I recently retrieved vinyls from my Dads attic and was helped by my 15-year-old niece. She carried the boxes of singles to my car with a pondering look on her face, “what was the point of one song on a record?” she asked. Oh, how technology has changed not only how we purchase and listen to our music but how we receive it in the first place. You had to physically own the vinyl if you wanted to hear it, otherwise, it was a case of waiting for it come onto the radio—I mean imagine! Yes, I am of the generation who listened to the Chart Show on the radio on a Sunday night with fingers primed on the record button and shouting at the DJ if they spoke over the end of your favourite song. The single was, of course, a precursor to the album, which if bought you listened to all the way through, from start to finish. The success of Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties during lockdown demonstrate how music lovers have loved reconnecting with this way of listening to the album.
1980 was quite a year for debut albums by bands who went on to great success. While revisiting this music I wondered how it is that I could still remember the words of album tracks from 40-odd years ago, but I couldn’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday!
I simply cannot rank these so have listed in chronological order of release:
The Cure — Boys Don’t Cry
Released 5 February 1980
I immediately fell in love with this album. 13 tracks and no song longer than 3mins 44secs. The whole album comes in at under 34 minutes. It’s exotic and yet haunting. Exotic because of the album cover artwork of pyramids, desert and palm trees and songs including “Fire in Cairo”, “Killing An Arab” and “World War”. Haunting because of the songs such as “Subway Song” with its spine-tingling scream at the end, and “10.15 Saturday Night” and that dripping tap.
This is a compilation album, which is a bit daring at the beginning of any bands career but the aim was to increase the band’s exposure outside of the UK. It had a number of tracks from the 1979 debut album Three Imaginary Boys plus material from 1978 and1979. The Cure sat somewhere in the middle of punk and new romantics with Robert Smith’s unpolished make-up and frilly shirts.
Did you know? The scream at the end of “Subway Song” was shortened for the CD.
Stiff Little Fingers – Nobody’s Heroes
Released 7 March 1980
Nobody’s Heroes is the second album by Belfast’s Stiff Little Fingers. Formed in 1977 at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, they are pure punk. The raucous sound and tight observations of their environment make for an explosive album. Politics is embedded in their music with tracks such as “Bloody Sunday”, “Nobody’s Hero” and “Tin Soldiers” providing stark reminders of this bands background. At the same time, there is a theme of individuality and finding your own path. But the last track on this album simply makes me laugh, the sing-a-long “You Can’t Say Crap On The Radio”. Oh the irony! There is also a cover of The Specials song “Doesn’t Make it All Right” written by Jerry Dammers—I would love to know how that came about.
Did you know? “At The Edge” was the most successful Stiff Little Fingers single reaching number 15 on the UK chart. However, the B-side is brilliant with two live tracks “Running Bear” / “White Christmas”. The latter opens with singer Jake Burns saying, “could everybody get off the stage please because the people at the back can’t see”. Class.
The Psychedelic Furs – The Psychedelic Furs
Released 7 March 1980
Our first debut album the self-titled Psychedelic Furs. Steve Lillywhite was a prolific producer in the early 1980s. For a band also influenced by punk, The Psychedelic Furs had a very different sound with Richard Butler’s distinct vocals setting them apart from their contemporaries. Theirs was a darker, slower, artier sound more in line with the likes of Bauhaus, and with that saxophone prevalent throughout the album. Opener “India” draws you in and still gives me goosebumps to this day. A more electronic sound which starts slow and calm but then builds with those pulsating drums before Butler’s vocals grab you. “Flowers” and “Pulse” also have this driving rhythm.
Perhaps with not such an accessible sound, this album didn’t have huge commercial success but it established the band and success was to come, partly due to the title track of a certain film. Score.
Did you know? The original album had 9 tracks but the US LP was very different with 10 tracks. “Blacks/Radio” was deleted and “Susan’s Strange” and “Soap Commercial” were added. Also, there was a substantial alteration to the track order. A lot of thought went into this debut album.
The Beat — I Just Can’t Stop It
Released 1 May 1980
Another debut, The Beat were part of the 2 Tone gang. A multi-racial band from Birmingham they were fronted by Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger. They mixed ska, reggae and punk to great critical acclaim. They were also influenced by the high unemployment of the late ’70s and social upheaval. Jamaican saxophonist Saxa had played with early ska and reggae stars such as Prince Buster and Desmond Decker.
