1981 in music

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This is a list of notable events in music that took place in the year 1981.

Events[edit]

January–April[edit]

May–August[edit]

  • 2 May – British vocalist Sheena Easton hits No. 1 in the US with "Morning Train (9 to 5)" following a swift rise to fame as the result of a reality TV show.
  • 14 May – Diana Ross signs with RCA Records (EMI internationally), leaving Motown Records, her label of two decades. The $20,000,000 deal is the most lucrative recording contract in history at that time.
  • 15 May – A riot breaks out at The Ritz rock club in New York when Public Image Ltd plays behind a videoscreen while completely different music plays over the club's speakers.
  • 4 June – U2 appears on the Tomorrow show with Tom Snyder, their first U.S. television appearance.
  • 5 June - The TV series Night Flight, a variety show featuring music documentaries and videos, premieres on the USA Network.
  • 6 June - Kerrang! magazine publishes its first issue. Angus Young of AC/DC is on the cover.
  • 30 June – Jerry Lee Lewis is rushed to hospital in Memphis for emergency surgery for a tear in his stomach. Despite being given less than a 50% chance of survival, he eventually pulls through.
  • 1 August
    • MTV debuts on cable television in the United States, playing music videos 24 hours a day.
    • the success of Stars On 45 leads to a short-lived medley craze. The most successful imitator of the Stars On 45 format is, rather unexpectedly, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra whose "Hooked On Classics (Parts 1&2)" reaches number two in the charts.
  • 23 August – The Violent Femmes are discovered by members of The Pretenders busking outside a Milwaukee venue and are invited to play a 10-minute acoustic set as a second opening act in the Pretenders' show that night.

September–December[edit]

Also in 1981[edit]

Bands formed[edit]

Bands disbanded[edit]

Albums released[edit]

January – March[edit]

Date Album Artist Notes
J
A
N
U
A
R
Y
12 The Nature of the Beast April Wine -
15 In Our Lifetime Marvin Gaye -
18 Take My Time Sheena Easton -
19 Paradise Theatre Styx -
23 Trust Elvis Costello and the Attractions -
28 Healing Todd Rundgren -
Welcome to the Wrecking Ball Grace Slick -
And Don't the Kids Just Love It Television Personalities -
Evangeline Emmylou Harris -
Mondo Bongo The Boomtown Rats -
Radioland Nicolette Larson -
Stands for Decibels The dB's -
The Wild, the Willing and the Innocent UFO -
There Must Be a Better World Somewhere B. B. King -
To the Bone Kris Kristofferson -
Turn Back Toto -
? Frost and Fire Cirith Ungol -
F
E
B
R
U
A
R
Y
1 Atomkraft? Nein, Danke! Earthstar -
2 Killers Iron Maiden UK
3 Difficult to Cure Rainbow -
9 Face Value Phil Collins solo debut
Fire Down Under Riot -
12 Moving Pictures Rush -
17 Another Ticket Eric Clapton -
Being with You Smokey Robinson -
To Love Again Diana Ross Compilation
24 Working Class Dog Rick Springfield -
26 Point of Entry Judas Priest -
27 B.L.T. Jack Bruce, Bill Lordan & Robin Trower -
Another One Rides the Bus "Weird Al" Yankovic EP
Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks Hanoi Rocks -
Captured Journey Live
Coconut Telegraph Jimmy Buffett -
Feels So Right Alabama -
The Fool Circle Nazareth -
From the Tea-rooms of Mars .... Landscape -
Higher Plane Al Green -
Juice Juice Newton -
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts David Byrne & Brian Eno -
Seven Year Ache Rosanne Cash -
St. Valentine's Day Massacre MotörheadGirlschool EP
Stray Cats Stray Cats -
The League of Gentlemen Robert Fripp and The League of Gentlemen -
Wild-Eyed Southern Boys 38 Special -
M
A
R
C
H
1 Intensities in 10 Cities Ted Nugent Live
4 Sucking in the Seventies The Rolling Stones Compilation
6 Journeys to Glory Spandau Ballet -
10 There Goes the Neighborhood Joe Walsh -
13 We'll Bring the House Down Slade -
16 Face Dances The Who -
20 Time Tells No Lies Praying Mantis -
25 DEV-O Live Devo Live EP
26 Fancy Free The Oak Ridge Boys -
27 Carl Wilson Carl Wilson -
Blizzard of Ozz Ozzy Osbourne US
30 Extended Play The Pretenders EP
Breaker Accept -
Dad Loves His Work James Taylor -
Directions Miles Davis -
The Dude Quincy Jones -
Future Shock Gillan -
Grand Slam The Isley Brothers -
Hardware Krokus -
Hit and Run Girlschool -
Honi Soit John Cale -
Long Play Album aka Stars on Long Play Stars on 45 -
Magnets The Vapors -
Never Too Late Status Quo -
Nightwalker Gino Vannelli -
No Fun After Midnight A II Z EP
RocKihnRoll The Greg Kihn Band -
Solid Gold Gang of Four -
Somewhere Over the Rainbow Willie Nelson -
A Woman Needs Love Ray Parker, Jr. -
White Lace & Black Leather Helix -

