Looking Through Time: 1981

Story posted September 11, 2020 in Arts & Entertainment by CommRadio Arts & Entertainment Staff.

The staff of the CommRadio Arts & Entertainment department revisits some of the most influential albums from 1981.

Stevie Nicks – “Bella Donna”

It would be difficult to discuss historical albums from 1981 without touching on Stevie Nicks’ “Bella Donna.”

“Bella Donna” was Nicks’ debut solo album in the midst of a highly successful career with Fleetwood Mac, especially on 1977’s “Rumors.” While Nicks was clearly a standout artist from her work in the band, “Bella Donna” proved her ability to swing with the big leagues on her own.

In fact, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” and “Edge of Seventeen” have become staples of Nicks’ career among some of Fleetwood Mac’s most renowned songs, such as “Go Your Own Way” and “Landslide.” Eventually, “Bella Donna” would go on to be her best-selling work, charting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

What makes “Bella Donna” so remarkable is how it characterizes Nicks as an artist. While she has spent much of her career collaborating—whether it be with Fleetwood Mac or other artists like Tom Petty—her work is entirely her own. Everything that Nicks touches is so fundamentally “Stevie Nicks.”

“Bella Donna” carries over the sultry rock sound that is so reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac, which clues listeners off to just how influential Nicks was in the overall style and sound of the band. Surely, as the lead singer, Nicks had a big influence on the group. Perhaps she carried much of the band on her back.

At the time, Nicks was still creating music with Fleetwood Mac (“Mirage” would be released just one year after “Bella Donna”). While some artists, like the Rolling Stones, were struggling to keep their creative juices flowing as the 1980s began, Nicks continued to pump out some of her career’s best work, which makes “Bella Donna” even more remarkable.

Today, Nicks is often regarded not simply as one of the best women in music but one of the best artists in history. Before Nicks came, the likes of Janis Joplin and Patti Smith were the ones helping pave the way for women in rock music. But “Bella Donna” cemented Nicks her own place in music history, as well as an influential figure for women in music who would come after her.  —Jade Campos

Ozzy Osbourne – “Diary of a Madman”

Fresh off the massive success of his solo debut “Blizzard of Ozz,” Ozzy Osbourne once again earned the title of the “Prince of Darkness.” “Blizzard of Ozz” reminded the world how talented Ozzy was. With a backing band at his side, featuring young guitarist Randy Rhoads, whose neo-classical style fused with his unmatchable speed allowed him to become a guitar icon, bassist Bob Daisley and his teeth-rattling bass lines, and drummer Lee Kerslake and his hard-hitting style, songs like “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley” became hard-rock icons.

Feeling the pressure to get Osbourne back on tour, his management, led by now-wife Sharon Osbourne, had him and the band produce a new album in just one month. Somehow, despite battling numerous substance abuse issues, Osbourne was able to give the world the now iconic “Diary of a Madman.”

Unfortunately, this was the last album to feature guitarist Randy Rhoads, who was tragically killed in a plane crash the next year. Kerslake was also fired by Sharon shortly after the album was completed. Despite all the issues, this album stands among Osbourne’s best and is the ultimate testament to just how talented his first solo band was.

Kicking off the album is “Over the Mountain,” a hard-hitting opener led by Rhoads’ fast, heavy riffs and Kerslake’s furious drumming. The song features perhaps Rhoads’ most underrated solo.

“Flying High Again” shows Osbourne addressing his former band members from Black Sabbath, letting them know that he is “flying high again” with his solo career after they kicked him out. It features more prominent bass lines from Daisley to compliment the slower riffs from Rhoads.

Slowing things down is the softer ballad “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll,” a song that shows that Osbourne can be soulful and slow while still maintaining the high-energy vocal style that made him so popular. 

“Believer” features a take on positivity that only Osbourne could do with this dark melodic ballad, telling listeners, “You’ve got to believe in yourself.” This track features a heavy opening bass solo from Daisley that riffs throughout the song, matching its slower pace.

“Little Dolls” is a tale of a literal puppet, forever at the mercy of a cruel puppet master. Kerslake gives his best work of the album with a methodical beat that speeds up and slows down to match Rhoads’ guitar work.

“Tonight” is a slow ballad that features keyboards and Daisely’s bass work, which reaches into the higher notes, giving his riffs a remorseful tone. Osbourne himself sings like a man who has lost it all. The song ends with a Rhoads guitar solo that breaks through the sadness of the song.

Next up is  “S.A.T.O.,” a heavy, sinister, fast-paced song featuring a complex solo with notes going all over the place. Osbourne’s screams give the song the most metal feel of any on this album.

Ending the album is the title track “Diary of a Madman.” Heavy, epic and remorseful while also light and melodic, the song invites listeners into the mind of a man who is mentally ill, focusing on his pain, his sadness and his insanity. The guitar work switches from electric to acoustic throughout the song, ending in a final, powerful operatic chorus.

