January 17, 1981

January 15, 2012

Thirty one years ago, I was seeking out music for – really – the first time.

Sure, there had previously been songs here and there that had captured my attention and a few 45s that I’d prodded the parents to purchase, but I would have had barely enough material to compile a desert island list.

Weeks earlier, on New Year’s Day, I had, inexplicably turned on the radio and tuned in to Q102, a Top 40 station from Cincinnati that was popular with my junior high classmates. I didn’t listen to the radio much, if ever, but as I listened I realized that the station was counting down the top 102 songs of 1980, the year that had just ended.

And, even more unexpectedly, I pulled out a tape recorder, popped a blank cassette into the unit, placed the recorder up against the radio, and spent the rest of the day taping those 102 songs.

By the middle of January, I had listened and relistened to those half dozen or so cassettes repeatedly, becoming familiar with the popular music of 1980, most of which I had little familiarity.

I was also tuning into Q102 daily, especially for the station’s Top Ten At Ten, the daily countdown of the most requested songs of the day and a staple of debate amongst friends at school the following day.

It would be another year before I’d begin purchasing music on a regular basis or start listening to American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. Billboard meant roadside advertising to me.

But, thirty one years ago, there were half a dozen songs debuting on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100, some of which I knew from those nights listening to Q102…

McGuffey Lane – Long Time Lovin’ You
from McGuffey Lane (1980)
(debuted #97, peaked #85, 7 weeks on chart)

Growing up within spitting distance of the Ohio border, I’d heard the name McGuffey Lane as they were a regional act from Columbus, but I couldn’t have named a song by the band and didn’t recognize Long Time Lovin’ You by name.

But as soon as I started listening to Long Time Lovin’ You, I instantly remembered the song. I imagine that I heard it on our hometown radio station which favored light rock and country as the song has a decidedly country rock feel.

The loping melody and tale of love ruined by too much time on the road has a catchy chorus and, though a bit generic, isn’t a bad song. It’s certainly something I enjoy more now than I would have then.

Terri Gibbs – Somebody’s Knockin’
from Somebody’s Knockin’ (1980)
(debuted #94, peaked #13, 22 weeks on chart)

I certainly knew Somebody’s Knockin’ from Q102. The song by blind Georgian pianist was a fixture on the station during the first few months of ’81 and earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song.

Somebody’s Knockin’ straddles the line between country and light pop. Its slick production doesn’t diminish the backwoods vibe and Gibb’s vocals which recount her struggle with the temptations offered by a mysterious stanger.

Slave – Watching You
from Stone Jam (1980)
(debuted #90, peaked #75, 6 weeks on chart)

Slave is a name I know that I’ve seen at one time or another rifling through bins in record stores, but I’ve never been a major R&B devotee. As a kid, there wasn’t a lot of soul on the stations to which I was listening.

Like McGuffey Lane, though, Slave was an act from Ohio, Dayton, to be specific. I do know that there were a number of funk acts from that city during the ’70s and early ’80s like Ohio Players, Lakeside, and Zapp and Watching You is a snappy bit of mid-tempo, light funk, an playful ode to watching girls pass by.

Queen – Flash’s Theme
from Flash Gordon soundtrack (1980)
(debuted #79, peaked #42, 10 weeks on chart)

There seemed to be a lot of hullabaloo about the movie Flash Gordon prior to its release and, then, it bombed. I think that I caught a bit of the campy flick on cable years ago but not enough to care one way or another about it.

Queen was a band that we did care about, though, at the time. The legendary band was coming off of the spectacular success of The Game and, as I recall, both Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites The Dust had both been in the top ten for the year on that year-end countdown I’d taped from the radio.

I don’t remember actually hearing the band’s dramatic theme (complete with melodramatic dialogue from the film) to Flash Gordon on the radio in 1981, but it did appear on Queen’s Greatest Hits release from later that year. The cassette version of that album was one of my initial purchases when I joined the Columbia Record & Tape Club a year later.

Pat Benatar – Treat Me Right
from Crimes of Passion (1980)
(debuted #68, peaked #18, 18 weeks on chart)

Pat Benatar’s rise to superstar status coincided with my teenage years and she was fetching in spandex, so she could have been singing Bolshevik work songs and she’d have had the attention of me and my friends.

But Benatar had a string of inescapable hits during the early ’80s that made her a staple on most of the crude mixtapes I was making from the radio. I was a fan, but Treat Me Right never quite hooked me the way that stuff like Heartbreaker, Hit Me With Your Best Shot, or Shadows Of The Night did.

John Lennon – Woman
from Double Fantasy (1980)
(debuted #36, peaked #2, 20 weeks on chart)

In mid-January of 1981, the world was a mere five weeks out from the brutal murder of John Lennon. My interest in music, just beginning to take root, gave me little perspective on the death of Lennon and I had little reaction. It would be years before I would mourn the event and the loss of Beatle John.

However, I imagine at the time it was difficult for folks who had grown up with The Beatles to hear the music from Lennon’s just-released Double Fantasy album and his death provided added poignancy to the gentle, lovely ballad Woman.