April – June[edit]

Date Album Artist Notes
A
P
R
I
L
2 Modern Times Jefferson Starship -
6 The DeBarges DeBarge -
Fun in Space Roger Taylor -
Prayers on Fire The Birthday Party -
7 Street Songs Rick James -
10 Faith The Cure -
The Flowers of Romance Public Image Ltd. -
11 Come an' Get It Whitesnake -
13 Don't Say No Billy Squier -
Of Skins and Heart The Church -
15 What Cha' Gonna Do for Me Chaka Khan -
17 Go for It Stiff Little Fingers -
20 Twangin... Dave Edmunds -
27 Slates The Fall -
29 Fair Warning Van Halen -
Bad for Good Jim Steinman -
Chariots of Fire Vangelis Soundtrack
The Completion Backward Principle The Tubes -
Dedication Gary U.S. Bonds -
El Rayo-X David Lindley -
The Electric Spanking of War Babies Funkadelic -
Goddo Live: Best Seat in the House Goddo Live
Mistaken Identity Kim Carnes -
The Nightcomers Holocaust -
Punks Not Dead The Exploited -
Reckoning Grateful Dead Live
Spellbound Tygers of Pan Tang -
Waiata Split Enz -
Where Do You Go When You Dream Anne Murray -
Zebop! Santana -
M
A
Y
3 Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports -
5 Hard Promises Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -
11 Nightclubbing Grace Jones -
Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar Frank Zappa Live
Balin Marty Balin -
14 Breaking All the Rules Peter Frampton -
It Must Be Magic Teena Marie -
15 East Side Story Squeeze -
Long Distance Voyager The Moody Blues -
17 Tinsel Town Rebellion Frank Zappa -
18 Knights of the Sound Table Cameo -
20 The Fox Elton John -
22 Anthem Toyah -
25 Hard 'n' Heavy Anvil -
29 In Concert Amy Grant Live
Present Arms UB40 -
30 Heaven Up Here Echo & the Bunnymen -
As Falls Wichita, so Falls Wichita Falls Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays -
Beyond the Valley of 1984 The Plasmatics -
Computer World Kraftwerk -
Dedicated to Peter Kürten Whitehouse -
Look Out! 20/20 -
Magnetic Fields Jean-Michel Jarre -
Mecca for Moderns The Manhattan Transfer -
Positive Touch The Undertones -
Red Black Uhuru -
Shock Tactics Samson -
Wild Gift X -
J
U
N
E
5 Somewhere in England George Harrison -
6 Juju Siouxsie & the Banshees -
Talk Talk Talk The Psychedelic Furs -
Killers Iron Maiden US
8 Season of Glass Yoko Ono -
15 Duran Duran Duran Duran -
16 Made in America The Carpenters -
19 Only a Lad Oingo Boingo -
27 No Sleep 'til Hammersmith Motörhead Live
29 Kim Wilde Kim Wilde -
30 As Far as Siam Red Rider -
Breakin' Away Al Jarreau -
The Baron Johnny Cash -
Black & White The Pointer Sisters -
Children of Paradise - The Greatest Hits of Boney M. - Vol. 2 Boney M. Compilation
Deuce Kurtis Blow -
Fire of Unknown Origin Blue Öyster Cult -
Fresh Fruit in Foreign Places Kid Creole and the Coconuts -
Here Comes the Night David Johansen -
In the Pocket Commodores -
I've Got the Rock'n'Rolls Again The Joe Perry Project -
Jumpin' Jive Joe Jackson -
Party Iggy Pop -
A Product Of... (Participation) Thompson Twins -
Reflector Pablo Cruise -
Renaissance Village People -
Share Your Love Kenny Rogers -
Six Pack Black Flag EP
Some Days Are Diamonds John Denver -
The One That You Love Air Supply -
Wanted Dread And Alive Peter Tosh -
Wha'ppen? The Beat -
What's THIS For...! Killing Joke -

