As exciting as MTV launching in August of 1981 was for me as a kid, it took some time for the channel to infiltrate popular culture. That wasn’t a problem for Top Of the Pops in England in 1981. The show was already a cornerstone of popular culture and the artists featured on the show in 1981 looks a lot like my record collection including: Talking Heads, Kim Wilde, Phil Collins, Level 42, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, U2, Japan, and so many others. The years between punk and New Pop (roughly 1978-1983) are my favorite period in music history. From the post-punk of Joy Division to the emerging New Romantics, music seemed to have no artistic limits.
Over here in the States, the bands dominating the UK in 1981 would start to arrive on our televisions and radio stations over the coming years but in many cases, those artists had already been firmly established in the UK. In a way, that was a treat for us as once we discovered bands like Duran Duran and Human League, they had put in the work as artists and arrived on American shores with purpose. It didn’t take long for them to take over and looking back at these 1981 Top of the Pops performances, it is easy to see why. Nothing happening in American rock-n-roll in 1981 could match the visuals and sound of these artists! Here are a few of my favorites.