Jules’s Jukebox: 1981

The years that are worth mining for music gold are the early 1980s. And 1981 features so many songs that are on my current playlist (I have a thumb drive loaded with 8G plugged into my car stereo). Songs like ELO’s “Hold on Tight,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Who’s Crying Now” (Escape is still one of my all time faves), REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You” and “Take It on the Run”, and Foreigner’s “Urgent” are in heavy rotation on my stereo. New Wave hits like Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” and Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” added some dance-able pizzazz. DM would go on to become one the most influential bands of my college years, and I’m excited to see them on this year’s ballot for the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, along with ELO and Journey.

The summer of 1981, I made my last extended visit to stay with my cousins in Louisiana. The songs I remember most from that visit are REO’s “Keep on Loving You” and Kim Carnes’s “Bette Davis Eyes,” which was the number one selling song of the year. Neither song was a favorite at the time, but both have nostalgic relevance to me now. I forever associate these songs with waking up at 4 a.m. to watch the Royal Wedding between Prince Charles and Princess Diana, much  to my uncle’s consternation–he thought we were being stupid schoolgirls and that we shouldn’t care about the UK’s celebrations. But I fell in love with Princess Diana. She was someone from my own generation who met a Prince Charming, but watching her “happily ever after” turn out not so happy, she became a role-model for me as a strong, independent woman.


The songs take me back to a simpler, happy times. Songs like Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl”making soap opera actors crossovers onto Top 40 Charts and Olivia Newton John making leg warmers a fashion statement in “Physical” made music fun.

Stars like Sheena Easton (who had three hits in the top 100 in ’81) and Pat Benatar kept women in the forefront of the pop/rock music scene, while Dolly Parton and Juice Newton made country more mainstream with songs like “9 to 5” and “Angel of the Morning.”

But today’s quarter is buying two songs that I loved for their disparate styles:

“Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie

I first heard this song from Queen’s Greatest Hits. It was the one new song on the album. And it was my immediate favorite (yes, even more favorite than “Bohemian Rhapsody”–oh, the blasphemy!). I think I was the only one of my friends to even know this song, and when I went to see Queen on their Hot Space tour, I wanted them to play the song so badly, and was disappointed when I didn’t hear it. Having heard the song be sampled over the years (when I did my student teaching, all the students knew the famous bass line and finger snaps–but they crushed me when they proclaimed it was Vanilla Ice and who is this Queen you are talking about?) “Under Pressure” has only become more influential over the years, and it remains one of a handful of songs that speaks to me philosophically as well as musically. The song’s lyrics always spoke to me then, but they mean even more to me today in the aftermath of the recent election:

“…Because love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the (People on streets) edge of the night
And loves (People on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves…”

“Stand and Deliver” by Adam and the Ants

Adam and the Ants sure made pirates look sexy and fun! This hit from the band’s Prince Charming album remind me ultimately how happy and fun music from the 1980s could be. I wanted to dress up as Adam Ant for Halloween that year. I can remember being thrilled to watch music videos on a summer afternoon because I could move the rabbit ears on the TV just enough to get a reception from one of the local independent TV stations that hosted a teen music show. That show, and these glammy, sexy videos gave me a glimpse of life outside of my small, one stop light town in central Oklahoma. Hence they speak to me still today. These early music videos were almost as good as reading a historical novel.


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