In June 2019, I took the plunge back into music retail by volunteering at the Lifelong Thrift Store. This immediate access to the store’s CD stock has reshaped my listening habits. I bring back so many discs from my visits to the store, it’s rare that I’ll listen to something more than once. It makes finding new favorites a challenge.
Hans Abrahamsen, Schnee: Seattle Symphony performed this piece as part of its [untitled] series, and I was so fascinated by it, I had to own a recording.
Ali Wong, Baby Cobra: I heard Baby Cobra was a really good comedy special, but I didn’t realize Wong had filmed the special in Seattle. And I’ve known about Wong back when Chelsea Lately was on the air. I could have seen this show live, dammit.
Easterhouse, Waiting for the Redbird: The classic rock station in Honolulu back in the late ’80s would play an occasional “modern rock” track. I may have caught Easterhouse’s “Come Out Fighting” once on that station, but it was enough to make me curious about the band — a curiosity I would not explore till more than 30 years later.
Kalapana, Kalapana: I didn’t realize how pervasive this album was on Hawaii pop radio when I was growing up. I was 3 years old when this album was released, but it would continue to dominate the airwaves as I grew more aware of my surroundings.
Infomatik, Technologies: Sometimes, the Internet does forget.
My Bloody Valentine, Isn’t Anything: I missed out on the 2018 vinyl reissue of this album, so I settled for a bootleg pressing.
Robert Palmer, Secrets: This album was the pivot between the blue-eyed funk of Palmer’s early work and his embrace of a more new wave sound. It’s also one of his finest.
Rick Springfield, Tao: I’m a sucker for albums that forgo gaps and fades between tracks.
Boston, Boston: This album is against what punk music rebelled, but I like it anyway.
Roberta Flack, First Take: Stop underrating Roberta Flack!
This year was pretty slim on reissues. To be honest, I haven’t gotten through Massive Attack’s Mezzanine and Sigur Rós’ Ágætis byrjun.
Re-Flex, The Politics of Dancing: I can’t believe this album isn’t a towering classic of ’80s new wave. Cherry Pop thankfully gives it the deluxe treatment it deserves
The Replacements, Dead Man’s Pop: The Matt Wallace mix of Don’t Tell a Soul is ahead of its time. The drier sound would not become fashionable till after 1991, but heard today, Dead Man’s Pop feels contemporary.
Janet Jackson, Control: The Remixes: I didn’t realize how much I loved the mixes featured in Janet’s videos.
Loveless casts a big enough shadow over My Bloody Valentine’s work that it made me hesitant to explore the remainder of the band’s catalog, lest it fail to live up. That is not the case with Isn’t Anything, and I regret not ordering the remastered vinyl when I picked up Loveless a year ago.
Rick Springfield, Tao
A five-disc bargain box set of Rick Springfield albums got a discount on Amazon Prime Day, and I fully succumbed to FOMO when I bought it. I’ve always liked “Celebrate the Youth”, but it turns out Tao is Springfield’s most ambitious album of his 80s work. If you must own a second Springfield album — the first being Working Class Dog — Tao would be the one.
NUMBER GIRL, Kanden no Kioku
I hate to admit it, but … I’ve listened to the four studio albums of NUMBER GIRL enough times to want more variety from the live albums. Still, NUMBER GIRL is that rare band where their live albums are hotter than their studio work.
Janet Jackson, Control: The Remixes
I didn’t realize how much I prefer the remixed version of “Let’s Wait a While” till I heard it on this reissued compilation. I’m also reminded of how awesome “The Pleasure Principle” is.
Missy Elliott, Da Real World
I’ve read a number of lukewarm reviews for this album, and compared the work preceding and following it, I could see how it might seem not up-to-snuff. But that’s not saying much. It’s still a solid album and light years ahead of The Cookbook.
Re-Flex, The Politics of Dancing (Revised Expanded Edition)
I’m not sure how this album has been relegated to the vinyl dollar bin. It’s damn awesome and ripe for rediscovery.
Band of Susans, The Word and the Flesh
I remember reading about Band of Susans in Pulse! magazine and wondering if I would ever encounter any of their albums out in the wild. It took 30 years, but it happened.
A decade ago, I wrote a series of entries ranking my favorite albums from 1985 to 2004. My collection has expanded greatly since then, particularly in the last five years. So I wanted to see what has changed in 10 years.
If there were a year I was least interested in music, it would be 1981. And it was a remarkable turn of events, because I had amassed quite a 7-inch collection the year before.
Duran Duran, Duran Duran
Lou Harrison, Three Pieces for Gamelan with Soloists / String Quartet Set
Eurythmics, In the Garden
The Police, Ghost in the Machine
ABBA, The Visitors
Black Flag, Damaged
Brian Eno and David Byrne, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Bucker and Garcia, Pac-Man Fever
Rick Springfield, Working Class Dog
Other favorites from the year:
Go-Go’s, Beauty and the Beat
Gang of Four, Solid Gold
Grace Jones, Nightclubbing
1981 marked the start of my fascination with the classic video games of the era. I would also take an interest in computers and programming. My parents actively discouraged me from pursuing either interest, but it would not stop me from sneaking away to the arcade when we went to the local malls.
That didn’t mean I was totally unaware of music. Of the titles on this list, I would have listened to the Police, ABBA, Rick Springfield, the Go-Go’s and Buckner and Garcia. And I would have definitely seen Grace Jones in the press.
If there was one album I really wanted to get at the time, it would have been Pac-Man Fever by Buckner and Garcia, mostly for the maze patterns on the inner sleeve that would have help you to win the game.
They thought Rick Springfield was dreamy. My brother and I dug the catchiness of “Jesse’s Girl.”
Mom intervened in this fight, letting me take possession of the 7-inch singles, while my brother took the full album. He wasn’t about to share, of course. My sisters just wanted to look at the covers.
I was 9 years old when Working Class Dog turned Springfield into star, but looking back, I had to admit I wanted to look at the covers too.
Springfield was indeed dreamy, and I recognized it even if I was a few years away from translating that to actual desire.
By the time that inkling turned into a confusing suspicion, Springfield’s star had waned. It was all about Duran Duran, Huey Lewis and Sting then.
As the ’80s turned into the ’90s, the only Rick Springfield album you needed was a greatest hits collection, just for “Jesse’s Girl.”
That does Working Class Dog a disservice.
From start to finish, the album doesn’t let up its frenetic pace. Springfield does some hard swinging on “Red Hot and Blue Love” before stepping off the accelerator for the concluding track, “Sylvia”. In an interview with the AV Club, Springfield says he would lean more toward a heavier sound than his producer preferred.
For good or no, Working Class Dog became a template from which the Outfield and Bryan Adams would eventually draw. It’s tough to picture the ’80s without it.