1981 in Rock & Roll History:

Synthpop emerges with success for many UK acts including Soft Cell, Human League, Ultravox and Depeche Mode. Rockabilly and ska enjoy brief revivals.
Simon and Garfunkel reunite for a performance to a crowd of over 550,000 in New York City's Central Park. Reggae star Bob Marley dies of cancer. Diana Ross leaves Motown for RCA making her the highest paid artist of the time. The USA Network launches Nightflight a show featuring music videos, interviews and documentaries.

Top 40 Singles of 1981

  1   Kim Carnes - Bette Davis Eyes
  2   Starsound - Stars On 45
  3   Diana Ross & Lionel Richie
       Endless Love
  4   Soft Cell - Tainted Love
  5   Olivia Newton-John
       (Let's Get) Physical
  6   John Lennon - Woman
  7   Phil Collins - In the Air Tonight
  8   Kool & The Gang - Celebration
  9   Dolly Parton - 9 to 5
10   Joe Dolce - Shaddup You Face
11   The Rolling Stones - Start Me Up
12   Christopher Cross - Arthur's Theme
13   Sheena Easton - Morning Train
14   The Police
       Every Little Thing She Does is Magic
15   Blondie - Rapture
16   Sheena Easton - For Your Eyes Only
17   Earth, Wind & Fire - Let's Groove
18   REO Speedwagon
       Keep On Loving You
19   Foreigner
       Waiting For a Girl Like You
20   Smokey Robinson - Being With You
21   Rick Springfield - Jessie's Girl
22   Kim Wilde - Kids in America
23   The Police
       De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
24   Queen & David Bowie
       Under Pressure
25   Foreigner - Urgent
26   Aneka - Japanese Boy
27   Don McLean - Cryin'
28   George Harrison
       All Those Years Ago
29   Electric Light Orchestra
       Hold On Tight
30   Rod Stewart - Passion
31   Abba - One of Us
32   Visage - Fade to Grey
33   Grover Washington Jr
       Just the Two of Us
34   Hall & Oates - Kiss On My List
35   Rick James - Super Freak
36   Ultravox - Vienna
37   Hall & Oates - Private Eyes
38   Bucks Fizz - Making Your Mind Up
39   Shakin' Stevens - This Ole House
40   Rod Stewart - Young Turks

Top 50 Albums of 1981

  1   The Rolling Stones - Tattoo You
  2   The Police - Ghost In The Machine
  3   Phil Collins - Face Value
  4   The Human League - Dare!
  5   Foreigner - 4
  6   Queen - Queen's Greatest Hits I
  7   REO Speedwagon - Hi Infidelity
  8   Electric Light Orchestra - Time
  9   Styx - Paradise Theater
10   Rush - Moving Pictures
11   Kim Carnes - Mistaken Identity
12   AC/DC - For Those About To Rock
       We Salute You
13   Journey - Escape
14   Steve Winwood - Arc Of A Diver
15   Abba - The Visitors
16   Stevie Nicks - Bella Donna
17   The Moody Blues
       Long Distance Voyager
18   Rod Stewart - Tonight I'm Yours
19   Genesis - Abacab
20   Olivia Newton-John - Physical
21   Pat Benatar - Precious Time
22   The Who - Face Dances
23   Van Halen - Fair Warning
24   Neil Diamond - The Jazz Singer
25   Quincy Jones - The Dude
26   Duran Duran - Duran Duran
27   Billy Joel - Songs in the Attic
28   Rickie Lee Jones - Pirates
29   Iron Maiden - Killers
30   Shakin' Stevens - Shaky
31   The Pretenders - The Pretenders II
32   Earth, Wind & Fire - Raise!
33   Santana - Zebop!
34   U2 - October
35   Blondie - The Best of Blondie
36   Heaven 17 - Penthouse & Pavement
37   Squeeze - East Side Story
38   The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra             Hooked On Classics
39   Kim Wilde - Kim Wilde
40   Grace Jones - Nightclubbing
41   Eric Clapton - Another Ticket
42   Al Jarreau - Breaking Away
43   Visage - Visage
44   Soft Cell - Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
45   The Stray Cats - Stray Cats
46   Starsound - Stars On 45
47   Grover Washington Jr - Winelight
48   Starsound - Long Play Album
49   Rush - Exit Stage Left
50   Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
       Hard Promises

All chart information above is from Tsort and uses a formula based on splitting the world into four regions based on sales, the USA (about 35%), other English speaking countries (about 20%), the rest of Europe (about 25%) and the rest of the world (about 20%).  We feel this is the best methodology available to show the global impact of a song or album. More detailed chart info is available on the Tsort website. Actual US & UK charts are linked at the bottom of each year timeline on this site.

