Awesome 80s Albums You May Have Overlooked
Count me among the minority who truly likes all genres of music and yes, no ones going to drive a bulldozer over my disco CD’s either. F*ck no. Not Donna Summer! Not Saturday Night Fever! I’ll be like the famous photo of the student in Tiananmen Square facing the tank. And a guitarist friend of mine who’s toured with Arlo Guthrie and other Folk legends like Willie Nelson will join me in solidarity and brotherhood here as he is a die hard Bee Gees fan too. So there. Say what you want about Barry Gibb’s “faggy falsetto” voice in misdirected machismo, he’s a great songwriter. Grease is the Word, brothers and sisters. Barry wrote that. See now you can’t possibly make fun of him out of ignorance anymore.
Okay. Moving on. Since plenty of my family and friends are 80’s freaks, I felt it appropriate to give out some suggestions for 80’s music lovers everywhere still lost in the land of Loverboy headbands. Which by the way yours truly has seen and they are fantastic as well as TONS of fun live.
Actually, the Archangel of 80’s music, Archangel Flockofsegulliel commanded me to enlighten the masses an iota (technically, more than a tad). So it is by Divine Decree I write this article. You’re probably asking “So how’s things in your padded cell?” Couldn’t be better. Cable TV, internet. Thanks for asking.
Anyhow, another reason that lead to this list was a musical comrade and I were talking about our Desert Island Discs, a concept of which has since been negated by the invention of the iPod. I then thought about the more obscure albums most people don’t know about from the era of music known as New Wave or 80’s.
My friend rightly calls The Cure’s Disintegration “a gift to Humanity.” Indeed, but the average 80’s fan knows about that album. I’m partial to the Cure’s Faith too. It’s got the grooves I need to “Let the coolness flow into our vertebrae” in the words of a Mel Brooks film History Of The World Part I.
In fact, years ago I developed complications due to wisdom teeth extractions. I got a post op infection and had to take heavy painkillers every 4 hours. I remember one night sitting in my living room after the painkillers whisked me away to groggy land while listening to The Cure. Boy did Mr. Smith’s music make so much sense to me then. It occurred to me that I was very near to the state most of it was written in and from. Robert Smith has stated he doesn’t remember writing or recording the Pornography album because he was so strung out on heroin. My friend does a fantastic Robert Smith impersonation of this interview blurb complete with the British inflection “That’s the album I don’t remember writing.”
In the same vein (pun intended), author William Burroughs doesn’t remember writing Naked Lunch, the novel which gave Steely Dan their name. Yes they remain the only Grammy Award winning act named after a dildo. So that said, let’s stop talking track marks and start talking tracks!
Worlds Apart (1981)
Heads Or Tails (1983)
Saga is an oh-so-underrated Canadian band that you should definitely know more about. This is intelligent yet danceable grooving Proggy New Wave from Canada. They do other things up there besides play hockey and drink Molson you know. Seems Billboard needs to be reminded that Canada exists from time to time. Listener’s also need to be tipped off that there are other acts from the Great White North besides Rush, Bryan Adams, The Guess Who, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, and Neil Young. Oh and surprise, that other band I mentioned earlier, Loverboy also wear maple leaf underwear too.
Saga is reminiscent of the Power Pop style of The Outfield but with way more keyboards. I put them in the same category as far as energy vibe and positivity goes. They have over 20 studio albums in their catalog and have been recording for over 35 years. They’re only a one hit wonder to boneheads who wait to be spoon fed singles by MTV, commercial radio and record companies . They won a Juno award in 1982 (The Canadian version of a Grammy) after this album dropped for Most Promising Group Of The Year. Our friends Loverboy still hold the record for 6 Junos in one year, so rock those red Mike Reno headbands with pride kids because they are indeed a symbol of Canadian recording industry royalty.
Saga had two singles released that got some airplay off of Worlds Apart, their 4th album: “Wind Him Up” and their biggest single “On the Loose” which peaked at #26 on Billboard. However, in “On the Loose” much of the instrumental solo section was chopped off to fit the anal retentive 4 minute radio decree from Mount Sinai which is of course the Eleventh Commandment. One hopes the karmic entertainment in hell people for such song sushi chefs consists of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Golden Earring and the Grateful Dead among others. The Beatles fell from grace too with “Hey Jude.” Thankfully Saga was saved from eternal damnation here but you can hear the song in it’s entirety safely on the album.
Another track which I always groove out to on the album, “No Stranger” could have also been released as a single. But again, the slower intro/build section topping 2 minutes would have been seen as “dead space” to commercial radio and would have been chopped off by the radio station sushi chefs.
Another Saga album from the 80’s you should definitely own is Heads Or Tales. It perfectly showcases why I love the guitar player in this band, Ian Crichton. He has such a physicality to his licks, riffs and solos. Ian’s playing is very animated and slippery with notes and phrasing. Listen to my favorite tune off this album “Catwalk” for an example of this. There’s a visual animation to his style almost as if the music was made for a soundtrack to a film but can surely stand on it’s own without accompanying visual images.
