Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson

1980 (Arista) 1980

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Gil Scott-Heron (1980) Brian Jackson - 1980In 1979, seminal poet and spoken-word godfather Gil Scott-Heron reigned in the end of the decade with the same determination and grit that had opened his career ten years earlier with his debut album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox.

While Small Talk helped establish Heron as one of the great African American poets/singers/writers in modern history, with poignant critiques that called out the inadequacies and rampant racism that Blacks faced in the late ’60s and early ’70s, it would be his fourth album, Winter in America, that would mark the first time that collaborator Brian Jackson’s name would be listed on the album’s front cover. First collaborating with Gil on 1971’s Pieces of a Man, Jackson would compose music and play keys for nine albums.

The LP 1980 would be the duo’s last full-length work together. The record features Jackson on the TONTO, an amalgamation of classic and custom modular synthesizers built by creator Malcolm Cecil, who coproduced the album. Emitting deep-bass tones and warm timbres, the TONTO is in full display, both on the album’s cover, where Heron and Jackson sit side by side with the massive instrument in the background, and on tracks like “Shah Mot” and “Late Last Night.”

Like many of Heron’s prior releases, the lyrics on 1980 still resonate years later, even more so since we are just now entering a new decade ourselves: “The turning of the decade like a marker hung in space / is a man-made definition like the bending of a page,” Gil sings on “Corners,” a song that meshes sounds from two different decades: the spacey synthesizers, a staple of new wave ’80s music, and an earthshaking bass riff and wah-wah guitar from the funk of the ’70s.

As a whole, “Corners”–the last official song on which Jackson and Heron collaborated—speaks to the state of mind Heron was in while recording this album, writing that signals an impending sense of doom for the upcoming decade. Jackson confirms this notion on the record’s liner notes: “To those of us living in 1979, it felt like 1980 was the twenty-first century. With 1984, the Orwellian doomsdate, right around the corner, we were concerned… Even though the Vietnam War was years away, many of us still saw a glimmer of hope in the seventies. But now there really wasn’t, as Gil laments in the song ‘1980,’ ‘Even no way back to ’75, much less 1969.’ ”

The lyrics of 1980 were classic Gil Scott-Heron: fearful of what the future holds, but conscious of the effort we as individuals need to make in order to keep society functioning for all.

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  1. Great review! I love this record and have since the late 80s when I first heard it. I saw him in concert around that time in Chicago. It was a soulful show and I was up front grooving to the sweet sounds, but when the show ended I could see that the club was nearly empty. It was sad that he didn’t have more support through those years.
    Anyway, I’ve been listening to this record a lot lately and feel it is keenly apt for our current society–the supply-side/corporate state that’s screwed the majority of us so profoundly–plus it just grooves so sweetly.
    Peace.

    – DuctTapeTheory

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