Sunday, June 27, 2021

McQ's Best Of 1980 Mix Collection

McQ's #1 album of 1980

Hey music fans.  

It's almost Fourth of July weekend, which means it's time for the latest annual installment in our ongoing retrospective mix series celebrating loaded music years of the past.

And boy, was this year's subject, 1980, loaded. 

Overwhelmingly so.

I had just entered high school in 1980, so many of the songs here touch a special memory nerve that still resonates deeply.

But even more surprising to me, as Nancy and I spent the last year and a half revisiting 1980's top albums and singles, was just how much of 1980's best music I flat out missed the first go round.

McQ's #2 Album 1980
But there is a slight justification for this, as 1980 was at its absolute musical best in its cutting-edge extremes, with many of its most fertile genres still marginalized or just beginning to emerge, so much of 1980s best music didn't make major inroads into mass-market radio (especially US mass-market radio) at the time of its release.

In New York, rap, though still closely tied to disco's 12" single culture, was rounding into its own true form, but it hadn't yet received more than a smattering of radio airplay outside of the east coast and a few other urban areas.

Heavy metal was undoubtedly crazy popular at the time, but looking back, I don't think anyone realized just how grand or important a metal year 1980 would turn out to be, wowing with one great title after another, and laying the accelerated-tempo groundwork for the thrash scene to emerge just a year or two later.

McQ's #3 Album of 1980
And then, more than any other genre, there was post-punk - taking the confrontational attitude of the still thriving punk scene, but cocooning those attitudes in the moodiest, chilliest and often most artificial and disconnected of tones. From a critical perspective, post-punk owned the year, producing dozens of full-length efforts that still rate as must hears to this day.

And speaking of full-lengths, it is in this regard that 1980 seems most overrun. 

McQ's #4 Album Of 1980

From influential mic drops like Joy Division's Closer, The Talking Head's Remain In Light, Prince's Dirty Mind, and The Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables (which basically launched the So Cal hardcore scene), prickly art-rock standouts like David Bowie's Scary Monsters and Peter Gabriel III, to enduringly timeless efforts like AC/DC's Back In Black, Motorhead's Ace Of Spades, Bruce Springsteen's The River, and The Pretenders eponymous debut, immersing oneself in 1980's top albums is to find oneself confronting one stone cold classic after another... after another... after another.

McQ's #5 Album Of 1980
Seen in conjunction with the 1977 collection Nancy and I put together a few years back, it is stunning how fully the Punk/New Wave aesthetic that was just emerging in 1977 had transformed the music landscape by 1980, and over 14 volumes, we will touch on all that, as well as what was great in the other popular genres of the day that were stubbornly holding their ground.

But before getting started - one note. No individual mix write-ups for this year's retrospective.  Nancy and I have some cool things going on this year that require most of our attention.  But trust me, the music's all here, accessible on the Spotify links listed below. 

You can also access them by following me direct on Spotify - David Francis McQuillen.

So strap in for over a day's worth of musical bliss, and enjoy!

Volume 1 - Best Of The Best

As noted above, most of the most exiting stuff in 1980 was not having much of an impact in the mainstream arena.  As such, this is one of the edgier Best Of The Bests we've assembled in a while, but it's still great fun, and all intended in the service of promoting some genuinely fantastic (and often ground-breaking) albums from a transformative music year that's influence is still felt today. 

Volume 2 - Mainstream Marauders

With Vol 1 kicking things off in a relatively rough-hewn fashion, thought it made sense to dive into 1980's most popular mainstream hits next in the longest mix in this collection, an assortment of AM cheese, pop, country, and soul gems, and 1980 efforts from various 60s and early 70s legends who were settling into the slightly less adventurous second act of their careers. 

Volume 3 - New Wave Warriors

The first of four mixes in this collection highlighting various niches in 1980s new wave/punk takeover, Vol 3 zeros in on the most synth-driven and radio-friendly efforts of the year. Acts such as Devo, The B-52s, Blondie, Adam Ant, The Go-Gos and many more figure prominently.

Volume 4 - Heavy Metal Hammers

As already stated, 1980 was a phenomenal year for heavy metal, producing multiple all-time classics (AC/DC Back In Black, Motorhead Ace Of Spades, Judas Priest British Steel)  and upping the pace just before thrash was about to break. Going double length here to fully capture the wide array of 1980 metal acts that all seemed to hit their creative peak at exactly the same time.