By this I don’t mean overacted facial expressions, atomic windmills or overdone stage gestures. I’m talking about the Holy manipulation of soundwaves. The producer on these Saga albums was Rupert Hine. Yes, you may know the name from your The Fixx albums. What you don’t have any The Fixx albums? No Howard Jones either? You need remedial ’80s then. You can chew gum and throw paper airplanes in that course. This article is for those who know about the Journeys, Loverboys and Madonnas already.
For you ’80s 201 students, Rupert Hine is a Composer/Producer who has also recorded his own albums. They tend to be hard to come by. One of the songs you’re probably familiar with if you’ve seen a bunch of John Cusack movies is “With One Look (The Wildest Dream)” off the Better Off Dead soundtrack which plays during the end credits. This is a quirky classic 80’s movie I’ve seen probably 900 times:
“Go that way really fast, if something gets in your way, turn.”
See I told you. Rupert Hine wrote much of original soundtrack and the title track mentioned here features The Fixx vocalist Cy Curnin and guitarist Jaime West-Oram. A Saga track on Heads Or Tales that sounds like it could have just as easily been a Fixx tune or a Rupert Hine solo track is “Scratching The Surface.” There’s often a lot of “musical overlap” with Producers and the groups they write and work with, and you can get a decent 80’s Fixx (haha) with any of these.
A seeming technicality on the album release date of April 1979, but New Wave and the music considered ’80s actually started in the late 1970’s. Before you knew him singing about “Cars” Gary Numan was in this group. “Cars” is a classic 80’s track, a song where drums accent on the 4 and by a white British guy before 1980. Wow. I’m speechless.
Replicas is a science fiction epic which you can nicely zone out to. I heard this album on college radio and had to pick it up. Thanks WRPI!! College radio is a beacon of actual music variety even more so than internet radio which tends to be just one genre per station just like commercial radio.
Although Replica’s lyrics and themes are science fiction, don’t let that turn you off. It’s not inaccessible, overdone and definitely not 80’s campy (but still fun) as Styx’s Kilroy Was Here (Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto–Japanese for “Thank You Very Much…”). There’s some really cool keyboard work on Replicas as far as 80’s goes–several tracks on par or exceeding “Cars” in my opinion. That being because essentially Tubeway Army was pretty much all Gary writing. Some of my favorite tracks on Replicas are “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” which was released as a single and reached #1 in the UK, “You Are In My Vision”, “It Must Have Been Years”, and the bonus tracks off the 1997 and 2008 Beggars Banquet reissues “We Are So Fragile” and “We Have A Technical.” The 80’s synth on this album will put a Miami vicegrip on your eardrums.
Utopia was a project of Todd Rundgren, another writer/producer known for singing “Hello it’s Me” and “Bang the Drum All Day.” Don’t we all Todd. And what do Grand Funk Railroad’s We’re An American Band and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell have in common? Todd produced those albums among others. Not too shabby for a boy from Pennysylvania hey? I guess Hall & Oates, Cinderella, Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big) and Poison carried that states pride in the 80’s too.
Todd also wrote “Love is the Answer” and Utopia recorded it on Oops! Wrong Planet, then England Dan And John Ford Coley recorded it shortly afterwards and that’s the version everyone is used to hearing on the radio. Yup, the Carole King Effect strikes again.
The Carole King Effect: When you write a song, record it and later somebody else records it but makes 10 times the money you did.
Carole wrote it first dammit!! So if you want to protest outside BMI headquarters there’s some picket sign
Anyhow, 2 Utopia albums any 80’s collection is lonely without are Oblivion and P.O.V. Really any album by Utopia is worth checking out. Rhino records released a double CD a few years back called P.O.V., Oblivion & Some Trivia. It has both albums plus the 2 new tracks from the Trivia compilation album. This is a great starting point to get you into this under the radar late 70’s-80’s group. This CD is also worth it for the song “Fix Your Gaze.”
The 2 albums included on this release have some of the coolest Utopia songs on them. EVERYONE in Utopia sang lead vocals so you get a variety of singers and really fat full multi part harmonies. The musicians Todd had with him in Utopia were professional touring musicians and session players as well. Keyboardist/vocalist Roger Powell for one toured with David Bowie. Bassist/vocalist Kasim Sulton toured with Meat Loaf (bassist on the Bat Out Of Hell album), Hall And Oates, and Joan Jett (was a Blackheart). So I’d say there’s a tad more than garage band creds here folks.
Some of the tracks on these albums that rock 80’s style are “Bring Me My Longbow”, “Crybaby” ,“Welcome to My Revolution” and “Winston Smith Takes It on the Jaw” from Oblivion and “Zen Machine” and “More Light” off of P.O.V. There’s plenty of lost 80’s gold buried on these albums. It’s like totally an 80’s tragedy that NONE of the tracks off of Oblivion were released as singles. There’s some absolutely slamming uptempo tracks like the ones listed above as well as some amazing slower introspective tracks like If “I Didn’t Try”, “Maybe I Could Change” (which has a gorgeous piano arpeggio intro) and “I Will Wait.” Still, the album charted in the US at the number 74 position despite the lack of a single. If it had even one single, it would have climbed higher instead of getting lost in the oblivion of radio station shelves.
I’m not sorry I own any of these 80’s albums and you won’t be either. Mike Reno gives his blessing for you to own them as well. Some I found in bargain bins, which just goes to prove the old axiom one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and with music, one man’s earwax is another man’s earworm.
© Composer Yoga