There are a number of covers on this album including Andy Williams “Can’t Get Used to Losing You”, The Pioneers “Jackpot” and Prince Busters “Rough Rider” but the 2Tone spin make them very different from the originals. Singles included “Hands Off … She’s Mine” and “Mirror in the Bathroom”. At the more dancey uptempo end of the 2Tone spectrum in comparison to the likes of The Specials, that permanent smile on Ranking Rogers face and that skanking sound was a huge success.
Did you know? The Beat’s first single was a hugely successful cover of Smokey Robinson and the Miracle’s “Tears of a Clown”. However it was on the US release of the LP, but not on the original album release in the UK.
Echo and the Bunnymen – Crocodiles
Released 18 July 1980
Echo and the Bunnymen are more in the vein of The Smiths, with frontman, Ian McCulloch, full of confidence and swagger. The sound is one of a haunting emotional voice over a driving beat. Its brooding atmosphere perfectly demonstrated in the first track “Going Up”. The Doors influence is so apparent in this rollercoaster of a song. Just two singles were released from this album, “The Pictures on my Wall” and “Rescue”. Crocodiles was recorded at Eden Studios in London and the infamous Rockfield Studios in Monmouth.
Did you know? Originally the band wanted the cover picture to include burning stakes but given the possible KKK connotations compromised with the moody woods near Rickmansworth.
Simple Minds – Empires and Dance
Released 12 September 1980
This band was my first musical love and I have all the early albums. Looking back they were prolific in the early years with 6 albums in just 3 years. Empires and Dance was their third release and it opens with the exhilarating “I Travel”, still sounding relevant today. There is an electronic edginess to this album which was heavily influenced by Jim Kerr’s observations as they toured Europe.
Did you know? The band name Simple Minds comes from a David Bowie lyric in “Jean Genie”.
Talking Heads – Remain in Light
Released 8 October 1980
The most experienced of the bands on this list by 1980, Talking Heads were at the peak of their success. Remain in Light was their 4th studio album. This album was attempting to dismiss the idea that Talking Heads was all about David Byrne. There was a shift required and it was towards the African funk of Fela Kuti, employing looping electronica along with the thumping bassline of Tina Weymouth. The impact was clear with just three long tracks on side one “Born Under the Punches (The Heat Goes On)”, “Crosseyed and Painless” and “The Great Curve”. The singles from this album included the hugely successful “Once in Lifetime”. For the lyrics, David Byrne was drawing on preachers delivering sermons to make us consider the meaning of our lives.
Did you know? David Byrne struggled with writer’s block before the writing of this album
The Teardrop Explodes – Kilimanjaro
Released 10 October 1980
5 of the original 11 tracks on this debut album were released as singles, including “Treason (It’s Just a Story)” and “Ha-Ha I’m Drowning”. Close ties with fellow Liverpudlians Echo and the Bunnymen the Ian McCulloch penned “Books” is on this album. Teardrop Explodes and particularly lead singer Julian Cope were known for their psychedelic style and eccentric behaviour. But surely this added an extra element to the music.
A little like The Beat, the original release of Kilimanjaro did not include their biggest hit “Reward” which was released as a single early in 1981. Surely it has one of the best opening lyrics of a song “Bless my cotton socks I’m in the news”, and those trumpets are unforgettable. The song was added to later pressings of the album.
Did you know? The original working title for Kilimanjaro was Everyone Wants To Shag The Teardrop Explodes!
U2 — Boy
Released 20 October 1980
And so to U2’s debut Boy. The Dublin band went on to world domination but their gritty beginnings were on show here with frontman Bono already prowling the stage. U2 had around 40 songs in their repertoire at this point.
However, their debut, a little like Simple Minds, had a rawness and an energy about it.
Bono was a showman from the very start and in the early days, it was pretty cool to see the lead singer of the band crawling up the speakers or head into the crowd. In hindsight, it is perhaps surprising to learn that Boy only reached no. 52 in the UK charts. Just two singles were released from this album “A Day Without Me” and “I Will Follow”. They went on to do quite well!
Did you know? Larry Mullen JR’s drums were recorded in the stairwell of the studio’s reception area at Producer Steve Lillywhites request!
The Jam – Sound Affects
Released 28 November 1980
Hailing from Woking in Surrey, The Jam were formed at the height of punk but it was the Mods of The Who and The Kinks which were the stronger influences on their music. This was their fifth studio album and produced their second number-one single “Start”.
The Jam brought social observation and protest to the mainstream with their great success. With their sharp suits and similarly sharp lyrics, Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Butler brought sophistication and smartness to the charts of the day.
Did you Know? This album contains the only album track co-written by the whole band “Music for the Last Couple”.
Thank you for checking out my list, let us know what would be on your favourite albums from 1980 list in the comments or on social media.