July – September[edit]

Date Album Artist Notes
J
U
L
Y
2 4 Foreigner -
4 Signals, Calls and Marches Mission of Burma EP
11 High 'n' Dry Def Leppard -
20 Escape Journey -
Party Mix! The B-52's Remix
21 You Want It You Got It Bryan Adams -
24 Beauty and the Beat The Go-Go's -
26 Bucks Fizz Bucks Fizz -
27 Bella Donna Stevie Nicks -
29 Pleasant Dreams The Ramones -
The Time The Time -
31 Step by Step Eddie Rabbitt -
Blue and Gray Poco -
Document and Eyewitness Wire -
Dreamtime Tom Verlaine -
El Loco ZZ Top -
Endless Love Various Artists Soundtrack
Freetime Spyro Gyra -
The Friends of Mr Cairo Jon and Vangelis -
Girls to Chat and Boys to Bounce Foghat -
Heavy Metal Soundtrack Various Artists Soundtrack
Hoy-Hoy! Little Feat Compilation
It's a Condition Romeo Void -
Level 42 Level 42 -
Love Songs Cliff Richard -
The Man with the Horn Miles Davis -
Marauder Blackfoot -
Night of the Demon Demon -
Pirates Rickie Lee Jones -
The Pirates of Penzance Broadway Cast Album Various Artists Broadway cast recording
Precious Time Pat Benatar -
Three Quartets Chick Corea -
Time Electric Light Orchestra -
The Visitor Mick Fleetwood -
Walking Wild New England -
Was (Not Was) Was (Not Was) -
Whomp That Sucker Sparks -
Word of Mouth (Jaco Pastorius album) Jaco Pastorius -
A
U
G
U
S
T
8 KooKoo Debbie Harry -
10 Friday Night in San Francisco Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucía -
Shot of Love Bob Dylan -
12 Never Too Much Luther Vandross -
15 Give the People What They Want The Kinks -
Pretenders II The Pretenders -
18 Dark Continent Wall of Voodoo -
21 Wanna Be a Star Chilliwack -
24 Tattoo You The Rolling Stones -
25 Allied Forces Triumph -
Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash The Replacements -
26 Dead Set Grateful Dead Live
27 Dead Ringer Meat Loaf -
28 Alive Alone Mickey Thomas -
31 Fire of Love The Gun Club -
Brothers of the Road The Allman Brothers Band -
Heartbreak Radio Rita Coolidge -
The Innocent Age Dan Fogelberg -
Joy The Minutemen EP
King Cool Donnie Iris -
Love All the Hurt Away Aretha Franklin -
Maiden Japan Iron Maiden Live EP
New Traditionalists Devo -
The Pressure Is On Hank Williams, Jr. -
Scissors Cut Art Garfunkel -
Short Back 'n' Sides Ian Hunter -
Simplicity Tim Curry -
Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call Simple Minds -
Time Exposure Little River Band -
Torch Carly Simon -
Whitford/St. Holmes Brad Whitford and Derek St. Holmes -
S
E
P
T
E
M
B
E
R
2 1234 Ronnie Wood -
4 Dance Gary Numan -
Strait Country George Strait -
Why Do Fools Fall in Love Diana Ross -
7 Burning Blue Soul Matt Johnson The The singer
8 Denim and Leather Saxon -
10 Songs in the Attic Billy Joel Live
11 Rage in Eden Ultravox -
14 Abacab Genesis -
21 You Could Have Been with Me Sheena Easton -
22 Discipline King Crimson -
23 You Are What You Is Frank Zappa -
24 Something Special Kool & the Gang -
25 Wild Things The Creatures EP
Boonoonoonoos Boney M. -
Buchenwald Whitehouse -
Camouflage Rufus -
Camera Camera Renaissance -
Cats & Dogs Mental As Anything -
Dangerous Acquaintances Marianne Faithfull -
Deaf You've Got Foetus on Your Breath -
Gosh It's... Bad Manners -
Grand Funk Lives Grand Funk Railroad -
Happy Birthday Altered Images -
Hooligans The Who Compilation
If I Should Love Again Barry Manilow -
Kix Kix -
Lord Upminster Ian Dury -
Love Byrd Donald Byrd and 125th St, NYC -
Magic, Murder and the Weather Magazine -
Magic Windows Herbie Hancock -
Mark of the Mole The Residents -
MSG Michael Schenker Group -
Nine Tonight Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band Live
Penthouse and Pavement Heaven 17 -
Premonition Survivor -
Private Eyes Hall & Oates -
Red Mecca Cabaret Voltaire -
Rock until You Drop Raven -
Sleep No More Comsat Angels -
Snaz Nazareth Live
Special Forces Alice Cooper -
Time Exposure Little River Band -
Too Late the Hero John Entwistle -
Walk Under Ladders Joan Armatrading -

