January 1, 1981 — Solidarity continues protest actions in Poland

The independent trade union known in the west as Solidarity was formed on September 17, 1980. It was the successor of a number of previous protest and unionisation movements in Poland, and fittingly, one of its first major acheivements was the recognition of its predecessors with the creation of the Momument to the Fallen Shipyards Workers 1970, unveiled on December 16, 1980.

Across that winter, Solidarity continued various protest actions, notably meeting with a delegation from the Vatican on January 15 of 1981. As the organisation evolved, it became something greater than just a trade union: it became a fully-fledged movement for social, political and economic revolution. Increasingly, it was led by the charismatic Lech Walesa, who became an inspirational figure to progressives the world over.

Solidarity eventually achieved its goals with the overthrow of the Communist regime in Poland in 1989. Its subsequent transition to becoming a political party has been a rocky and rather less successful one.

Strajk sierpniowy w Stoczni Gdańskiej im. Lenina 22.jpg
By Giedymin Jabłoński – <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external free” href=”http://ecs.gda.pl/”>http://ecs.gda.pl/</a>, CC BY-SA 3.0 pl, Link

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New Year’s Day — U2

January 5, 1981 — “The Great Space Coaster” is first broadcast

A children’s television show created by Kermit Love (who had previously worked with Jim Henson on The Muppets) and Jim Martin (who would later work with Henson on Sesame Street), The Great Space Coaster ran for five seasons and had a total of 250 episodes. As you might suspect from the creators, it used a lot of puppetry.

The central premise of the show was that three singers – Francine, Danny, and Roy – traveled to an asteroid (on board, of course, the Great Space Coaster) which was inhabited by a wide variety of alien lifeforms, most of them puppets. Being a kid’s show, it features lots of songs and moral lessons, and the occasional celebrity guest star.

Greatspacecoaster titlescreen.jpg
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Bug Powder Dust — Bomb The Bass

January 12, 1981 — “Dynasty” premieres

In a three-hour long introduction, Dynasty first appeared on tv screens across America on January 12, 1981. Over the course of nine seasons, it would become one of the most dominant shows on the decade. In the field of soap operas, it and its competitor Dallas – both of which revolved around wealthy oil families – reigned supreme.

But Dynasty, although it rated respectably in its initial season, didn’t really take off until its second season, the first episode of which introduced actress Joan Collins in the role she is still best known for, Alexis Carrington. Collins and Dynasty were synonymous in the Eighties, an actor and a show that couldn’t be separated from each other. Dynasty finally came to an end on May 11, 1989, after 220 episodes of scheming, betrayal and infidelity.

Dynasty (1981) title card.jpg
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TV Party — Black Flag

Jan 15, 1981 — “Hill Street Blues” premieres

One of the greatest television shows of all time, “Hill Street Blues” was first broadcast on this day in 1981. In its first season, it won eight Emmy awards (a record not beaten until “The West Wing”‘s first season) – and it would go on to be nominated 98 times over the seven seasons it ran. It was a weird blend of cop show and soap opera, with a level of realism little seen in either genre before that time.

It set new benchmarks in television drama, broadening the possibilities of the form – it is reasonable to think that such later shows as “The Sopranos”, “The West Wing” and most especially, “The Wire”, might never have happened without the trail that it blazed.

Hill Street Blues.jpg
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TV Party — Black Flag

February 1, 1981 – Trevor Chappell bowls underarm in an international match

It is one of the most scandalous incidents ever to have disturbed the televised narcolepsy that is Professional Cricket: on this day in 1981, Australian captain Greg Chappell instructed his brother Trevor to bowl underarm to New Zealand batsman Brian McKechnie.

It was a one day match at the MCG in Melbourne, the third of five in a series, and so far the series was tied 1-all. And on the last bowl of the day, McKechnie, if he hit a six, could tie the game. The infamous underarm bowl was intended to prevent this from happening. It was legal under the rules of the game, but it was widely seen as unsporting behaviour, not living up to the spirit of fair play.

The rules of One Day International Cricket were changed after the end of the 80-81 season to prevent a recurence of the event, and the bad reputation it gave them has dogged the Chappell brothers (more Trevor than Greg) ever since.

1981 — Basia Bonkowski hosts the first episode of “Rock Around The World”

It was nothing short of a revelation.

A host playing music clips or having bands perform live in the studio was nothing new, but it was the way Basia went about it. For a start, she didn’t pass herself off as an expert, just an enthusiastic fan. And the music! At that time, Australian television played mostly mainstream acts from the UK, the US, or home. Basia took the title of her show as a mission statement: she didn’t care where in the world a piece of music came from, so long as it was good.

Fans responded to this approach, and the show rapidly went from playing once a week to screening four times a week. It only lasted three years, but those three years saw the Australian music landscape changed forever, with international influences becoming stronger, and local bands given a shot at reaching a national audience rather than just however many people could fit in the pub.

May 5, 1981 – Bobby Sands dies in the Maze prison

Bobby Sands was 27 years old and a member of the British Parliament when he died in the Maze prison in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He had spent the last 66 days of his life in a hunger strike, protesting to be declared a political prisoner rather than a regular criminal – his sentence in the Maze was as a result of his actions with the IRA.

