1981 - Your complete When It Was Cool Guide to the year 1981 in pop-culture, music, and more.

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool, karl@whenitwascool.com)

I turned ten years old in 1981.  These extensive "Year in Review" articles are meant to be guides to the greatest years of When It Was Cool retro pop-culture.  But please remember, we need your help to keep our website going so consider helping us out on Patreon.

Major Events that Happened in 1981:

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January 19-20, 1981: The Iran hostages are released ending a tense season of political turmoil between the United States and Iran. The next day Ronald Reagan is sworn in as President of the United States of American having been elected in 1980.

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January 25, 1981: Quarterback Jim Plunkett leads the Oakland Raiders to a 27-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at the NFL Super Bowl XV at the Superdome in New Orleans, LA.

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March 20, 1980: John Hinkley, Jr. attempts to assassinate President Ronald Reagan by shooting him. Reagan is injured but survives. Two police officers and Press Secretary James Brady are injured.

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April 12, 1981: The Space Shuttle Columbia launches, orbits Earth, and returns two days later becoming the first successful reusable space craft and beginning the space shuttle era for NASA. The Columbia Space Shuttle would be used until 2003 when it disintegrated reentering the atmosphere killing all on board.

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May 11, 1981: Reggae singer and Jamaican icon Bob Marley dies at age 36 of cancer.

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May 13, 1981: There is an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in Vatican City by a Turkish gunman. The Pope recovers from the shooting.

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June 12, 1981: Raiders of the Lost Ark starring Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones debuts in theaters.

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July 9, 1981: Donkey Kong, an arcade game, is released. It is the first of many video games to feature the character of Mario.

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July 29, 1981: The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana is seen by around 700 million people world wide on television.


August 1, 1981: MTV (Music Television) is launched.

September 17, 1981: Ric Flair wins his first of around 20 World heavyweight championships in pro wrestling by defeating Dusty Rhodes for the NWA World heavyweight title in Kansas City, MO.

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December 11, 1981: Muhammad Ali fights for the last time, losing to Trevor Berbick.


The Billboard Top 100 Songs of 1981

1 "Bette Davis Eyes” - Kim Carnes

2 "Endless Love" - Diana Ross & Lionel Richie

3 "Lady" - Kenny Rogers

4 "(Just Like) Starting Over" - John Lennon

5 "Jessie's Girl" - Rick Springfield

6 "Celebration" - Kool & the Gang

7 "Kiss on My List" - Hall & Oates

8 "I Love a Rainy Night" - Eddie Rabbitt

9 "9 To 5" - Dolly Parton

10 "Keep on Loving You" - REO Speedwagon

11 "Theme from The Greatest American Hero (Believe It or Not)" - Joey Scarbury

12 "Morning Train (Nine to Five)" - Sheena Easton

13 "Being with You" - Smokey Robinson

14 "Queen of Hearts" - Juice Newton

15 "Rapture” - Blondie

16 "A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)" - Raydio

17 "The Tide Is High" - Blondie

18 "Just the Two of Us" - Grover Washington, Jr. & Bill Withers

19 "Slow Hand" - The Pointer Sisters

20 "I Love You" - Climax Blues Band

21 "Woman" - John Lennon

22 "Sukiyaki" - A Taste of Honey

23 "The Winner Takes It All" - ABBA

24 "Stars on 45 Medley" - Stars on 45

25 "Angel of the Morning" - Juice Newton

26 "Love on the Rocks" - Neil Diamond

27 "Every Woman in the World" - Air Supply

28 "The One That You Love" - Air Supply

29 "Guilty" - Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb

30 "The Best of Times" - Styx

31 "Elvira" - The Oak Ridge Boys

32 "Take It on the Run" - REO Speedwagon

33 "(There's) No Gettin' Over Me" - Ronnie Milsap

34 "Living Inside Myself" - Gino Vannelli

35 "Woman in Love" - Barbra Streisand

36 "The Boy from New York City" - The Manhattan Transfer

37 "Urgent" - Foreigner

38 "Passion" - Rod Stewart

39 "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" - Commodores

40 "Crying" - Don McLean

41 "Hearts" - Marty Balin

42 "It's My Turn" - Diana Ross

43 "You Make My Dreams" - Hall & Oates

44 "I Don't Need You" - Kenny Rogers

45 "How 'Bout Us" - Champaign

46 "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" - Pat Benatar

47 "The Breakup Song (They Don't Write 'Em)" - The Greg Kihn Band

48 "Time" - Alan Parsons Project

49 "Hungry Heart" - Bruce Springsteen

50 "Sweetheart" - Franke and the Knockouts

51 "Somebody's Knockin'" - Terri Gibbs

52 "More Than I Can Say" - Leo Sayer

53 "Together" - Tierra

54 "Too Much Time on My Hands" - Styx

55 "What Are We Doin' in Love" - Dottie West & Kenny Rogers

56 "Who's Crying Now" - Journey

57 "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" - The Police

58 "This Little Girl" - Gary U.S. Bonds

59 "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" - Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty

