Ranking #1 albums, U.K. edition: 1981

(Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)[/caption]

In America we dealt with REO Speedwagon and Styx; English citizenry endured Shakin’ Stevens and Cliff Richard. Often okay and rarely terrible, Richard commanded an Olympian prestige with the parents of Adam Ant-besotted children. “Nobody can hope to close in on Cliff Richard, to find out what makes him do what he does. He is as genially elusive as a British Bizarro world version of Warren Beatty could hope to be,” Marcello Carlin notes in his poised reconsideration of the singer’s Love Songs. Singing to Richard is akin to opening a folding chair to watch contractors at work on the house. Carlin rightfully singles out “Up in the World” for plaudits, about the only time he bestirs himself, or, rather, feels something astir in him and doesn’t fight it.

Other albums unfamiliar to me

No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith: Al-right. Listening to this live album, I heard what others do in KISS: huge dumb-not-stupid rockers that inspire mass audience unity instead of submission. If I need to hear “No Class” and “Iron Horse” of my own volition, I’ll start here.

Shaky: In 1981 there was an audience large enough to want “Mona Lisa” and “It’s Raining” by a big-grinned doofus who slicked his hair with what looked like crude oil. “Shaky distilled the ’50s experience wholesale, and proved it could still sound as fresh as tomorrow,” the AllMusic review avers. “Fresh” isn’t the point; “distillation” will not save bottled water from stagnancy. Still, I’ll take “Green Door” over “Rock This Town” and “Stars on 45.”

Disco Daze And Disco Nites: I wish Ronald Reagan hadn’t driven America into hysteria. Not that I blame his election for our chart pop’s relapse into somnolence, but conservatism has many faces, some benign like Shakin’ Stevens, others repulsive, as in, say, what top 40 radio did to Black crossover. Stacked end-to-end with disco classics, Disco Daze And Disco Nites collects one spasm of ecstasy after another, a monument to communal release.

What do I need to know about The Official BBC Album of the Royal Wedding

The Hague

Starsound – Stars on 45


Electric Light Orchestra – Time
Shakin’ Stevens – Shaky
Meat Loaf – Dead Ringer

Sound, Solid

John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy
Motörhead – No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith
Phil Collins – Face Value
Cliff Richard – Love Songs

Good to Great

The Human League – Dare
Adam & the Ants – Kings of the Wild Frontier
ABBA – The Visitors
Genesis – Abacab
The Police – Ghost in the Machine
Various Artists – Disco Daze And Disco Nites
Queen – Greatest Hits
Various Artists – Chart Hits ’81

4 thoughts on “Ranking #1 albums, U.K. edition: 1981

  1. Wow. Only 16 albums for 52 weeks, and of all the years out there, 1981 is my personal favorite for British pop music. I have lost count of the albums I consider seminal from that year of years, and yet only “Dare” ever managed to climb to the top. I’ll still tip the Aztec Energy Dome to ABBA®, Adam + The Ants, and The Police. And for the record, KISS® aren’t even smart enough to wish they were Motörhead!

  2. Yes, I thought he was too hard on ‘Graceland’ – but then I can’t really be objective about it, I grew up in one of *those* households where it was one of the few contemporary records around, and I had a phase of rejecting and dissing it as well. I still think the most wrong-headed piece there (but a wrong-headedness in common with many) is the one about the 1990 Three Tenors album which utterly denies rock music’s centrality in creating the context for Brexit.

    Astounding that we’re as far from *that* wedding now as we then were from the Blitz.

    ‘Dead Ringer’ is a UK example of what Chris Molanphy called the ‘AC/DC Rule’.

    1. I understand the critique of Paul Simon giving his back to the boycott. What I don’t understand is why the record should have been “political” when 1) Marcello clearly don’t understand the consequences of that -I know, I’m an argentine born and raised through dictatorial censorhip pointing a gun to you- meaning putting in peril the South African players AND their families. 2) Paul Simon can only speak from what he knows, and thank God he’s not Bono -imagine how Bono would have affected the “outcome” regardless of evryone else involved but him 3) By dissing its content we’re forgetiing the ultimate longstanding cultural contribution is memory. We’ll never forget aparthaid as long as we still keep talking about it, which in “Graceland” scenario is every damn time we’re arguing about it.
      I can’t buy the “colonialist” attitude that is given to Simon in the review without looking at this whole picture, which is always easier in hindsight and from the comfy sofa in whatever place that we’re living in. And by no means we can be sure a statement from Simon would have helped the artistical integrity of the record. Corageuos and altruistic? For sure. Smarter? I really don’t think so. In reality, the only ones who would have risked their necks were not living in Graceland, exactly. Of that I’m sure. I can’t imagine this was not thought about by everyone involved during the making of the record. And, besides, building the cultural bridge for the oppressed to shine in a high profile endeavour was a step forward -abeit tiny- towards visibility and perhaps, leaving the players themselves to decide whether to talk and where.
      In the end, it seems that Marcello is pissed off more at Simon than the record itself. But the record itself ends up receiving the splinters of that. It’s understandable, but hindsight should have provoked a less virulent reaction imho. I would have understand this review in 1986 til the actual end of apartheid, not 20 years later. Anyway, as usual, my 2 cents.

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