A collection of the greatest music stories never told. This season the poet and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib explores a single year: 1980 – the brilliant, awkward and sometimes heartbreaking opening to a monumental decade in popular music.
Here's the Latest Episode from Lost Notes – KCRW:
In 1980, anti-disco sentiment was at a high and Grace Jones was coming off a trilogy of disco albums. If she stayed stagnant, it felt like her career could be swept away. And so out of disco’s death rattle – driven by the discomfort of white male tastemakers – Grace Jones rose, reinforced and reimagined in a new decade freshly obsessed with risk.
Most know Minnie Riperton because of one part in one song. “Lovin’ You” was Riperton’s biggest hit, and she doesn’t sing that magic, piercing note until around the 3-minute mark. Cancer took Riperton away tragically in 1979, and the next year producers got to work on a posthumous album. Filled with leftover recordings and celebrity cameos, “Love Lives Forever” is an album full of ghosts.
In December of 1980, two exiled artists and freedom fighters attempted return to their home in South Africa for a concert. Jazz musician Hugh Masekela and singer Miriam Makeba were briefly married, but they had a robust collaborative relationship that stretched across multiple decades. The 1980 concert wound up happening in neighboring Lesotho — and the performance became about defiance, namely against the Apartheid government in South Africa. But a recording mishap meant the concert needed to be recorded in a more intimate, perhaps even better, setting.
Punk singer Darby Crash dreamed of immortality. The single full-length Germs album was to become a holy grail of music history, and his passing might’ve made him a legend, but Darby Crash died on December 7th, 1980. By the time the news of his death began to circulate, it was well into December 8th, the day John Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman. As radio stations in Los Angeles began to start their marathon of Germs songs, John Lennon lay dying in New York, at the doorway to his apartment. Eventually news and radio stations broke away to deliver what must have seemed like a larger, more urgent heartbreak.
In May of 1980, Joy Division lost its lead singer, Ian Curtis. The band decided that they would carry on with a different name. From the cutting room floor, a song with Ian Curtis haphazardly slurring the words he’d written became the first single for a decade-defining band. New Order was made up of people who were weighed down by grief and regrets. Straining themselves to make sure they did justice to the words Ian Curtis couldn’t bring himself to sing.
In 1979, "Rapper’s Delight" was released and went on to become the first Top 40 hip-hop single. Sugarhill Gang almost had no choice but to follow the single up with a full-length. So in the early months of 1980, a six song, nearly forty minute album by a rap group was released. The debut, self-titled album by the Sugarhill Gang wasn’t received without controversy, and wasn’t received without skepticism. When one thinks about the greatest rap groups of all time, Sugarhill Gang might be an afterthought, says Lost Notes host Hanif Abdurraqib. But, sometimes, legacy is not about the spark itself, but about the flame the spark causes.
Stevie Wonder released seven albums from 1970 to 1976. It is an impenetrable run of albums and songs, one of the greatest in music history. Then, in 1979, he faced his first defeat of the decade. Reviews for “Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants” were harshly mixed. So in 1980 Stevie was due for a comeback. Lost Notes host Hanif Abdurraqib reflects on the album and Wonder’s call for the observation of Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday.
This season the poet and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib explores the year 1980. It was the brilliant, awkward and sometimes heartbreaking opening to a monumental decade in popular music.
Our second of two Lost Notes bonus episodes for this summer. This one is about The Student Teachers. In 1977, a group of music obsessed friends got together and decided to form a band. Most of them were still in high school and almost none of them had even picked up an instrument before, but they lived and breathed the New York City music scene and wanted nothing more than to be a part of it. They worked in record stores, ran fan clubs, and spent every second they could together, hanging in clubs like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City — clubs they’d eventually headline.
Soon after they formed the band, they played a practice gig at one of their high schools and took off from there. They spent their days studying for physics tests and practicing for French finals and spent their nights drinking White Russians and rubbing elbows with their rock heroes. In their two years together, they headlined their favorite clubs, went on tour, made recordings, got interviewed on the radio, opened for Iggy Pop and hung with David Bowie in the recording studio. As the decade came to a close and they got a little older, their love for each other dwindled, and the band imploded. But what a beautiful and wild ride it was. This is the story of the Student Teachers, in their own words.
The new season of Lost Notes will be here in September. Meantime, this summer, we’re sharing a couple of bonus episodes. Fifty years ago, an unlikely musical group evolved out of the Oakland chapter of the Black Panther Party. They were called The Lumpen. And although they quickly gained a following for their air-tight funk, they were always meant to be much more than mere entertainment. Peter Gilstrap reports on the rise and fall of an unlikely R&B group born out of social upheaval.
As long as there have been guns, there have been songs about guns. But American culture's relationship with guns is changing. Does popular music reflect that? We take a look at the history of music's relationships with guns, and gun control activism, to find out.
In the early ‘80s, two teenage siblings in London recorded an album that fused Pakistani pop and British New Wave. It became a perfect harmony of the two worlds they lived in. This is the story behind their lost masterpiece.
Jazz pianist Billy Tipton has been celebrated by some as a trans pioneer – but his story resists an easy telling.
As a supplement to our episode on John Fahey, we share a conversation between Jessica Hopper and Carla Green about artist legacies in the era of cancel culture and #MeToo.
John Fahey’s guitar playing influenced the sound of the American underground for generations. But how does that legacy change when you hear from three of the women who knew him best?
The rock band Fanny ruled the Sunset Strip in the 1970s, and they were supposed to be the next big thing. They explain the price women pay for being ahead of their time.
Synth pioneer Suzanne Ciani used an esoteric instrument to design some of the most well-known commercial sounds of the 20th century.
Poet and author Hanif Abdurraqib's letter to Cat Power about how her album The Greatest worked its way into his life.
The Freeze were an early American punk band. Now, 40 years later, two members reckon with the lyrics they wrote as teenagers.
On this season of Lost Notes, the music journalist and author Jessica Hopper is looking at artist legacies. How do they hold up? How do they change over time? Learn how decades on a song can find new meaning, something different than when it was written. Find out what happens when we apply our 2019 politics to 1974’s songs. And hear from pioneering women who have been written out of music’s history.
Legendary DJ/crate-digger Cut Chemist professes his love for Cymande’s 1972 self-titled debut.
We resurface a story from Falling Tree Productions that takes a look at the empowering flip-side of pop fandom.
In the wake of the swinging ‘60s, a young woman named Aisha Ali travels to North Africa in search of her roots. There, she single-handedly documents hours and hours of music and film from Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt ... much of it still unheard.