20 Songs Released in 1981 You Must Hear

My rules:

  • Only one song per artist/group
  • The song must be released that specific year
  • Songs from live albums not allowed
  • Restricted to only 20 songs

1981 was not a great year in music for me, but still some wonderful albums & singles were relesed. Here are my 20 chosen songs.

    • Every Grain of Sand – Bob Dylan

      Written by Bob Dylan, recorded in Los Angeles in the spring of 1981 and released in August of that year on Dylan’s album Shot of Love.

      The love in “Every Grain of Sand,” though firmly rooted in Dylan’s conversion experience and his Bible studies, immediately and obviously reaches beyond its context to communicate a deeply felt devotional spirit based on universal experiences: pain of self-awareness, and sense of wonder or awe at the beauty of the natural world.
      -Paul Williams (Bob Dylan, performing artist:The Middle Years )

      In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
      When the pool of tears beneath my feet floods every newborn seed
      There’s a dying voice within me reaching out somewhere
      Toiling in the danger and the morals of despair

    • Start Me Up – The Rolling Stones

      Featured on the 1981 album Tattoo You. Released as the album’s lead single, it reached number one on Australian Kent Music Report, number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and number seven on the UK Singles Chart.

      If you start me up
      If you start me up I’ll never stop
      If you start me up
      If you start me up I’ll never stop

    • Champagne & Reefer – Muddy Waters

      From “King Bee”, the fourteenth and final studio album by Muddy Waters. Released in 1981, it is third in a series of records done for the label Blue Sky Records under producer/guitarist Johnny Winter.

      Yeah bring me champagne when I’m thirsty.
      Bring me reefer when I want to get high.
      Yeah bring me champagne when I’m thirsty.
      Bring me reefer when I want to get high.

    • I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal (But I’m Going to Be a Diamond Someday) – Billy Joe Shaver

      Released on his Columbia debut album with the same name in 1981.

      I’m just an old chunk of coal but I’m gonna be a diamond some day
      I’m gonna grow and glow till I’m so blue pure perfect
      I’m gonna put a smile on everybody’s face

    • Point Blank – Bruce Springsteen

      First released on Springsteen’s 1980 album The River. In Europe, it was also released as a single in 1981, backed by another song from The River, “Ramrod”. Although it was not released as a single in the US, it did reach #20 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

      Do you still say your prayers little darling, do you go to bed at night
      Praying that tomorrow everything will be alright
      But tomorrow’s fall in number, in number one by one
      You wake up and you’re dying, you don’t even know what from

    • Clubland – Elvis Costello & the Attractions

      From their 1981 album, Trust. Written in 1980, the song was performed live in festivals before the album’s release. The lyrics, inspired by the band’s most recent tour, describe life in night clubs, while the music includes inspiration from the Police.

      With a handful of backhanders and a bevy of beauty
      You’re going off limits
      Going off duty
      Going off the rails
      Going off with booty
      They tell tales of fiction found on all the criminal types
      Lead to a higher ranking man or a face with thin red stripes

    • Radio Free Europe – R.E.M.

      Released in 1981 as the band’s first single. A re-recorded version appeared on their 1983 debut album.

      Beside yourself if radio’s gonna stay
      Reason, it could polish up the gray
      Put that, put that, put that up your wall
      That this isn’t nothing at all

    • Ghost Town – The Specials

      Released as a single on 12 June 1981. The song spent three weeks at number one and 10 weeks in total in the top 40 of the UK Singles Chart. Addressing themes of urban decay, deindustrialisation, unemployment and violence in inner cities, the song is remembered for being a hit at the same time as riots were occurring in British cities.

      This town, is coming like a ghost town
      All the clubs have been closed down
      This place, is coming like a ghost town
      Bands won’t play no more
      Too much fighting on the dance floor

    • The Magnificent Seven – The Clash

      The third single from their fourth album Sandinista!, released April 19, 1981. It reached number 34 on the UK Singles Chart.

      Ring, ring, it’s 7:00 A.M.
      Move yourself to go again
      Cold water in the face
      Brings you back to this awful place

    • Tainted Love – Soft Cell

      “Tainted Love” is a song composed by Ed Cobb, formerly of American group the Four Preps, which was originally recorded by Gloria Jones in 1964. It attained worldwide fame after being covered by Soft Cell in 1981 and has since been covered by numerous groups and artists.