October – December[edit]

Date Album Artist Notes
O
C
T
O
B
E
R
2 Ghost in the Machine The Police -
3 Law and Order Lindsey Buckingham -
5 Kollaps Einstürzende Neubauten -
Speak & Spell Depeche Mode -
7 Get Lucky Loverboy -
8 Looking Back with Love Mike Love solo debut
Still Joy Division Compilation
10 Present Arms in Dub UB40 Remix
12 October U2 -
14 Controversy Prince -
16 In the Garden Eurythmics -
18 Sonic Attack Hawkwind -
19 Underneath the Colours INXS -
20 Dare The Human League -
Quarterflash Quarterflash -
21 Bobby and the Midnites Bobby and the Midnites -
23 Almost Blue Elvis Costello and the Attractions -
24 Don't Stop Billy Idol EP
26 Freeze Frame The J. Geils Band -
29 Exit...Stage Left Rush Live
31 The Best of Blondie Blondie Compilation
Big City Merle Haggard -
Chances Are Bob Marley & the Wailers Compilation of previously unreleased material
Christmas Album Boney M. Christmas
Circle of Love Steve Miller Band -
Coup de Grâce Mink DeVille -
Face to Face (GQ album) GQ -
Fourth Drawer Down Associates -
Gonna Ball Stray Cats -
Inside You The Isley Brothers -
Living Eyes Bee Gees -
Love Is Only Feeling Donovan -
Mask Bauhaus -
Physical Olivia Newton-John -
Round Trip The Knack -
See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah. City All Over! Go Ape Crazy Bow Wow Wow -
7 Madness -
Strictly Personal The Romantics -
Tom Tom Club Tom Tom Club -
Wrap It! Doug and the Slugs -
N
O
V
E
M
B
E
R
2 Re-ac-tor Neil Young and Crazy Horse -
4 Mob Rules Black Sabbath -
6 Shake It Up The Cars -
Tonight I'm Yours Rod Stewart -
7 Diary of a Madman Ozzy Osbourne -
8 Architecture & Morality Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark -
Greatest Hits Queen Compilation
9 Business as Usual Men at Work Australia, debut
La Folie The Stranglers -
10 Too Fast for Love Mötley Crüe -
11 The Jacksons Live! The Jacksons Live
13 Movement New Order -
Till Deaf Do Us Part Slade -
Tin Drum Japan -
14 Raise! Earth, Wind & Fire -
15 Renegade Thin Lizzy -
16 Music from "The Elder" Kiss -
Take It Off Chic -
18 I Love Rock 'n' Roll Joan Jett & the Blackhearts -
20 Stop and Smell the Roses Ringo Starr -
23 A Collection of Great Dance Songs Pink Floyd Compilation with alternate mixes
For Those About to Rock We Salute You AC/DC -
27 Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret Soft Cell -
Ten Out of 10 10cc -
29 In Concert Volume Two Amy Grant Live
30 Bad Religion (EP) Bad Religion EP
Best of the Blues Brothers The Blues Brothers -
The Visitors ABBA -
The Ascension Glenn Branca -
Changestwobowie David Bowie Compilation
Christmas Wishes Anne Murray Christmas
From the Lions Mouth The Sound -
Great Gonzos!: The Best of Ted Nugent Ted Nugent Compilation
Memories Barbra Streisand Compilation +3 new tracks
On the Way to the Sky Neil Diamond -
Pearls Elkie Brooks -
The Poet Bobby Womack -
Prince Charming Adam and the Ants -
She Shot Me Down Frank Sinatra -
Still the Same Ole Me George Jones -
Take No Prisoners Molly Hatchet -
Wired for Sound Cliff Richard -
D
E
C
E
M
B
E
R
5 Damaged Black Flag -
12 Welcome to Hell Venom -
15 LC The Durutti Column -
30 For Those Who Think Young Rough Trade -
? The Best of Top of the Pops '81 Top of the Poppers -
The Blasters The Blasters -
The Catherine Wheel David Byrne -
In God We Trust, Inc. Dead Kennedys EP
Peter Cetera Peter Cetera -
Ten Years of Harmony The Beach Boys -
Wilder The Teardrop Explodes -

Release Date Unknown[edit]

Biggest hit singles[edit]

The following songs achieved the highest chart positions in the charts of 1981.

