It was 1980.
And once upon a time...
‘81 was born out of the ashes of the 27 club and Studio 54 – it’s just maths!
Rock was dead. The ‘70s hadn’t been easy with its run of deaths and too much heroin. It’s a long way down.
Disco, having gotten the world dancing like Travolta, was beginning to chase its own tail.
Even jazz, a long way from its heyday, was searching for a new lease of life.
Out of the raging void came punk in the USA. It quickly crossed the Atlantic only to be parodied in the UK and had, by this time, already disappeared.
At the same time, music from around the world was making itself heard. After the explosion of bossa nova, a tidal wave arrived from Jamaica, while the African continent raised its fists in a surge inspired by pan-Africanism and the Black Panther movement.
In all this fog, time stood still. 1981 was a pivotal year, a year where everything seemed possible. Rockers tried their hand at world music. Reggae players discovered electronics. Disco was turning into proto-house and proto-hip hop. Africans were experimenting with everything. After the bossa this new wave was called… new wave. No more boundaries, no more limits, music was becoming a global maelstrom.
This playlist begins with three songs that are emblematic of these changes. The ska that followed in the footsteps of reggae (“Ghost Town”), the fifties (“Stray Cats”), and Africa is brought to us first and foremost by the ambassador of Ghanaian groove, King Sunny Ade (“Ja Fun Mi”).
The fourth track sums it all up (“Gina Gina”, not available on every platforms unfortunately). With Kid Creole and the Coconuts, the disco producer August Darnell, created a colourful and sexy group inspired by the West Indies and the exotica of the ‘50s. The ‘80s had begun… They’re the same group who play with Coati Mundi a little later on in the list.
“Palco” by Gilberto Gil shows that Brazil had definitely moved on from the bossa nova. And “Slave” shows that the Stones were at a turning point in their career, about to become a huge stadium band.
There are many reasons why Tom Tom Club are crucial: their otherworldly sound is a mix of hip-hop and rock; the production with the Island Allstars in the Bahamas; and the group’s members featuring a Talking Heads rhythm section that can be heard later on in one of the greatest tracks ever!
Then comes a magical musical chain. Central Line produced by Larry Levan – the star DJ of Paradise Garage – followed by Quincy Jones who just about sums up all-out creativity, and the otherworldly sound of “Super Freak” by Rick James. Three tracks from the future, undoubtedly produced in NYC just a few blocks apart from one another.
Our tour ends back in England, namely with Madness’ ode to love. The group were to become emblematic of the ‘80s. Bowie and Queen remind the youth that they will always be there. And then there’s Kate Bush, always experimenting with the wonder that is her voice.
1981 was sort of the birthplace of new wave, hard rock, afrobeat, reggae, hip hop, and house. It was where the musical landscape of the next 40 years kicked off.
Especially seeing as the revolution was not only a musical one.