By Jack Sharkey, September 22, 2017



The music business was in a deep funk (no pun intended) as the 80s dawned, and pop music was generally in an abysmal state. But two things happened during the year that would change music forever: rap left the Bronx and Queens for mainstream radio and MTV launched. For those two reasons 1981 has become one of the most important years in pop music alongside 1967, 1963 and 1955.  


Elvira - Oak Ridge Boys In 1981 hipster beards were scary, but instead this song makes the list to represent the fact that the "pop" charts were all over the place. Rock, bubblegum, rap (as we will soon see), R&B, Country, whatever the style - radio and the charts were wide open. If the song was decent and made money - it hit the charts.     


Whip It - Devo Before Mark Mothersbaugh got a gig scoring Rug Rats, he was in this subversive little band from Ohio that confounded a lot of people but was (along with Kraftwerk) way ahead of its time. Computer technology was just beginning to creep into our lives and nuclear annihilation was around every corner. On the surface, Devo was a fun little New Wave band, but just below that surface was a dark and foreboding wormhole into the times to come.     


Rapture - Blondie In 1979, Blondie was this cool little punk band from New York. Two years later they released the song that changed the entire musical landscape - permanently. Rap had been bubbling up in a few New York neighborhoods since emigrating from Jamaican dance halls in the early 70s, but it was Rapture that woke everyone up.  


Celebration - Kool & the Gang "Hey! Let's write a simple little song that will stay popular for like 40 years!" said every songwriter ever, but that's not how it works, it just happens. If you've been to a wedding since 1980, you've made a fool out of yourself to this song, and that's a good thing.


(Just Like) Starting Over - John Lennon If you are of a certain age, you know exactly where you were that night in December 1980 when the news of Lennon's assassination broke. I was sitting in a bar, drinking a thirty cent glass of beer (broke musician  / college student that I was) and holding my own in a savage game of darts (shout out to the Cedar Gate Inn). But Double Fantasy was destined to become a great album all on its own, without the dreadful hype.



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