It’s not a very bold statement to say that the 2020s have gotten off to a less-than-awesome start. We’re not even six months into this decade, and the U.S. is already seeing historic unemployment figures and a second Great Depression right on the horizon — not to mention the fact that we can’t step outside without having the legit fear that we’ll contract a deadly virus.
This was supposed to be the year when Rage Against the Machine reformed for a massive arena tour and acts like the Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, Neil Young (with Crazy Horse!), and Billie Eilish all headed out on the road as well. Instead, we’re watching artists stream from their bedrooms while we hope that maybe, just maybe, they’ll be able to play makeup dates in 2021.
The last time a decade got off to this bad a start was in 1980, when the Iran hostage crisis was raging, inflation and unemployment numbers were spiking, and there were gas shortages across America. And just like now, a first-term president had sinking approval ratings and was facing a formidable opponent that many had dismissed due to his advanced age and the fact this was his third run at the White House.
There was one saving grace back then: The music could not have been better. 1980 saw groundbreaking new albums by the Clash, John Lennon, Queen, U2, Dire Straits, the Police, Prince, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and too many others to mention. Hip-hop and the New Romantic scene were just starting to bubble up, while post-punk, New Wave, disco and the new wave of British heavy metal were all in full bloom. It was a genuinely great time to turn on the radio, as long as you stayed away from the news.
It all peaked in the month of October 1980, which one could easily argue was the greatest month in music history. Here, as part of Rolling Stone’s new weekly playlist series, “Music at Home,” are 10 killer songs from that four-week span that will hopefully make you forget how much everything sucks right now.
The Police, “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”
Sting wrote this song from the perspective of a schoolteacher trying to fight his attraction to a student. Today, it sounds more like a theme song for the era of social distancing.
Bruce Springsteen, “Out In The Street”
In the before times, everyone could dream about partying “beneath the neon lights” of the city after a grueling week of work. Today, you simply move to another part of the couch when the weekend whistle blows.
Dire Straits, “Romeo and Juliet”
Mark Knopfler reportedly drew inspiration for this song of star-crossed love from a real-life breakup with another musician.
Talking Heads, “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)”
Talking Heads’ 1980 LP Remain in Light is the ultimate dance party, kicking off with this funk masterpiece. Guitarist Jerry Harrison was supposed to play the album in full this summer in honor of its 40th anniversary, but those plans will likely have to wait.
Prince owned the Eighties like no other musician, with the possible exception of Michael Jackson. It all started with this classic off his groundbreaking LP Dirty Mind.
U2, “The Electric Co”
U2 hadn’t stepped foot onto North America when their debut album, Boy, landed in October 1980 — but anyone that heard this true-life tale of a friend driven mad by electric shock therapy knew they were going to be something big.
John Lennon, “Just Like Starting Over”
Anticipation was very high for “Just Like Starting Over” in October 1980, because there hadn’t been a new John Lennon song in six years. The hopeful tune was greeted as a return to form and set expectations very high for his new album, Double Fantasy, which was coming out the following month. It’s still one of his greatest songs ever, even though it’s impossible now to avoid thinking about the tragedy nobody knew was just around the corner.
Aretha Franklin, “United Together”
The Queen of Soul began the Eighties by jumping to Arista Records after a 12-year run on Atlantic. The leadoff single from her second self-titled LP is a soaring anthem about finding true love.
Circle Jerks, “Group Sex”
Sixty-three seconds of Ramones-style guitars, a “group sex” chant and readings from dirty personal ads. What could be more punk?
Diamond Head, “Am I Evil?”
This song had such a profound impact on Eighties heavy metal that when Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth toured together in 2010, they wrapped up many of the shows with all four bands playing it as one.