So what were the top pop hits in 1981? A year seen by some as one of the greatest in British pop music history. And with good reason methinks. There was a unique and vibrant blend of 2Tone ska, NWOBHM, post-punk, New Wave, soul, disco and even the rarified delights of the skinhead Oi! scene to keep us entertained.
Keeping across this tsunami of pop talent meant reading the music press voraciously. You have to picture sixth formers in 1981 during the school break sharing broadsheet newspaper sized copies of the NME (New Musical Express), Melody Maker and Sounds. Each one of these style and music bibles attached itself to different music cults.
The NME was undeniably a champion of the art college pop scene and anything painfully trendy. When I was writing the biography of Neville Staple of The Specials, I asked the NME if I could have back copies from that time. They told me that journalists on the paper used to chuck the previous week’s edition away because…well…it was the previous week.
A kind of nihilism inherited from punk!
DISCOVER: Pop groups that crashed in 1983
NME journalists polled themselves in July 1981 to see what they thought were the best tunes so far that year. Some of the songs I wouldn’t argue with while others seem a strange choice looking back.
Most of the names of these pop hits from 1981 are familiar enough though the tunes are definitely escaping me. Can anybody hum ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ by Yoko Ono? I know I can’t.
1 – Me No Pop! Coati Mundi
2 – We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang Heaven 17
3 – Being With You Smokey Robinson
4 – Walking on Thin Ice Yoko Ono
5 – Adventures on the Wheels of Steel Grandmaster Flash
6 – Reward Teardrop Explodes
7 – Chequered Love Kim Wilde
8 – Pull Up to the Bumper Grace Jones
9 – Birthday Party Grandmaster Flash
10 – Pocket Calculator Kraftwerk
Top album was Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places by Kid Creole and the Coconuts. Germanic misery merchants DAF came fourth with Alles ist Gut. Black Uhuru were deservedly in the chart and the Au Pairs.