As my collection of K-Tel compilations began to grow, I realized my old assortment of platters included one of the label’s most celebrated releases.
Rock 80 was a two-time hand-me-down. An older cousin passed it on to a tween-age Maura, who in turn handed it off to me during the early days of our relationship.
Relocating the album was no easy feat. My musical tastes were a bit too punky to fully appreciate it at the time, and so it ended up on the bottom end of collection that has since been relocated, merged, sorted, and shifted multiple times over the past quarter-century. After my fifth or sixth fruitless deep dive through the crates, I finally noticed it had been on top of an ancillary stack of albums I’d put aside to clear a path to the bulk of our combined record collection.
(I am morally obligated to point out that have no grounds to complain about this, as I chose to be a lazy jerk who sat on the sidelines while Maura selflessly and courageously brought some semblance of order to our attic collection of crap.)
The album was in astonishingly good condition for its age, pedigree, and lack of a protective inner sleeve. Here’s the track list:
A1 Gary Numan – Cars
A2 The Pretenders – Brass In Pocket
A3 Sniff ‘N’ The Tears – Driver’s Seat
A4 Nick Lowe – Cruel To Be Kind
A5 Joe Jackson – Is She Really Going Out With Him?
A6 Pat Benatar – Heartbreaker
A7 Blondie – Call Me
B1 The Ramones – Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio?
B2 The Knack – My Sharona
B3 Cheap Trick – I Want You To Want Me (Live)
B4 Ian Gomm – Hold On
B5 Blondie – One Way Or Another
B6 Pat Benatar – We Live For Love
B7 M – Pop Muzik
The song selection reflects the brief moment when the “new wave” made its initial foray into the mainstream pop charts. Maura refers to that era as “The Cusp” — the temporal phantom zone between what is culturally perceived as the “the Seventies” and “the Eighties.” It was a significant period for me, as it bridged the gap between childhood and early adolescence. It was further reinforced by the arrival of a musically hip teenage aunt to our household and a short-lived cable subscription which introduced me — thanks to HBO’s pre-feature filler programming — to the hauntingly fascinating world of pre-MTV music video.
As a result, Rock 80 is an almost-perfect musical core sample of audio-driven nostalgia to my ears.
The album was created to spotlight the “new music,” a term that has since been eclipsed by the more specific “new wave.” While the latter was coined as a means of divesting punk and punk-adjacent artists from punk’s social stigma, the former was a wider blanket term used to describe newer artists who fell outside then dominant camps of disco, AOR stadium-ready fare, and soft rock. Pat Benatar and Cheap Trick weren’t “new wave,” but they were marketed as “new music” (alongside Tom Petty and AC/DC, who did not make it on to Rock 80).
A good compilation can make you overlook the weaker material on it. A great one can make you believe you actually like the clunkers…as long as turntable is spinning, at least. I had my fill of “My Sharona” when I was eight and have never cared much for The Pretenders, but having those tracks bracketed by Gary Numan and The Ramones softened my attitude immensely. Individual songs matter less than the overall testament to a pop moment that still haunts me to present day.
I could even forgive the album’s dual instances of double-dipping with Blondie and Pat Benatar. On other K-Tel efforts, it comes off as lazy pandering (and usually involved the Osmonds in some way). Here it allowed them to showcase different sounds by a pair of artists that I happen to adore.
Of all the K-Tel offerings I’ve picked up over the past eight months, Rock 80 has gotten the most spins. There were a few weeks following its unearthing last fall when it never left the turntable. I played it non-stop while doing my weekend chores, and drop the needle down on it as soon as I got home from work.
It’s unbroken streak came to an abrupt halt on November 8. Maura and I were carpooling home from work when Sniff ‘n’ The Tears’ “Driver’s Seat” came on the space radio’s Seventies channel.
“Hey, that’s on Rock 80! Man, I cannot wait for this night to be over so that orange fuckwad can be kicked to the curb.”
I’ve tried listening to the album a couple times since then, but that associative stink has been hard to shake.