      Sometimes I feel I’ve got to
      Run away, I’ve got to
      Get away from the pain you drive into the heart of me
      The love we share
      Seems to go nowhere
      And I’ve lost my light
      For I toss and turn, I can’t sleep at night

    • If You Think You’re Lonely Now – Bobby Womack

      From “The Poet”, the thirteenth studio album by American musician Bobby Womack. The album was released in November 1981, by Beverly Glen Music.

      I wanna dedicate this song to all the lovers tonight
      And I expect that might be the whole world
      Because everybody needs something or someone to love

    • Pretty in Pink – The Psychedelic Furs

      A song by the English rock band The Psychedelic Furs, originally released in 1981 as a single from the band’s second album, Talk Talk Talk. The 1986 film was named after the song and a re-recorded version of the song was included on its soundtrack.

      Caroline laughs, and it’s raining all day
      Loves to be one of the girls
      She lives in the place in the side of our lives
      Where nothing is ever put straight

    • The Once Over Twice – X

      From Wild Gift, the second album by the American punk rock band X, released in 1981.

      I just heard the sad song by another band
      Sung by another man he gave me the once over twice
      I said when
      He said okay so long
      He hung me with the endless rope

    • For Those About To Rock (We Salute You) – AC/DC

      The song was first released on AC/DC’s eighth studio album For Those About to Rock We Salute You in 1981

      Stand up and be counted
      For what you are about to receive
      We are the dealers
      We’ll give you everything you need
      Hail hail to the good times
      ‘Cause rock has got the right of way
      We ain’t no legend, ain’t no ’cause
      We’re just livin’ for today

    • Under Pressure – Queen & David Bowie

      A 1981 single by the British rock band Queen. The song was written and recorded in collaboration with the singer David Bowie.

      Mm ba ba de
      Um bum ba de
      Um bu bu bum da de
      Pressure pushing down on me
      Pressing down on you no man ask for
      Under pressure that brings a building down
      Splits a family in two
      Puts people on streets

    • Paralysed – Gang of Four

      From “Solid Gold”, the second album by the British post-punk band Gang of Four, released in 1981.

      Blinkered, paralysed
      Flat on my back

      They say our world is built endeavor
      That every man is for himself
      Wealth is for the one that wants it
      Paradise, if you can earn it

    • Over the Mountain – Ozzy Osbourne

      From “Diary of a Madman”, the second solo studio album by British heavy metal vocalist Ozzy Osbourne. It was released on 7 November 1981, and re-issued on CD on 22 August 1995. This is the last Osbourne studio album to feature guitarist Randy Rhoads and drummer Lee Kerslake.

      Over the mountain, take me across the sky
      Something in my vision, something deep inside
      Where did I wander, where d’ya think I wandered to
      I’ve seen life’s magic astral plane I travel through

    • Our Lips Are Sealed – The Go Go’s

      From “Beauty and the Beat”, the debut album from Californian new wave band the Go-Go’s. Released in 1981 on the I.R.S. Records label.

      Can you hear them?
      They talk about us
      Telling lies
      Well, that’s no surprise

    • Controversy – Prince

      A song by American musician Prince, the lead single and title track to his 1981 album. The song addresses speculation about Prince at the time such as his sexuality, gender, religion, and racial background, and how he could not understand the curiosity surrounding him.

      I just can’t believe all the things people say
      Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?
      Do I believe in god, do I believe in me?

      Single version:

    • Computer World – Kraftwerk

      Title track from the eighth studio album by German electronic music band Kraftwerk, released on 10 May 1981.

      Interpol and Deutsche Bank
      FBI and Scotland Yard
      Interpol and Deutsche Bank
      FBI and Scotland Yard

These came close:

  • Please Don’t Touch – Motorhead/Girlschool
  • You Better You Bet – The Who (Face Dances)
  • Super Freak – Rick James
  • Give the People What They Want – The Kinks (Give the People What They Want)
  • Tom Sawyer – Rush (Moving Pictures)
  • I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll – Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll)
  • Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic – The Police (Ghost in the Machine)

Spotify Playlist:



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