Looking Through Time: 1980
The members of the CommRadio Arts & Entertainment staff revisit a handful of the most iconic albums from 1980 in this edition of Looking Through Time.
AC/DC — “Back in Black”
One might think that the death of iconic frontman Bon Scott in early 1980 would mean the end for Australian rock band AC/DC. After all, how can you go on without the man who sang “Highway to Hell,” “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” and “Whole Lotta Rosie?” As it turned out, AC/DC found the answer to that question with new vocalist Brian Johnson. And it was the perfect answer.
With Johnson at the mic, AC/DC finally hit the big time internationally. The hard rockers from Sydney were always a favorite in their homeland of Australia, but AC/DC never quite had the same success on the global scale—that is, until Scott’s final album, “Highway to Hell.” But the band’s 1980 comeback record “Back in Black” completely blows away its predecessor in terms of popularity. Peaking in the top 10 across the globe upon its release, “Back in Black” has since sold over 50 million copies worldwide, making it the third-highest-selling album of all time. And it’s no wonder why.
From the opening death knell of “Hells Bells” to the closing strum of “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution,” “Back in Black” is a foot-stomping, heart-pounding joyride. Filled to the brim with Angus Young’s signature riff work, Johnson’s raspy delivery, and the band’s ever-so sleazy yet undeniably entertaining lyrics, “Back in Black” is about as good a tribute to sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll gets. The blistering “Shoot to Thrill,” the swaggering “You Shook Me All Night Long,” the legendary title track: all highlights. In reality, the entire record is a highlight. For its full 42-minute duration, “Back in Black” never lets up for a second.
Future efforts from the Australian rockers such as “For Those About to Rock” and “The Razors Edge” would only add to their legacy, but AC/DC’s status as rock ‘n’ roll royalty was cemented here. This is hard rock at its finest. —DJ Bauer
Black Sabbath — “Heaven and Hell”
In 1980, Black Sabbath was facing a period of unprecedented uncertainty. Following the financial and critical failure of 1978's "Never Say Die!," the founding fathers of heavy metal were confronted with the first major rotation change in the band's decade of existence. The departures of Ozzy Osbourne and bassist-lyricist Geezer Butler forced Sabbath to change dramatically or fall apart completely. While Butler would return after hearing the first few tracks recorded for this record, it was up to the new singer, Ronnie James Dio, to mark the group's renewed identity.
On this record, Dio claims the household fame that had previously eluded him. The diminutive vocalist had accomplished much during his stops in the proto-metal acts Elf and Rainbow, but the promotion to a band of Sabbath's stature was not too big for him. In fact, his first album with the landmark collective has since proven to be among the best in their looming discography.
Though tracks like "Neon Knights" and "Heaven and Hell" have long since established themselves in the heavy metal canon, this album is packed from back to front. The somber "Lonely Is the Word" is probably the closest "Heaven and Hell" comes to vintage Sabbath. However, the peak is on Track 5 with the operatic "Die Young." Between Dio's dramatic shrieks and Tony Iommi's ripping guitar, "Die Young" is the anthem for a generation yet to find itself after Vietnam.
While some may dismay the change in style after Ozzy's departure, "Heaven and Hell" has without a doubt created its own legacy in heavy metal music. In the adoption of Ronnie James Dio, Black Sabbath pulled perhaps the most successful late-career vocalist swap in rock music history. This is one of the poster albums for the early generation of hard rock and heavy metal. —Billy Jackson
David Bowie — “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)”
Entering the decade boldly, Bowie kicked off the ‘80s with his very own renaissance. Reaching what is often cited as the perfect balance between experimental art and mainstream appeal, Bowie’s “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” breathed new life into the artist’s already impressive career.
Exploding onto the record, Bowie makes one of his most intense entrances ever with the biting “It’s No Game (No. 1).” Blending harsh screaming and cheeky spoken-word Japanese quips provided by the sharp Michi Hirota, Bowie lays down an intense gauntlet, which the rest of the album is more than capable of living up to.
Notably, Bowie pays tribute to his iconic song “Space Oddity,” which gave him his first real taste of mainstream success, through the spaced-out “Ashes to Ashes.” An ode to Major Tom, Bowie tells the story of his beloved fictional character’s death. Burying his old work and invasive drug addiction, Bowie gives himself a brilliant fresh start. The innovative music video, starring Bowie as a melancholy clown, was considered revolutionary for the time. It was one of the most expensive music videos ever made, but it paid off by giving Bowie a No. 1 hit single in the UK.
Recapturing his commercial presence in America, the fierce “Fashion” flaunts Bowie’s flamboyant charm with an infectious chorus and catchy underground beat. Other tracks like the youthful “Teenage Wildlife” and the smooth “It’s No Game (No. 2)” provided “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” with undeniable revisiting potential.
One of the legendary artist’s most memorable albums, “Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)” helped Bowie skyrocket back to the top of the charts as an incredibly evolutionary masterpiece. —Scott Perdue
Kate Bush — “Never for Ever”
Maintaining her well-known eccentric and theatrical nature, Kate Bush began the decade with a huge splash. Her third studio album “Never for Ever” became the first record performed by a solo female artist to reach No. 1 in the UK. An incredibly personal record, Bush infuses stories of real-life tragedy and fictional love into what has gone on to become one of her most cherished projects.
Opening with the bombastic “Babooshka,” Bush tells the story of a man caught red-handed in a choreographed love affair by his own wife. Transitioning between soft strings and blistering vocals, Bush erupts dramatically onto the record with unprecedented volatile zeal.