60 "Giving It Up for Your Love" - Delbert McClinton

61 "A Little in Love" - Cliff Richard

62 "America" - Neil Diamond

63 "Ain't Even Done With The Night" - John Cougar

64 "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)" - Christopher Cross

65 "Another One Bites the Dust" - Queen

66 "Games People Play" - The Alan Parsons Project

67 "I Can't Stand It" - Eric Clapton

68 "While You See a Chance" - Steve Winwood

69 "Master Blaster (Jammin')" - Stevie Wonder

70 "Hello Again" - Neil Diamond

71 "Don't Stand So Close to Me" - The Police

72 "Hey Nineteen" - Steely Dan

73 "I Ain't Gonna Stand for It" - Stevie Wonder

74 "All Those Years Ago" - George Harrison

75 "Step By Step" - Eddie Rabbitt

76 "The Stroke" - Billy Squier

77 "Feels So Right" - Alabama

78 "Sweet Baby" - George Duke & Stanley Clarke

79 "Same Old Lang Syne" - Dan Fogelberg

80 "Cool Love" - Pablo Cruise

81 "Hold On Tight" - Electric Light Orchestra

82 "It's Now or Never" - John Schneider

83 "Treat Me Right" - Pat Benatar

84 "Winning" - Santana

85 "What Kind of Fool" - Barbra Streisand & Barry Gibb

86 "Watching the Wheels" - John Lennon

87 "Tell It Like It Is" - Heart

88 "Smoky Mountain Rain" - Ronnie Milsap

89 "I Made It Through the Rain" - Barry Manilow

90 "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" - Hall & Oates

91 "Suddenly" - Olivia Newton-John & Cliff Richard

92 "For Your Eyes Only" - Sheena Easton

93 "The Beach Boys Medley" - The Beach Boys

94 "Whip It" - Devo

95 "Modern Girl" - Sheena Easton

96 "Really Wanna Know You" - Gary Wright

97 "Seven Year Ache" - Rosanne Cash

98 "I'm Coming Out" - Diana Ross

99 "Miss Sun" - Boz Scaggs

100 "Time Is Time" - Andy Gibb

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One of the biggest country music stars of 1981 was blind singer-songwriter Ronnie Milsap who released several big hits that year including: Am I Losing You, There’s No Getting Over Me, and more.


Cool Things of 1981

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The Dukes of Hazzard and Star Wars were big items in the toy market in 1981.


Dolls had a big year in 1981.

Top Movies of 1981:

These are the top 10 movies of 1981 as ranked by IMDB.com. This is their rankings not ours.

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1. Das Boot
The claustrophobic world of a WWII German U-boat; boredom, filth and sheer terror. Director: Wolfgang Petersen | Stars: Jürgen Prochnow, Herbert Grönemeyer, Klaus Wennemann, Hubertus Bengsch - 11.49M

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2. On Golden Pond
Norman is a curmudgeon with an estranged relationship with his daughter Chelsea. At Golden Pond, he and his wife nevertheless agree to care for Billy, the son of Chelsea's new boyfriend, and a most unexpected relationship blooms. Director: Mark Rydell | Stars: Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda, Doug McKeon. 119.29M

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3. Raiders of the Lost Ark

In 1936, archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before Adolf Hitler's Nazis can obtain its awesome powers. Director: Steven Spielberg | Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies. 248.16M


4. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
In the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland, a cynical drifter agrees to help a small, gasoline rich community escape a horde of bandits. Director: George Miller | Stars: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Michael Preston, Max Phipps. 12.47M


5. Quest for Fire
This story takes place in prehistoric time when three tribesmen search for a new fire source. Director: Jean-Jacques Annaud | Stars: Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nicholas Kadi, Rae Dawn Chong. 20.96M


6. Vabank
Set in Warsaw in 1930's. After six years in jail, framed for bank robbery by an accomplice, the legendary Kwinto has only revenge on his mind. Director: Juliusz Machulski | Stars: Jan Machulski, Leonard Pietraszak, Witold Pyrkosz, Ewa Szykulska


7. The Evil Dead
Five friends travel to a cabin in the woods, where they unknowingly release flesh-possessing demons. Director: Sam Raimi | Stars: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor, Betsy Baker


8. Thief
Coming closer to his dream of leading a normal life, a professional safecracker agrees to do a job for the Mafia, who has other plans for him. Director: Michael Mann | Stars: James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Willie Nelson, Jim Belushi


9. Kobieta Samotna
A story of a middle-aged woman, Irena, living alone on the outskirts of Wroclaw with her 8-year old son. They live in a drab apartment.Director: Agnieszka Holland | Stars: Maria Chwalibóg, Boguslaw Linda, Pawel Witczak, Danuta Balicka


10. Body Heat
In the midst of a searing Florida heat wave, a woman persuades her lover, a small-town lawyer, to murder her rich husband. Director: Lawrence Kasdan | Stars: William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson

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