The 10 Biggest Albums In 1981

The 10 Biggest Albums In 1981

lennon, collins, wonder
L: John Lennon. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images). C: Phil Collins (Photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns). R: Stevie Wonder (Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images).

Music was at a crossroads in 1981. Late '70s genres like disco and punk made way for the arrival of new wave and New Romantics, while the dawn of the MTV era brought a whole new visual component to songs. In Australia, the top 10 biggest albums for the year reflected the changing nature of the music scene, with local new wave bands rubbing shoulders with more traditional pub rock. Meanwhile, in a male-heavy list, up-and-coming solo stars and music legends alike convinced record buyers to part with their cash.   

10. Corroboree by Split Enz

Peak: number 1

Charting singles: “One Step Ahead” (number 5), “History Never Repeats” (number 4), “I Don’t Wanna Dance” (number 65)

Their second of three chart-topping albums in a row for Split Enz, Corroboree was named Waiata in the band’s homeland of New Zealand, with Australia the only country to alter the title (although there had been plans for it to change for each country). With two top 5 singles, Corroboree spawned more big hits than predecessor True Colours (the third biggest album for 1980) but spent less than half as long on the albums chart.

9. Christopher Cross by Christopher Cross

Peak: number 6

Charting singles: “Ride Like The Wind” (number 25), “Sailing” (number 46), “Never Be The Same” (number 42)

It might not have made the top 5 or given rise to smash singles, but the self-titled debut album by the yacht rock star made up for that with its longevity – 104 weeks in the top 100 – and multiple Grammy Awards, including for Album Of The Year. Also in 1981, Christopher Cross released his biggest Australia hit, “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)”, the soundtrack single that reached number 13.

8. Hotter Than July by Stevie Wonder

Peak: number 3

Charting singles: “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” (number 2), “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It” (number 61), “Lately” (number 17), “Happy Birthday” (number 31)

Stevie Wonder’s highest-charting album locally from his lengthy discography came at a time when Australia finally embraced the Motown legend after earlier US hits like “Superstition” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” had flopped here. Musically and lyrically, Hotter Than July was a diverse album, genre-hopping from soul to reggae to synthpop, and with songs addressing topics as diverse as war, race and romance.

7. Face Value by Phil Collins

Peak: number 2

Charting singles: “In The Air Tonight” (number 3), “I Missed Again” (number 88)

The Genesis frontman was only getting warmed up with his debut album, which kicked off his solo career and a decade of what felt like omnipresence on the chart. A deeply personal body of work, Face Value was written during problems in Phil’s marriage to first wife Andrea, with the couple’s 1980 divorce inspiring what would be the lead single, “In The Air Tonight”, which remains one of the singer’s best-known tracks.

6. Icehouse by Flowers

Peak: number 4

Charting singles: “Can’t Help Myself” (number 10), “We Can Get Together” (number 16), “Walls” (number 20)

Leading Australia’s new wave charge, the band who would change their name to match their debut album’s title hit the ground running with three consecutive top 20 hits. The switch from Flowers to Icehouse in 1981 was due to a Scottish band called The Flowers causing issues for their international release, and although Iva Davies et al didn’t really take off overseas, this debut established them as one of the biggest bands in this country.

5. Making Movies by Dire Straits

Peak: number 6

Charting singles: “Tunnel Of Love” (number 62)

Another album low on hits – “Romeo And Juliet” surprisingly didn’t make the top 100 – but high on weeks on the chart (108 in total), Making Movies gave an indication of just how Dire Straits would come to dominate the albums chart in the ’80s. The Jimmy Iovine-produced album came at a pivotal time for Dire Straits, with David Knopfler leaving the band after continued disagreements with brother Mark, who recruited new members to the line-up.

4. Bad Habits by Billy Field

Peak: number 1

Charting singles: “Bad Habits” (number 4), “You Weren’t In Love With Me” (number 1)

He’d started his music career in 1967, but it wasn’t until 1981 that singer-songwriter Billy Field launched as a solo artist, quickly racking up two major hits from debut album Bad Habits. As those singles indicated, the big band-style album contained both upbeat swingers and more subdued ballads that showcased Billy’s distinctive husky vocals.

3. Back In Black by AC/DC

Peak: number 1

Charting singles: “You Shook Me All Night Long” (number 8), “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution/Hells Bells” (number 7)

They’d had big albums before, but not like this. Establishing that AC/DC could overcome the tragic loss of lead singer Bon Scott, the massive success of Back In Black reconfirmed the rock band as a major force in not just the Australian music industry but in the international scene as well, with total sales now exceeding 50 million copies worldwide.

2. Sirocco by Australian Crawl

Peak: number 1

Charting singles: “Things Don’t Seem” (number 11), “Errol” (number 18), “Oh No Not You Again/Lakeside” (number 58)

Back In Black might have had a longer shelf life, but as far as 1981 went, the second album from Australian Crawl was the biggest release by a local act. And while Sirocco sailed effortlessly to number 1, lead single “Things Don’t Seem” was the closest the band came to a top 10 hit until 1983’s Semantics EP (which featured “Reckless (Don’t Be So)”). The album got its title from the name of the yacht owned by actor Errol Flynn, who also inspired the second single.

1. Double Fantasy by John Lennon and Yoko Ono

Peak: number 1

Charting singles: “(Just Like) Starting Over” (number 1), “Woman” (number 4), “Watching The Wheels” (number 45)

There was no doubt John Lennon’s return to music was going to be successful. Indeed, both Double Fantasy and its lead single had reached the Australian top 10 before the former Beatle was shot on December 8, 1980. But in the aftermath of the murder of one of the most influential musicians of all time, his final work – alongside wife Yoko Ono – took on even more significance, with the album spending 10 weeks at number 1.

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