Today we focus on the Class of 1980, and there are some great albums. This is part of our monthly series that looks at some of music’s great albums celebrating a milestone this year. You can find the previous lists by clicking on the “Class” below:
“Do you remember rock & roll radio? It’s the end…the end of the ’70s; it’s the end…the end of the century.” -The Ramones, “Rock & Roll High School”
When it comes to historic music eras, the ’80s were spectacularly influential. The origins of new wave, goth, and punk can be traced to albums recorded in 1980. Many of the bands who made their quiet debuts 35 years ago are today’s modern legends. The year 1980 witnessed as many promising starts as heartbreaking endings, from the debut of bands like INXS and U2 to the untimely passings of John Lennon, John Bonham, and Ian Curtis. Today we’re taking a look back at some of those musical milestones made by The Class of 1980. We’ve even included a playlist of 35 songs from 1980 for your walk down memory lane!
The first month of 1980 came roaring in with self-titled debuts from The Romantics and The Pretenders. The sophomore effort from The Cure, Seventeen Seconds, helped the band gain popularity in the U.S., not to mention putting goth rock into the musical lexicon and made Robert Smith the cult icon he still is today. The Cure, however, weren’t the groundbreakers of the goth movement. Instead, the underrated and often overlooked Siouxsie and the Banshees introduced the world to goth rock, and they furthered popularized the genre with the release of their third album, Kaleidoscope, in August.
1980 was also a highly political time. The U.S. was still overcoming the aftermath of the Vietnam War; the Cold War had frozen relations between East and West; and civil, women’s, and labor rights movements were swelling. But lost in the arms race and numerous rallies was the issue of apartheid in South Africa. Peter Gabriel ensured that the world would remember, dedicating an ode on his third self-titled album (aka Melt) to South African student leader and freedom fighter Stephen Biko.
Several artists and bands would follow suit with highly political and issues-oriented albums, mostly in the rock and punk realms – U2‘s iconic Boy and The Ramones’ End of The Century. Then there were statement albums that showed the bands still had it or could overcome even the harshest of obstacles. For AC/DC, they lost lead singer Bon Scott in February then triumphed a few months later with the release of Back in Black, now one of the best-selling albums of all time with over 50 million copies sold. Bob Marley‘s classic song “Could You Be Loved” appeared on his final album, Uprising, in June.
Joy Division, despite the loss of Ian Curtis, went on to release Closer, which might be one of the most influential albums of all time (see Radiohead, Depeche Mode, U2, Arcade Fire). Then there is John Lennon, whose Double Fantasy would be the last album he would record, and ironically, was an album about the fragility of humanity and love.
The music scene had just as many lighthearted moments thanks to The B-52’s Wild Planet (featuring “Private Idaho”) and “Celebration,” that perennial wedding party hit from Kool & the Gang‘s Celebrate! album. And who could forget Blondie‘s “The Tide is High” or David Bowie‘s Scary Monsters, which ushered in a new era of Brit-Pop. Talking Heads brought whimsical innovation with “Once in a Lifetime” from Remain in the Light. Meanwhile, The Police made three two-letter words immensely popular – “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” from Zenyattà Mondatta. If you think about it, it’s probably one of the worst song titles in music history yet one of the most memorable.
Like with any year, 1980 had its fair share of bands that just wanted to make a statement – specifically that they were still around and kicking. The Rolling Stones continued to wow audiences with their live performances, and their Emotional Rescue was another chart topper. The Clash added to the rock scene with their awesome Sandinista!, which was a triple album! Roxy Music showed that glam rock was still in style with Flesh and Blood. The great Stevie Wonder shared his nineteenth album (19th!), Hotter Than July, in September. Oh, Wonder was only 30 years old at the time.
Meanwhile, some young, established artists saw their careers reach new heights in 1980. Bruce Springsteen shared The River, which catapulted him into the upper echelon of American rockers. Prince became a household name with Dirty Mind, which was the gateway into Purple Rain.
1980 also gave us bands that you love or hate. Rush‘s Permanent Waves sped off record shelves but at the same time created a large group of music listeners who despised them. The Phil Collins-fronted Genesis further divided the band’s loyal fans with Duke. And how can we forget DEVO? Just as people were recovering from the disco era, DEVO introduced their mechanical new-wave sound with the bizarre costumes to match. It’s unfortunate that a lot of people continue to associate those ugly red hats and yellow coveralls with 1980.
But no list should end with DEVO, even if we like “Whip It.” Instead, we leave you with arguably the greatest song of not just 1980 but of that decade. Here’s to the Class of 1980. May they forever be remembered for their innovation, their boldness, and the lasting influence they’ve had on music.
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