Taking inspiration from her good friend Peter Gabriel, the compilations of “Never for Ever” were impressive for the time in that they exhibited Bush’s noteworthy usage of digital synthesizers and drum machines. Adding an innovative element to her album’s sound, Bush was able to craft music that sounded like nothing anyone had ever heard before, and her charming personal lyricism rose the album to universal acclaim.
Bush returned to her aesthetic of music inspired by classic cinema with “The Wedding List,” based on the 1968 film “The Bride Wore Black,” and “The Infant Kiss,” based off of the 1961 film “The Innocents.”
Other noteworthy tracks such as the mourning “Army Dreamers” and the haunting “Breathing” provided Bush with memorable hit singles and an album overflowing with captivating material.
A major stepping stone in her budding career, Bush’s “Never for Ever” solidified her foothold on the pop mainstream and gave the artist a universal stage in which to distribute her charmingly unique voice and personality. —Scott Perdue
Joy Division — “Closer”
It is difficult to talk about Joy Division’s final album without talking about the tragic event that took place a few months before its release. Ian Curtis, Joy Division’s lead singer and main songwriter, took his own life. Curtis’s dissatisfaction with his life and the world around him is ominously apparent throughout the album.
Curtis sings with a one-of-a-kind voice. His low register and strong delivery makes for one of the most unique and captivating voices in rock history, and it fits perfectly with his melancholy lyrics. Curtis sings about his loneliness, his depression, and the feeling that people don’t understand him and that things will never get better. Considering what followed shortly before the release of “Closer,” those lyrics became all the more powerful.
The instrumentals in this album are equally strong. “Closer” strays away from the pop-centric, catchy riffs that filled Joy Division’s previous album, 1979’s “Unknown Pleasures.” Instead, the instrumentals of “Closer” capture Curtis’s emotions, sounding messy, loud, chaotic and extremely tense. While Joy Division’s band members would later admit that they had not known the extent of Curtis’s inner demons, they were still able to translate those feelings perfectly into their music. The tracks “Atrocity Exhibition” and “Heart and Soul” are the album’s highlights. Both tracks nearly reach the six-minute mark, and both are tense, drawn-out, gripping and fascinatingly somber.
While “Closer” was Joy Division’s final album, and while the album did not have nearly as many hits as the aforementioned “Unknown Pleasures,” “Closer” is an album that had an immense impact on the following decades of music. Alongside Curtis’s somber lyrics, Joy Division was able to cultivate a relaxed, bass-heavy sound, complemented by clean, echoey guitar riffs and reverbed drums. The remaining members of Joy Division went on to form the immensely popular band New Order. Additionally, future bands such as the Smiths and the Stone Roses would go on to dominate the ‘80s with sounds heavily influenced by Joy Division, and in the ‘90s, britpop legend Oasis did the same. —Jim Krueger
Bruce Springsteen — “The River”
Bruce Springsteen knew what he had to do after the release of his first four albums. He had been romanticizing the blue collar life for a long time and it worked well for him, giving him the title “The Boss.” But in 1980, he knew it was time to start writing songs that dealt with deeper topics while still maintaining his rock edge. “The River” packs the essence of a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show into one glorious double album.
The first disc has some classic Springsteen songs. “Two Hearts,” “Hungry Heart,” “Crush on You” and “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)” all stand out as fun and upbeat tunes that anyone can enjoy. Even though they are catchy, they still pack lyrical depth (“Hungry Heart,” for example, is about a man who leaves his family), just a little more hidden behind the rhythm.
Along with these upbeat songs, the first disc also includes two brilliant and meaningful pieces. “Independence Day” (which is not about the Fourth of July) stands strong about the relationship between a father and son and all the conflicts that arise between them. The title track stands on its own as a story about growing up before the social timeline deems it safe to move away from home.
Disc two is also a fun mix of songs, but the fan favorite in concert is “Drive All Night.” Being the longest song on the album, it takes its time. It forces the audience to listen closely, so that by the time the beautiful saxophone solo comes in, the audience can fully understand the meaning and depth that “Drive All Night” holds within itself.
As a fan favorite, “The River” remains notable to this day, as Springsteen went on a tour for the album just a few years ago. Playing the album in its entirety at every show on tour, Springsteen raked it in. After 39 years of “The River,” fans still flock to hear it played by“The Boss.” —William Roche
Talking Heads — “Remain in Light”
Among the collection of early ‘80s synthwave and post-punk bands was a quirky little group that did not fit in with either genre. David Byrne's flagship team was one that seamlessly blended elements of punk, funk, pop and African pop to create this strange concoction of an album. Though they had already broken out with their 1977 single "Psycho Killer," Talking Heads were a band on the rise at the turn of the decade.
Running contemporaneously to acts like David Bowie and The Police, Talking Heads occupied their own odd little niche in the popular music environment. With an odd sense of humor and sincere optimism, Talking Heads were hell-bent on putting fans in a good mood. This is evident on cuts like “Born Under Punches” and “Crosseyed and Painless,” which have driving beats and varied instrumentation to put the listener into a groove that will not cease at any point on the record.
Even the more experimental tracks are wholly engaging and never feel gratuitous. The spoken word on "Seen and Not Seen" is so enthralling because it puts the listener into the wacky mind of the band's genius vocalist. Talking Heads even stay charming when paying homage to the famously dreary Joy Division on "The Overload."
As a whole, "Remain in Light" is one of the definitive albums of the early ‘80s. Nothing sounds quite like it, though many have tried to replicate it. Even in the excellent ouvre that Talking Heads have formed, this album stands at the pinnacle. —Billy Jackson
DJ Bauer is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Billy Jackson is a senior majoring in film-video production. To contact him, email email@example.com.
Jim Krueger is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Perdue is a junior majoring in secondary education. To contact him, email email@example.com.
William Roche is a junior majoring in film/video. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism