11 Reasons Why 1983 Was the Best Year in ’80s Music
An era of hot-shot U.S. chart debuts, from Madonna to R.E.M. to U2.
Unlike many in my 40-to-50 age group, when it comes to music, I consider myself more a child of the ’70s than the ’80s. That’s not to say the ’80s weren’t pivotal to the evolution of my obsession with tunes. It was the decade during which I decided I wanted to be a rock journalist when I grew up, and it was also the decade when my mother bought me my first subscription to Billboard magazine (Christmas of ’83: the best one ever!).
Though I’m more likely to be engrossed in a ’70s Casey Kasem American Top 40 countdown today, it’s not for lack of appreciation for the decade that followed. In fact, with the exceptions of 1972 to 1974 and 1978, the year 1983 rivals any 12-month period in the ’70s or any other decade for musical awesomeness. Here are 10 reasons why.
It was hottest year for breakthroughs and best new artists since 1964.
I’m not talking about the Best New Artist Grammy nominees, which, truth be told, Eurythmics and the winning Culture Club aside, were hardly staples of the decade.
But despite Grammy’s lack of foresight in also nominating Big Country, Men Without Hats, and Musical Youth for that honor, many other definitive and not-so-definitive acts of ’80s music — Bananarama! *Cyndi Lauper! **Duran Duran! The Fixx! INXS! Madonna! Naked Eyes! Night Ranger! R.E.M.! Tears for Fears! Thompson Twins! U2! — scored their first Hot 100 hits in 1983, which was arguably the pivotal year of the second British invasion.
(*Cyndi Lauper would be Grammy’s Best New Artist of 1984, the year “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” went to number two after hitting the Hot 100 in December of 1983. **Duran Duran’s first U.S. hit, “Hungry Like the Wolf,” entered the Hot 100 on Christmas Day of 1982 and reached number three the following March.)
Three albums into their runs, Canada’s Bryan Adams and England’s Def Leppard and Spandau Ballet finally made it big in 1983. Ireland’s aforementioned U2 launched their world domination with their third album, War, and its number 53 single “New Year’s Day,” the band’s first single to chart in the U.S. Meanwhile, Elvis Costello finally hit the Hot 100 with “Every Day I Write the Book,” from his eighth album, Punch the Clock.
It was a “Thriller” year.
Although Michael Jackson’s Thriller, one of the biggest albums of all time, and its first single, “The Girl Is Mine,” arrived near the end of 1982, “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Human Nature,” and “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” all made their chart marks in 1983.
Musically speaking, 1984 hasn’t aged so well.
I used to think the ’80s were all about 1984, the year I had my Billboard subscription. Hell, both Eurythmics and Tina Turner recorded songs about it — “Sexcrime (Nineteen Eighty-Four)” and the David Bowie-penned “1984,” respectively — and Van Halen named its multi-platinum number-two album for the year that also provided the title of George Orwell’s classic 1949 novel.
Times change and so does musical taste. After listening to two old Casey Kasem American Top 40 countdowns from 1984 (for the weeks ending April 28 and October 6) and one from 1983 (for the week ending May 7, aka my 14th birthday), I’m singing totally different tunes.
So many of the top ones from 1984 (from Lionel Richie’s “Hello” to Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” to Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” to Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”), despite at least two of them (the first and third) being songs I used to love to sing and listen to over and over, now sound almost like parodies of bad ’80s music. And don’t even get me started on Rick Springfield’s “Bop ’Til You Drop”!
The music from “Flashdance” has held up a lot better than 1984’s “Footloose” soundtrack.
As music from movies about dancing that spawned a pair of number-one Billboard Hot 100 singles go, I’d so much rather listen to Shandi’s “He’s a Dream,” Donna Summer’s “Romeo,” and Joe Esposito’s “Lady, Lady, Lady” while not skipping over Irene Cara’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling” and Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” on 1983’s Flashdance soundtrack. Meanwhile, does anyone but the most diehard fan of ’80s music at its cheesiest really want to hear Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” or Deniece Williams’ “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” in 2018?
Prince became a pop superstar.