Volume 5 - Dance-Floor Denizens

Contrary to Chicago DJ Steve Dahl's assertions at the time, disco didn't suck in 1980.  It may have been losing steam, and definitely had its detractors, but overall, it was still thriving.  What is interesting though in looking back, is that outside of Diana Ross's huge comeback album Diana, it's lesser regarded works at the time (Teena Marie's Irons In The Fire, Shalamar's Three For Love, and the Luther Vandross featuring The Glow Of Love from international outfit Change) that have emerged as 1980's finest dance-floor offerings, rising above the many efforts by the more established disco names also featured here. 

Volume 6 - Post-Punk Pariahs

The least crowd-pleasing but most important genre of 1980, the year's key post-punk titles - Killing Joke, The Psychedelic Furs, Joy Division's Closer, The Sound's Jeopardy, Echo and the Bunnymen's Crocodiles, Fehlfarben's Monarchie Und Alltag, The Cure's Seventeen Seconds, Bauhaus's In The Flat Field, The Feelies Crazy Rhythms, The Falls Grotesque, U2's Boy, Ultravox's Vienna, Simple Minds Empire and Dance, Young Marble Giant's Colossal Youth, and the Julian Cope-led Teardrop Explodes' Kilimanjaro dominate the 1980 best album aggregates.  In all likelihood, 1980 was the best twelve-month stretch the genre ever experienced, even though contemporary post-punk is one of the most vital scenes in underground rock today. Tried to squeeze in as many standouts as I could from this classic year without letting things get too consistently icy and dour (not an easy task), but truth be told, as much as I hope you enjoy this mix, if there's one set of 1980 releases best experienced listened to individually and in full, it's the group of 1980 albums highlighted here.

Volume 7 - Jazz Giants And International Interlopers

Some of 1980s jazz, folk and non-reggae international pop highlights are featured here.

Volume 8 - Pub-Rock Partiers

Lively efforts from the era's rich bar-band scene, simultaneously vital on three continents (North America - Bruce Springsteen, J Giels, Jim Carroll, Tom Waits. Europe - Elvis Costello, Nacho Pop, Dire Straits, Rockpile. Down Under - Cold Chisel, Squeeze, Split Enz), is the focus here, along with some energetic efforts by a few old-timers (Dylan, Van Morrison, Rocky Erickson, Paul Simon) that just fit.

Volume 9 - Two-Tone Triumphs

Reggae, British ska, and soul-inflected new wave come together here, on this mostly light and playful mix. Includes efforts from The Specials, Madness, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Bob Marley, UB40, The English Beat, The Police and others.

Volume 10 - Oddball Oracles

Some last shouts of triumph from the 1970s soon-to-fade art rock scene are highlighted here, anchored by selects from Peter Gabriels all-time best effort (and it's not So), the last great album of the David Bowie's peak era, and The Talking Head's remarkable Remain In Light.

Volume 11 - Funk Futurists and Hip-Hop Heralds

Some overlap in feel with Vol 5 - Dance Floor Denizens, but with an emphasis on the most aggressively funky or cutting-edge modern R&B releases of the year, along with a super fun assortment of 1980's nascent hip-hop releases. Acts like Prince, Defunkt, Kurtis Blow, The Sugarhill Gang, Was (Not Was), Spoonie G, and Grace Jones lead the way here in this long mix celebrating the 12" single vibe of the era.

Volume 12 - Punk Powerhouses
Probably my favorite of the 1980 themed mixes highlights those punk/new wave acts that weren't ready to make the synthesizer the instrument of emphasis. Fast-paced and rocking,  it features efforts from The Clash, The Pretenders, The Ramones, The Soft Boys, The Cramps, X, The Dead Kennedys, DOA, The Undertones and several more.

Volume 13 - Nancy's Favorites!

As with her 2020 mix, Nancy's running a touch late closing out her 1980 mix, but as soon as she's got it dialed in, we'll get it up here on this board.


Volume 14 - The Next 100

Just the next 100 tracks that were under consideration for the previous mixes - 7:18 of 1980 deep cut joy.


Clark Benson said...

Wow Q, superb deep dive. downloading a bunch of stuff i hadn't heard (my 1980 is a LOT more hard rock and metal (and prog), but that said you captured many of the highlights there, and I was pleasantly surprised to even see the mighty Saxon made a cut)

McQ said...

Thanks Clark, and as I said before, just like you was surprised by how much great stuff I missed the first go-round. Still smh at how The Sound's Jeopardy isn't talked about almost as frequently as other post-punk classics like Closer and Crocodiles.