The album that showed Ozzy was here to stay, “Diary of a Madman” remains one of the Prince of Darkness’s most popular and influential works, and it’s the ultimate testament that Randy Rhoads was a talent who left us too soon.  —David Fortunato

Journey – “Escape”

“Escape,” Journey’s seventh studio album, released in the summer of 1981, became the fifth-highest selling album of the year and reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 two months after its release. This was during the height of the group’s popularity with Steve Perry still performing as the lead singer, and as such, it remains one of their most successful works.

There are six singles featured on “Escape,” including “Who’s Crying Now,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Stone in Love,” “Open Arms” and “Still They Ride.” These were released from June 1981 through Oct. 1982.

While “Don’t Stop Believin’” is one of the band’s most iconic songs to this day, it was not the stand-out hit at the time. “Who’s Crying Now” actually charted better, reaching the No. 4 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981. “Open Arms” was the king of the bunch, earning the No. 2 spot in 1982. “Don’t Stop Believin’” only peaked at No. 9 the year of the album’s release.

Although we know “Don’t Stop Believin’” as a classic today, it didn’t experience a full resurgence until 2009 when it was covered by the cast of “Glee.” The song was performed by the Glee Club at the end of the series’ first episode, debuting at No. 4 on the Hot 100 shortly after. “Don’t Stop Believin’” is still the most popular release in Glee’s history, with multiple versions released throughout the show’s six seasons. It inspired a whole new generation of Journey fans and even put the original song back on the charts almost 30 years later.

“Escape,” arguably Journey’s most iconic album, is still relevant to this day and has even made an appearance on the charts as recently as 2011. With this album, Journey left us several classic rock ballads we can sing along to, cementing their legacy in the music industry.  —Sarah Simpson

Electric Light Orchestra – “Time”

Electric Light Orchestra is one of the most unique names in the rock genre. Led by Jeff Lynne, not only do they work the basic aspects of rock music, but they also sprinkle in elements classical, new wave and synthpop to create something entirely their own. When their ninth studio album “Time” released, it was their synthpop side that took over. “Time” completely revamped ELO’s image and affected similar artists in the process.

This album just screams synth. Eleven of the 13 songs are filled with synthetic sounds and synthetic organs, allowing the album to flow from start to finish. But it’s not all the same thing. There’s a good mix of cheerful and melancholy. The various pitches of synths give the audience insight about what type of song they are listening to, and the futuristic sound only helps to emphasize it.

In every single song, ELO provides listeners different aspects of what the future might be like. Some songs are hopeful and some are doubtful. In one track, a man time travels to 2095, where he is confronted with technological advancements and glory but cannot seem to find pure love like he did in the 1980s. Even though its tones are futuristic, it still has a lot of relevance in today’s social situations.

Insightful, relevant and a pleasure to listen through, “Time” is simply timeless.  —Emily McGlynn


Jade Campos is a junior majoring in print/digital journalism. To contact her, email jmc7727@psu.edu.

David Fortunato is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email dforch2344@gmail.com.

Sarah Simpson is a junior majoring in film-video. To contact her, email sus816@psu.edu.

Emily McGlynn is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email esm5378@psu.edu.

About the Contributors

Jade Campos's photo

Jade Campos

Junior / Print/Digital Journalism

Jade Campos is a junior from Caroline, Virginia. She is a director of the arts and entertainment department of CommRadio and a co-host on the talk show The Nittany Record Club alongside Colton Pleslusky and David Fortunato. Along with CommRadio, Jade is currently the assistant lifestyle editor for the Daily Collegian. In the past, she has interned with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. To contact her, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

David Fortunato's photo

David Fortunato

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

David Fortunato is an aspiring broadcast journalist with a passion for both sports and the arts at Penn State. Along with being one of the directors for the CommRadio arts & entertainment department, he has written articles, participated in podcasts and even done a live show for the CommRadio sports department. In addition to his work for CommRadio, David is also involved in PSNTV’s Penn State Sports Night. David was also an intern for the Penn State men’s club hockey team, where he did player interviews, produced live streams, did camerawork and even did some play-by-play. He can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Emily McGlynn's photo

Emily McGlynn

Second-year / Broadcast Journalism

Emily McGlynn is a second-year from Birmingham, Michigan majoring in broadcast journalism at Penn State. She is a member of the CommRadio Arts & Entertainment Department and News Department. She is also the Co-Director for the Arts & Entertainment Department. Listening to music, watching movies, and staying updated with news and pop culture are some of her favorite things to do. To contact her, email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Sarah Simpson's photo

Sarah Simpson

Senior / Film-Video

Sarah Simpson is a senior from Irwin, Pennsylvania majoring in film-video, and minoring in Journalism and Spanish at Penn State. She is a member of Centre County Report. She is also the president of Penn State Network Television (PSNtv), Penn State’s student-run television network, as well as the director for PSNtv’s weekly news broadcast PSN News. She has interned with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as a photo/video intern and Penn State Athletics as a live video production intern. If you’d like to contact her, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).