And he did it with his first Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hit, “Little Red Corvette,” from an album whose title was set 16 years in the future. Although Purple Rain would send Prince into the stratosphere in 1984, making him, for a while, second only to Michael Jackson in terms of chart success, song for song, 1999, which was actually released at the end of 1982 but didn’t explode until 1983, might be the more ambitious, and — Dare I say it? — better album.
David Bowie put on his red shoes and danced the blues.
If he hadn’t shown us his pop-soul moves in 1983, Bowie might still be best known in the U.S. as that weirdo who had a couple of cool hits in the ’70s. Let’s Dance and its singles finally made the UK superstar an American idol, too.
Tina Turner’s comeback of the century commenced.
Although Turner’s commercial rebirth was one of 1984’s main events, it actually started in November of the previous year with her release of “Let’s Stay Together,” a remake of an Al Green classic that I never cared about until she had her way with it. I adore Al Green and his entire string of early ’70s hits, except for the only one to top the pop singles chart.
While Turner’s cover of Green’s number one stalled at 26 on the Hot 100, it raised the visibility and viability of Ike Turner’s previously forgotten former better half. “Let’s Stay Together” producers, Heaven 17’s Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, bathed her remake in such a soft, warm, gauzy glow that it made me a true believer in the power of her love. Private Dancer (the first full-length album I ever bought) might not have happened the following year without it.
Even the one-hit wonder hits kicked ass.
I’d take Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen,” Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science,” Taco’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” After The Fire’s “Der Kommissar,” Kajagoogoo’s “Too Shy,” and Frank Stallone’s “Far from Over” over Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me” and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” any day of any decade.
We got two final ABBA chart fixes.
Two years after the Swedish fab four’s final studio album, two of them returned to U.S. airwaves via the only solo Top 40 hits from the ladies who put the As in ABBA: Agnetha Faltskog’s “Can’t Shake Loose” and Anni-Frid’s “I Know There’s Something Going On” (credited to Frida).
And how’s this for a neat coincidence? Both singles, which sounded unlike anything they’d ever done with their previous group, were written by Russ Ballard, former Argent vocalist (that was him singing the band’s 1972 Top 5 single “Hold Your Head Up”) and author of such ’70s hits as Three Dog Night’s “Liar” (first recorded by Argent) and Hot Chocolate’s “So You Win Again.”
Honorable mention for another great 1983 solo single that sounded nothing like the performer’s work with his former ’70s-staple band: then-ex-Doobie Brother Patrick “Black Water” Simmons’ “So Wrong,” a number 30 Hot 100 hit in May on which he almost could have passed for fellow ex-Doobie sibling Michael McDonald.
Pop would soon lose its twang, but first, ’80s crossover country made its final Top 40 stand.
Before The Judds and Randy Travis, among others, ushered in Nashville’s mid-to-late-’80s neo-traditional movement, crossover country scored one last time with Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton’s “We’ve Got Tonight,” Ronnie Milsap’s “Stranger in My House,” Alabama’s “The Closer You Get,” and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “Islands in the Stream,” the Bee Gees composition that topped both the country and pop singles charts. Ah-ah indeed.
Yazoo beat the sophomore slump with the year’s best album.
After injecting synth-pop with some much-needed soul on 1982’s Upstairs at Eric’s, Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke released their second and final studio album, You and Me Both.
Not only did it top the UK album chart, besting Eric’s number-two peak, but it remains the crowning career achievement for both Moyet and Clark, the former Depeche Mode member who would continue to rock electro-soul as one-half of Erasure. If I could bring just one 1983 album to a deserted island, it would probably be this one.
10 Previously Unmentioned Acts That Achieved Hot 100 Highs in ’83
Bonnie Tyler, with “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
Champaign, with “Try Again”
Eddie Grant, with “Electric Avenue”
Golden Earring, with “Twilight Zone”
The Greg Kihn Band, with “Jeopardy”
The Kinks, with “Come Dancing”
Madness, with “Our House”
Pat Benatar, with “Love Is a Battlefield”
The Pretenders, with “Back on the Chain Gang”
The Tubes, with “She’s a Beauty”