The genius of Todd Rundgren is that he can do anything – pop, soul, rock, prog, abstract avant whatever. The worst thing about Todd Rundgren is that’s exactly what he does way too often — anything and everything all at the same time, and it all just ends up getting in the way of itself. But not so the title track of Healing (which takes up all of side two). It’s 1981 and drum machines and synths and sequencers are the cool new toys of the moment, and, genius that he is, Todd knows exactly how to play with them, to genuine therapeutic effect.
“It says 1974 on the cover but Brian Eno‘s second solo album Taking Tiger Mountain (by strategy) will always be pure 1981 for me. Weird and oft times jagged pop was pretty much perfectly in synch with the times and thus not at all afraid to just dissolve into abstraction if necessary. Which was fine by me given all the acid I was taking. I needed those dissolutions, like at the end of The Great Pretender when the crickets (or whatever they are) just take over, suck us into the insect realm, alien and strange.” (Philip Random)
In which Rupert Hine (better known as producer than performer) reminds us that the best music of the early 1980s generally wasn’t that nice at all deep down inside, but rather deep with shadow, strange eruptions, queasy feelings of madness, suspicion, and vertigo. The album Immunity is a rare gem, full of such stuff. Nothing remotely normal about any of it.
“I cannot tell a lie. The first time I heard the name Dead Kennedys, it kind of took my breath away. I didn’t say anything out loud or anything, but I liked the Kennedys, was old enough to remember the assassinations of both JFK and RFK. And now here was this punk band exploiting them. Not that I really even listened to the music really. It was just trash and exploitation, right? With a name like that! It took 1981’s In God We Trust EP to set me straight, particularly We’ve Got A Bigger Problem Now (which I later discovered was a reworking of California Uber Alles from their first album). It was the lounge bit at the beginning that hooked me, the part about happy hour being enforced by law, and a jar of Hitler’s brain juice in the back, and Emperor Ronald Reagan born again with fascist cravings. Welcome to the future. Ready or not.” (Philip Random)
“The whole of Holger Czukay‘s third solo album, On The Way to the Peak of Normal, is a weird and mysterious and wonderful gem, with Ode to Perfume (the full version of which inhabits the entire second of side of vinyl) particularly notable because of that haunting melody at the beginning – actual chunks of somebody else’s song that I vaguely recognized but could never place (sampling before they called it sampling), until finally, just a few years ago, I finally did place it, but only because a friend’s mp3 shuffle randomly threw the two of them on pretty much one after another. It’s Suspicion made famous by Jimmy Stafford, a genius piece of paranoid pop if there ever was one.” (Philip Random)
“I’d heard dub before I heard UB40’s Present Arms in Dub. I just didn’t know it was a thing – this notion that now every song and/or album could have both its official version and its VERSION version. Some were crying rip-off, of course, accusing labels and artists of double-dipping (or whatever). But there are always loud idiots when something cool and new hits. In the case of Present Arms (the dub version), that equaled an album that was better than the original (and probably anything else UB40 would ever do) because like Sun Ra said (and Hawkwind too for that matter), space is the place, and where there’s a version, there’s always more space – for your mind, your imagination, your soul, room to move and groove, perchance to grow.” (Philip Random)
Ultravox started out as sort of glam infused new wavers, but after three cool but not particularly successful albums, their label dumped them, front man John Foxx went solo, and the other members wandered off in various directions. Which would have been the end of things if keyboardist-violinist Billy Currie hadn’t run into Midge Ure (his first name was actually Jim) while working with original New Romantics, Visage. The rebooted Ultravox took the New Romantic thing and ran with it, first with Vienna, then 1981’s Rage In Eden, with the title track a study in contained, cinematic noir. Like peering out a window at the new decade as a thick fog rolled in – interesting times whether you wanted them or not.
Trio had a big deal international pop hit in 1981 with Da Da Da, and that whole first album is good, simple (some would say simplistic, others dadaesque) fun. Ja Ja Ja was the punk number.
“The Gun Club were punk badasses out of L.A. who did much of the dirty work of rescuing the blues way back when, releasing them back into the swamp where they belong, or as I remember someone shouting in my ear in the late ’70s sometime, ‘Punk killed the blues, and a good thing too.’ But good things never die, do they? They just mutate, reinvent, re-emerge, with 1981’s Fire Of Love all the evidence required: the full-on rush of punk and the muck of the bayou (that crossroad where the real stuff never dies), maybe put it at the service of some dangerous poetry about a girl so heavy, she’s like heroin – never misses the vein. Hell yeah.” (Philip Random)