Silver discs(January 1981) A monthly look back at the top singles of 25 years ago
1981 was the best year ever for music. Ever. You may disagree, but then you probably weren't 16 at the time. I was, so this was the year when I discovered the subculture of records bubbling beneath the mainstream, and duly revelled in it. Humour me as we trawl through what I think were the best records of the best year ever, a quarter of a century ago. And remember, your favourite year is probably equally embarrassing.
The three best records from the Top 10 (20th January 1981) Phil Collins - In The AirTonight: There really was a time when Phil Collins had solo street credibility, before his descent into grinning MOR blandness, and that time was January 1981. This atmospheric track managed to sound simultaneously angry, ethereal, heartfelt and, with that startling drumbreak partway through, wholly original. Alas, 25 years of over-exposure on dull-stream radio has completely dampened my enthusiasm for it. "Well, I was there and I saw what you did, I saw it with my own two eyes. So you can wipe off that grin, I know where you've been, it's all been a pack of lies" The Look - I Am The Beat: I still adore this record. It ought to be a bog standard synth-guitar song, but the melody and rhythmic percussion instead elevate this into something unexpectedly magical (listen here). It's a real happy clappy tambourine-shaker of a tune, sung in tribute to the great god Music, and you can't help but join in with a smile. "I Am The Beat" was the first record that Damon Albarn ever bought (really, honest), but it's perhaps best remembered as the longest song ever to appear in the UK single charts. The run-out groove on the 7" single used to stick, so the final line of the song repeated and repeated and repeated and the track never ended, not until you finally grew tired of the scratching and lifted the needle. Sadly this charming quirk has no place in the digital age, so when I re-listen to the song now on CD or iPod I only get thirteen "Beat"s before the music fades. But pure genius at the time. "Girls are dancing all around and just for me. And the party wouldn't swing if not for me. I've made your hearts jump, I've caused the heat, I'm in demand, I am the beat." Yarbrough &Peoples - Don't Stop The Music: That's Cavin Yarbrough and his wife Alisa Peebles, discovered by the Gap Band in the late 70s, and soon scoring #1 hits on the US R&B scene. Here in the UK we only got this one soulful smash, complete with chipmunks-on-helium backing vocals, but this was gorgeous gospel grind (listen here). Even today it still drips class. Proper 'old school'. "Everything we do is right on time, the beat's so smooth it blows my mind. Don't stop the music, it's so satisfying, it feels so good to me, there is no denying."
My three favourite records from January 1981 (at the time) Visage - Fade To Grey: Enter the New Romantics, lipgloss blazing. The backstreets of London brought forth an ostentatious scene of androgynous foppery, with Steve Strange's Blitz club at its heart. His music was theatrical, even pretentious ("devenir gris", anyone?), but this shady minimalist anthem and its dark brooding video captured the moment perfectly. Still an essential part of any '80s compilation'. "One man on a lonely platform, one case sitting by his side. Two eyes staring cold and silent show fear as he turns to hide." The Freshies - I'm In Love With The Girl On A Certain Manchester Megastore Checkout Desk: Another record breaking record, this time the hit single with the longest (unbracketed) title, ever. The title would have been slightly longer (I'm In Love With The Girl On The Manchester Virgin Megastore Checkout Desk) had the band not craved a place on the advert-free Radio 1 playlist. Despite such national acclaim the record peaked at only number 54 in the charts, although presumably the checkout girl in question sold more than her fair share of copies. Further verbose titles followed, notably "I Can't Get (Bouncing Babies By The Teardrop Explodes)", by which time I suspect I was one of a rapidly diminishing group of the band's admirers. But lead singer Chris Sievey later evolved into a rather more successful alternative persona - that of Northern bulb-headed singer Frank Sidebottom - so I'm delighted that his musical ingenuity lives on. "She takes money... she gives change... She sells records... And that's special!" The Look - I Am The Beat: Hang on, I've already eulogised about this one. The band were from Ely, you know. And, believe it or not, they're still going too. The Beat goes on. "And who made the Zombies all tap their feet? I'm in demand, I am the beat."
10 other (post-Christmas) hits from 25 years ago: Woman (John Lennon), Rapture (Blondie) I Ain't Gonna Stand For It (Stevie Wonder), Young Parisians (Adam and the Ants), Scary Monsters and Super Creeps (David Bowie), Twilight Cafe (Susan Fassbender), Burn Rubber On Me (Gap Band), Guilty (Barbra Streisand), Sergeant Rock (XTC), The Freeze (Spandau Ballet) ...which hit's your favourite? ...which one would you pick?