Blast From The Past (or Blast From My Arse) – Best Of 1980

June 2, 2011

Best Of 1980
Originally published in The Evening Post, 20-12-81. That Gary Steel, he got good taste.

[Note: Apologies for the cringe-inducing phrasing, but oddly, I still stand by these choices, though would retrospectively add many, many more to my 1980 favourites list. This was a dark era when you couldn’t even buy Joy Division records in the shops and music publications took four months to get here by surface mail. My final point is still apt: let’s get rid of an “industry” approach to pop and rock, vis-à-vis NZ On Air, and get back to funding it on artistic merit].

This is my last column for the year, so for what it is worth, I present my “best of 1980” choices.
Most of the 20 or so albums I am sent by record companies each week fit easily into two categories. The first: a safe product which record companies sanction fit for non-disruptive consumption. The second: the work of mediocre craftsmen without creative talent or musical magic.
On the other hand, the best records often have to be privately imported.
I’m not suggesting that I know which are the best records, just that I have access to more records than Mr Average and therefore have a wider range from which to make my choice.
As incomplete as is inevitable, here are my choices:
Joy DivisionCloser (Factory). Simply awesome in its power and depth, this stands head and shoulders above everything else this year. For the mind and heart, but not the manic depressive. This is not available in New Zealand.
Pere UbuThe Art Of Walking (Rough Trade). Fourth instalment from the legendary Cleveland outfit, whose second album was released here but quickly deleted. Ubu are becoming something of a creative constant, a band out of whose music can be gleaned both humour and sorrow. Not available in New Zealand.
Public Image LimitedSecond Edition (Virgin). Originally released in a metal canister containing three 12” single plays, it was released here as a double album for general consumption. John Lydon (ex-Rotten from the Sex Pistols, Neil Young fan) and band create important modern mood music. Turn up the volume and convince your mother it’s an earthquake tremor.
The Psychedelic Furs (CBS). Breaks no new ground, but Steve Lillywhite’s monstrous production has made this angry but civilized offering one of my most played albums this year.
The Gang Of FourEntertainment (EMI). Intelligent lyrics married to listenable, innovative new rhythms.
The CureSeventeen Seconds (Stunn). This may sound a tad mechanical at first hearing, but on a good stereo with the bass and treble switch cranked up high, this is vivid and hypnotic music.
Robert FrippGod Save The Queen/Under Heavy Manners (Polygram). The pictures he paints, the emotions he brings to the surface, simply with his guitar and a Revox tape recorder are amazing.
The major disappointment this year is that there is not one local album of outstanding merit. If truly innovative musicians such as our own Shoes This High, or The Gordons, were British, they would have many records and be revered by critics. Because they are local, they are ignored by elitist snobs and are seen as minority taste by the rest of the general public.
What would happen, I wonder, if the Arts Council was to deem Colin McCahon and his like minority taste artists, and not worthy of the support because of this.
Hello, 1981.

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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