50 great songs: 1981


1981: so much better than 1980. I had no idea. The initial list for ‘81 had 75 songs on it, and paring down was tough – I had to lose Chilliwack! And “Do Me, Baby”! And “Waiting on a Friend”!

What remained is a bunch of great singles, though. There’s some real warm milk on this list – “What Kind of Fool” makes its predecessor “Guilty” sound like “Anarchy in the UK,” for example. Gino Vannelli’s “Living Inside Myself” makes a lovely matched set with his 1978 hit “I Just Wanna Stop.” Bob James’s “Westchester Lady” is, to some extent, “son of ‘Taxi,’” though much perkier – and sampled by a myriad of rappers. 

’81 was a superb year for R&B, as evidenced by all-time classics by Chaka Khan, Teena Marie, the Commodores, Earth, Wind & Fire, and not one but 2 cuts from Quincy Jones’s ‘The Dude.’ Great for country, too: Barbara Mandrell’s ultimate country “tribute,” one of Conway Twitty’s most delightfully semi-absurd singles, Dottie West’s biggest crossover (man, she could sing), a great Ronnie Milsap record (speaking of great singers), and the opening salvo from Rosanne Cash.

And all the pop & rock! Journey, Nicks, Petty, Buckingham, Foreigner, Genesis, and the kings, Hall & Oates. Sure, ’84 trumps everything, and ’83 trumps just about everything, but good lord, ’81 kinda killed. 

AC/DC – For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)

Angela Bofill – Tropical Love

Barbara Mandrell (with George Jones) – I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool

Barbra Streisand (duet with Barry Gibb) – What Kind of Fool

Bob James – Westchester Lady

Bobby Womack – If You Think You’re Lonely Now

Chaka Khan – What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me

The Commodores – Lady (You Bring Me Up)

Conway Twitty – Tight Fittin’ Jeans

The Cure – Charlotte Sometimes

Diana Ross – Why Do Fools Fall In Love

Dottie West with Kenny Rogers – What Are We Doin’ In Love

Duran Duran – Girls on Film

Earth, Wind & Fire – Let’s Groove

Foreigner – Waiting for a Girl Like You

Franke & the Knockouts – Sweetheart

Genesis – No Reply At All

Gino Vannelli – Living Inside Myself

Grandmaster Flesh & the Furious Five – The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel

Hall & Oates – I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)

Hall & Oates – Kiss on My List

Hall & Oates – Private Eyes

Inner Life – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (The Garage Version)

The J. Geils Band – Centerfold

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts – I Love Rock N’ Roll

Journey – Who’s Crying Now

Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes

Kool & the Gang – Jones vs Jones

Kool & the Gang – Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It)

Lindsey Buckingham – Trouble

Luther Vandross – Never Too Much

Marty Balin – Hearts

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly – Before I Let Go

Olivia Newton-John – Make A Move On Me

Pat Benatar – Precious Time

Paul Davis – Cool Night

The Police – Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic

Quincy Jones – Ai No Corrida

Quincy Jones featuring Patti Austin – Razzamatazz

Rene & Angela – I Love You More

Rod Stewart – Young Turks

Ronnie Milsap – (There’s) No Getting’ Over Me

Rosanne Cash – Seven Year Ache

Soft Cell – Tainted Love

Stephanie Mills featuring Teddy Pendergrass – Two Hearts (12" Version)

Stevie Nicks with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around

Teena Marie – Square Biz

Todd Rundgren – Time Heals

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me)

Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping


About thomasinskeep

I write about music.
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