In death, Sands became a martyr to the cause of Irish liberation, and attracted sympathetic messages from allies of the IRA all over the world, as well as neutrally aligned governments and media outlets. Perhaps the best summation came from the Hong Kong Standard, which stated that it was ‘sad that successive British governments have failed to end the last of Europe’s religious wars.’ Thirty years and more gone, and that war grinds on.

Bobbysandslongkesh1973.jpg
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The Sign — Eric Bogle

May 17, 1981 — The band later named the Butthole Surfers play their first ever gig

Appearing as “The Dick Clark Five”, the first gig by the band that would become the Butthole Surfers took place at the Shown-Davenport Art Gallery, in San Antonio, Texas. The occasion was the opening of an art exhibit by band-member Scott Mathews, and fellow artist Cheryl Dawn Dyer.

The original lineup of the band featured Mathews, Gibby Haynes, Scott Stevens and Paul Leary. Over the years, members would come and go, but Leary and Haynes, the co-founders of the band, would remain its constants, with both men singing and playing guitar. (Haynes also played saxophone, and is generally considered the lead singer of the band.)

July 16, 1981 — Harry Chapin dies in a car accident

Somewhere in the afterlife, Harry Foster Chapin is playing a screamingly funny, posthumously written song regarding his own death. Which he co-wrote with James Joyce.

Maybe.

Harry Chapin was an American folk singer, probably best known for songs like Taxi, W*O*L*D and 30,000 Pounds of Bananas. He is also the writer and original performer of Cats in the Cradle – not, as is often claimed, Cat Stevens. Chapin was a poet of the everyday, chronicling the hopes and fears, the failures and the triumphs, of Anytown, USA. His nuanced work remains an excellent anodyne to the more saccharine visions of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. He also wrote possibly the funniest song ever to describe a real fatal road accident (the afore-mentioned 30,000 Pounds of Bananas).

He was also a fierce idealist, working on the boards of many charities, and donating an estimated third of all his concert earnings to various charitable causes. He was particularly active in supporting the arts, and in the fight against poverty and hunger.

Chapin died in a car accident that was most likely caused by him suffering a heart attack behind the wheel. He was only 38 years old.

The world is poorer for his passing.

Chapin in 1980
By Elektra Records – Original publicity photo, PD-US, Link

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Ode to Harry – M.O.D.

August 1, 1981 — “MTV” premieres

On August 1, 1981, at 12:01 a.m., MTV launched with the words “Ladies and gentlemen: rock and roll,” played over footage of the first Space Shuttle launch countdown of Columbia and the launch of Apollo 11. Those words were immediately followed by the original MTV theme song playing over photos of the Apollo 11 moon landing, with the flag featuring MTV’s logo changing various colors, textures, and designs. Appropriately, the very first music video shown on MTV was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”.

And thus it would remain for the first few years, when MTV took its full name – Music TeleVision – seriously. But try finding a clip on MTV these days – it’s all Real World retreads and Behind The Music rockumentaries now. Well, not all, but enough to make one nostalgic for when MTV played any weird crap they could get their hands on just to fill the hours.

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TV Party — Black Flag

December 26, 1981 – Boom Boom Mancini defeats Manuel Abedoy

I guess it must have seemed appropriate: a day of boxing on Boxing Day. In 1981, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Manuel Abedoy had a bout at Ballys Park Place Hotel Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey. Mancini won handily via a technical knock out, and although this was not a title bout, it paved the way for Mancini’s attempt on the Lightweight Boxing title the following year.

1981 — The arcade game “Mouse Trap” is released

Mouse Trap was a 1981 arcade game released by Exidy, A fairly obvious Pac-Man ripoff, it was successful enough that it was also ported to three different home game systems ColecoVision, Intellivision and the Atari 2600.

Mouse Trap did at least change up certain aspects of the game from Pac-Man – there were doors that players could open and close, it was possible to store power pills for later use, there were six rather than four hunters, and bonus items were available constantly rather than intermittently. The game had a small but devoted following, however, by 1999, very few of the arcade versions of it were still extant.

Mouse Trap arcade flyer.jpg
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Mousetrap — Buckner & Garcia

1981 — The arcade game “Frogger” is released

One of the all time classics of arcade gaming, Frogger is a simple enough game in its concept: you have to steer a frog across a busy highway. How hard could that be, right?

Produced by Konami, and distributed by Sega and Gremlin all around the world, it was very successful as an arcade game. So it’s no surprise that it would be ported to various computer and gaming systems. Perhaps more surprising, in thirty years, it hasn’t lost much in popularity – it’s now available for nearly any platform it can be, in a variety of remakes and sequels, most of them with greatly revised and improved gameplay.

1981 – The arcade game “Donkey Kong” is released

One of the most successful game franchises of all time – if not the most successful franchise – Donkey Kong originally started life as a Popeye game. Nintendo didn’t have the rights to Popeye, so they altered the characters into more original ones – although as the obviously King Kong inspired name of the game suggests, not that original. Still, it’s a good thing for them they did.

The Donkey Kong franchise has done very well itself, but Donkey Kong was also the origin of Mario, who would go on to become Nintendo’s flagship character and a highly successful game franchise in his own right. To date, across assorted media, there are more than 20 Donkey Kong games (depending on how one counts different versions of the same game), and another 30+ Mario games. It’s hard to imagine that a Popeye franchise would have been that popular.