# Artist Title Year Country Chart Entries
1 Kim Carnes Bette Davis Eyes 1981 United States US BB 1 – April 1981, Canada 1 – April 1981, France 1 – June 1981, Switzerland 1 – June 1981, Norway 1 – June 1981, Germany 1 – June 1981, Australia 1 for 5 weeks May 1982, Grammy in 1981, US CashBox 2 of 1981, Austria 2 – July 1981, South Africa 2 of 1981, Sweden (alt) 4 – May 1981, Italy 5 of 1981, Australia 6 of 1981, UK 10 – May 1981, Netherlands 16 – May 1981, RYM 16 of 1981, Germany 18 of the 1980s, OzNet 45, Scrobulate 66 of 80s, RIAA 268, Acclaimed 738
2 Soft Cell Tainted Love 1981 United Kingdom UK 1 – August 1981, Canada 1 – November 1981, France 1 – August 1981, Australia 1 for 3 weeks January 1983, Austria 2 – December 1981, Switzerland 2 – November 1981, Germany 2 – January 1982, Scrobulate 2 of 80s, Australia 3 of 1982, Sweden (alt) 4 – October 1981, RYM 4 of 1981, Netherlands 5 – October 1981, South Africa 5 of 1982, US BB 8 – May 1982, US BB 15 of 1982, POP 18 of 1982, Germany 37 of the 1980s, KROQ 38 of 1982, Virgin 41, US CashBox 50 of 1982, Party 142 of 2007, Acclaimed 163, Belgium 242 of all time, OzNet 451, WXPN 745
3 Phil Collins In the Air Tonight 1981 United Kingdom Netherlands 1 – February 1981, Sweden (alt) 1 – February 1981, Austria 1 – April 1981, Switzerland 1 – April 1981, UK 2 – January 1981, France 2 – March 1981, Germany 2 – March 1981, Canada 3 – June 1981, Norway 4 – March 1981, OzNet 7, Poland 12 – August 1982, Europe 13 of the 1980s, RYM 15 of 1981, POP 16 of 1981, US BB 19 – July 1981, Australia 23 of 1981, Italy 23 of 1981, US BB 27 of 1981, Germany 44 of the 1980s, Scrobulate 60 of pop, TheQ 87, Belgium 230 of all time, Acclaimed 1238
4 John Lennon Woman 1981 United Kingdom UK 1 – January 1981, Canada 1 – January 1981, Éire 1 – February 1981, New Zealand 1 for 5 weeks February 1981, US BB 2 – January 1981, Switzerland 2 – March 1981, Austria 4 – March 1981, Norway 5 – February 1981, France 7 – March 1981, Germany 7 – February 1981, US CashBox 16 of 1981, Sweden (alt) 18 – February 1981, Netherlands 21 – March 1981, RYM 22 of 1981, US BB 30 of 1981, Italy 34 of 1981, POP 34 of 1981, Virgin 59, OzNet 139, Germany 213 of the 1980s
5 Stars On 45 Stars On 45 1981 Netherlands US BB 1 – May 1981, Netherlands 1 – January 1981, Austria 1 – May 1981, Switzerland 1 – May 1981, Germany 1 – March 1981, New Zealand 1 for 7 weeks June 1981, Australia 1 for 4 weeks June 1982, UK 2 – April 1981, Australia 2 of 1981, Germany 5 of the 1980s, Sweden (alt) 7 – June 1981, US CashBox 13 of 1981, Italy 54 of 1981

Chronological table of US and UK Number One hit singles[edit]

Chronological table of US and UK Number One hit albums[edit]

Other significant singles of the year[edit]

Published popular music[edit]

Classical music[edit]

Opera[edit]

Musical theater[edit]

Musical films[edit]

Births[edit]

Deaths[edit]

Awards[edit]

Grammy Awards[edit]

Country Music Association Awards[edit]

Eurovision Song Contest[edit]

Charts[edit]

List of No. 1 Hits[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Rock Yearbook 1982. New York: Virgin Books Ltd. 1981. p. 22. ISBN 0-312-68784-2. 
  2. ^ Fricke,David (April 11, 1981). "One Ahead For Ozzy". Melody Maker (IPC Magazines Ltd.): 4. 
  3. ^ The Rock Yearbook 1983. New York: Virgin Books Ltd. 1982. p. 9. ISBN 0-312-68785-0.