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List of years in music
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Years in music: 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984
Centuries: 19th century · 20th century · 21st century
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Years: 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984

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

Events[]

January–April[]

  • 10 January – A revival of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance opens at Broadway's Uris Theatre, starring Linda Ronstadt and Rex Smith.
  • 18 JanuaryWendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics is arrested in Milwaukee for simulating masturbation with a sledgehammer on stage. In a scuffle with the police Williams is pinned to the floor and receives a cut above the eye requiring twelve stitches.[1]
  • 24 JanuaryAerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler is injured in a motorcycle crash that leaves him hospitalized for two months.
  • 9 FebruaryPhil Collins releases his first solo album (but will not leave the band Genesis until 1995).
  • 12 FebruaryRush release the highly regarded album Moving Pictures which eventually becomes the band's sixth platinum album.
  • 14 FebruaryBilly Idol leaves the band Generation X to begin a solo career.
  • 14 March – Suffering from bleeding ulcers, Eric Clapton is admitted to United Hospital in Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA. Clapton's 60-city tour of the US is cancelled, and he remains in hospital for a month.
  • 27 MarchOzzy Osbourne bites the head off a dove at a CBS record label gathering in Los Angeles.[2]
  • 1 AprilThe Go-Go's sign to IRS Records.
  • 4 April – British pop group Bucks Fizz wins the 26th Eurovision Song Contest, held at the RDS Simmonscourt Pavilion, Dublin, with the song "Making Your Mind Up".
  • 11 AprilVan Halen's lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen marries actress Valerie Bertinelli.
  • 18 AprilYes announce that they are breaking up. (They would reunite frequently in years to come).
  • 20 AprilThe Mamas & the Papas' John Phillips is sentenced to five years in jail after pleading guilty to drug possession charges. Phillips' sentence would be suspended after thirty days in exchange for 250 hours of community service.
  • 22 AprilEric Clapton is taken to the hospital suffering from bruised ribs and a lacerated shin, following a car accident in Seattle, Washington.
  • 27 AprilRingo Starr and Barbara Bach marry, in London, England.

May–August[]

  • 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.
  • 11 May – The Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley dies from cancer at the age of 36.
  • 14 MayDiana 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 JuneU2 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, is premiered on the USA Network.
  • 6 JuneKerrang! magazine publishes its first issue. Angus Young of AC/DC is on the cover.
  • 30 JuneJerry 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 broadcasts for the first time 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[]

  • 11 SeptemberIron Maiden fires lead singer Paul Di'Anno.
  • 19 SeptemberSimon & Garfunkel perform a free reunion concert in New York City's Central Park attended by over 500,000 fans.
  • 25 SeptemberThe Rolling Stones open their US tour in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • 26 SeptemberIron Maiden hires Samson lead singer Bruce Bruce AKA Bruce Dickinson to replace Paul Di'Anno, Dickinson will finish off the last 7 dates of the Killer World Tour.
  • 26 OctoberIron Maiden plays its first show with Bruce Dickinson as the new lead singer in Bologna, Italy.
  • 27 October – The British Phonographic Industry takes out newspaper ads unveiling its new slogan: "Home Taping Is Killing Music". The ads advocate a levy on blank cassette tapes.[3]
  • 31 October – Punk band Fear makes a memorable appearance on Saturday Night Live. A group of fans storm the stage and damage TV equipment while moshing, resulting in the show cutting to commercial.
  • 18 November – While sitting in Tom's Restaurant in New York City, Suzanne Vega composes the song "Tom's Diner".
  • 18 December – An estimated 35 million people around the world watch a live satellite transmission of a Rod Stewart concert at the Los Angeles Forum. It is the first broadcast of its kind since Elvis Presley's "Aloha from Hawaii" special in 1973.
  • 31 December – The tenth annual New Year's Rockin' Eve special airs on ABC, with appearances by Four Tops, Rick Springfield, Barry Manilow, Alabama and Rick James.

Also in 1981[]

  • The organ at the famous Heinävesi Church in Finland is renewed, using locks from the original organ.
  • Alice Cooper drastically changes his appearance, leaving behind his trademark make-up and donning a military uniform.
  • Synthpop enjoys mainstream popularity in the UK, with groups such as Ultravox, Depeche Mode, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and The Human League releasing hit singles and albums.
  • Menudo's golden era (1981–1985) begins in Latin America, parts of Europe and Asia.
  • Brad Whitford leaves Aerosmith and is replaced by Rick Dufay.
  • Hal Willner "invents" the modern tribute album with Amacord Nino Rota.

