From Kate Bush to The Outlaws to Al Stewart, each of these titles merit a second spin
1980! Forty years ago! But I remember it better than last week.
The nine excellent-but-overlooked 1980 albums listed below mostly sank with little trace. But it’s not too late to give them the love they deserved 40 years ago. They’ve earned it.
Grace’s first solo outing after temporarily leaving Jefferson Starship was all about the drama. Dreams is full of sweeping orchestrations, songs about devils, legends, and volcanoes erupting, topped off by lots of flashy Scott Zito guitar and over-the-top production by Ron Frangipane. Grace sets the melodramatic mood with the opening title track, and things don’t let up — except for the attempt at a hit single, “Seasons,” which sounds like a Russian folk tune. “Full Moon Man” is a gorgeous wide-screen love song, and the closing suite “Let it Go”/”Garden of Man” reaches for a huge, cosmic impact. Grace was still channeling the late ’60s here, and if you haven’t lost touch with those days, you might have a flashback, too.
AUDIO: Grace Slick Dreams (full album)
24 Carrots (Arista)
His popularity slipping slightly, Al released his most consistent album since his 1976 commercial breakthrough “Year of the Cat.” It was also his first album after three in a row produced by Alan Parsons. Lyrically, Carrots offered Al’s usual mix of cloak-and-dagger mystery (the dramatic opener “Running Man”), historical narratives (“Constantinople,” “Merlin’s Time,” “Ellis Island/Murmansk Run”), and just plain whimsey (comedy classic “Mondo Sinistro”). “Rocks in the Ocean” was a classic lost-love folk tune, with the Incredible String Band’s Robin Williamson on fiddle. “Midnight Rocks” came a little too close to being a cliched Al Stewart single, complete with no-surprise sax break — but it reached Number 24 in the States. The album peaked at Number 37, way down from Year of the Cat (Number 5) and Time Passages (10).
Ghost Riders (Arista)
High-quality Southern rock and boogie. The amped-up old C&W chestnut “Ghost Riders in the Sky” was a middling hit. “I Can’t Stop Loving You” welds lost-love lyrics to plenty of gorgeous, mournful steel guitar. “Angels Hide,” “White Horses” and “Wishing Wells” are mellower country-rock with haunting choruses and solid group vocals. “Devil’s Road” is a balls-out rocker with lots of show-offy guitars.
Sky 2 (Ariola)
Sounding straight out of 1974, English progessive rock band Sky’s two-record second album topped the U.K. charts. It sold enough copies in the U.S. to hit the lower reaches of Billboard’s Top 200, and Bach-rock single “Toccata” got a bit of radio airplay. The band’s secret weapon was former Curved Air keyboard whiz Francis Monkman, who wrote the side-long “Fifo” suite here and another epic, “Where Opposites Meet,” on Sky’s first album (1979). Sky had a conservative take on the “classic prog” sound, but highlights include the old Curved Air rocker “Vivaldi,” the ski-vacation soundtrack “Scipio,” and “Fifo”‘s glorious climax, “Watching the Aeroplanes.”
AUDIO: Sky “Scipio (Pt. 1 & 2)”
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
Chance (Warner Bros.)
In the three years after “Blinded by the Light” hit Number One, the Earth Band followed-up with three consecutive solid-but-not-stunning albums, sales-wise. Chance has a unique, cold, almost mechanical sound — check out “Adolescent Dream,” “Hello, I Am Your Heart,” “No Guarantee.” Their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “For You” was almost a hit, but the album peaks with the high-tech nautical-and-emotional breakdown “Stranded” and the almost-warm closer “Heart on the Street.”
Glass Moon (Radio Records)
North Carolina band gets the commercial-Genesis sound down on vinyl before the English guys quite get all the details locked in. GM’s first album includes a punchy, upbeat, shoulda-been-hit version of Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill.” Lead singer Dave Adams sounds like a pre-fame Phil Collins, and Jamie Glaser supplies excellent guitar — especially in his thunderstorm-like solo on the dramatic closer “Sundays and Mondays.”
The band straddles the gap between prog and pop on nine catchy tracks — they even show off a sense of humor in “Killer at 25”: “Paul Simon loses no sleep over me/I don’t care/Least I can say that I have all my hair”(!)
Group 87 (Columbia)
Session pros Mark Isham (trumpet, keyboards) and Peter Maunu (guitars) team up with Zappa-band grads Patrick O’Hearn (bass) and Terry Bozzio (drums) for this gorgeous all-instrumental album where every track’s a winner — especially opener “Future of the City,” hypnotic “The Bedouin,” slowly-building “Moving Sidewalks,” and life-affirming closer “One Night Away From Day.”
Wisconsin jazz-rock guitarist mixes electric and acoustic guitars with a “world music” sound before that term was ever used. Yr was Tibbetts’ second homemade album, filled with gorgeous, flowing guitar instrumentals, opening with an epic five minutes of meltdown electric guitar on “Ur.” It starts off with light, acoustic strumming; then about halfway through, Tibbetts cranks up the electricity in a display that will melt your speakers.
Tibbetts went on to record a series of albums for the ECM jazz label. I’ve heard several of them — all very pleasant … but I’ve yet to hear any more explosive guitar like that on “Ur.”
Never for Ever (EMI)
Kate plugs in her Fairlight keyboard and takes over co-production duties.
Capitol Records declined to release Kate’s second album Lionheart and this third album in the U.S., apparently because sales for her 1978 debut The Kick Inside weren’t good enough. Maybe they thought she was “too English.”
Meanwhile, Never for Ever (available stateside as an import back then) topped the U.K. charts and included three hits — the Top 5 romantic comedy “Babooshka,” the harrowing nuclear-war warning “Breathing,” and the spooky, downbeat “Army Dreamers.” Never for Ever is much darker in lyrical and musical tone than Kate’s first two albums, which were produced by Andrew Powell.
This album runs the emotional gamut from the singles listed above to “Delius (Song of Summer),” which sounds like a relaxed stroll through a Rousseau-like friendly jungle; to the revenge comedy “The Wedding List,” the frenzied “Violin,” the intimate “Infant Kiss,” and the gorgeous “All We Ever Look For.”
Kate would finally earn another U.S. release with her 1982 album The Dreaming.