A collection of the greatest music stories never told. This season the poet and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib explores a single year: 1980 - the brilliant, awkward and sometimes heartbreaking opening to a monumental decade in popular music.
In 1980, anti-disco sentiment was at a high and Grace Jones was coming off a trilogy of disco albums. If she stayed stagnant, it felt like her career could be swept away. And so out of disco’s death rattle – driven by the discomfort of white male tastemakers – Grace Jones rose, reinforced and reimagined in a new decade freshly obsessed with risk.
Most know Minnie Riperton because of one part in one song. “Lovin’ You” was Riperton’s biggest hit, and she doesn’t sing that magic, piercing note until around the 3-minute mark. Cancer took Riperton away tragically in 1979, and the next year producers got to work on a posthumous album. Filled with leftover recordings and celebrity cameos, “Love Lives Forever” is an album full of ghosts.
Hugh Masekela & Miriam Makeba
In December of 1980, two exiled artists and freedom fighters attempted return to their home in South Africa for a concert. Jazz musician Hugh Masekela and singer Miriam Makeba were briefly married, but they had a robust collaborative relationship that stretched across multiple decades. The 1980 concert wound up happening in neighboring Lesotho — and the performance became about defiance, namely against the Apartheid government in South Africa. But a recording mishap meant the concert needed to be recorded in a more intimate, perhaps even better, setting.
John Lennon & Darby Crash
Punk singer Darby Crash dreamed of immortality. The single full-length Germs album was to become a holy grail of music history, and his passing might’ve made him a legend, but Darby Crash died on December 7 th , 1980. By the time the news of his death began to circulate, it was well into December 8 th , the day John Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman. As radio stations in Los Angeles began to start their marathon of Germs songs, John Lennon lay dying in New York, at the doorway to his apartment. Eventually news and radio stations broke away to deliver what must have seemed like a larger, more urgent heartbreak.
In May of 1980, Joy Division lost its lead singer, Ian Curtis. The band decided that they would carry on with a different name. From the cutting room floor, a song with Ian Curtis haphazardly slurring the words he’d written became the first single for a decade-defining band. New Order was made up of people who were weighed down by grief and regrets. Straining themselves to make sure they did justice to the words Ian Curtis couldn’t bring himself to sing.
The Sugarhill Gang
In 1979, "Rapper’s Delight" was released and went on to become the first Top 40 hip-hop single. Sugarhill Gang almost had no choice but to follow the single up with a full-length. So in the early months of 1980, a six song, nearly forty minute album by a rap group was released. The debut, self-titled album by the Sugarhill Gang wasn’t received without controversy, and wasn’t received without skepticism. When one thinks about the greatest rap groups of all time, Sugarhill Gang might be an afterthought, says Lost Notes host Hanif Abdurraqib . But, sometimes, legacy is not about the spark itself, but about the flame the spark causes.