1981 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

I’m returning today to my occasional top ten albums of the year posts, and to what is probably my favourite decade in music – a period of time that started a few months into my secondary school career and ended when I was a fully fledged grown up – the 1980s.

I’ve already covered five years (1982, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1987) so, without further ado, listed alphabetically, these are my favourite ten albums of 1981…

  1. AC/DC “For Those About To Rock”
AC/DC - For Those About To Rock
AC/DC – For Those About To Rock

Released late in the year, this was the first AC/DC album to make it into my collection, having heard the single “Let’s Get It Up”.

Following the monumentally successful “Back In Black” album (released in the summer of 1980) must have been some task, but the band certainly rose to the challenge.

The second single to come from the record was the title track, an epic number with thunderous final section featuring a twenty-one cannon salute – apparently inspired by cannons being fired during the televised wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana which occurred during the recording of the album – and has become a highlight of the band’s live shows.

Other favourites on the record are “Inject The Venom”, “Evil Walks” and “C.O.D.”. An excellent hard rock album.

2. Black Sabbath “Mob Rules”

Black Sabbath - Mob Rules
Black Sabbath – Mob Rules

“Mob Rules” was the second studio album to feature Ronnie James Dio as vocalist and the first to feature new drummer Vinny Appice.

A heavy sounding record than the preceding “Heaven And Hell”, the album contained two hit singles with “Turn Up The Night” making number 37 in the UK and the title track hitting number 46 along with other great tracks like “The Sign Of The Southern Cross” and “Voodoo”.

3. Blackfoot “Marauder”

Blackfoot - Marauder
Blackfoot – Marauder

Jacksonville, Florida based southern rock band Blackfoot came to my attention when they released a double pack 7″ featuring the “Dry County” single and a free live single recorded at the Monsters Of Rock festival at Castle Donington in August 1981.

The parent album “Marauder” was the last studio release to feature the classic line-up of Rickey Medlocke, Charlie Hargrett, Greg T. Walker and Jakson Spires.

Favourite tracks on this excellent record include “Good Morning”, “Diary Of A Workingman”, “Too Hard To Handle”, “Fly Away” and “Rattlesnake Rock ‘N’ Roller”. The classic live album “Highway Song – Live”, recorded in Europe and released in 1982 would be the last release before the band decided to change their sound to chase chart success, ironically leading to diminishing returns both commercially and artistically – but this album remains a classic of the genre.

4. Def Leppard “High ‘N’ Dry”

Def Leppard - High 'N' Dry
Def Leppard – High ‘N’ Dry

The second album from Sheffield hard rock band Def Leppard, “High ‘N’ Dry” saw the group team up with legendary producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange for the first time and start to show the qualities that would break the band into the big time with 1983’s “Pyromania” and 1987’s “Hysteria” albums.

Two singles were released to promote the album, “Let It Go” and “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” – the latter became a minor hit when issued in remixed form in 1984 and was covered in 2002 by pop singer Mariah Carey.

Also featured on “High ‘N’ Dry” are the great album tracks “Another Hit And Run”, “No No No”, “Lady Strange” and the instrumental “Switch 625”.

5. Duran Duran “Duran Duran”

Duran Duran - Duran Duran
Duran Duran – Duran Duran

Duran Duran’s self-titled debut album was released in the summer of 1981, having been preceded by singles “Planet Earth” and “Careless Memories”.

Something of a guilty pleasure at the time – my circle of mates at school were all heavily into rock music, with favourite bands being Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, The Sweet, Slade, Saxon and Iron Maiden – but this fantastic new romantic pop album remains one of my favourites of the era.

A further hit single followed in the form of “Girls On Film” and the band’s 12″ remixes, often known as “night versions”, and popular videos certainly helped the album’s success. My favourite non-single tracks on the record include “Friends Of Mine”, “Sound Of Thunder”, “Anyone Out There” and “Night Boat”. Excellent.

6. Foreigner “4”

Foreigner - 4
Foreigner – 4

The third album on this list produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange (AC/DC and Def Leppard being the other two), this particular record is probably best known for the hit single “Waiting For A Girl Like You” which reached number 3 in the UK.

Two other tracks were released as singles in the UK – “Urgent” and “Juke Box Hero” – and it was through hearing the latter of BBC Radio One’s “Friday Rock Show” that I got into the band. The best-selling album of the band’s career and an excellent melodic rock record.

7. Iron Maiden “Killers”

Iron Maiden - Killers
Iron Maiden – Killers

The band’s second album, “Killers” was to be the final one to feature original vocalist Paul Di’Anno before his sacking and replacement with Bruce Dickinson.

I’d say that this record also has my favourite cover, by Derek Riggs, of any of the Iron Maiden albums to date.

Musically, the album built on the strengths of the previous year’s debut and was written almost solely by bassist and founder Steve Harris (the exception being the title track, co-written with Di’Anno).

There are two singles from the album in “Purgatory” and “Twilight Zone” – the latter of which was not originally included on the record, being included on the US version and later CD reissue. Other great tracks here include two instrumentals “The Ides Of March” and “Genghis Khan” as well as songs like “Wrathchild”, “Innocent Exile” and “Murders In The Rue Morgue”.

8. Rainbow “Difficult To Cure”

Rainbow - Difficult To Cure
Rainbow – Difficult To Cure

The fifth studio album from Ritchie Blackmore’s band, this one was the first to feature third lead vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, saw the band’s sound continue to become more commercial in approach.

There were two singles from the record – “Can’t Happen Here” and “I Surrender” – to hit the UK top twenty, and this was an album that spent a lot of time in my Sony Walkman.

Hits aside, my favourite tracks are “No Release”, “Spotlight Kid” and “Difficult To Cure” itself, which was a fabulous reworking of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

9. Saxon “Denim And Leather”

Saxon - Denim And Leather
Saxon – Denim And Leather

“Denim And Leather” was Saxon’s fourth album, and the third of their “holy trinity” to hit the shelves in just eighteen months.

Three singles were issued – “Princess Of The Night”, “Never Surrender” and “And The Bands Played On”. The latter became the band’s most successful single to date and describes their experiences when playing at the inaugural Monsters Of Rock festival the previous year.

“Play It Loud” and “Midnight Rider” are great album tracks, but the title track is one of the best and a firm live favourite through the years since.

10. Status Quo “Never Too Late”

Status Quo - Never Too Late
Status Quo – Never Too Late

The first Status Quo album that I owned – received instead of a chocolate egg for Easter ’81 – I had been introduced to the band by hit single “Something ‘Bout You Baby I LIke”.

Apparently recorded during the same sessions that spawned 1980’s “Just Supposin'” album, “Never Too Late” is often regarded as the weaker of the two – indeed the follow-up single to “Something…” was taken from “Just Supposin'”! This was also the last album to be recorded featuring the “frantic four” of Rossi, Parfitt, Lancaster and Coghlan.

Nevertheless, with material like “Riverside”, “Long Ago”, “Mountain Lady” and my personal favourite “Take Me Away” this is still a very good Status Quo album.

In the wider world, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister in the UK and Ronald Reagan became President of the USA – replacing Jimmy Carter. In football the old first division champions were Aston Villa, with Tottenham Hotspur winning the FA Cup. On the big screen the top films of the year were “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”, “On Golden Pond” and “Superman II”.

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