Bands formed[]

Bands disbanded[]

Albums released[]

  1. Reckoning Grateful Dead

Biggest hit singles[]

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 Medley 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[]

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

1981' s Significant singles[]

  1. Ghost Town The Specials
  2. Don't You Want Me The Human League

Published popular music[]

  • "9 To 5" w.m. Dolly Parton from the film Nine to Five
  • "All Those Years Ago" w.m. George Harrison
  • "Allentown" w.m. Billy Joel
  • "Allergies" w.m. Paul Simon
  • "America" w.m. Neil Diamond from the film The Jazz Singer
  • "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" w. Tom Eyen m. Henry Krieger from the musical Dreamgirls
  • "Arthur's Theme" w.m. Carole Bayer Sager, Burt Bacharach, Christopher Cross & Peter Allen from the film Arthur
  • "At This Moment" w.m. Billy Vera
  • "Baby, Come To Me" w.m. Rod Temperton
  • "Being With You" w.m. William "Smokey" Robinson
  • "Believe it or Not (Theme From The Greatest American Hero)" w. Stephen Geyer m. Mike Post
  • "The Best of Times" w.m. Dennis DeYoung
  • "Bette Davis Eyes" w. Donna Weiss m. Jackie DeShannon
  • "Black Limousine" w.m. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood
  • "Bruce" w.m. Rick Springfield
  • "Chariots of Fire" w. Jon Anderson m. Vangelis
  • "Dynasty theme song" m. Bill Conti
  • "The First Time it Happens" w.m. Joe Raposo, from the film The Great Muppet Caper
  • "Good Thing Going (Going Gone)"     w.m. Stephen Sondheim
  • "Hill Street Blues theme song" m. Mike Post
  • "Key Largo"     w.m. Bertie Higgins & Sonny Limbo
  • "Memory w. Trevor Nunn & T. S. Eliot m. Andrew Lloyd Webber. Introduced by Elaine Paige in the musical Cats.
  • "One of the Girls" w. Fred Ebb m. John Kander introduced by Lauren Bacall in the musical Woman of the Year


Births[]

Deaths[]

  • January 1Hephzibah Menuhin, pianist and human rights campaigner, 60
  • January 4Ruth Lowe, pianist and songwriter, 66
  • January 23Samuel Barber, composer, 70
  • January 25Adele Astaire, US dancer, actress and singer, 84
  • February 1
    • Frank Merrick, pianist
    • Geirr Tveitt, Norwegian composer, 72
    • Ernst Pepping, composer, 79
  • February 9Bill Haley, rock and roll pioneer, 55 (heart attack)
  • February 15
    • Mike Bloomfield, blues guitarist, 37 (accidental drug overdose)
    • Karl Richter, German organist and conductor, 54
  • February 19Olive Gilbert, actress and singer, 82
  • February 21Ron Grainer, electronic music pioneer and composer, 58
  • February 26Howard Hanson, composer, 84
  • April 5
    • Bob Hite, vocalist (Canned Heat), 38 (heart attack)
    • Maurice Zbriger, violinist, composer and conductor
  • April 7Kit Lambert, former manager and producer of The Who, 45 (fell downstairs)
  • April 8Burt Shevelove, librettist, 66
  • April 14Ivan Galamian, violin teacher, 78
  • April 28Steve Currie, bassist of T.Rex, 33 (car crash)
  • May 11Bob Marley, reggae musician, 36 (cancer)
  • May 25Roy Brown, blues singer, 55
  • May 28Mary Lou Williams, jazz pianist, 71
  • July 1Rushton Moreve, US bass player and songwriter (Steppenwolf), 32
  • July 16Harry Chapin, US singer-songwriter, 38 (car crash)
  • August 18Robert Russell Bennett, composer and arranger, 87
  • August 26Lee Hays, folk singer, 67
  • September 2Tadeusz Baird, composer, 53
  • September 8Master Venu, film composer, 65
  • September 14Furry Lewis, country blues guitarist and songwriter, 88
  • September 15Chick Bullock, US singer, 72
  • September 22 – Henry Warren, film songwriter, 87
  • October 2Hazel Scott, classical pianist and singer, 61
  • October 5Sven Gyldmark, film composer, 77
  • October 13Marius Casadesus, violinist and composer, 88
  • October 15Elsie Randolph, English actress, dancer and singer, 77
  • October 29Georges Brassens, singer-songwriter, 60
  • November 27Lotte Lenya, actress and singer, wife of Kurt Weill, 83
  • December 13Cornelius Cardew, avant-garde composer, 45 (road accident)
  • December 27Hoagy Carmichael, pianist, singer and songwriter, 82

Awards[]

Grammy Awards[]

  • Grammy Awards of 1981

Country Music Association Awards[]

Template:Empty section

Eurovision Song Contest[]

Charts[]

List of No. 1 Hits[]

  • Hot 100 No. 1 Hits of 1981

US Top 40 Hits[]

  • Billboard Top 40 of 1981

See also[]

  • Timeline of musical events

References[]

  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.
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