Forget all those other top ten lists everyone is compiling all over the place — I was recently in a thrift shop and I spotted a couple of old issues of Trouser Press, the classic rock and roll magazine that ceased publication in 1984. I was a huge fan of this magazine back in the day as it was one of the only magazines around that focussed on the punk and new wave scene. The ten best list below is from February 1981 and it’s a damn fine list: half of these albums are stone cold classics and the rest are merely excellent.
To give some perspective on where this list fits into the bigger music world, here’s The Year in Music 1980. They list some of these same albums as the top releases of the year (who wouldn’t include London Calling and The Pretenders?), along with AC/DC’s Black in Black (I saw them on tour for this), Christopher Cross’s debut album (yacht rock at its finest), Billy Joel’s Glass Houses (we all need to hear “You May Be Right” another 10K times), Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes, the Rolling Stones Emotional Rescue (probably their last decent studio album), Pete Townshend’s Empty Glass (a fine album), and Bob Seger’s Against the Wind (soon to be a truck commercial).
Let’s go through the list one by one:
1. London Calling by The Clash
What can you say about London Calling? Not only is it in the canon, it is the canon (though pound-for-pound I actually prefer Sandinista!). So many classics to choose from. Here are two:
2. Get Happy! by Elvis Costello
Elvis Costello’s fourth album. It includes my all-time favorite Elvis Costello song Beaten to the Punch, but there’s not a good version of it on YouTube. Not my personal favorite among Elvis’s many fine offerings, but a worthy entry.
3. Rockpile’s only album, featuring the great Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner, and Terry Williams. Teacher Teacher was the big hit off this album (used most recently on the soundtrack to Bad Teacher), but the whole album is good, especially If Sugar Was as Sweet as You and this one:
4. Pretenders by The Pretenders. What can you say? On the shortlist for the best debut albums of all time. From the still-blistering Precious to the hypnotic, dance-tastic Mystery Achievement there’s not a dog in the bunch. Actually I saw the Pretenders with the original lineup on tour for this album but I was high as a kite and can’t remember a single thing about the show except for the way the notes looked as they came out of the speakers. The moment from 0:10 to 0:20 in Precious when Martin Chambers kicks the song into high gear might very well be my favorite ten seconds in rock and roll. And the fact that such a sex-soaked blast was about my hometown of Cleveland? It sent a thrill down my teenaged leg.
5. The Undertones, The Undertones
The Undertones never really broke in America, not even among the punks. Not sure why, but their distinctive and melodic pop-punk predated Green Day by a good ten years. I had this disc and loved to listen to it at full volume, especially this one (recently covered the awesome Cobra Verde on Copycat Killers):
6. Entertainment by Gang of Four
The debut album from these agitprop dancemeisters and every song a classic. Loved loved loved this album and still do. Saw GoF on tour a few years ago and the show consisted almost entirely of songs from this album.
7. Remain in Light by Talking Heads
I’m not the world’s biggest Talking Heads fan but this is probably their best album and I especially love their live show from that era:
8. Second Edition by Public Image, Ltd.
An acquired taste perhaps but I honestly and enduringly love this album, so hypnotic in its relentless misanthropy.
9. I Just Can’t Stop It by the English Beat
Probably the weakest album on the list due to the inherent limitations of ska, but still a fine, fun album. Great party music.
10. Argybargy by Squeeze
Another classic from a great band at the height of their powers. Just now understood the opening line of this song, which I’ve heard many many times: They do it down on Camber Sands/they do it at Waikiki