By 1981, Thatcher’s austerity measures were biting. Unemployment was at a record high and racist attacks on the rise. In the summer that followed Brixton and Toxteth erupted in riots. The Specials‘ haunting ‘Ghost Town’ reflects the despair perfectly. But everything was okay, because Charles and Diana got married and Bucks Fizz won Eurovision for Britain.
Gone: Joe Dolce. Released what is still probably the worst single of all time, ‘Shaddap You Face’, but retains a place in all our hearts for hilariously denying Ultravox’s impossibly pompous ‘Vienna’ the number 1 slot. Chap.
Album of the year: The Human League – ‘Dare’
Single of the year: The Specials – ‘Ghost Town’
Band of the year: Adam & the Ants.
1981 belonged to: Adam Ant. Former punk also ran turned pirate pin-up and the ultimate pop star.
Key event of the year: Inner City Riots. ‘Why must the youth fight against themselves?’ asked The Specials. So, for a few weeks they stopped, and started fighting the police instead. Sony launched the Walkman – a selfish innovation for a selfish decade. MTV was also launched. Ironically the first video played is Buggles‘ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’. The station proceeds to spend the rest of the decade ignoring black music, except Michael Jackson who was, at the time, still black.
The New Romantic revolution reached full bloom, with Soft Cell, Duran Duran and The Human League making escapist synth-pop anthems the perfect antidote to the realities of recession and imminent nuclear annihilation. Antfever was out of control, as were Motorhead, officially the loudest band on the planet. Bob Marley succumbed to cancer. If that wasn’t bad enough, Haircut 100 took pop music to new heights of punchability with top5 hit ‘Favourite Shirts’. Incredibly, U2, Simple Minds, The Police and Eurythmics all produced decent albums. Within a few years we’d wish them dead.