The fifth of the 40 is down, and welcome to one of the great years. Cutting this down to forty was quite the job. As we'll see in future features the end of a decade generally is a good time for upheaval, the notion of the calendar and changing era seemingly bucking people's ideas up, but after the rapid turnover of the previous years 1979 was a year when everything collided, genres that had been just about minding their own business carving their way through the last few years decided to make things more interesting for themselves and even the biggest labels allowed their artists some leeway and creative freedom as everyone tried to work out where these things were going. That led in various directions, as arty kids had pop hits, leftfield songwriters had moments in the sun and new bands emerged with a discordant, fractured, wiry take on their craft and surroundings alike. Punk was thrown off balance for good when its new figurehead Sid Vicious died while its progenitors were already off in different directions, whether the angularities and stop-start existential panic of post-punk or the poppy, even joyful Buzzcocks/Undertones end. Disco partied through what would be the last days of its hedonistic peak even as some started feeling the morning after coming on as Studio 54's owners were arrested and charged with tax evasion and the infamous Disco Demolition Night - the week after which seven of Billboard's top ten were disco-hued - serves as a ridiculous coda for classic rock's fear of a black pop planet, not realising that rap was about to creep up on their shoulder. Britain embraced electropop and the cult of 2 Tone. Family friendly entertainers embraced new studio methods and the outer shell of the clean end of New Wave. Kate Bush was busy just over there reinventing the live experience, then deciding it was for other people to carry on from there. Rock and/or roll itself grew horns and in its various ways gave up Highway To Hell, Overkill and My Sharona. Even AM radio's Fleetwood Mac went mad and made Tusk. Oh, and from July you could if in Japan buy a new Sony product for $150 that played cassettes on a portable device allowing greater personalisation of the listening experience. But that's another story.
So, let's sum all that up in forty well chosen songs of pointillist post-punk, devolved disco, reggae, ska, soul, electro noise, collapsing DIY, warping pop, new wave, New Pop, waifs, strays and Jeff Lynne hopping another bandwagon for no other reason than the ride. Aside from some of our favourite ever albums being represented herein, a few extra notes:
- James Chance and the Contortions brought out a gloriously warped jazz-punk speed freak no wave album called Buy, then recorded an almost entirely separate album as a post-modern disco act, this remix by the future Kid Creole the only track to appear on both and absolutely of a piece with its surroundings.
- Yes, it does go from the Slits to a track from an album that features a Mick Jones song about his breakup with Viv Albertine. But the mix works that way anyway.
- You don't hear much Linton Kwesi Johnson these days, maybe because his albums are, thanks to the great production of Dennis Bovell, submerged in that sonic murkiness dub poetry thrives in; Bowie was a big fan of Forces Of Victory, describing Johnson's as "some of the most moving poetry to be found in popular music".
- Among all the female groups who spiralled off into their own dimensions and leftfield ideas Delta 5 are the nearest misses, never properly capitalising on their first single for various reasons, but that double bass groove is the equal of what Gang Of Four were doing maybe literally down the road.
- Where's Captain Kirk?, a bracing 2:15 blast by a primal punk-pop joker who kept changing the band name, was the first indie chart number one when introduced right at the start of 1980.
- The Monochrome Set, especially in the 1979-1983 period, really deserve more of a hearing.
- Planet Claire now has to carry a writing co-credit for Henry Mancini due to its pilfering of the Peter Gunn bassline.
- The first Madness album is largely fun disposability for dancing to, but Razorblade Alley, a song about - let's not be coy now - catching VD from a prostitute, is an early idea of what they'd become when they grew up.
- Kirsty MacColl should have been big off the bat, which might have ended up putting a different slant on her career given There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop...'s air of novelty and her biggest hits being covers, were it not for a strike at Stiff's distributors preventing the single reaching shops.
James White & The Blacks - Contort Yourself (August Darnell Remix) (from Off White)
Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3
The Sugarhill Gang - Rapper's Delight (from Sugarhill Gang)
Gang Of Four - At Home He's A Tourist (from Entertainment!)
Talking Heads - Cities (from Fear Of Music)
Michael Jackson - Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough (from Off The Wall)
Chic - My Feet Keep Dancing (from Risque)
The Slits - Typical Girls (from Cut)
The Clash - The Guns Of Brixton (from London Calling)
Linton Kwesi Johnson - Independent Intavenshan (from Forces Of Victory)
The Specials - Nite Klub (from The Specials)
The Fall - Rowche Rumble (from Dragnet)
Cabaret Voltaire - Nag Nag Nag
Public Image Ltd - Death Disco (from Metal Box/Second Edition)
Blondie - Atomic (from Eat To The Beat)
M - Pop Muzik (from New York London Paris Munich)
Delta 5 - Mind Your Own Business
The Pop Group - She Is Beyond Good And Evil (from the reissue of Y)
The Raincoats - Fairytale In The Supermarket (from the reissue of The Raincoats)
XTC - Life Begins At The Hop
Wire - Map Ref 41°N 93°W (from 154)
David Bowie - Boys Keep Swinging (from Lodger)
Buzzcocks - Everybody's Happy Nowadays
The Monochrome Set - The Monochrome Set
Spizzenergi - Where's Captain Kirk?
The Selecter - On My Radio
The B-52's - Planet Claire (from The B-52's)
Sparks - Beat The Clock (from No. 1 In Heaven)
The Human League - Empire State Human (from Reproduction)
Tubeway Army - Are "Friends" Electric? (from Replica)
Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Green Shirt (from Armed Forces)
Joy Division - Shadowplay (from Unknown Pleasures)
The Jam - The Eton Rifles (from Setting Sons)
Electric Light Orchestra - Don't Bring Me Down (from Discovery)
Joe Jackson - It's Different For Girls (from I'm The Man)
Squeeze - Up The Junction (from Cool For Cats)
Nick Lowe - Cruel To Be Kind (from Labour Of Lust)
Madness - Razorblade Alley (from One Step Beyond...)
Kirsty MacColl - They Don't Know
Dexys Midnight Runners - Dance Stance