George Harrison, Somewhere In England, Dark Horse DHK-3492, 1981
George Harrison’s career had all but stalled by 1980. His custom label Dark Horse was distributed by Warner Brothers, and the early submission of this record was rejected for lack of commercial potential. In November, 1980, Ringo Starr came to Harrison’s home studio to collaborate on some songs for his next solo record. Harrison presented a nostalgic tune called All Those Years Ago to Ringo, but because it was too hard to sing, he rejected it. They did finish the backing track together though, and Harrison moved on to other songs.
A few weeks later John Lennon was murdered. Harrison, alone with his thoughts and an unfinished album, rewrote the lyrics to All Those Years Ago as a tribute song to Lennon. With Ringo’s percussion tracks already laid down, George asked Paul & Linda McCartney to come in and sing the background parts. With the three surviving Beatles all performing together on their first track since the I Me Mine session in 1970, suddenly Warner Brothers was very interested in the album. The public was too, and Harrison had his first big hit since 1973.
Despite the success, there’s still a touch of morbidity about the record. The other songs are paeans to God, tales of woe, or rants against the music business. It’s one of the easiest Harrison albums to find these days because it sold so well and 36 years on everyone who wants one already has it. I’m glad I have it, but I probably won’t play it more than once a decade.
Cost: $2, $235 Remaining
Joey Scarbury, America’s Greatest Hero, Elektra 5E-537, 1981
You’ve gotta feel bad for Joey Scarbury. Not for the suit they put him in, his glasses, or the horrendous art design of this, his only album. It’s one thing to be a one hit wonder, but its just always so sad when that hit peaks at #2 on the charts. Artists that hit #1 always pop up in all kinds of ways, while those that never reached the top spot rarely do.
In fairness, the song did get stuck behind one of the biggest hits of the 80s in Endless Love by Diana Ross & Lionel Richie. Still, The Theme From “The Greatest American Hero” (Believe It Or Not), besides having one of the wordiest titles ever, is remembered about as often as the bad 80s TV show it was featured on. It’s unlikely that Joey Scarbury tours today based on the strength of this record.
It’s all just so meh it hurts. His unease on the cover comes through onto the record. Not that I was able to find the time to listen the whole thing… Believe it or not, I’ll just pull this record out to laugh at rather than play. Sorry Joey!
Cost: $2, $402 Remaining
The J. Geils Band, Freeze Frame, EMI America SOO-17062, 1981
The early 80s were a time of weird transformation for the music business. The Disco era died a quick and painful death, the cassette (and the Sony Walkman) began to make the radio irrelevant, and a little thing called MTV changed which records sold and which didn’t. Artist had to adapt or see their records head right to the bargain bins. It was no longer enough to just create a great record, bands now also had to add a different step and create visual images that went along with the audio ones.
The J. Geils Band really began as a folk duo, but by the late 60s they were playing electric blues. Not really blessed with an ability to write hit songs, they turned to the Motown and Stax back catalogues and re-record obscure songs from them. It worked pretty well, and for 10 years they managed a string of top 60 hits (!) that kept them on the charts pretty regularly. They were the go-to opening act for major artists that came through the Boston area. In 1980, they had their biggest hit yet with Love Stinks which started off as a inside joke, but when played with a Squeeze type new wave sound it made some real inroads for a new direction for the band.
This was their next album, and they went all in for the new wave sound. Normally, a song about falling in love with a girl who poses nude in magazines wouldn’t catch on with radio, but Centerfold was also released with what was at the time, a really good video. MTV played it around the clock, and everyone I knew was talking about it, especially the revolutionary drummer pounding milk shot (at 2:50 in the video).
Naturally, not everyone in the band, including the namesake, was totally thrilled at the new direction. New Wave could easily have been the next Disco, and some of the band preferred the timeless R&B music they were famous for. After the relative failure of a live album after Freeze Frame, the band split up. But they did leave one hell of an 80s record for us to enjoy.
Cost: $3, $478 Remaining
Linda Fratianne, Dance & Exercise With The Hits, Columbia BFC 37653, 1981
Some say that Linda Fratianne was robbed of the gold medal in figure skating at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Pacid, New York. Absoluelty no one says she was robbed of a gold record for releasing an exercise record in the wake of her not quite Dorothy Hamill skating success.
It’s not like this was some “as seen on tv” quickie either. No less than Columbia Records came up with this idea, and they gave permission for the rights to some of their biggest current hits (though not the actual records, the music was performed by “The Beachwood All-Stars”). The non olympians who bought this record were egged on to try to touch their toes to How Do I Survive, while looking at a very basic instruction book with Bette Davis Eyes.
What did this record in was the breakaway success of the Jane Fonda Workout album that came out a few months later. Barbarella’s record featured the actual hits, by actual recording artists, and it sold in the millions. There’s no information on Linda Fratianne’s reaction to her second second place finish in two years, but it’s safe to assume that the John Birch Society weren’t the only ones who weren’t Fonda Jane.
Cost: $2, $699 Remaining
Kim Carnes, Mistaken Identity, EMI American SO-17052, 1981
One great thing about cheap records is that you can find some pretty decent music for really not a lot of money. Yes, sure, it doesn’t take a genius to find a download of Bette Davis Eyes, but you have to know where to look to find the album. The good news is, records like this sold in the millions fairly recently as far as original vinyl goes, so it pops up all the time.
This record actually was certified platinum and spent four weeks at number one. All based off the strength of Eyes. It’s for sure one of those records that you can see people getting tired of and once it’s been played a few times, it sat on a shelf for years until it was sold at a garage sale or used record shop.
So be sure you hold out for a perfect copy like I did. It may not be my most played album, but trust me, knowing I can hear Bette Davis Eyes anytime I want on it’s original issue record is a pretty great feeling. And yes, I know the line is “Her hair is Harlow Gold” and not “Her hair is bottle gold”, but I like to sing it my way, ok?
Cost: $2, $761 Remaining