1980: The Year Of British Heavy Metal


Welcome to the first in my series of blog posts taking a comprehensive look back at the 1980s. As both logic and chronology dictate, I’ve decided to start the ball rolling with a look at the year 1980.

In many ways 1980 can be seen as the year of British Heavy Metal. 1980 was the breakthrough year for what came to be known as NWOBHM – the ‘New Wave Of British Heavy Metal’; a ‘movement’ incorporating bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Girlschool, Motorhead, Saxon, Whitesnake and many more.

Motorhead's 1980s line-up with Lemmy in friendly mood!

For a brief moment ‘headbanging’ was in fashion. NWOBHM burst onto the UK music scene and into the collective subconscious with the exact same spontaneity and verve as Punk had done barely four years earlier. Even I (although still seeing myself as a Punk at heart and primarily listening that year to Killing Joke, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Clash) bought some NWOBHM vinyl. I bought Saxon’s Wheels Of Steel LP and a couple of Motorhead singles. Incidentally, Motorhead were largely very well liked and supported by us Punks – Lemmy often speaking well of us and going on record to say he preferred the authenticity and values of Punk to the pantomime rock of Judas Priest. Lemmy also played bass for Punk band The Damned on one occasion.

1980’s album releases were certainly dominated by NWOBHM acts. In April Iron Maiden released their eponymous debut LP. In the same month Saxon’s Wheels Of Steel, Judas Priest’s British Steel and Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell all appeared. May saw the advent of Whitesnake’s Ready an’ Willing while June provided Girlschool’s Demolition. November meant the release of Motorhead’s legendary Ace Of Spades.

By way of contrast and (musical) alternative, December 1980 produced the release of The Clash’s triple album Sandinista. Sandinista was a triple album that was priced as a single LP – the cost difference having been subsidized by the band themselves – a reminder to the ‘greed is good’ generation of the 80s (and many folks today methinks!) that life didn’t always have to be about profit, profit, profit! Of course, I bought Sandinista and then went to see The Clash on tour in 1981.

John Lennon unknowingly signs an autograph for his killer

We lost a lot of big names from the world of music in 1980. In February AC/DC’s charismatic front man, Bon Scott, died – prompting a rapid change in personnel and the release (in July 1980) of the album Back In Black. In May Joy Division’s troubled and introspective lead singer, Ian Curtis, sadly committed suicide. In September  the legendary Led Zep drummer, John Bonham, passed away. Then, on 8th December 1980, the entire world was shocked when John Lennon was murdered.

...heeeeeeeeere's johnny!!!

1980 was a good year at the movies. Effectively, it was the year of the ‘quality blockbuster’. The year saw the release of Airplane!, The Shining and The Blues Brothers – as well as one of my own all-time fave films; Raging Bull. Apart from The Shining, fright fans also witnessed the birth of the ‘slasher flick’ when the first Friday The 13th hit the big screen.

Rude Boy - but not my version this time!

Of course, I should also mention that the UK’s cinemas in 1980 saw the release of The Clash movie, Rude Boy – a blend of documentary footage of Clash gigs and civil unrest combined with the fictional tale of a down-at-heel and out-of-luck Clash fan. As many of you will know, I named my first novel RUDE BOY (out now on Amazon/Kindle!) in tribute to that movie.

Politically 1980 belonged to Solidarnosc (aka Solidarity) – a Polish trade union movement seeking greater freedoms for workers from their Soviet government. It was in August 1980 that the Solidarity leader Lech Walesa – with his trademark walrus moustache – first captured the imagination of the global news media. This was the first inkling that the era of Gorbachev and ‘glasnost’ was approaching.

The TV screens of 1980 also witnessed the infamous ‘Who shot JR?’ episode of the OTT US oil barons soap opera, Dallas. A ‘TV event’ of a type almost unimaginable in the modern age of the internet, the episode that revealed JR’s would-be assassin was watched by 83 million viewers.

And finally…my cultural icon of 1980? Why, none other than Pac Man! Released in 1980 by the Midway Corp of Japan, Pac Man remains the most played video arcade game of all time (although I always preferred Space Invaders, Galaxians or Bomber Man!)

Oh and…here’s another pic of yours truly in 1980. See you all in 1981 on the next blog post.

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