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.

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Prince: Partying like it’s 1999, with a number 12 hit in 1983.

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.

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.

Musically speaking, 1984 hasn’t aged so well.

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.

Prince became a pop superstar.

David Bowie put on his red shoes and danced the blues.

Tina Turner’s comeback of the century commenced.

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.

We got two final ABBA chart fixes.

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.

Yazoo beat the sophomore slump with the year’s best album.

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

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”

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj

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