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Dave Fanning looks back through the years at the Fannings Fab 50s. This week it's 1981.
Fantasy 48- Grace Jones: Pull up to the Bumper.
1981 song by Jamaican singer and sometime supermodel, Grace Jones, released as the third single from her fifth album, Nightclubbing (1981). It went number two on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart in the US and number 53 in the UK singles charts but on re-release in 1986, it reached number 12. It was recorded at Compass Point Studio, Nassau, Bahamas by, amongst others playing, Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, the most famous rhythm section in reggae. The lyrics are more than sexually suggestive – "Pull up to my bumper baby / Drive it in between" etc,
Real 47 -U2: Tomorrow.
The first of U2's 7 songs in the Fab 50 – we know this from the one press clip we found on the Fab 50 (picture at end). From their second album, October, released in 81, Tomorrow included Uileann Pipes played by Vinnie Kilduff (later of In Tua Nua). Bono says in an interview later that after the October album came out, he realized that the song was about his mother's death - she passed away when he was 14. The song was part of the setlist for U2's 1983 War tour, but they never played it on tour again.
Fantasy 34 - John Lennon: Imagine.
We can be sure this was in the Fab 50 as it was the previous year and for most subsequent years. It was just over a year after John Lennon’s death (December 8, 1980) when the 1981 Fab 50 went out.
Real 31- U2: Fire.
The October album version of "Fire" was recorded at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas while U2 took a break from the Boy Tour in April 1981. After its initial release, "Fire" was U2's first song to chart in the UK, where it managed to break the top 40, peaking at No. 35.
Some vinyl and cassette versions of U2's debut album Boy included a 30-second instrumental hidden track after the album's closer, "Shadows and Tall Trees." This track featured the same guitar riff as the one from "Fire." It was not until the release of the 2008 Deluxe Edition of Boy and its bonus CD that this track was shown to be "Saturday Night," a previously unreleased song that featured the same guitar riff from "Fire" and almost the same instrumentation, but with different lyrics. "Saturday Night" was eventually rewritten into what became "Fire". (Wikipedia).
Fantasy 30- Moving Hearts: Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette.
Taken from Moving Hearts. their imaginatively titled 1981 album, Christy Moore sings Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette. The "folk-rock" supergroup had only formed in 1981- and were not shy about sending a left of centre message in their music. It also re-united former Planxty members Christy and Donal Lunny for the first time in several years: without doubt 2 of the most important people in folk music of the last 60 years (ever?). The song is written by American Irish singer, Wally Page. We are fairly sure it was somewhere in the Fab 50 81.
Real 27- U2: Stories for Boys.
One of 3 songs their first release, U23, in 1979. Also on the Boy album the following year. The band came into Dave’s show in summer 79 and asked the listeners to choose the "A" side of their first single from 3 songs – Out of Control, Boy Girl and this song. The listeners chose "Out of Control" (by postcard!) The rest is history.
Fantasy 25 - Scritti Politti: The Sweetest Girl
Scritti Politti started as a Marxist inspired punk band- their name translated to English means political writings. The story goes that the band’s leader and songwriter, Green Gartside, while recovering from some form of mental or stress related breakdown, decided it was time to reinvent the band. What came out was this – The Sweetest Girl, a slice of pure melodic pop. Robert Wyatt (of Soft Machine and "Shipbuilding" fame) played keyboards on the song. He should be familiar to listeners down the years and he, himself, was an avowed socialist and specialised in combined hard hitting songs with sweet melodies.
Fantasy 21- Altered Images: Happy Birthday
Happy Birthday, title track of their album from 1981 and their biggest hit. Singer Clare Grogan became one of the faces of the year.
Real 18- U2: I Will Follow.
Opening track from their debut album, Boy, and it was released as the album's second single in October 1980. Bono wrote the lyrics to "I Will Follow" in tribute to his mother, who died when he was 14 years old. "I Will Follow" is the only song that U2 have performed on every tour since they released their first album.
Fantasy 17– The Clash: London Calling.
If The Clash were big before London Calling….
Fantasy 12- The Blades: Ghost of a Chance.
Another classic single from one of the great pop song writers of the last 60 years in Ireland. Paul Cleary. It was the band’s second single, released in 81. Paul Cleary was the original bass player in the band, but by 81 had moved to playing guitar, to replace his brother Lar ( now deceased), the original guitarist.
(And of course, there are several hundred thousand out there who were in Dublin’s Baggot Inn for those legendary U2/Blades double bills. At the turn of the 80’s the two Dublin acts were constantly being compared to each other, as the 2 most likely. Etc.)
Fantasy 10 - Laurie Anderson: O Superman.
Laurie Anderson, companion of Lou Reed, and a respected New York artist and musician was as surprised as anyone when this went to number 2 in the UK singles charts, almost entirely due to John Peel playing it off the air. It is one of the most unlikely one hit wonders ever, and remains an extraordinary piece of work. Musos will note that the song was inspired by works of French composer, Jules Massenet. Indeed, the alternative title of the song is "O Superman (For Massenet)".
Real 8- U2: A Day Without Me.
This was the lead single for the "Boy" album and came out in August 1980, not long after "11 O’Clock Tick Tock". It was their first release to be produced by Steve Lillywhite, who worked with the band for many years.
Real 6- U2: Out of Control.
See Stories for Boys above.
Fantasy 5- The Jam: That’s Entertainment.
The Jam’s classic release of 81, which was a huge hit here in Ireland, but oddly wasn’t released as a single in the UK at the time. This led to it being imported in large numbers mainly from here, enough to push it to 21 in the UK singles chart.
Fantasy 4- SLF: Alternative Ulster.
This and Teenage Kicks were the 2 songs that defined the punk surge in the north. It was a huge deal at the time. Obviously, the song dealt with The Troubles head on, a subject most musicians avoided for good reason, but it was also a huge commercial success. Their debut album, Inflammable Material, was not only the first album on the Rough Trade label but the first "independent" record to make the UK top 20 album chart. Rough Trade became the mainstay of the new wave and independent record scene in Britain through the late 70’s and 80’s (The Smiths, Microdisney, and Scritti Politti ( featured in the Fab 50) amongst many on the label). The band still tour from time to time and Jake Burns remains the frontman.
Fantasy 3- The Specials: Ghost Town.
If ever there was a song of the time- the Zeitgeist, if you will, it was Ghost Town. The Thatcher government presided over huge unemployment, a grinding recession and inner city riots through 1981. The Specials’ powerful song was always taken as a lament, and a commentary, on the state of Britain. The fact that it was released to the background of those riots, just added to the song’s currency.
The Specials were also falling apart and as it turned out Ghost Town was the last time the original line-up recorded together.
Real 2- Led Zeppelin: Stairway to Heaven.
From Led Zeppelin 4. Like the sun, moon, stars and begrudgery, it will be with us forever.
Real 1- U2: 11 O’Clock Tick Tock.
The moment that we knew things had changed in the music scene in Ireland forever. This was the only track recorded with Joy Division producer, Martin Hannett. It was released in 1980 as a single (before the Boy album was released), failed to chart anywhere and was not included on any of their albums (live versions did appear later), but it had become a fan favourite, and was the fans’ choice for the Number 1 of 1981. The full story of the recording is interesting and is (as far as we know, accurately) detailed at:
Much of the story comes from Neil McCormick, a friend of the band who has written several books about them.