Jan '81
Blondie's fifth album, Autoamerican, goes Top Ten in the US and UK led by two #1 singles, the reggae influenced "The Tide is High" and the Rap influenced "Rapture". (more)
UK based American band, The Stray Cats capitalize on the UK Rockabilly revival with their debut album which goes to #6 UK and generates three UK Top Twenty singles. (more)
Feb '81
Feb '81
The debut solo album from Genesis lead singer Phil Collins goes to #1 UK and #7 US featuring the lead single "In The Air Tonight". (more)
Guitarist Michael Bloomfield dies of a drug overdose in San Francisco. Bloomfield played with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, helped Dylan go electric on Highway 61 Revisited, and led the band Electric Flag. (more)
Feb '81
UK rock band The Who release their first album following the death of Keith Moon. The album Face Dances goes to #2 UK, #4 US. (more)
Mar '81
Mar '81
Champaign, IL rock band REO Speedwagon have a #1 single with "Keep On LovingYou" and a #1 album in the US (#7 UK) with Hi Infidelity. (more)
Apr '81
1960's New Christy Minstrels alum, Kim Carnes, hits #1 US, #10 UK with the single "Bette Davis Eyes". (more)
Apr '81
Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen and TV sitcom star Valerie Bertinelli wed.
May '81
Scottish singer Sheena Easton goes to #1 in the US, #3 UK with the single "Morning Train". (more) 
Diana Ross leaves Motown for RCA for $20 million, the most lucrative recording deal to date.  (more) 
May '81
May '81
Jacksonville, FL band .38 Special combine southern rock with arena rock and score a US Top 20 album led by the single "Hold on Loosely". (more)
Old timers, The Moody Blues reach #1 US, #7 UK with their album Long Distance Voyager and an AOR friendly sound. (more) 
May '81
May '81
Reggae superstar Bob Marley dies of melanoma in a Miami hospital on May 11th .  (more)
May '81
On their fourth album, UK band Squeeze replace keyboardist Jools Holland with Paul Carrack and score their first US hit with "Tempted". (more) 
May '81
Boston, MA  rocker Billy Squier has a US Top Five album Don't Say No led by the single "The Stroke".   (more)
Jun '81
UK vocalist Kim Wilde's debut album, written and produced by her brother and father,  goes to #3 UK (#86 US) led by the #2 UK single "Kids in America". (more)
Jun '81
The debut album by Birmingham, England band Duran Duran goes to #3 in the UK, but goes nowhere in the US. (more)
Jul '81
UK ska revivalists The Specials have a UK #1 single with "Ghost Town". (more)
Jul '81
The seventh album by San Francisco band Journey, Escape, goes to #1 US, #32 UK led by three US Top Ten singles including "Open Arms" #2. (more)
Jul '81
American singer Pat Benatar's third album Precious Time is released with hits "Promises in the Dark" and "Fire and Ice" the album goes to #1 US, #30 UK. (more)
Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks releases her first solo album, Bella Donna. The album's three US Top 20 hits send it to #1 US, #11 UK in September. (more)
Jul '81
Jul '81
The debut album from Los Angeles, CA band The Go Go's - Beauty and the Beat is released. It is the first album written and played by an all female band to top the US charts. (more) 
Jul '81
Foreigner 4 is the band's first #1 US album (#5 UK) featuring the hits "Urgent" and "Jukebox Hero". (more)
Aug '81
Lionel Richie and Diana Ross team up on the single "Endless Love" #2 US, #3 UK. (more)
American soft rock singer / songwriter Dan Fogleberg scores three US Top Ten hits off his sixth album Innocent Age.  (more)
Aug '81
Aug '81
The Rolling Stones album Tattoo You goes to #1 US, #2 UK. This would be the last of a string of nine straight #1 albums in the US dating back to 1971's Sticky Fingers.  (more)
Aug '81
American based, Australian actor and singer Rick Springfield has a #1 US, #43 UK hit with the song "Jessie's Girl". (more)
MTV (Music Television) launches its 24 hour music cable channel on 300 US cable TV systems. By 1983 MTV is available on 2,000 US cable systems. (more)
Aug '81
Sep '81
Simon and Garfunkel hold a free reunion concert in New York's Central Park with over 500,000 attending. (more)
Sep '81
The 10th album from Philadelphia duo Hall and Oates, Private Eyes #5 US, #8 UK, generates two US #1 singles, the title track and "I Can't Go For That". (more)
Sep '81
UK synthpop duo Soft Cell have a #1 UK and #8 US hit with their cover of Gloria Jones song "Tainted Love". (more)
Sep '81
Oct '81
UK band Depeche Mode release their debut album, Speak and Spell, which goes Top Ten in the UK, led by two Top 20 singles. The album fails to dent the US charts. (more)
The Genesis album Abacab goes #1 UK, #7 US and continues their move away from progressive to a more pop sound. (more)
Oct '81
Rush release the live album Exit Stage Left recorded in Scotland and Montreal, which goes Top Ten in the US and UK. (more)
Oct '81
Ex-UK punk Billy Idol's debut solo effort generates MTV hits with"Dancing With Myself" and his cover of "Mony Mony". (more) 
Oct '81
Boston, MA The J.Geils Band release the album Freeze Frame which goes to #1 in the US, #12 UK driven by the #4 US title track and #1 US single "Centerfold". (more)
Nov '81
The Police release their fourth album Ghost In The Machine which is their 3rd straight #1 in the UK, #2 US. (more)
Oct '81
Nov '81
Joan Jett's second solo album I Love Rock and Roll has a #1 US, #4 UK title track and goes to #2 on the US album charts. (more)
L.A. metal band Motley Crue release their self produced debut album Too Fast For Love. It peaks at #77 US. (more)
Nov '81
AC/DC have their first #1 album in the US, #3 UK with "For Those About to Rock We Salute You". (more)
Nov '81
Canadian band Loverboy go Top Ten in the US with their second album Get Lucky fueled by the single "Working for the Weekend". (more)
Dec '81
Australian pop singer Olivia Newton John is #1 US for ten weeks (#7 UK) with the single "Physical". (more)
Dec '81
UK synthpop band The Human League release their album Dare which goes on to #1 UK, #3 US and generates the #1 worldwide smash single "Don't You Want Me". (more)
Jul '81
UK band the Psychedelic Furs hit #30 UK, #89 US with their second album Talk, Talk, Talk produced by Steve Lillywhite, along with the single "Pretty In Pink". (more)
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