Time Capsule: Top 10 Albums That Dropped In September 1980

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1980albums1980 was a remarkable year by any standard. If there were any doubts that the new decade would bring about massive changes, they were erased in that first year. It was a time of political upheavals, with Americans being held hostage in Teheran, the Polish Solidarity movement delivering the first fatal blows to the Soviet Empire, and Quebeckers voting not to separate from Canada.

Mount St. Helens blew its stack, leading some to wonder if the world was coming to an end, just like the crazy men on street corners were warning. The election of Ronald Reagan and the assassination of John Lennon by the end of the year confirmed that the world was a very different place from where it started 12 months earlier.

Luckily, the summer of 1980 was relatively tranquil, with Urban Cowboy, The Blues Brothers and Airplane! mollifying people in the movie theatres. Television saw the launch of CNN in June, while everyone speculated feverishly about who shot J.R Ewing on Dallas. The pop charts were as lame as ever, with Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” and Diana Ross’ “Upside Down” riding high through the end of the summer.

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But 1980 also saw the release of a lot of music that would transform Rock, and September 1980 clearly carried that trend. Here are the top albums released 35 years ago this month.

10. Simple Minds – Empires And Dance

I’m fond of saying that the 1980s was the worst decade for Rock music because of its slavish devotion to synthesized sounds, but there was often some great guitar work within that electronic music, like on this one. On the other hand, I’m awfully glad that this affected, dronish vocal delivery style didn’t last into the next decade.

9. Tom Waits – Heartattack And Vine

A good mid-career album from Waits, containing the classic ballad “Jersey Girl” that Springsteen sings all the time. But it sounds like he had a problem with his voice on this record, at times his classic growl disintegrates into these ghastly gurgles and gargles, good thing it was a temporary condition.

8. Oingo Boingo – Oingo Boingo

The debut of a real creative California take on punky new wave, led by the brilliant Danny Elfman. He would go on to write the Simpsons theme and score many film projects, earning four Oscar nominations. But back in the day Oingo Boingo could really bring it.

7. Kurtis Blow – Kurtis Blow

The first gold rap record, from the father of rap. But for those who think rap has nothing to do with Rock, listen to this track and think again. Back in 1980, rap wasn’t a genre yet, it was just one of the styles that Kurtis Blow played. He also covered Rock from the Canadian prairies, in what is now a truly bizarre cultural artifact.

6. Kate Bush – Never For Ever

The third album for the second-most influential female musician of the past 50 years, next to Joni Mitchell. Wonderful songwriting and production on this one too.

5. Dead Kennedys – Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables

The debut album for the California punkers, they were more dangerous than the Ramones, more tuneful than the Sex Pistols, with a little Dick Dale thrown in for good measure. There’s no truth to the rumor that their song “I Kill Children” was under consideration for a UNICEF campaign.

4. Robert Palmer – Clues

A sharp right turn for an incredibly versatile artist who had already released albums that ventured into soul, funk, New Orleans jazz, calypso and reggae. His leap into the “new wave” became a huge hit and made him a household name.

3. Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard Of Ozz

Ozzy invents a musical template that would be used by every hair metal band of the ‘80s, screws his bandmates out of royalties, and when asked about his contributions, nobody could understand what his answer was.

2. Stevie Wonder – Hotter Than July

Stevie pretty much owned the 1970s, but his previous album, Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants, was his first flop. This album was a huge rebound, going platinum, and represents maybe his last go at the top of the contemporary music heap.

1. David Bowie – Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

The first album after his “Berlin Trilogy”, Bowie was looking for more of a balance between experimentalism and accessibility, and I think he hit the mark. The album gave us gems like “Ashes To Ashes” and this track, on the surface a catchy little number but containing an unbelievably brilliant avant-garde guitar bit by the inimitable Robert Fripp.

Other albums released in September 1980 include:

Gary Numan Telekon/ Comsat Angels Waiting For A Miracle/ John Cougar Nothin’ Matters And What If It Did/ XTC Black Sea/ Doobie Brothers One Step Closer/ Utopia Deface The Music/ Madness Absolutely/ Kansas Audio-Visions/ Molly Hatchet Beatin’ The Odds/Supertramp Paris/ Joni Mitchell Shadows And Light/ Kool And The Gang Celebrate!

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