I started this weekly year-by-year shuffle thing a while back, before setting it aside, and now it's time to jump back into it. See 1979 and 1980 if you're interested, but for now, sit back and join in on a randomized journey through the great 1981:
1. Bruce Springsteen - Child Bride - Best of the Lost Masters
A Nebraska outtake that would be radically reworked into Born in the USA's "Working on the Highway," this is yet another bit of proof that the Boss isn't only one of the best American songwriters, he's also one of the most prolific. That his four-disc collection of studio outtakes a decade ago didn't begin to include every quality song he's buried away is hardly a surprise, but it's stunning nonetheless.
2. Tom Petty - A Thing About You - Hard Promises
This was the first time I've heard this song, a pure-Petty chunk of sing-along rock 'n' roll. The double whammy this summer of watching Peter Bogdanovich's Running Down a Dream documentary and seeing the band live in Golden Gate Park spurred me to dig completely into Petty's back catalog. It's hard to believe this song wasn't a single and a Greatest Hit, but like the Boss, Petty is nothing if not consistently excellent.
3. Agent Orange - Everything Turns Grey - Living In Darkness
Agent Orange is one of the punk bands I'd heard a lot about and tried getting into back in high school, but I ended up going for the 1990s stuff that was less abrasive. Not exactly a very punk rock way of going about things, but to my ears, NOFX was where it was at. These days, I'd rather be listening to punk that I dug back in the day, so I just might have missed the Agent Orange boat all together.
4. Emmylou Harris - Tennessee Waltz - Cimarron
Yet another legendary musician whose back catalog runs so deep and so great that it's intimidating to step beyond the simple hits. The other versions I have of this country classic are by Roy Acuff and Sam Cooke. Some songs truly get treated like kings.
5. Replacements - A Toe Needs A Shoe (outtake) - Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash (reissue)
A Bob Stinson-written instrumental outtake from the sessions for the Replacements' first record - I don't really know what to think of this. It ain't bad, but I 'spose there's a reason it's stuck on the end of a deluxe reissue.
6. X - When Our Love Passed Out on the Couch - Wild Gift
The first two X records are non-stop powerhouses and give the band every right to take victory lap tours to this day. John Doe and Exene sing together like no two people ever have.
7. U2 - I Threw A Brick Through a Window - October
The rawer end of the U2 catalog never seems to hold many clues of what sort of a band they'd become just a few years later. It hardly bears saying that this is a lesser song from a great band, but it's fun to hear them attempt a run through some of the rougher, moody stuff that characterized the great UK bands of the time.
8. Social Distortion - Under My Thumb - Mainliner
A live staple that later found it's way as a hidden track onto the band's 1996 White Light White Heat White Trash, "Under My Thumb" first showed up as a 1981 single, later collected under Mainliner in 1995. I've always loved Social D's version of the song and how mean Mike Ness turns it. A great example of a singer truly coming to own someone else's song.
9. Rolling Stones - Waiting For A Friend - Tattoo You
A decidedly un-rock type of song that features Sonny Rollins and a we've-been-millionaires-for-decades type of laid back beat, this song is proof that even as the Stones aged and changed, they remained great.
10. Bob Dylan - The Groom's Still Waiting At the Altar - Shot of Love
That his Christian period produced a booty-shakin' sort of gospel music like this tune (originally a b-side that was included in the CD version) isn't much of a surprise. Viewed from nearly three decades later, that whole period in Dylan's career makes quite a bit of sense, but I'd have loved to be a big-time fan in those days just to experience the shock of his many transformations.
So, this run through 1981 seems to indicate the year had either legendary musicians still plugging away (often on slightly lesser material) or punk rockers set to break the whole music world open. The thing is, it rings fairly true. Thanks, shuffle, for the history lesson.
Bruce Springsteen - Child Bride
Social Distortion - Under My Thumb (live)
Pearl Jam - Waiting on a Friend (live Rolling Stones cover)