The late 1970s proved to be significant in terms of the development of popular music. The end of the 1970s wasn’t filled with nostalgia for what had passed, but rife with excitement for what lie ahead. Most of us were starting to write off the double-album format as pretentious, old-fashioned and expensive, given the quality of some of the music that was packed into those two vinyl platters. I certainly did.
And I was wrong.
As far as double albums go, the transition between 1979 and the 1980s was dominated by a monster and an upstart: Pink Floyd’s The Wall and the Clash’s London Calling, both courtesy of CBS Records. On the one hand, the Floyd stalwarts pumped out yet another brilliant, existential, pristinely produced stereophonic nightmare; on the other, London Calling was a huge leap forward for punk rock and for alternative music — a profound, rough-and-ready mixture of musical styles, genres and attitudes that would paint the way for the innovation and the eclectic fusions of the world music movement of the 1980s.
They were exciting times. Locally, the ’79-’80 Greyhounds, coached by Terry Crisp, boasted a roster that included Steve Gatzos, Paul Coffey, Dirk Rueter and Doug Shedden. City Hall Medals of Merits went to Walter Lukenda, Frank Nolan Sr., and Eric Alessandrini in 1979, and to Frank Elliott, Paul Paolini, Elsie Savoi, and Mary Wilson in 1980. Nineteen seventy-nine also saw the release of the first Walkman. Cassettes had largely replaced 8-tracks, and the big thing in high school was to have the best possible home stereo one could (or could not) afford. I took my first paycheck from my new job with the General Hospital Dietary Department and bought my first component stereo — a combination of units from Radio Shack and from Moore’s Audio: 150 watts of audio muscle. And the record I christened my new stereo with was The Wall, and it blew me away.
It was — is — a sonic masterpiece. Swirling voices and effects, brooding yet beautiful melodies (“Mother”, “Goodbye Blue Sky”, “Hey You”) and soul-searing rockers (“Young Lust”, “Comfortably Numb”, “Run Like Hell”). You didn’t feel great after listening to the whole thing, but it was clear that it was going to be an album for the ages. The Wall was played endlessly and talked about almost as often among my acquaintances at school. Angst never goes out of fashion for post-adolescent high school boys.
But the writing was on the album cover, so to speak.
I had eased into a comfortable existence at the Dunn. I was working with local DJ Tom Murray at Supersound Entertainment, playing music for local school dances. The music was changing — electronic pulses and crisp synthesizers were replacing disco beats and anthemic rock songs. Kids still rocked out to “Another Brick in the Wall” but had equal energy to pogo and strut to songs like “Rock Lobster,” “My Sharona,” “Message in a Bottle, ” and the great London Calling single, “Train in Vain.” The tunes blasting out of my 1979 Chevette (with the requisite fuzzy dice) morphed from AC/DC and Zeppelin into XTC and The Boomtown Rats.
What London Calling brought to popular music was a surprising diversity of global music. Rock, punk, reggae, lounge, South African gumboot — nearly every song boasted an international heritage. And accordions! Songs like “Hateful”, “Wrong ‘Em Boyo”, “Jimmy Jazz,” “Clampdown” and “Rudie Can’t Fail” ushered in a new era of popular music. Even London Calling’s cover was iconoclastic: a parody of Elvis Presley’s 1956 debut album, with bassist Paul Simonon trashing his guitar onstage, mocking the original image Elvis in mid-song, strumming his guitar. A brilliant choice for the Clash, and a prescient visual metaphor for the new decade that would be at once tough and playful, rebellious and familiar, sardonic and gentle.
By the time my LCBO Card was issued, and I began going to The Vic, The Moviola, Systems, and of course, to university pubs, I was pretty much a convert to this new world music scene. Rock music didn’t fall completely out of popularity so much as it expanded its territories and embraced a new generation of musicians looking to reinvigorate rock and pop music. This reinvigoration would become the hallmark of all aspects of pop culture in the 1980s and would serve as the soundtrack to my university years and beyond.