giving you the later live performance, but if you’d like to hear the original album version you’ll find it here. Its themes include the pollution of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio and the treatment of American Indians earlier in American history. Despite these grim subjects, according to R.E.M. biographer David Buckley, the lyrics are “words of optimism, partnership and community, set against an age of individualism.” On the other hand, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck said of the song that it “is a metaphor for America and its lost promises. This is where the Indians were and now look at it. It’s one of the ugliest fucking rivers in the world.” Take your pick, I guess. Like most early R.E.M. albums this one performed respectably, peaking at #21 in the US and at #43 in the UK. Their next two, Document and Green, both improved on those positions, and then in 1991 they released the album which would change everything for them: Out Of Time. This was a #1 both sides of the Atlantic, and began their run of nine albums which in the UK gave them seven #1s, a #2 and a #5. Not too shabby! If you’d like other taste of their earlier music, this is probably the best known song on the Pageant album.
My next featured artist is Steve Winwood. After earlier success with The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith, he released his first solo album in 1977, and followed up with four more in the Eighties. This is from his fourth album, Back In The High Life, released in June 1986 – it is the original video release so it’s a little grainy, but this is still a great song, from a fabulous album:
As I said, this really is a great album – eight tracks, and not a duff one amongst them. My choice of just one was very difficult so I’m giving you another, the title track, as well:
When you consider that I’ve omitted Higher Love you can see what I mean about this album! In chart terms it wasn’t his biggest hit, but #8 in the UK and #3 in the US is still pretty respectable, by any standards. Both of these tracks were released as singles: The Finer Things made #8 in the US but didn’t chart in the UK, while Back In The High Life Again was #13 in the US and #53 in the UK. The biggest hit single from the album was the aforementioned Higher Love, which got to #13 in the UK but topped the US chart. You think I should have given you that one? Oh alright, then, you’ll find it here, complete with Chaka Khan.
Having hinted at one of its songs in the picture at the top, I could hardly leave out this next album, could I? Tom Petty had already released a number of albums with his band, The Heartbreakers, four of them in the Eighties, but his first official solo release was in April 1989 – Full Moon Fever. This was the opening track:
Let’s be honest: Tom Petty released so many great records that I was really spoiled for choice, even just looking at one of the decades his career covered. The album reached #3 in the US and #8 in the UK. This song was released as a single, peaking at #7 in the US and #59 in the UK. I also thought I’d give you a track from Tom’s first album of the Eighties – actually his fourth album in total – simply because it contains my all-time favourite Tom Petty song. The album was Hard Promises and this is that song, The Waiting:
I absolutely love this one, even forty years since its first release in April 1981 as the lead single from the album, which followed the next month. Mike Campbell’s soaring guitar gets me every time. The album reached #5 in the US and #32 in the UK, while the single peaked at #19 in the US but didn’t chart in the UK. I guess I was ahead of my time in my love of their music, as far as this country goes!
I’ve begun this mini-series with five acts that formed a huge amount of my record buying and listening in the Eighties, and have indulged myself by offering you some additional selections from them. But it wouldn’t be right for me to close this piece without the artist who really defined that decade for me: Bruce Springsteen. Bruce began his career with four albums in the Seventies, and followed that with four more in the Eighties. And what a set they were: The River, Nebraska, Born In The USA and Tunnel Of Love. This last one has the distinction I mentioned earlier of being the final vinyl album I ever bought. Given my love of his music it is really difficult to whittle my choice of songs down to just a few, so I think I may well be coming back to him at some point for a fuller look at his catalogue in a Listen to The Band post, and even then I’d just be scratching the surface. For today, I’m going to give you a trio of songs, one from the first and two from the last of these albums – yes, I’m leaving out the biggie (for now). The River was a twenty track double album, released in October 1980. Some double albums feel like they are stretching out with fillers what should really have been a single album: not this one. There are some amazing songs on it, including the title track:
This wasn’t released as a single in the US, but was in a number of European countries – including the UK, where it reached #35. It did best in Scandinavia: #5 in Norway and #10 in Sweden. The album was a massive hit, reaching #2 in the UK and topping the US chart. I bought it on its first release, and just about wore it out: all four sides are superb, and there are so many other songs I could have given you from it, but this piece is already in danger of becoming over-long!
My choice from Bruce’s last Eighties album is also difficult, as again it is a brilliant album that I have always loved. So, as I said, I’m chickening out and giving you two to round things off for today. They are successive tracks on side two, firstly:
Those are two examples of his more introspective songs, without the upbeat rabble rousing stuff that many know him for. Both songs deserve to be listened to: their lyrics are intelligent, heartfelt and meaningful. He isn’t known as a poet but has, I think, provided ample evidence to justify the term. Tunnel Of Love was released in October 1987, and was #1 in both the UK and US, and in several other countries as well. Brilliant Disguise was the lead single, and reached #5 in the US and #20 in the UK. One Step Up was only released as a single in the US, where it got to #13.
That’s a wrap for my first round up of Eighties albums, and I hope you have enjoyed them. If so, there will be more next time. And if you haven’t, there will be more anyway! The one thing I can assure you is that none of them will feature heavily made up men with weird hairstyles: not a feature of the Eighties that appealed to me, and some of their music was even worse!
As I type this, it is raining and dismally dark here – in mid-morning – and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a visit from a nurse today to sort out a bandage problem. Such a colourful and exciting life: I hope your day and week will be more enjoyable! Whatever you do, take care and have fun 😊