December 4, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

Top pop hits in the first half of 1981

2 min read
1981 is seen by some as the best year for British pop ever so what did the NME think were the pop hits of the first half of 1981?
The NME in 1981 – at the height of its influence

So what were the top pop hits in 1981? A year seen by some as one of the greatest in British pop music history. And with good reason methinks. There was a unique and vibrant blend of 2Tone ska, NWOBHM, post-punk, New Wave, soul, disco and even the rarified delights of the skinhead Oi! scene to keep us entertained.

Keeping across this tsunami of pop talent meant reading the music press voraciously. You have to picture sixth formers in 1981 during the school break sharing broadsheet newspaper sized copies of the NME (New Musical Express), Melody Maker and Sounds. Each one of these style and music bibles attached itself to different music cults.

The NME was undeniably a champion of the art college pop scene and anything painfully trendy. When I was writing the biography of Neville Staple of The Specials, I asked the NME if I could have back copies from that time. They told me that journalists on the paper used to chuck the previous week’s edition away because…well…it was the previous week.

A kind of nihilism inherited from punk!

DISCOVER: Pop groups that crashed in 1983

NME journalists polled themselves in July 1981 to see what they thought were the best tunes so far that year.  Some of the songs I wouldn’t argue with while others seem a strange choice looking back.

Most of the names of these pop hits from 1981 are familiar enough though the tunes are definitely escaping me. Can anybody hum ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ by Yoko Ono? I know I can’t.

1 – Me No Pop!     Coati Mundi

2 – We Don’t Need This Fascist Groove Thang     Heaven 17

3 – Being With You     Smokey Robinson

4 – Walking on Thin Ice     Yoko Ono

5 – Adventures on the Wheels of Steel     Grandmaster Flash

6 – Reward    Teardrop Explodes

7 – Chequered Love     Kim Wilde

8 – Pull Up to the Bumper     Grace Jones

9 – Birthday Party     Grandmaster Flash

10 – Pocket Calculator     Kraftwerk

Top album was Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places by Kid Creole and the Coconuts.   Germanic misery merchants DAF came fourth with Alles ist Gut.  Black Uhuru were deservedly in the chart and the Au Pairs.

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