The best albums of 1980

Talking Heads
Talking Heads
AC/DC's Angus Young in full flight.

AC/DC's Angus Young in full flight.

WAS 1980 really 30 years ago? Is it really three decades since we lost John Lennon, Bon Scott, John Bonham and Ian Curtis, four influential musicians whose deaths have forever cast a shadow over 1980?

It's time to jump in the DeLorean again and look back at the music that shaped that year.

Back In Black - AC/DC

ONLY Michael Jackson's Thriller has sold more copies than this album - a phenomenal achievement even when you don't take into consideration the fact AC/DC lost their iconic lead singer Bon Scott just four months prior to Back In Black's release. That a band could replace a frontman quickly and it be so accepted by their fans is amazing, and full points go to Brian Johnson for stepping into Scott's shoes and to the band for sticking to their guns. Part of the album's success is in its formula, which closely follows the band's six previous records - Phil Rudd's four-on-the-floor beats, Cliff Williams' one-note bass chugging, high vocal wailing about sex, booze, evil and rock, and the focus on Angus Young's incendiary licks and bar-room riffs. The end result is the greatest hard rock record ever and boasts some of the band's best moments. The title track is the coolest thing AC/DC ever did, Hells Bells is one of their more inventive moments with a fairly un-AC/DC chord figure driving it, Let Me Put My Love Into You makes you feel dirty for liking that chorus melody so much, Rock And Roll Ain't Noise Pollution is brilliant blues bastardry, and I'll be damned if there is a better pub-rock moment in history than You Shook Me All Night Long.

Black Sea - XTC

NOT as well known as the other albums on this list, but still influential - the advent of wiry post-post-punk and new New Wave bands in the past decade owe a huge (and oft-unheralded debt) to the brilliance of XTC. For me, this record has everything that makes music interesting and exciting - the melodies are hooky yet challenging, the rhythms are inventive, the guitars are edgy and intriguing, the lyrics are brilliantly intelligent, the production serves each song perfectly, and the bass and drums are distinctive and innovative. From the opening neighbourly hypocrisy of the witty Respectable Street to the closing seismic apocalypse of the quasi-industrial Travels In Nihilon, this is an immensely under-rated album. It marked the close of a chapter in XTC's career, finding the band at their most muscular as a live act and carrying the last vestiges of their noisy punk beginnings before they became a non-touring studio-bound entity over the next two decades. Andy Partridge's contributions are among the best of his early days (the genius Respectable Street, the ironic "mot juste" of No Language In Our Lungs, the gentle clang of Towers Of London, the production-line stomp of working-man's lament Paper & Iron (Notes & Coins), the skittering hopeful ska of Burning With Optimism's Flames, and grand finale tidal wave of Travels In Nihilon) and bassist Colin Moulding's tracklist additions (the jaunty military farce Generals & Majors and the ragged pop of Love At First Sight) make this a triumph of angular intelligent songwriting.

Closer - Joy Division

JOHN Lennon's Double Fantasy became a memorial while Back In Black was a celebration of Bon Scott's spirit. But Closer - recorded just months before the death of singer Ian Curtis (and released two months after his suicide) - is a sad insight into Curtis' depression and has become somewhat tainted by his demise. An album that was already one of the bleakest and gloomiest ever suddenly got even more melancholic. But there is much more to this album than Curtis' epitaph - it sounds remarkable, unique in almost every way. The epitome of post-punk, Closer's sonic peculiarities were ahead of their time, combining doom-laden vocals, driving melodic bass, reverbed machine-like drumming, guitars that barely resemble guitars, Martin Hannett's other-worldly production and the then-futurisic sounds of synths to create an atmosphere that spoke to the alienation and isolation of a generation realising that punk had failed to change the world. Curtis' lyrics captured that in a darkly poetic way - and an intensely personal way - and his death was a sad loss, but thankfully his legacy has lived on through songs like the funereal dirge of Eternal, the disturbing roll of Atrocity Exhibition, the New Wavey Isolation, the dark slink of Passover, the choppy menace of Colony and the sturm-and-drang of Twenty Four Hours.

Heartattack And Vine - Tom Waits

IT was his seventh album, but this nocturnal ramble was many people's first introduction to the wonder of Waits (it's his first record to chart in Australia and was his best Billboard performance in the US until Mule Variations nearly 20 years later). Heartattack And Vine closed his eight-year association with Asylum Records and is the last of his comparitively straight-ahead albums before the inventive career left-turn of Swordfishtrombones in '83. Made up of ballads and rhythm-and-blues, H&V has Waits' whisky-and-gravel voice leading you through the down-and-out side of town among the loners, losers and lovers. The opening titular number takes you on a late-night stumble to the wrong side of the tracks until you find a happening dive (In Shades) where the crowd chatters over a bluesy bar-room jam vibe. Piano ballad Saving All My Love For You is set in the early morning, as a church bell rings in the distance and you try to sober up while contemplating going home, only to hit Downtown again, where the drunkard's lovelorn cycle continues (the beautiful Jersey Girl). When you pull yourself together, you're back on the chase 'Til The Money Runs Out before wondering how you got into this situation (via the broken nursery rhyme of On The Nickel and the vicious stagger of Mr Siegal). Then it's time to say goodbye (Ruby's Arms) and move on to the next town. Few people can take you on such a journey, but then few people have Waits' way with words and evocative voice.

Remain In Light - Talking Heads

FOR their fourth album in as many years, the former art-punks drew more on what they'd been doing away from the band, rather than their own back catalogue and sound. Singer David Byrne had been working with regular producer Brian Eno on the experimental loop-filled My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison had been working on a groove-filled soul album, and bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz had been playing around with the percussions and rhythms of the Caribbean. It all comes together on Remain In Light, a dramatic change in direction not only for the band, but for mainstream music. It was innovative and fresh, trading chord progressions for poly-rhythms, jittery punk for arty funk, and shouty vocals for textural streams of consciousness. The songs started as jams, were then stripped back to their rhythmic components and recorded one instrument at a time, layered and reassembled, combining the world's oldest instruments and sounds with the newest technological advances. From Afrobeat opener Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) to the pacy funk of Crosseyed & Painless and The Great Curve, from the album's existential highlight Once In A Lifetime to the record's more experimental but no-less-enjoyable second half, Remain In Light is nothing short of a Talking Heads triumph.

All apologies to the following great albums from 1980: East - Cold Chisel, Double Fantasy - John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Ace Of Spades - Motorhead, The River - Bruce Springsteen, Hotter Than July - Stevie Wonder, True Colours - Split Enz, Making Movies - Dire Straits, Telekon - Gary Numan, Duke - Genesis, INXS - INXS, Dirty Mind - Prince, Metal Box - PIL, Freedom Of Choice - Devo, Nobody's Heroes - Stiff Little Fingers, Zenyatta Mondatta - The Police, Boy - U2, The Birthday Party - The Birthday Party, British Steel - Judas Priest, 80/81 - Pat Metheny, Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden, The Game & Flash Gordon - Queen, Boys Don't Cry & Seventeen Seconds - The Cure, One Step Beyond - Madness.